Francis I: first impressions #PopeFrancis

March 13, 2013

As an Anglican with low ritual tendencies, I like my Roman Pontiffs magisterial. traditional, and totally regal. The new man in Rome is a bit unnerving to anybody who might still remember Pius XII. John XXIII, I say, “wear that pretty red cape.” Pius’ successor, wore that big ol’ crown for the coronation and he carried the authority of the office well. Yes, I said coronation. John was borne on a throne by a dozen or so strong men, with an umbrella and huge plume (if memory serves me correctly). Francis will have a ceremony of institution for his new ministry, a rite much in keeping with the dignity of the Anglican rector of a rural parish.

The world certainly needs a simple holy man, but the Bishop of Rome ought to distinguish himself from the Dalai Lama. The trappings of office tend to make the incumbent appear more powerful and austere. This is a quality to be desired as His Holiness sets forth on his vocation of Vatican rat killing. On the other hand, it may be that Francis has no intention of making any of the hard decisions and will rule by consensus and good will. He might call up President Obama and find out how that is working out for him.

There is more here than the stylistic, as important as that is for a world leader. The man himself is a game changer. He will energize evangelization in Latin America and the United States. His presence says something about the modern relevance of the Roman church.

Some members of the media might have wished that the Cardinals had been better attuned to the Holy Spirit and called Jimmy Buffett to don a papal white t-shirt with cut-offs and flip-flops. Of course, Buffett would reign as Elvis I. Now that is a game changer! The only down side is that Buffett (who was raised in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama and attended McGill High a few years before me) might turn out to be a practicing Catholic. These journalists tend to show their ignorance when they bemoan that s0-and-so opposes contraception, abortion and gay marriage. Well, duh.

It I may return to the observations on ritual where we started, there are outward formalities and enduring ceremonies that tell faithful people that the religion of Jesus Christ is not naive, was not dreamed up at a college drinking party, and has enduring power. Ceremonies and traditions, which not being the core of gospel truth, provide the comfortable spiritual space in which we may encounter the Divine Being. This is the strength of liturgical religions and it is why we must take worship seriously. Yes, I have a tendency toward “low” ritual (which is Anglican-speak for an avoidance of Roman Catholic excesses), but there is a great distance between “low” and “no” ritual. It is essential for the church to look after its connection with the past, and therein the Communion of Saints.

Protestants of the Reformation like me wish the new Pope well, even though one could raise a pretty good argument that Anglicans should just shut up and straighten out their own messes.

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