An openness to change

  • It’s not often that we see Latin headlines. Even less often that we see Latin cartoon captions.
  • The election of a pope is one of those times. Well, maybe the only time.
  • Habemus papum, or we have a pope, was a widely used headline.

And one-upping everyone else in Latin phraseology, the New Yorker magazine had a cover cartoon of a older man wearing swim trunks and a papal type pointy hat, lounging in a hummock between two palm trees on the beach, reading the newspaper with a section in his hand headlined SCANDEL, and other sections flying off in the gentle breeze headlined DISGRACE, OUTRAGE, COVER-UP and SHAME.

The caption, on the first page inside, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi,” was without the English translation, “So passes away the glory of the world.”

Catholic magazines, of course, devoted most of their space, in print and online, to the election. I received two in the mail a week or so after the election and, as often happens with print periodicals, they were still discussing an event that had not yet happened, wondering, hoping, praying, but not making specific predictions.

There were some astute observations, though, about the direction of the church and what kinds of changes seem most needed. This is a small sampling.

In Commonweal, John Garvey, an Orthodox Catholic priest (not a Roman Catholic Priest), reminded us that the famous words of Lord Acton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” were referring to the papacy, which was then about to proclaim itself infallible on some matters.

In the new pope, Garvey was hoping for a holy man rather than an executive power wielder: “It is the manifestation of holiness that we need. Bishops, from the pope on down, have had little to do with this, and, by confusing holiness with morality (primarily the sexual kind), the hierarchy has muddied the waters.”

In America magazine, Roman Catholic priest James Hanvey, a member of the Jesuit order as is the new pontiff, summarized the recent direction of the church in a similar way:

“Increasingly, bishops find themselves acting like chief executive officers, with a strange confidence in condemning and disciplining, enhancing their retro-liturgical plumage rather than living out the sacrament they bear.”

In the online edition of the National Catholic Reporter, Sister Joan Chittister, put it more succinctly: “People are weary of hearing more about the laws of the church than about the love of Jesus.”

She is a member of the Benedictine order of nuns who have been following the Rule of St. Benedict for over 1500 years. One bit of that Rule, yes in Latin, is conversatio morum, or a continual openness to change and growth.

Well, the new pontiff, Pope Francis, seemed to be listening to these observations. For his first appearance after being elected, he shunned colorful and ornate garb for a simple white vestment. And at the ordination ceremony, he did not chastise or condemn, or refuse to give communion to Joe Biden and certain other Catholic dignitaries, as some in the reader comment sections of online magazines urged him to do.

Instead, he manifested humility, holiness and an openness to change and growth.

(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily?News)