Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sede Vacante: Let the Conclave begin!

A lot of people have asked me, "What’s the deal with the Pope?”

There seems to be an unlimited supply of conspiracy theories and alleged scandals floating around the media—from the Pope fleeing both assassination threats and warrants for his arrest to the Pope finally throwing in the towel and caving to the never ending pederasty cover-up accusations. All of the allegations are, of course, backed by definitive proofs! This goes to show that when it comes to the Catholic Church, the National Enquirer is tied for the most accurate secular news source. (See news stands for the hidden story behind the papal tumult as the Enquirer goes behind the scenes at the Vatican in "Exclusive cover story: Pope Brain Cancer Bombshell.")

However, I’m inclined to believe what the man said. He is old and feeble. He can’t travel around the world the way he used to—he has a pacemaker and has been seen using a walker. And watch the poor man try to use an iPad. (See how he pushes the button and nothing happens?? Ugh. Now I feel like an 85 year old.)

However, I did read this article speculating that the Blessed Virgin Mary asked Pope Benedict XVI to abdicate. (That sounds crazy. But I assure you it’s not. ;o) She talks to both crazy people and sane people.) Early in his Papacy, Benedict asked for prayers that he would not succumb to the ‘wolves’, which many feel referred to certain Vatican officials who habitually opposed the Pope, partly due to aversion to change. (Scheming bureaucrats hindering fruitful progress? We have those kinds of wolves in North America too.) The author suggests that the time is right for a new, invigorated Pope who will lay the smack down on the wolves and get them out of there. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

After talking with some coworkers I discovered they were most confused about the matter of Papal Infallibility and how a person can go from being fallible to (pretending to be) perfect and then back to fallible again. I tried to explain that the Pope is infallible only in relation to faith and morals, under very specific circumstances, so long as he is in agreement with teachings that have been passed on for the last two millennia… and that such infallible statements have almost never been proclaimed anyway. I told them that the underlying belief is that the Holy Spirit is trusted to work through the Pope (whether he’s good or evil) to ensure that the faith does not become corrupted from what was passed on by the early Church. The infallibility is not attached to the person but to the office. So the Holy Spirit uses whoever happens to be in the office of Pope to maintain orthodoxy through infallible statements, if necessary. Here's a cartoon illustration of how the Holy Spirit might prevent a stubborn Pope from 'infallibly' issuing a fallible statement:

The thing to remember is that the man in the Chair of Peter certainly does not have to be perfect. And, in fact, in Galatians Chapter 2, St. Paul says that upon meeting Peter he “opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” In the end, Peter conceded to Paul that Christians are allowed to eat bacon (among other things). However, with respect to Papal Infallibility, we believe that if Peter had felt the need to deliberate on the matter and pray about it and utter a binding and infallible statement, the Holy Spirit would have led him to the same conclusion, regardless of whether or not Paul called him out on it. Now that Benedict XVI is no longer Pope, the matter of infallibility just doesn’t apply to him anymore, although nothing has changed regarding his personal degree of perfection.

The fact that a Pope hasn’t abdicated in so long (centuries!) makes it surprising, but not scandalous. Now ensues the media frenzy of trying to guess the next Pope. This is a hopeless task due to the fact that those in conclave do (gasp!) pray about it, and through prayer may be inclined to choose someone they would not have picked based on a list of pros and cons. A friend of mine recently returned from Africa. She was there when Pope Benedict announced his intention to abdicate and the local Cardinal made the statement that "if an African is chosen as Pope it's not because it is 'our turn' but because of the Holy Spirit." Well said!

Since I only know the names of about four Cardinals (none of whom Sarah Jones would elect as Pope), I can’t really join in the guessing. But fortunately, this year there is an app to ‘adopt’ a Cardinal to pray for before and during the conclave. Mine is 75 year old Audrys Juozas Bačkis of Lithuania. I had never heard of him before so I don’t know how to pronounce his name, but I feel like we have a pretty good chance of winning. ;o) He’s kind of a cute old guy AND he speaks English. “VOTE FOR ANDRYS—WEREWOLF SLAYER!”

I won’t pretend to understand how a conclave works. But if anybody is interested, here is an imperfect, but close enough, cartoon explanation.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

March for Life, Part 3: Stumbling upon many friends!

March for Life 2013
With his typical exuberance, Jeremy introduced us to several other seminarians whose names I did not even try to remember in my state of sensory overload. All of a sudden the crowd started shifting, ever so slowly, and we speculated that the March had begun. We trudged forward, gently knocking into each other like cattle in a pen. We were so crowded in that there was no point in holding my all-purpose, neon-green “IHM PRAY 4 US” sign so I gave it to Jeremy and made him hold it up over his head while we passed the EWTN camera. I have no idea if we ended up on tv.

Conveniently passing the sign off to Jeremy (from Lita)

Jeremy told us all about the Vigil Mass and the event at the Verizon Center and very excitedly introduced us to the Papal Nuncio (basically the Vatican City diplomat to the USA). I have to say, it was exciting to shake hands with this bewildered man who may have at some point been personally acquainted with Pope John Paul II.

