The most striking part of the papal visit to Britain was not its regal splendor but its human poignancy. It was more touching than overwhelming to watch these still spry eighty-somethings, Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI, greet each other with the kind of affectionate wariness on display when, after extensive family discussions about if and when and who will sit where, prospective in-laws finally meet -- shielding their doubts about what will come of it with the practiced grace of good manners.
Bulletins from the Human Side
The real problem may be that archbishops don’t have enough to do. That probably explains why Archbishop Denis Hart of the Melbourne, Australia archdiocese recently banned “romantic ballads, pop or rock music, political ... and football club songs” at funerals -- explaining that the ceremonies should be devoted to prayer for the soul of the deceased.
We talk about the quick end of summer but it actually dies slowly. We root for it as it fights, as doomed and gallantly as the defenders of the Alamo, to preserve its sunlit freedom against the assault of autumn that takes us prisoner and repatriates us to the routine days in which we live most of our lives. The sure sacramental sense of the church is nowhere more evident than in its designation of this period as ordinary time.
"The bishops," Catholics concluded of their supposed shepherds’ reactions to the explosion of the sex abuse scandal a long desert of a decade ago, "they just don’t get it." Laypeople were expressing their frustration that church leaders did not, or could not, see this tragedy -- even after it had been dragged kicking and screaming out of the darkness and into the light of day as a hypocritical betrayal of everything the church was supposed to stand for.
First, the bishops didn’t get that it was a scandal -- that is, as the Oxford English Dictionary describes the specific religious use of the term, a "discredit to religion occasioned by the conduct of a religious person." Like the astronauts who signaled "Houston, we have a problem," they sighed "Dallas, we have a problem" as they nervously assembled in that city to see what they could do about it.
Even their advocates make the new liturgical translations sound like medicine for -- instead of the symptoms of -- a disorder that demeans the sacramental nature of Catholicism. Swallow this they urge -- like mothers forcing a spoon aquiver with spring tonic on their young -- it will be good for you. Thus Our Sunday Visitor reassures readers that responding "and with your spirit" is superior to "and also with you" because it literally mimics the original Latin, which, of course, is exactly what is wrong with it.
The theology of the body or how to keep catholics feeling guilty
Paralleling Groucho Marx’s famous line, "either this man is dead or my watch has stopped," Cardinal Rigali either doesn’t know that Pope John Paul II is dead or his watch has stopped and he doesn’t know that he can stop running for a red hat. The old clerical gag during his time in Rome was that his cassock was always rain spotted from standing in St. Peter’s Square during the ambition storms that are to the Vatican what tsunamis are to the South Seas, waiting for the lightning strike that would transform him into a cardinal archbishop.
Clerical culture's constituents resemble golf club members afraid that women, if accepted, would storm the locker room and see the emperors without their clothes on or the raw truth about monsignors. But also like many golfers they are mostly nice guys with good taste and good manners. And that, of course, is where they get those Catholics who, in the Wagnerian weather of the Ratzinger regime, search for a break in the massive thunderheads that trail back to the lightning filled storm that broke over Vatican I after it voted for papal infallibility and hurried to a close.
The news that, including retired prelates, Chicago is now home to more bishops than monsignors means that the tipping point has been reached for clerical culture. Imagine the hierarchical church as a crumbling amusement park on whose lonely and littered midway one battered attraction survives -- a huge teeter-totter, one end dug into the ground like a dagger under the weight of its once easy rider bishops while the other sways like a construction crane clutching a cargo of lighter-than-air monsignors.
Eric Sevareid began his career as a reporter for CBS Radio just as France buckled and fell to the lightning strike onslaught of the German armies in the fair spring of 1940. The country of so many remembered glories seemed in denial to the journalist who described the "unreality in it all." The professional classes displayed "a determined effort to retain ... a way and habit of life which the closing in of history was grinding away."
The current issue of Our Sunday Visitor, that still point at the whirling universe of church publications, reminds its readers that the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is rising like a midsummer moon over the calendar pages. They urge them to celebrate this commemoration of the direct assumption of Mary, body and soul, into Heaven. This really happened, the church is said to teach, as a fulfillment of Mary’s remaining both sinless all her life and a virgin after giving birth to the Savior.