Daily Archives: September 19, 2010
The Papal Visit And The Thing With The Crowds
This is the last day of the Papal visit; the great day of the Beatification Mass – the main reason for the visit – and of the farewell; obviously, this is also the day for some reflections.
We have, in the last days, seen a lot of people (many more than expected, actually) on the roadside, cheering and waving flags or just showing sympathy for a man of whom they perceive, more or less dimly, the intellectual and spiritual stature. We have listened to people saying what a beautiful experience it was to see the Pope, share this moment & Co.
I wonder, though, how many people have experienced not only an exciting moment, but a change; how many people have thought, during these days, at least once that if the man is spiritual and a good chap and firmly opposed to abortion, perhaps one should need to give some thought as to whether legal abortion is really fine; if the Church is an important spiritual instance operating for the good of men, whether Her opposition to contraception and divorce is really so wrong; if the Church is still the moral guide of our civilisation, if homosexuality is compatible with it.
I wouldn’t expect a radical change, but at least a moment of reflection; a pause in which uncomfortable questions are posed to one’s own internal tribunal; to be hastily cast aside perhaps but – once the seed has been planted – ready to germinate when more opportune times come (which sadly often means: bereavement, disease or some other minor or major life’s earthquake).
Allow me to say that I am not very confident that this, or any other papal visit, will have a lasting effect. The vast majority of the people on the roadside, and watching TV, will deal with the Pope as they deal with any other media entertainment: something used for the excitement or interest of the moment and to be rapidly cast aside to follow the next excitement. Hence the oceanic masses greeting John Paul II whilst the pews kept emptying; hence the vast number of people who have “seen the Pope”, but haven’t accepted one word more of what he says than they already did; hence the usual “but” mentality (as in “I am a Catholic, but…” ) we will so often hear from, I am sorry to say, the vast majority of those on the roadside.
The age of the media induces people to confuse media events with reality; journalists are – interestedly, and for obvious ego reasons – particularly prone to this mistake. The truth is that media don’t change people, Papal visits don’t change people, “historic speeches” don’t change people and all those talk of a visit which would “energise” a community is merely empty talk of cowardly bishops who do not want to do their job.
People change with constant effort, repeated daily; with the good and sincere (and truthful, and uncomfortable) homily delivered every sunday; with the trust slowly building in an institution perceived to fight for what is right instead of pandering to common prejudices and conveniences; with the relentless hammering of the unpopular truths no one wants to hear. People change if there is a serious, daily effort on the ground with our friends, our families, our colleagues whenever possible. Media events come and go and in two months’ time no one will talk of this visit anymore. A good priest, a good friend, a courageous bishop are there all the time.
It would be extremely dangerous, I think, to take refuge in the numbers of people cheering the Pope, or assisting at the Papal Masses, to conclude that Catholicism in England is on the right way; it isn’t. It is plagued by amateur (or cowardly, or outright atheists) Bishops, by feeble priests preaching the Gospel of the Easy Platitudes, by distracted sheep for whom dissent is a way of showing intelligence and a critical mind.
These are real issues, and they will not change with a Papal visit.
Let us, therefore, remember this visit for what it is: the joyous occasion of an important Beatification, with some entertainment thrown in (a bit of Popemobile here; a bit of Susan Boyle there). Bet let us not be under the delusion that this visit will change absolutely anything as long as the work on the ground is – as it certainly is today – so evidently deficient.
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