The reaction among most people to the pope's visit has been one of surprise, quiet satisfaction and joy. It is, I confess, a mood in which I share. If there was something extraordinary in the way John Paul II could command a crowd and strut the stage of history with the other figures of his age, there is even something more extraordinary in the quiet, winsome, counter-cultural figure of the German Shepherd. As soon as he arrived on these shores last Thursday, he seemed to give some secret, silent shepherd's whistle that soon had the ravaging, slobbering dog of secular Britain lying on its back and waiting for a tummy tickle.
We were all fooled by the jolly mood. I very much doubt he was though. And that is another extraordinary thing about him. Instinctively, I wish he would knock some heads together. Prudentially, however, I know he is playing the long game.
What is the greatest danger to his papacy? It is the risk that by over managment he makes rope for his enemies at the next conclave to hang his reforms. He knows it. And if we stopped for a moment, we would see it too. Nobody knows better what the Church's management classes really think. He's seen all the dossiers after all. Likewise, few clerics are more attentive students of Church history; few know, as well as he, how battles can last for decades.
Christopher Dawson once said that secularisation began when we stopped treating life as a pilgrimage and turned it into a fine art. I wonder if the same is true of the Church. How many people on both wings of the Church are guilty of an ecclesiology that would turn liturgy, spirituality and all the rest into a fine art of unconciously self-regarding perfection? How difficult, on the other hand, is it to think in the long term, to prepare a sure if messy pilgrim's progress towards the conversion of even the most entrenched enemy?
When this pope dies, he knows his enemies - and, boy, does he have them - will wish to swing the Church towards another direction. What greater legacy for the gentle, German shepherd not for him to have cleaned up shop in such a way as to stoke their fires for revolution, but to have smothered their hopes with genuine charity, making fidelity to the apostolic faith so evidently and patently the right path for the future?
A nice little touch: someone tells me that when the Pope attended Evensong at Westminster Abbey on Friday he was wearing a stole of Pope Leo XIII ... I think for that I'll forgive him embracing Druid Rowan!