The Church has been around for an awfully long time, 2,000 years. To give you some perspective, Martin Luther began his movement only 500 or so years ago. Yet, as old as the Church is, it’s never inappropriate to think the more things change, the more things stay the same. We’ve seen that played out in remarkable ways in the time since Pope Benedict‘s abdication announcement.
Two Humble Popes. When Pope Francis was elected, and ever since, everyone’s remarked about his sense of humility. Out on the balcony, Francis asked everyone in the crowd, and those watching, to pray for him and to bless him, and bowed his head to receive their blessings. The next day, he went and picked up his bags and paid his bill at the hotel where he’d been staying, taking a car from the equivalent of the Vatican motor pool. He has seemingly eschewed the more formal attire of Benedict for the simple white cassock.
It seems people have forgotten how many commentators remarked, correctly on Benedict’s implicit humility shown in his decision to leave the papal office. He showed that, at heart, he was willing to listen to God’s voice and allow that voice to lead him wherever God willed. It was an expression of perfect submission to God’s will that anyone who could be open enough to see would understand.
Jesus said that the first would be last and the last would be first. We’ve seen, in the last month or so, two humble Christian men put that axiom into solid, easy to understand action for the entire world to see, granted in very different ways, but still easily seen and understood. They showed themselves to be real teachers and bearers of Christ’s message in doing so and we all should be humbled by their example.
Still Able to Surprise. As I said above, the Church is 2,000 years old, yet she’s still able to surprise and cause the world to sit back and take notice. Benedict’s abdication was certainly a surprise, totally unexpected, yet he was unafraid to break with Tradition and do what he believed to be the right thing. His action showed the Church’s (eternal) perspective on worldly affairs and the right relationship between God and man. He didn’t cling to power like some CEO or world leader but willingly gave it all up when the time had come.
Father Jorge, as Cardinal Brogolio likes to be known, was about the last man anyone expected to elected pope. He was older than people thought appropriate, he was doctrinally conservative, which the left side of the aisle thought disqualified him, and he had been passed over the last time around. By worldly standards, he didn’t have a chance. But the cardinals were listening, not to the worldly types on Twitter, but to the Spirit which appears in the form of a dove and gave the Church a great gift. Surprise!
On top of that, Cardinal Brogolio made yet another break with Tradition and chose to be known as Francis, a name never used before, signaling to the world that it was time to renew and rebuild the Church, just when the world was beginning to write her off as hopelessly out of date, unable to adapt to the new world order.
War Criminals? I find the reaction of those in the liberal media, both Catholic and secular, to both popes remarkable alike. First, there was ample evidence of dismay that the Church once again went with a pope who happened to take her teachings seriously. In both cases, there was dismay and a subtle tsk, tsking, at the display of reactionary spirit by a bunch of doddering old men unable and unwilling to keep up with current trends in society. They were demanding the Church change to fit their human ideas, instead of doing things in the proper order and seeking the Lord in true and humble repentance and conversion.
More seriously, unnamed, and undocumented, sources popped up in both cases claiming that each man was guilty of war crimes, maybe even atrocities. In Benedict’s case, he was accused of being a Nazi, in Francis’ case, he’s now accused of being a traitor during Argentina’s “dirty war” in the early 1980’s. It seems the world is ready to use any weapon, any charge, true or not to discredit anyone who would lead the campaign against it. In both cases, of course, the effort will be fruitless.
So, we have two popes, each man very different from the other, leading by example and teaching what it means to be humble, showing the world that the Church is still capable of surprise and still able to withstand the worst sort of attacks the world can throw at her. What was it Jesus said about the gates of Hell not prevailing against her? We’ve seen the truth of that, in spades, over the last month or so.