Friday, 17 September 2010

The Pope has landed

I've refrained from commenting on the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI until now, sorely tempted though I've been. Today, however, it's got underway and no longer do we have to bother about speculation and media-generated controversy. Only yesterday the BBC News routinely described it as "the Pope's controversial visit", and I couldn't help thinking, "Controversy fostered by whom?" To give the BBC their due, they did put on what I considered an illuminating programme, Trials of a Pope, yesterday presented by journalist, Mark Dowd. But as a listener commented on Radio 5 it seems that every item about the visit would be preceded by an item about past child abuse. It's impossible to exaggerate or to eradicate that scandal; and yet it sometimes feels as though the media take an unholy delight in it all. I'd call it media vandalism - an unbridled propensity to sling mud.
However, now it's happening. And my verdict is so far, very good! (If you want to catch up with it, there's a 24/7 webcast: A few too many introductory speeches for my taste, but the Papal Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow was my highlight. The Pope's homily (and his first speech in Edinburgh) made me realise why, at the age of 83, he seems to arouse such hostility from the sceptical chattering (or should I say twittering?) classes. He's an old man, certainly, but his analysis of western society is penetrating (I think he talked about the 'dictatorship of relativism' and earlier the 'tyranny of secularism'). His point, I took it, is that if we subscribe to the post-modern idea that there's no absolute truth and above all no God who commands love, then we fall prey to any prevailing fashion of ethics. His warning was that, paradoxically, subjective truth does not lead to more tolerance but to less - a point amply proved when I had the misfortune to turn on Twitter and read the tweats full of vicious and personal bile directed against the Pope.

He's not, of course, blind to the past intolerances in Christian history, as he demonstrated by referring to the 450th anniversary of the Reformation Parliament - the period when Protestants and Catholics committed unspeakable atrocities against each other. However that reference came between talking about Pope John Paul II's spurring on ecumenical (inter-church) friendship and the 100th anniversary of the Congress that gave rise to the ecumenical movement. He thanked God for the promise that gave "for a united witness to the saving truth of God's word in today's rapidly changing society". He didn't ignore the abuse scandal, it seemed to me, in what he had to say to bishops and priests about their call to holiness.

But for me the most moving part of the sermon was when he addressed the younger members of his audience, and talked about the temptations of modern society "which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things (drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol) are destructive and divisive". "There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you." On the button, Your Holiness, if I might humbly say so.
And then followed the quite simple but very powerful enactment in the mass of what he'd just said, the love of Jesus Christ personally for everyone - and for those like me who're disabled I imagine the special place reserved for the lass with cerebral palsy to receive the bread with her carer was especially poignant. In God's eyes, we are not expendable and not less valuable.

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