Monday, 20 September 2010

Softy, softly, catchee monkey

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!


GOR said...

Good points, Ches. On more than one occasion the Holy Father has said that what the Church needs is saints - not managers or functionaries. And saints tend to lead by example rather than by “knocking heads” (though some of them did that too!). In his interview with then Cadl. Ratzinger in 1985 Vittorio Messori, aware of the German propensity for order and efficiency, jokingly asked him if he would not have preferred a Church with its center in Germany rather than Italy.

He replied: “What a disaster! We would have an overly organized Church…” He goes on to speak of saints and of the criticism of Vatican ‘slowness’. “The art of soprassedere, of postponing as you Italians say, can permit the situation to become less tense, to ripen and therefore to clarify itself. Perhaps there is an ancient Latin wisdom here also: overly quick reactions are not always desirable, a swiftness in reflexes that is not so excessive sometimes ends up by respecting persons better.”

We may sometimes feel frustrated that things are not moving more swiftly, but I believe the Holy Father knows that he will not be able to accomplish everything he would like to accomplish as his time is limited. But he is concerned to sow the seeds and set the stage for someone else to complete the work. And despite the undoubted human machinations surrounding papal conclaves, the Holy Spirit will always have the last word.

The Guild Master said...

Actually, I'm not so sure that he is proceeding slowly at all. Stand on top of 2010. Now, close your eyes and pirouette 180 degrees. Open your eyes. Look back there...2005. My what a long way we've come!

Back then, we were still referring to the Anglicans as a "church" (if we weren't calling them something else). Back then we thought that "subsist" might mean "could be found partially and incompletely". Back then, we were unlawfully prevented from having the ancient rite of Mass. Back then our secular media brethren thought that the Pontiff was on the same journey as them only slower. It's only when we stop that you realise how fast we've been moving.

berenike said...

GM: wasn't Dominus Iesus 2001?

The Guild Master said...

"Dominus Iesus" was issued in 2000, but I was actually referring to the CDF's "Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the church", which was issued in 2007 - very much during BXVI's pontificate.