March 28, 2013

Habemus Papam, Holy Thursday Edition

I had no idea.  Since Pope Francis was named I have been reveling in the daily news about him.  He takes the bus!  He cooks his own meals!  Not an article has been published, it seems, that does not identify humility as Pope Francis' chief attribute.  

So I was caught off-guard when I stumbled upon this blog, which I imagine to be only one portal into a conversation that has been going on out of my earshot among "traditionalist" Catholics.  

This particular post concerns the Pope's celebration of Holy Thursday mass at a youth prison and washing the feet of two women and two Muslims among the symbolic twelve.  The comments are stunning to me in their panicked judgments that all hell is breaking loose at the Vatican.  This incident seems to be insult to injury for a community of Catholics who have felt that the previous two Popes were on their team, supporting their point of view and finally rectifying the trouble called by the "Hippie council" (which is the way in which at least one comment referred to Vatican II).

So let me get this straight:  When the Pope is doing what the traditionalists want, he is the spiritual leader of the church, the seat of moral authority.  When he's not, well, he's not.  Pope John XXIII presided over a the Second Vatican Council, but we disagree with its findings so we can disparage it and him.  Pope Francis doesn't want to live in the fancy papal apartments, so he's denigrating the authority of his office.

Jesus, help us.

Remember Jesus?  The Son of Man, who had "no place to lay his head" (Luke 9:58)?  Remember Peter, the ostensible prototype for the papacy, who was a "sinful" fisherman when Jesus called him (Luke 5:1-11)?  Neither of them ever lived in a palace.  Jesus was more often seen hanging around with the likes of youths in prison and women than with the religious elite, who, when they were around, were usually complaining about how Jesus was breaking with tradition in dangerous ways.  Sound familiar?

As Christians, we do not worship a tradition.  We worship the God who is revealed in the man Jesus of Nazareth.  This is a God who identified with the poor and the sinner (2 Corinthians 5:21).  This is the God who preferred a servant's towel and a brutal death to being separated from the men and women he created and loved (cf. John 13 and Philippians 2).  This is the God who died for sinners, not the righteous (Roman 5:8).

He keeps showing up in his distressing disguise, and when we recognize him -- in the feet of a girl who has committed a crime or the hands of the priest who washes them -- he might cause us upset or alarm.  He was a thorn in the sides of the religious authorities of his day and the religious authorities of ours as well.  

In the coming days we will remember him not only thus, on his knees with a towel wrapped around his waist, but stripped and bleeding in the public square, dragging a log through the streets of Jerusalem, and suffocating, a crown of thorns pressed to his head, hanging by nails on a Roman cross.  Nothing was too shameful for him.  He was willing to take the full brunt of the consequences of law and tradition, bearing the curse for us  (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13).

Let us not paint a different picture, one that is cleaner, more palatable for us, one wrapped in clean white linen and the trappings of worldly authority.  That's not what he has given us.  Instead, tonight, we will have to come to terms with dirty feet, a body, as bread, broken, blood poured out.  It might make us uneasy.  I think he wants it to.

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