Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Election

   Catholics around the world are watching the lead-up to the election of a new Pope. It will be a pivotal moment, as the movement for new openness meets the urgent need for tradition, conservation of values, and maintenance of all the authority of the office whose origins are with Peter 2000 years ago.

   If you find yourself in the latter group, it appears you will be happy with Cardinal Ouellet, the more so since he is Canadian. I am not sure who would be open to renewal and openness, maybe him? No-one was prepared for what Pope John XXIII did when he called Vatican II in the early 1960's. Perhaps it is not about the person's track record as much as it is about his ability to 'read the signs of the times', as Pope John XXIII said back then. We Catholics believe that the Pope above all needs to be a person who is open to the movements of the Holy Spirit about things like that.

   So what are the signs of the times? Two articles in the February 24, 2013, Toronto Star - New York Times section - caught my eye. The news and viewpoints in them are quite negative. But they report disturbing trends. One, 'Church Faces Test in Brazil' notes that the Catholic population of that country has shrunk from 90% in 1970, to 65% in 2010. Evangelical Protestant churches are becoming popular as people want more expressive forms of worship. Priests who provide Catholic liturgies with such a flavor, bring in larger congregations. Perhaps more importantly, though, the number of people who say they are not affiliated with any religion, is growing. From that perspective, secularism, not other Christian churches, is the problem there. The author's point: a continuation of the same conservative stances in the next Pope will continue these trends. Is this true?

   The second article, an opinion piece, is titled 'The Pope's Muffled Voice.' Author Frank Bruni speaks of the Catholic Church in the U.S., and notes that American Catholics "don't feel bound by the pope's interpretation of doctrine or moral commands...... A 2011 survey published in the National Catholic Reporter showed that while 73% of American Catholics described their belief in Jesus' resurrection as "very important' to them, only 30% described the teaching authority of the Vatican that way, and only 21 percent  characterized an all male, celibate priesthood in those terms."

   The Church will never be run by polls the way U.S. elected officials run their government. You actually have to stand for something. And the Catholic Church does and always will.

   However. Presentation runs a close second to substance, in importance. I know this so well from working with families. Authoritarian or authoritative. You do not want the former, you will do anything for the latter. Authoritarian parents/ leaders give the impression they are full of the importance/ legitimacy/ entitlement of their role or office. With such an air about them, the validity of their message gets lost because their children/ subjects/ employees tune them out. It is not enough to have a good message, your people have to be open and teachable. Like it or not, you make them that way. Think of the teachers you loved. You know they loved you and wanted the best for you and would bend over backwards for you. You in turn would absorb anything they taught you, and you would do anything for them.

   Authoritative parents/ leaders convey that they know who they are, but at the same time convey that you and everything about you matters to them personally. That means they will always listen. They will always be open to doing things differently when dialogue with you persuades them to do so. With that kind of fairness and openness established, they can draw limits on the same process and you will accept those limits.

   Over and over I am hearing the issue of the validity of Catholic teachings being confused with the issue of how the Church presents itself. It is precisely at this juncture that Pope John XXIII heard the movement of the Holy Spirit and responded with the brilliant idea that we know as Vatican II. John XXIII clearly knew who he was. A leader like that gives away nothing by opening up the process. If our next Pope reads articles like the ones I have cited, or generally catches that kind of news and sentiment from around the world - if he tunes into that and becomes afraid things are getting away, he may very well act in a way that ensures they do get away: authoritarian.

   While we wait, important that we get our heads around all this. Time to throw open the windows, as John XXIII said. It is not only about what is inside, it is about letting people see inside. It is about looking out also, and at least puzzling over what it all means in God's great creation. The last thing we need is someone who is afraid of what is happening. The last thing we need is someone who will not puzzle about what they are taking to prayer. At this pivotal juncture in history, pray for an authoritative Pope.

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