Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Early reflections on a papal resignation by The Parish Heretic

It was just past 5 yesterday evening when I looked at the candles on the altar and did a double-take. I stared harder. And harder. 

'Surely not,' I thought. 

What was it that had me so startled and unsettled? Unbleached candles.

Only Catholics will understand what I felt when I thought I saw unbleached candles on the altar when there wasn't a requiem mass due. I was taken aback enough that I nearly tapped the next passing cleric on the arm and asked about it, but I left it, thinking it was surely an illusion. 

'No one here, G-d,' I thought. 'Please. Please let this just be about my thinking about Brenda, not a moment of foresight.'

As Vespers began, I breathed a sigh of relief - finally, the candles looked the colour they were - white. 

After an indulgent dinner at the Old Parsonage, a not-long-enough night's sleep, and unexpected snow, Monday morning promised to be normal enough, with the added pain in the ass of finishing a Power Point presentation (deadline today). 

Taking a break during the PPT and other administrative duties, I was idly checking my fb newsfeed when a post by a non-religious friend made me freeze in my tracks:

Popes can resign?

Now, I'm one for reading subtext. In trying to make sense of it, I assumed that J must have been  having a conversation about it and posted it as a question to his Catholic friends. 

But even three words conveyed without tone of voice carry a plethora of meaning/emotion. There was too much...startlement in that choice of phrasing, too much, 'Wha?' for me to hold on to my initial interpretation. So I googled.

And sat back in shock.

Surely a parody, I thought, looking for Onion, Daily Currant and Daily Mash email addresses. Instead, I saw Guardian, CNN, Telegraph, Reuters...

It's true. Oh my G-d, it's true.

In that moment, it didn't matter that I was so upset by his election that I had to walk out of the room and cry. Every moment of irimtation, rage, 'DO SOMETHING ABOUT THEM!', calmer moments of disagreement, not one of them mattered.

Not one.

What I did surprised even me - I reached for my phone and texted two clerical friends...then rang one. I, the ultimate anti-Catholic in so many ways, desperately wanted to be around Catholics, around those who would understand the shock and the tangled feeling on hearing the news.

Today, I was completely Catholic.

Today, I wanted nothing more to talk over my feelings of shock, being unsettled, of fear, of grief, doubt. Today, I wanted to be wrapped in that world that I normally keep at arm's length; that world where the words novena, sacrament, veneration are tossed about as casually as my expression, 'Are you on CRACK?' Today, I found myself wanting to round on Protestants and say, 'BUT YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, OK?'

Because honestly, you don't. Oh, you can get it intellectually, but you don't feel it viscerally, that tug in the solar plexus, that sense of being winded, the way a Catholic does. You don't have that sense of the world tilting on its axis slightly as the rest of the world carries on as normal.

You take it as a sign that we don't rest in G-d. That's just not true; it's that we have an infrastructure - a priesthood, sacraments, ritual, tradition - that makes manifest the intangible, the ineffable - a world of rich, deep symbolism that is our way of expressing G-d in the world. 

Now, is it easy to get lost in infrastructure and ritual and make the means the end? Absolutely. But isn't that also the case with the literalism of 'Sola Scriptura'? How often has that been twisted to bully others and suit beliefs that make those not like us less than human? And to me, how barren is that world, one without metaphor and symbolic language and ways of expressing deeper truths, of making manifest that which is unseen. 

So don't assume that, because we are shaken by the loss of the pope, that I and my Catholic peops don't rest in Jesus or don't see G-d as the foundation of our faith. That's a lazy, unnuanced assumption that needs informing. Tolle lege, tolle lege.

And don't assume that, because you know me as irreverent, liberal, challenging, and willing to give two fingers to the Catholic hierarchy (and any member, regardless of rank) when I think it is wrong, that I immediately want to hear nasty, snarky jokes about this. Or that I want endless snide comments about the sexual abuse scandal. Or that I'm over it or don't care. Or that you have no limits on what you can say to me about the Church or its pope, that I'll hold your unreasoning hatred against all things Catholic or religious, because of course I REALLY feel that way, since I'm not REALLY Catholic.

That would be a lazy, unnuanced assumption that needs informing - because if you believe that those adjectives above are all I ever am, if you see me that one-dimensionally - snarky, challenging, indiscriminately rebellious, irreverent - you don't know me at all. 

If you want to know how I really feel and understand what I really believe, ask - then take the time to listen. 

And you'll understand that my faith is a fractal, and how it is absolutely possible - nay, necessary - that I can weep at both the papal election and the papal resignation. 

Because that is love. Not infatuation, but love.

Papa, I may have fought you almost every inch of the way, but it made me a better Catholic. I understood what I believed, what I stood for, what was important. And so...

I thank you for the kindness
And the times when you got tough
And Papa, I don't think I said, 'I love you,' near enough

And as you leave us, my heart and prayers go with you. I love you.

Deus te benedicat.


CEAD said...

I would tick that I loved this, except for one very important thing:

I, the ultimate anti-Catholic in so many ways,

You weren't using that phrase flippantly; this is not a flippant piece. I read that, and I went WHAT???

You're not just not the ultimate anti-Catholic; you're not an anti-Catholic at all. I would describe myself as more of an anti-Catholic than you, and I don't consider myself anti-Catholic at all. Moreover, every single word you write here demonstrates how very wildly inaccurate this self-characterisatoin is. If there's a single dominant underlying theme in this piece, it's how very Catholic you are.

You love the Church. You see the Church's potential and the all-too-many ways it fails to meet its potential, and it hurts you because you love it so much. Since when did loving something or someone make you an anti-ThatThing?


You're not a traditional Catholic in many ways, nor a conservative one, nor an uncritical one. You are too sensitive to hypocrisy to be an uncritical anything. And you are happy to play the devil's advocate; but a devil's advocate plays the important role of challenging others to find and fix the cracks and to clarify the truth.

But since when did any of that make someone an anti-Something? Only when someone is trying to discredit and marginalise that someone, in order to make themselves safer.

So I have to ask you: Why are you driven to denigrate yourself this way on your own blog?


tg said...

Thank you CEAD!

tg said...

THANK YOU, CEAD! Couldn't have said it better myself.