As a lapsed Roman Catholic, lapsed for reasons I will not get into here on Good Friday, the election of Francisco as pontiff has energized me spiritually. With all the nihlism in pop culture, the vacuous leaders who provide no leadership that doesn't lead to some sort of financial or electoral reward, Jorge Mario Bergoglio who patterns himself after St. Francis of Assisi, a saint who eschewed material things as a measure of success and took special care of people and animals on the street, is a breath of fresh air.
I have always appreciated High Mass in Latin as a part of living history. I imagine that if time travel were possible, if you visited a Cathedral after Constantine declared Christianity State Religion, you would be able to follow along. That is comforting in a work that changes dramatically each hour at literally the speed of light, as information circled the globe and our brains. But lately, perhaps before the Vatican II watershed or after John Paul, mass, to me, became less of a celebration and more of a wrote exercise that took place while I would have rather been sleeping, relaxing or maybe even knocking back a beer. The same people appear each Sunday, drone on through the same liturgy and fight like hell to get out of the parking lot at the end of the prescribed hour - not a minute more or the building fund will fail after the Bishop takes his cut. Money, politics and Big Religion are very ugly things. We need them, but they tarnish quickly.
Perhaps the Humility of Francisco will be short lived. Sometimes the best intentions burn out too quickly because they fall on rocky ground or get smothered by weeds. You don't need to wash feet. There are so many ways I cannot go into all of them in a thousand pages so I am going to concentrate on two things we can all do - smile more and think before you speak ill of anything unnecessarily. Just remember, as I pledge to do myself, where there area two or three of you gathered in my name, I am there....
Election of a new pope in the Roman Catholic Church is always an exciting, anticipated event. One reason is that so few popes have actually presided over the RCC in the last 2,000 years. Only 263, some say 255 with the same man holding the office during different times - including Francis have held the RCC Crosier (shepherd's staff). Incredibly, all popes trace their lineage back to St. Peter. Jesus was obviously a good judge of the character and nature of a man because while John was called the Beloved Disciple, he named Peter the Rock of the Church. Christ clearly knew how to separate friendship from leadership ability.
Papal history has been a tumltous one throughout the years. That is to be expected in an organization that spans over 2,000 years. Peter, the first pope, was crucified upside down by Roman authorities upon his request as he did not see himself as worthy to be hung upright like the Sanhedrin has Christ executed. That is a far cry from Pope John Paul's esconcement in the popular "Pope Mobile" as a method to protect himself from Soviet puppet Turkish assassins. Over the next two millennia, there were significant successes and failure in the office. At times there were two pope such as the Great Schism from 1378 AD to 1417 AD. Nor were popes hesitant to use military force to enforce orthodoxy as when Pope Innocent III ordered the slaughter of fellow Christians in Bulgaria during the Albaginsian Crusade. The Bogomil's lands material wealth were taken and the people either executed or forced into harsher serfdom. Other pope's sold plenary indulgences to wealthy people to send poor people out to fight in the Holy Land Crusades to die for their sins.
The individual catholic was regarded as a cog in a vast eccelastical machine - never to question anything. Serfs were sold with the land they lived on. They had to follow both Civil and Regligious Law. Woe to the serf that failed to adhere strictly to either one - he or she could easily find themselves at the end of an inquisition that lead to some of the most fiendish methods of execution devised by man. The church maintained an iron grip lock on material wealth, salvation and interpersonal relationships. This was not to last forever, however.
Lest we focus on on the negative, through the actions of popes, the RCC managed to preserve vast amount of and even greater amount of ancient knowledge that was lost in antiquity. Ironically, it was reexamination of this knowledge, coupled with the Black Plague that made the individual important once again. Originally seen as cheap labor for working the fields and fodder in wartime, the implacable economic laws of supply and demand. Now that there were fewer people in the world, they became more valuable. They were paid more, had more freedom and were generally better educated. This led to the Rennissiance and produced and explosion of some of most well know works of art in history. It also led to free thinking political reformers who began to assert the rights of man as something innate and tangible. Then the Big Split came - with Henry the VIII, Martin Luther and Calvin. Much more blood was to be spilled in the "name of Christianity" but eventually different Christian sects managed to flourish and overt state-sponsored religious violence waned. Even when nominallay Christian Nations fought each other in WW I and II, they fought for nationalistic reasons - not religious ones. In modern times, we still see violence between Irish Catholics and Protestants and certain African sects, especially in Uganda. However, these instances are much the exception rather than the rule. Most modern Christian violence involves demonizing different sects so as to poach their membership and funding.
Which leads us to to Jorge Mario Bergoglio, or better known now as Pope Francis. The Modern Pope is more a public relations administrator that a theological dogma apologist. He has to balance the decay of the old world and its institutions like the Vatican Bank's role in money laundering and it needs to expose rotten core participants that sexually prey upon young people.
The RCC and the Papacy exist in no small part because of divine providence willing that it continue. But that is not enough now that people truly have choices and free will. The people will decided to support it or not. As a lapsed catholic, I ask everyone, even athiests, to pray for the success of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis. If he succeds, the world will be a better place for us all.
"Scientific objectivity has no more meaning to you than it did to the Caliph who torched the Library of Alexandria. If science is worth anything, then it's progressive. And if it doesn't, then it's worthless."