Lenten Observance,Day 38

Here continuing my goal of getting 40 posts before I take a break from blogging for a while. What’s in the news lately is the whole brouhaha over choosing a new pope. I saw an article by Sr. John Chittister (she has a weekly article in National Catholic Reporter called “From Where I Stand…” She noted that this is the 6th papal conclave that has happened in her life. And she added that, as always, she looks on these events with a great deal of hope and promise, even though things have not always turned out as she’d like. But each time, I guess like Charlie Brown and the football, hope springs anew. As this is taking place during Lent (that hasn’t been the case in any of the papal conclaves of my life (58, 63, 79, 79, 2005)) I too take some hope that during this time of reflection and a purging of the soul that the cardinals in Rome will reflect deeply and take this chance to choose a Pope who will take things in a new and more open direction. Given that cardinals are naturally secretive, and that they have some dirt to hide, I’m not so hopeful. But I do hope that this season of Lent, with the promise of a new beginning, will sink in and short circuit the hard and fast rules of the College of Cardinals and we’ll get something new. We did get something new in the selection of John Paul II, but that did not turn out so well — a church that had been opening more and more to the world around it offered the papacy to someone outside of Italy (a good sign), but someone who was marked by his own history as a conservative Catholic fighting against the Communist rulers of his own country. And the Church’s phobias with regard to Communism have often led the Church to support very repressive regimes (e.g. Franco’s in Spain, Mussolini’s in Italy, and they made a deal with Hitler too) against those forces they fear as Communist. In Latin America, the promising new theology, Liberation Theology, was put on hold by John Paul II’s Vatican, though that theology alone was fighting the good fight for the poor in Latin America against the power structures with whom the Church had been aligned. And John XXIII, the beloved pope of my youth, was seen as an old guy who wouldn’t have much time to shake things up. Well, he did make a good start of shaking things up, but then his age and health allowed him only 5 years as Pope. So I wonder, will the church make a move towards greater solidarity with the poor? Will it make greater outreach to other faith traditions? Or will it use the next papacy to further turn the clock back, following in the steps of JP II and Benedict? Will it aim at a much more militant and restrictive church, smaller and meaner? Or will it open the tent more? I hope for change, and believe that people can change and that redemption (personal, not from someone long ago) is possible. Maybe we’ll get it. I hope so, even as I fear it is unlikely.

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