Most of the bishops, priests, and deacons (and Papal Nuncios!) were unrecognizable from afar because they were also bundled up against the cold. Not so for the Religious Orders with their habits proudly on display. One miserable man wore sandals because last year at the March he saw a barefooted Franciscan. Let that be a lesson: Never try to match a Franciscan in asceticism!

Sisters warming up with some hot drinks. (from Lita)

Although perhaps we ought to have been more prayerful, we spent most of our time pondering the origins of Catholic terms (including Nuncio) and words that we pretend to understand (such as prodigal). The March went from the National Mall to the Supreme Court but the slowness of our progress and the vastness of the crowd had a disorienting effect. We sped up and made our way through the crowds to catch up with the Mount St. Mary’s banner because we had fallen behind. Then the seminarians and some other groups dropped out at the bus stop a couple of blocks from the Supreme Court building.

Lita and I, perched on a curb in the snow (from Karin)

We hung around people-watching until we spotted the Community of the Beatitudes, a Religious Order with which Lita was on pilgrimage last summer. We had a nice chat with Fr. Anthony (if I remember his name correctly) and he invited us for a beer afterward. It reminded me of a similar invitation from the Dominicans after Fr. Justin’s ordination. (In The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton wrote that one of the only things he remembered from his first reading of the Rule of St. Benedict—the founder of monasticism—was that Benedict seemed to lament the fact that he could not convince the monks to live without wine.) Sadly, I had to use up my last 5 hours of vacation time to attend the March and needed to get back for my 3 hours of work.

Community of the Beatitudes (from Lita)

So eventually we lagged behind the Beatitudes, hoping to find Lita’s high school friend’s seminary named after Pope John XXIII. And, thanks be to God, we did find them! So I finally got to meet this Neven person for whom I’d been praying for so long. I may have gotten hugged. My memory is cloudy but, like FrC and Jeremy, Neven seemed like a hugger.

Neven and the Blessed John XXIII seminarians (from Lita)

But then these seminarians were also gone, off finding their bus. So we entered back into the crowd and made our way to the Supreme Court building where there were more speakers. We stood up on a curb to get a better view and didn’t realize until maybe half an hour later that we were not looking at the actual building but, rather, a 2-D façade that had been hung in front of the building, which was under construction.

We stood on that curb feeling frozen as snow started to fall. Next to us was a sign congratulating President Obama for his second term. The sign seemed awkwardly out of place in the midst of that crowd and the utter strangeness drew laughter again and again from the protesting youngsters.

Seriously dude, who put that there??? (from Lita)

I knew that Karin was there somewhere with her new fiancé Tim, and I really wanted to meet him. I caught her by text message and tried to explain to them where we were, which was difficult because my hands were so frozen they couldn’t properly push the buttons on my old school phone. But in the end they found us and stood by our curb and we happily took pictures together, although I couldn’t smile properly because my lip was partly numb.

The cold but happy couple! (from Karin)
Although the March for Life obviously centers on the abortion issue, it had the joyful quality of a celebration of life. The Marchers exuded a gratefulness and love for life at all stages. One cannot respect the inherent dignity of the human creature while supporting euthanasia, death penalty, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization (in which many fertilized eggs are left unused or destroyed), or any type of action that quenches or prevents a life that would have otherwise come into being.

Even if the March does not succeed in the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, based on the armies of young people I think it is achieving an important goal. It fosters a sense of community and a Culture of Life. AND it's like a great big happy Catholic reunion!!  :o)

Every time I act in a way that respects and cherishes life it moves us closer to a Culture of Life. But every time I show a lack of respect for human life I help strengthen the Culture of Death, the results of which include bizarre manifestations of hubris such as can be found in the infamous Casey Decision. It states that, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” (Maybe this is why each heliophysicist insists on defining his/her own concept of magnetic reconnection!) As much as we love our abortions (sarcasm alert), aren’t we disturbed that the government reserves the right to define the mystery of human life? Even secular humanists find this kind of language unsettling.
It’s important to remember that the sins of an individual are facilitated by the sins of the community. As I was praying during the nine days leading up to the March I was reminded of the Christian concept of communion, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes thus:
Communion in charity. In the sanctorum communio, "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself." "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." "Charity does not insist on its own way." In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion.
We need to remember that even a small sin redounds to the detriment of all. I may not be struggling with mortal sin and so a small sin may not seem to have a large effect on my life. But someone else may be on the verge of falling into grave sin and the very small effect of my sin is just enough to push him over the edge. We fail to respect life in so many ways, but one common offense is the frustrated lack of charity we often display when stuck in traffic due to a car accident. Another example is jokingly making comments such as “shoot me now”. I have been guilty of both of these offenses. (Next time I will have to remind myself of the sorrow of visiting our high school friend while he was in a coma after a car accident. And I will remember the voice of the detainee who told me that he’s alive today because when he pulled the trigger of the gun he was holding to his head several years ago it wouldn’t fire.) Venial sin is still sin, and all sin is evil.

Sin is the reason that suffering and evil exist. But the story has a happy ending. In the words of St. Augustine: “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.”

“On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken.” [Isaiah 25:8]