Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Pope on Our Shores

As a child of Vatican II, I have very little personal feelings about the pope, for the pope. I did not notice them at all until John Paul II. Part of that is coming from a somewhat anticlerical Irish tradition. Not anticlerical like Unitarians, but in a demythologizing way. The Irish respect the office of the clergy, and the mystery of Alter Christus—but aren’t officious toward the men. We never had a priest over to dinner, just as we never invited a doctor over. Both professional men performing necessary functions.

The other thing about being after Vatican II is not seeing what came before. Apparently popes were carried in around in chairs, and never left Vatican City. All very dark, as though this human man had any special properties.

So Vatican II brought the medival office into the warmth of the twentieth century. History and the Holy Spirit brought us the extraordinary JP11, but in 1979 I didn’t watch anything of his visit here.

And now Benedict. His greatest act of leadership, the only one that will have meaning to his pontificate, is if he insists on criminal prosecution of the pedophiles, and, in extreme cases like Cardinal Law, criminal prosecution of the bishops. It’s not likely to happen, and the magnitude of how disheartening that is hard for me to reconcile.

The best I can do is hold on to a quote from St. Teresa: “The personal love Christ has for you is infinite. The difficulty you have re His Church is finite. Overcome the finite with the infinite."

That said, I think the trip is going well. The media is shining quite a spotlight on what are really everyday matters, but that’s what it does. I am glad CNN and NY1 are broadcasting the Mass at St. Patrick’s, a glimpse of the pageantry of the Church at its best. I thought singing a verse of the Catholic Top 10 “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” in German was a very nice touch.

But what I love about St. Patrick’s is its common everyday mode, outside of such attention. There are 7 daily masses, all well attended. Daily mass is just 30 minutes, yet it never feels rushed, which I like to think is part its mystical nature.

“The spires of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral are dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline, yet in the heart of this busy metropolis, they are a vivid reminder of the constant yearning of the human spirit to rise to God,” the pope said in his homily.

The lunchtime masses draw every manner of person: shoppers with bags, businessmen and women in suits, tourists, teenagers. Truly every age and race. It’s a very personal time. I have seen people on their knees clearly in agony and suffering. I have wept there myself, trying to find the way through the gifts and difficulties of life. But for those 30 minutes we are all together in the mystical Body of Christ.

Then it is time to go. The word “Mass” itself comes from one of the most ancient of phrases in the rite, “Ite missa est,“ which means "Go it is the dismissal." Yup-—move along now. Take Christ with you, but get going. Because the love and communion with Christ in the Eucharist is essential, but life is outside the walls of the cathedral. And so we exit onto 5th avenue and join the streams flowing north and south.

Updated 4/20: When did the terrorist attacks on the World Trade towers become a "tragedy"? That's how Benedict referred to 9/11 in his homily, and Egan specifically echoed it today at Yankee Stadium. If the towers had been hit by lightening and fell, that would be a tragedy. But that's not what happened. It was a planned terrorist attack to kill as many people as possible. To call it anything else is to do a great dishonor to those who were murdered. That passive term really bothers me.

(Photo: New York Times)


Me, A said...

Your best post.

kathleenmaher said...

How I wish I could love the Mass as you do. While I lived with my parents, attendance was a command. And in high school, for me but not my siblings, a daily command.
Since then, I've attended in phases, trying and failing to find anything positive.
During other phases, like now, I equate my attendance with lying. And when I visit my parents, it's among the many necessary white lies I need to offer them, because they're so easily hurt. But it costs me, backward as this may sound, part of my soul.

M.A.Peel said...

me, I am glad you found something in it.

Kathleen, that is a really difficult situation with your parents. Faith is a tantalizing attribute. I didn't ask for it. My reason scoffs at it all the time, and I believe that I could lose it at any time. Until that happens, I try to exercise it to the fullest.

kathleenmaher said...

Somehow, I knew you'd understand. And while I haven't ruled out the faith "of a child" someday returning to me, I sincerely doubt you'll ever lose it, M.A. Not if you've kept it, your devotion, and your reasoning powers, which must allow for unpleasant realities.
But I wanted you to know, this heretic admires your clear-sighted and immensely forgiving belief.