Thursday, January 1, 2009

Moderating the Pope

Pope Benedict the XVI has a little cheek left in him, yet. Apparently, during his end-of-the-year vesper's service, he made a call to sobriety and solidarity. And during an occasion that marks solidarity via a lack of sobriety, too! Tsk, tsk, Mr. Cheeky-Pope, you do know how to play with your words.

Ah, but we all know what the former Cardinal meant: moderation and brotherhood (sisterhood, too, for all you people who appreciate explicit inclusivism). Not a bad call, really. Bit hypocritical, mind you. Afterall, if the pope were properly moderating his thoughts, he'd probably do something about making Catholicism 'universal' (like it's supposed to mean) and not exclusive (as the claim to being 'the one true church' implies). Yeah, whoops! Labels do pose a problem when they serve as standard-bearers, don't they?!

But let's give il papa a bit of a break. His heart is in the right place. Moderation and brotherhood would certainly help the world get on a little better. And like Benny has made out, it would bolster our chances of more peaceful survival during the global economic tizzy. You know, when tempers flare, people become all panicky, and simple humanitarianism plummets at a rate parallel to the gold standard.

"In his end-of-year vespers service at St Peter’s Basilica last night, the Pope told the faithful that the 'not to be fearful' in the face of 'shadows of uncertainty and worry for the future', but encouraged them to instead return to the virtues of 'sobriety and solidarity' to restore the world."

Just a couple of things here. Does anyone else find it a little caustic, perhaps even smarmy to call for sobriety/moderation from the pulpit in St. Peter's basillica? I mean, addressing the world's financial down-turn while gracing the floor of one of the world's most disreputable building projects, one of the most expensive buildings ever errected*, and giving the charge to be moderate in our dealings strikes me as a tad disingenuous -- many a peasant bought into the lies of indulgences and thereby funded St. Peter's construction. Somehow, robbing the poor to build a basillica of immense expense seems like the last place the pope should be giving the fiat to be easy on the wallet this year.

On a more abstract note, however, where does the pope get off telling people to be more moderate while at the same time claiming to hold all earthly and divine jurisdiction over the Church? While he is vested with full authority personally, all his under-bishops are given authority collegially. It would seem then that God knows how to spread things around a little, but the pope enjoys the sole benefit of being the dude in charge of everyone in charge. He gets to have it all to himself! But I don't think -- if he were truly a virtuous man -- that he would be immoderate with his 'authority', and would more-than-likely give some of it away. Perhaps give enough of it away to make for an equal priesthood amongst all believers? But that would be all biblical and stuff, and would collapse the fundamental power-structure of Catholicism, and there's no way that's going to happen.

I suppose the best alternative for Benedict XVI then, is to do what he did: flap his gums about the virtues of sobriety and solidarity while wielding an immoderate level of power over the faithful, holding on to a exclusivist moniker, and pushing spiritual gems from the cathedra of a $48,000,000 basillica.

What's certain in all of this fulsome gobbledygook from Benedict XVI, however, is that even though he has the audacity to push virtues that he and his predecessors didn't and don't uphold, his message is still pertinent to the rest of us. If we take 2009 in stride, managing our finances, not living beyond our means (as much as is possible), and loving others as Christ loved us, then the lives of billions will be affected for the better. And real religion lives in doing things for the other's welfare.

*Just For Interest's Sake: "The construction of St. Peter's, in so far as the church itself is concerned, was concluded within a period of 176 years (1450-1626). The cost of construction including all the additions of the seventeenth century amounted to about $48,000,000. The yearly cost of maintenance of the gigantic building, including the annexes (sacristy and colonnades), amounts to $39,500, a sum that is only exceeded when actual renewals of the artistic features (such as gilding, repairing the pavement, and extensive marble work on the pilasters) becomes necessary." (See more here.)


Sarah said...

Wow. That building is impressive, indeed. The house of god, no doubt about that. I marvel that this same god (of mammon) manages to convince his followers that hoarding so-called 'price-less' artifacts and art in the basement is an act of moderation. I mean, really, if they wanted to sell them to feed and house the poor, *who* could buy the stuff anyway? So keep it, of course.

I wish it were possible to confirm in the photo just how much grease is actually dripping from Benny's chin- but alas, he and all others are literally dwarfed by their 'moderate' surroundings where they seem to enjoy an unprecedented solidarity... grease and all.


Christopher said...

You're friggin' brilliant, Sarah. That's one of the reasons I love you. And I was brilliant to marry you. Just thought I'd throw that last one in for free. ;)

Anyway, it does fray sanity a little, doesn't it, to have Don Benedict XVI espousing moderation while curating one of the richest institutions on earth. Ever. And like you pointed out, there's really no way to divest themselves of that richness to help the impoverished in any Franciscan fashion because who could buy what they have to offer? Artifacts aren't cheap. But neither is life. So, I suppose hoarding one while meeting the needs of the other (with moderation, that is) is the only 'ethical' thing to do. Mobs do the same thing: protect their own at the expense of decency and basic human kindness.