In an article in the New York Times, the man who lived with Oliver Sacks for the six or so years before Sacks died, quoted the neurologist and writer,
“The most we can do is to write — intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.”
(Hayes, Bill. “Swimming in Words With Oliver Sacks,”
NYTimes, August 29 2018)
There have been times, as a teacher of the great works of the English language, when I have believed that writing–and the mindful reading of great writing–opened beyond itself and straight toward the divine. Today, when my mood is dark or my faith weak, I reach for Faulkner or Shakespeare, John Donne or Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, the early novels of Margaret Drabble, Joan Didion’s essays, or the Bible.
Carl Jung’s famous definition of God is,
“God is the name by which I designate all things that cross my willful path, violently and recklessly, all things that upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse.”
Are Pope Francis and all the other Popes back to Peter really the representatives of God as the result of Jesus’ commission to Peter at the crucifixion, “On this rock I will build my church?”
In the glare of an Archbishop’s accusations, Francis doesn’t seem like much of a rock. Time will tell, of course, but whatever the truth, I tremble when I imagine his fear. Bishop of Rome, or not, he is a man, and an old man at that.
This business of who is or is not God, of who does or does not speak for God is of vital importance today.
We need to know how serious it is likely to be if, indeed, Francis was involved in concealing and protecting priests who were molesting children and seminarians.
Is this about God’s absence from the world we have created? Is it about the corruption of the institutional Church? Or is it just one more sordid story about a pathetic man who did not do what he should have done and did exactly what he should not have done–and has been found out?
Of course, there is no answer to those questions about God’s presence or man’s sin, no resolution to the dreadfulness of all this sexual intimidation, grooming, and actual seduction and often rape of (mostly) young boys by the priests in charge of their care and education. There is both too much and not nearly enough to be said about a history of rottenness, and its deliberate concealment. Sometimes there really aren’t the words.
Here we have Pope Francis, challenging norms, questioning centuries-old repressions; speaking for the young man, Jesus, who walked the roads of Galilee, preaching a radical theology of forgiveness and poverty.
Whether he is the true heir of Peter and God’s voice on this earth–and whether those of us who have listened to him and watched him are Catholics or Protestants or Muslims or Jews or nothing at all–this Pope has stood as a symbol of many of the values we honor and for which we have recently despaired. The very fact of the man holds out hope. But what if?
What if he has done this terrible thing? What then happens to God?
To tell the truth, I have no idea. I know only that things have gotten awfully confused.
In a summary of what has happened to the human cast, Richard Perez-Pena, filed from London on August 27th.
“An archbishop, Carlo Maria Viganò, released a letter claiming that Pope Francis, his predecessors and others in the church hierarchy knew of sexual misconduct by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, years before it was made public.
Archbishop Viganò said he told Francis in 2013 that the pope’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, had ordered Cardinal McCarrick “to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance” because of the accusations against him. But Francis, Archbishop Viganò wrote, empowered Cardinal McCarrick, allowing him to help choose American bishops.
I do, in fact, experience a kind of edgy despair as I recognize the same old players–out of the woodwork come the representatives of the newly energized extreme right, both in the Church and outside it.
Inside the Church, the bitterly opposed factions struggle over abortion, gay rights, and a host of other social issues. They also struggle, though it is not mentioned, over power, and here we come up against God again. If we are to hear the voice of God in the voice of the Church, then the Church must do better than this. Those who oppose Francis believe he is unduly influenced by the gay faction and that he is undermining the basic tenets of Catholic theology. His supporters heave a sigh of relief as they hear a Pontiff finally articulating what they are sure is the good. They believe Francis has opened a window and let in some air and light.
Outside the Church, the usual suspects, the most obvious a group I call “Good Old Boy Anti-Catholics,” bubble up out of the mud to drone the old canards about too much money, too much silver, too much ritual, and the evils of all those queer priests living together.
Another group, less blatant and more dangerous, is a large cohort of otherwise perfectly respectable people who now can air their quiet discomfort with all that silver on the altar, with the unnatural celibacy of the priesthood, with the billion-dollar hoard in the Vatican banks. It down just seem to go on and on,
I vividly remember that, when John Kennedy was elected, my grandmother was convinced that the Pope was going to “take over America.” Even as a teenager, I knew that didn’t quite make sense.
If what we have is just another wrangle between liberals and conservatives, just another sordid example of men molesting boys, then I am a little tired of the whole thing.
If this is about God, about what God might want, then the situation is important beyond belief.
If this is about God, in any way, then we are being called to turn toward the divine in our own natures and perhaps to carry a larger share of the load.
I, for one, would like to see Pope Francis–and God–intact when it’s over.