A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005 :::
10 years ago or more a thoughtful Evangelical was pondering a move to Rome, and so it came to pass that he asked a Certain Pudgy Balding English Teacher, whom he knew well, why he had not yet joined the Catholic Church. “If I could join the Catholic Church of Joseph Ratzinger,” came the reply, “I would convert in a minute.”

This morning—appropriately enough--brought a provocative e-mail from another Evangelical friend who is endocrinologically anti-Catholic. He asked for a reaction to people who were getting all excited about what appeared to be a profile of the Virgin Mary in the mineral deposits from a leaky pipe.

The reaction was that there was no reaction.

Protestants excommunicate each other with abandon and without a second thought. It takes an act of submission to share a pew with people whose faith is utterly alien to yours, and to honor that faith. That is the Catholic Church of Karol Wojtyla, at once the most intellectual and most democratic leader of the 20th Century. To read even his most casual thoughts is to be drawn into the deepest well. To see a saint immobilized before his time by Parkinson’s joyfully bending all his strength to kiss some gaudy plastic Holy Toy proffered up to the Popemobile is to be drawn into the deepest love.

And now we have the Catholic Church of Joseph Ratzinger.

As it happens, the news of the election of Benedict XVI proved somewhat bittersweet, though not at all unwelcome. To get to the Catholic Church of Joseph Ratzinger, this pilgrim had to pass through the Catholic Church of Karol Wojtyla, and was changed thereby. A concern for the liturgy, the experience of being a Bishop without a clergy on the frontiers of Islam, the life of an Evangelist through whom the Holy Spirit worked wonders in a destitute land, now seem very special qualifications for the Shoes of the Fisherman. Francis Cardinal Arinze came to hold a special place in that English teacher’s heart. His Eminence is, in his very being, the personified extension of the teachings and life of Karol Wojtyla.

But he must wait his turn, or wait his final reward. The next decade belongs to Benedict XVI. The faithful servants of John Paul the Great will not go unnoticed under Benedict. Francis Arinze is there for the Holy Spirit to use, and he will not be put aside.

But he will not be Pope. Not yet, anyway.

What of Benedict?

The feature of Benedict that was so attractive 10 years ago still attracts. He has a wide-ranging mind that does not flinch from the unfamiliar, but what he knows, he knows clearly, and he states clearly. In the world of Francis Arinze, this is a great virtue. Indeed, it is good to remember then-Archbishop Arinze’s reaction to the election of Karol Wojtyla: “We are going to have a bit of clarity in the Church. We are going to know where we stand, clearly, without being aggressive—but clear.” (Many thanks, as always, to George Weigel, for the quote, from his magisterial Witness to Hope.) To put it bluntly, when Islam and evangelical Catholic Christianity face each other, abortion will not be an "issue"—it will be a point of common understanding. Clarity, not pusillanimous “openness,” is the way forward, and the way of hope.

For those who think that “Europe is the Church, and the Church is Europe,” in Belloc’s formulation, these are not good days. Cardinal Ratzinger came out of that faith, and he intervened--perhaps imprudently--to protest Turkey's entrance into the European Union on that basis. But he also sees clearly that Europe has made its choices, nearly all of them bad. The first Pope from Middle Europe in 1000 years (and the first Polish Pope ever) believed that the tide could be turned, and Europe could find its way back from the brink. The second Pope from Middle Europe in 1000 years—the first Pope in 1000 years from the country that gave the world one of its clearest examples of European “culture” unhinged from its roots—does not share Karol Wojtyla’s hope. Joseph Ratzinger—Benedict--thinks European culture has entered its death throes. (Thanks again to Prof. Weigel for highlighting this essential difference.) If certain Cardinals were unready for a Pope from the South, they got a Pope who looks to the South.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s last book to appear in English—the one released just a few months before he became Benedict—is Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, which exactly takes up those problems being mentioned following his election. One shamefully admits that the book lay unread on the shelf until this afternoon. But what a revelation. The book displays a full and sympathetic understanding of the ways of thought of Southern Asia—including Islam, and most particularly, Hinduism--and their influence around the world. But what Joseph Ratzinger knows, he knows clearly, and he states clearly. He was not the candidate of those who grasp at the last shreds of "Europe is the Church." He is looking forward. (His last books as Joseph Ratzinger are apparently not yet in English, and one is on Europe.)

Once again we must be blunt: the Papacy of Benedict XVI is the cherry coating on the medicine that the Church, and the world, need. The Popemobile is pointed South.

Faithful children, buckle up. It’s going to be a wonderful day.

People are making something of his choice of Benedict, as the original St. Benedict is the Patron of Europe. However, something in the creaky memory says that the Holy Father had a "Benedictine sensibility," meaning he was a student of Benedict and followed his teachings on spirituality. So there may be less to the name than some think.

Nope, got that wrong: his Augustinian.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 9:44 PM



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