WE HAVE A POPE!!! WE HAVE A POPE!!! WE HAVE A POPE!!! WE HAVE A POPE!!! WE HAVE A POPE!!! WE HAVE A POPE!!! WE HAVE A POPE!!! WE HAVE A POPE!!!
Update: So it's Pope Benedict XVI. Hmmm. Well I guess we won't be seeing any major changes from the top in the next 5 to 10 years. :-/ It's nice to see Ratzinger smiling, though; he always looked so serious in previous media appearances.
Insiders on TV say he is actually a very spiritual, very humble person.
God bless him and God bless the Church. I will be praying for him tonight.
Frankly? I was startled, on the day that the Pope died, how much coverage about him the foreign cable news networks were giving. Almost all other news was shoved to the side and the cable news networks discussed the Pope's death (and life) almost exclusively for the next few days. (An acquaintance of mine, a priest, said, "It's like CNN has become the Catholic News Network!")
I was startled, because I hadn't yet realized how much the Pope meant to non-Catholics. Of course, I expected a reaction like that from Catholics: our Head Pastor, our beloved Holy Father, had died, and we grieved deeply. I expected that kind of coverage from, say, EWTN, or--in this predominantly Catholic country--from any of the local television networks
But I didn't expect so much of the rest of the world to be moved so deeply.
Yet there it was, all over television, all over the Internet, all over the press.
Even Fox News--which some identify with certain non-Catholic Christian denominations in the United States, some of which (not all of course!) have publicly called the Pope the Anti-Christ--was not at all conservative in expressing its praise and reverence for the Pope.
And more significantly, in a Westernized culture accustomed to highlighting the secular and the profane, television news seemed, for a few days, to be riveted by the ancient rituals of the Church to which I belong, to its centuries-old prayers and traditions.
It was astounding, and it filled my heart with greater love for the Holy Mother Church.
The culmination, of course, was the funeral Mass for the Holy Father, probably the most widely broadcast worship event in the history of the world. Or more than that: it was probably the most widely broadcast live event of any type in the history of the world.
CNN flashed the feeds that were being aired on live television across the globe, including many countries where Christians were a tiny minority: East Asian countries, Middle Eastern countries. In South Korea, in Egypt, in Hong Kong (I think), people were watching the Pope's funeral Mass live and in full--all two and a half hours of it.
That same day, nations across the globe--including, again, countries which were not predominantly Catholic, like Jordan and Nepal--were flying the flags at half-mast.
I remarked to a friend of mine, "Even in his death, the Holy Father is a unifier and an evangelist." As his body lay in state, he was still unifying the world, bringing together leaders of nations hostile to one another sitting almost side by side at his funeral Mass; having people all across the entire globe--regardless of race or religion--watching the same event on television. And even in his death, he was an evangelist: opening the doors of the Catholic Church and the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist to people of all religions (or of no religion).
It has been an incredible week. Truly, an Easter week. In the past seven days, I have been through a roller-coaster of emotions: grief, triumph, awe, inspiration. And most importantly, I feel that spiritually, I have been refreshed, rejuvenated, filled with a renewed desire for my God, to be united with Him and to humbly serve him, inspired and edified by the example of his good and faithful servant, the Holy Father, whose holiness shines as an example of the best to which we can aspire.
In his life, he went out into the world, even and especially the darkest, most forgotten places of the world. In his death, the world went to him.
Understandably, there have been some moments where aspects of coverage and commentary about the Holy Father's death have for me (for whom the Pope's death is very personal), led to ambivalence, or at worst, disappointment.
Some TV anchors' comments have shown ignorance of certain aspects of Catholicism. In the CNN coverage, for example, one of the commentators--I think it was Paula Zahn--said something like, "Judging from the crowds' reactions, the Pope will surely be canonized," as if canonization were merely a popularity contest.
I've seen some slightly distasteful commentary. A local newspaper columnist chose the day after the Pope's death--a day when most Filipino Catholics were still shocked and in profound grief--to launch into a tirade against the Pope's proclamations on women's issues. (Not that such discussion is not valid; I, too, think these are important issues, but there is a time and a place for everything. One doesn't publicly criticize a person at a person's wake, the very day after he has died, in front of his entire family ... and that's exactly what it felt like she was doing.)
I've read some North American blogs by a few Christian bloggers who chose these days of mourning to begin launching into biting and sarcastic rants against the Pope and Catholicism which went beyond healthy theological debate and crossed over into hostile Catholic-bashing. (I have nothing against theological discussion when done reasonably and in a spirit of respect and love, but some of these posts were, well, not exactly loving.)
But c'est la vie. Despite all that, it's been an incredible, spiritual week.
I said earlier that what touched me most about the Pope was his holiness: his prayerfulness, love, and faith.
Weigel's memories of the Holy Father show that he was most moved, too, by those same qualities. Some excerpts:
"The rhythm of [Karol Wojtyla's] life was prayer. The best hour of his day was the hour of private devotion and meditation in his chapel before his morning mass. There visitors could hear him groaning in prayer, in a conversation with God that was, quite literally, beyond words. In addition to the mass and the Divine Office (the prescribed daily prayers that all priests and many Roman Catholic laypeople say), he could be heard in prayer walking back and forth to meetings, taking a stroll in the Vatican gardens or relaxing after lunch in the garden atop the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican where he lived.
