Saturday, 18 September 2010

Rottweiler or German Shepherd?


Well, we've had another day to see Papa Benny (as one of my friends calls him) at work. I can't imagine what it must be like a) with your every move televised to millions of well- and not-so-well wishers, and b) surrounded by a cross between mafiosi and plain-clothed policemen. But then, for a number of reasons, I've never been in the running for Pope. One thing that's clear is that he's a humane and hard-working man. Another is that he's more pastoral than he's usually given credit for - more a German Shepherd than the Rottweiler (of popular myth). He's certainly no pussy-cat, hence the apparently desperate protests of the Liberal Elite, recently rebranded the Bigoted Elite (see

I'm not a Catholic. In fact I'm not that fussed about 'denominations', but secretly I do long for all Christian tributaries and streams to flow back into one mother river. I notice the Pope doesn't talk about 'fellowship' between churches, but 'friendship'. I suppose fellowship would be where we flowed together, presumably in the Tiber! Which is historically logical! It seemed apt that this morning's mass ended with "Love divine" by Charles Wesley....

No one can doubt the Pope's sincerity in expressing his "deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes (of clerical sex abuse)" this morning in Westminster Cathedral. And his spending a significant chunk of his day with five survivors reinforces that. Of course the cynical will dismiss that as gesture politics, and yet a fair-minded assessment of his visit and his speeches wouldn't suggest that he's overfussed about pleasing people or bending with the wind. I suspect it's not fair either to accuse him of being anti-gays, anti-women, or even anti-birth-control. Like it or not, the Catholic Church's doctrine (policy) approves of heterosexual but not homosexual marriage, male priesthood but not female priesthood, natural but not artificial contraception. Yesterday in Westminster Hall he spoke about the conjunction of reason and faith in determining public policy. I reckon it's in those arenas, not in the arena of personal vituperation, that such things deserve to be discussed. Contrary to media portrayal this morning I didn't hear him 'attacking' Britain's moral slide; rather appealing for a reasoned and open  discussion, with faith not excluded.

However, more radically, I really appreciate the simplicity of his core message, that we see and know the love of God in Christ's sacrificial death for us on the cross, and we experience it in a living personal relationship with Him within the family of the Church. And that relationship implies what he called "holiness", a Christlike standard of life. Which is, to say the least, challenging! Funnily enough, I'm reading the same in The Radical Disciple by the very evangelical nonagenarian, John Stott, which has the same wise message.

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