"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pope Francis As We Await Holy Week

Peggy Noonan has a good piece here about Pope Francis' first days:

It really is quite wonderful, what we’re hearing and seeing from Rome. The plain shoes. The plain watch. The slightly galumphy look as he does his walkabouts. The reason he took his name: “How I wish for a poor church, and for a church for the poor.” The report I received of his taking the employee elevator in the Vatican, not the papal one— “Your Holiness!” exclaimed a surprised Swiss Guard. His kissing of the hands of his “brother cardinals” after they would attempt to kiss his ring. The sweetness of his plunging into the crowds. His stopping the jeep Tuesday morning when he was riding around St. Peter’s Square: He saw a disabled man being held by a friend, and stopped to show affection and gratitude. The surprise walkabout Sunday at church. The surprise phone call he made to thousands of Argentines who held an all-night prayer vigil for him Monday in Buenos Aires: “Thank you for praying, for your prayers, which I need a lot.”
All this can be called mere symbolism but it’s good symbolism, and good Francis knows it is needed.
That's an important note there at the end.   Symbolism isn't everything, but it does matter.   Given the current climate, doing a series of symbolic acts (I actually think it's just the goodness of his nature) that will make it difficult to caricature him in the future, is very smart.  

Here's another good piece from Jody Bottum:

Jorge Bergoglio... is an advocate of the poor who has consistently opposed the Argentinian government’s ostensible programs for the poor. A social activist who rejects most social reform. A churchman who refused many of the elaborate trappings of his office while promoting the power of the church. A populist who denies almost every request for an interview. A leftist who denounces the state power and cultural changes demanded by the left. A reactionary who despises the accumulation of wealth and the libertarian freedoms praised by the right. No attempt to impose liberal and conservative definitions on him will succeed. Pope Francis simply won’t fit in those categories, mostly because the ancient religious insights of Christianity—taken, as he takes them, in their undiluted form—cannot find an easy place in the modern world.
All of which makes him quite possibly a saint, in the mode of his namesake, Francis of Assisi.
Well, I don't know about that last bit, and I'm pretty sure that Pope Francis would scoff at it himself.   My take on him is that his humility is real, and comes from a true identify as a man of God at the service of his fellow men.   But I think the part about how the categories of right and left won't fit him is exactly right.   A church that radically stands for the dignity of every human person will not easily fit within any of the current political parties in the Western world.  

Should be a very interesting holy week this year.

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