". . . His table talk was often conducted in three or four languages simultaneously. He was the most intense listener I have ever met, a man far more interested in what you had to say than in telling you what he thought--or, still less, what to think. In the space of a half hour he could guide a conversation from world politics to the goings-on in a guest's parish church, from inquiries about intellectuals whose careers he followed to questions about a visitor's children. His memory for names was phenomenal, and he could startle you by recounting entire conversations you had had with him years before.
". . . In an age in which personalities are often assembled from bits and pieces of conviction (politics here, religion there; morals from here, artistic interests from there) Wojtyla could be startling. He was the most integrated personality I have ever met, and everything about him revolved around the conviction that Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life. . . .
"By the conventions of his time, the intensity of his Christian conviction should have made him a sectarian, even a dangerous man. To his mind, however, it was precisely his Christian faith and his discipleship that required him to be in dialogue with everyone. Everyone was of inestimable value, and everything was of interest, because God had entered history in Jesus of Nazareth, supercharging the world and humanity with a grandeur beyond imagining."
Lord, help me to grow in prayerfulness.
Here are some more shared memories from people who have personally met the Pope. Maciej Zieba, Head of the Dominican Order in Poland, has a particular moving perspective, also about his prayerfulness:
"He taught me the power of prayer. When he prayed, it was physical. He sighed deeply and made grunting sounds like a lion. Some of us called him the old lion. This was a mark of respect, the way you respect the king of the realm.
"In the morning, he prayed for the entire world. He looked at the map of the world and with his eyes traveled all across it, praying country by country. This was in his apartment. Then in the chapel he prayed for all the members of the Curia around him, looking at sheets of paper with their names and photos as he did so, going from one to the other. The first two or three hours of his day were all prayers."
I don't really want to engage just yet in the ongoing discussion about how "successful" a Pope the Holy Father was. I feel that now is the time to mourn, to remember, to celebrate ... not to analyze nor criticize.
But there is one emerging line of criticism against the Holy Father that has been bothering me, and so I shall say something briefly about it.
I've read two articles (here and here) by pundits (one American who writes about American Catholics, and one British who largely discusses Irish Catholics) who've described the late Holy Father as the Pope "whom Catholics loved but didn't listen to."
The "loved" part needs no explanation: Catholics for the most part adored this Pope.
But what about "didn't listen to"? Both pundits explained that by first citing surveys or interviews with (American and Irish) Catholics who said they either disagreed with or simply did not follow the Church's teachings on certain issues, especially those relating to sexuality, such as the use of artificial contraception and engaging in homosexual acts. "[Catholics] no more took their theology from the words he spoke--many of them--than did the thousands who turned out for the Queen's Jubilee take theirs from her," said the British writer.
I do see the point that the pundits' were trying to make. I don't disagree with the observation that many Catholics do not strictly follow Church teachings on those issues, and in that respect I feel the pundits are pointing to a valid observation.
However, I also think that their descriptions were a little too simplistic. I disagree with the implied conclusion in both articles that Catholics' failure to follow those teachings meant that Catholics largely ignored the Pope's theology. I feel that both articles are not telling the whole story.
Why do I say that?
Because there is, at least, one vast area of the Pope's teaching which I believe most Catholics have followed and taken to heart: his social teaching, at least in the sense of the late Holy Father's deep love of the poor and the marginalized, his concern for the downtrodden, and his recognition of the destructive power of overmaterialistic cultures.
I can only speak from my own experiences and observations. But around me, the places where Catholicism scintillates the most brightly, where exemplars of Catholic life are most inspiring, are those places where Catholics--both lay and religious--have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked ... given hope to the despairing, held the hands of those who are dying.
That of course, has always been part of the mission of the Church--to begin building God's Kingdom here on earth, especially among those who are in the darkest places on earth.
But I honestly do feel that this Pope, both in words and in deed, shone a particularly strong light on this aspect of Christianity and demonstrated the urgency of the need to "bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and release to prisoners." Throughout his life, he expended so much of his energy doing that. And by his example, he taught us to do the same.
Okay, enough analysis for the time being. Let's go back--at least for now--to simply remembering and honoring a truly holy man.
If you're not doing anything else right now, you might want to read this.
There are so many, but here are two nice personal reflections on the Pope: one from a CNBC economics analyst (who is not writing about economics in this post), and another from an Episcopalian woman reflecting on the Holy Father and the meaning of Easter.
The pundits talk about how he changed the political map of the world; about the symbol he was for some of the most profound ideals of post-World War 20th century: social justice, human rights, the dignity of all people; about the revolution he created in ecumenism and in bringing together the three biggest of the world's faiths.
And he did all that.
But as a Catholic, what moved me most was his holiness.
Meanwhile, it seems like a small thing to gripe about at a time like this, but I was so disappointed that the celebrant at the Mass that I attended today didn't talk about the Holy Father in his homily.
Granted, he gave a very good homily about Thomas and the breath of Christ. It was well-prepared and thought-provoking.
But I think everyone at Church needed something: some consolation, some tribute, anything to help deal with today's news. The priest mentioned the Pope in the prayers of the faithful and in the eucharistic prayer, but that was it. I was disappointed, because today's Mass was the closest that we could get to going to his wake--the symbolism of an entire family coming together to attend their Patriarch's wake.
Perhaps he didn't have time to change his prepared homily, since the news of the Pope's passing reached the Philippines at 4 a.m. this morning.
But still, I was really looking forward to some kind of catharsis at Mass.
On the other hand, I'm watching CNN's live broadcast of Cardinal McGarrick give an amazing homily about the Holy Father's holiness, in the Sunday Mass that he's celebrating in Washington D.C.
Sigh, we need more Filipino priests who can be as good preachers.