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The Pagan and the Papacy

Author: The Redneck Pagan
Posted: November 24th. 2013
Times Viewed: 2,676

Many years ago I was introduced to Catholicism, partially from my Catholic Grandmother, and partially from spending a few years in the only French Immersion school in our city that was a Catholic school. I am afraid I have no horror stories to share with you on this topic. I have a lot of respect for 99% of the Catholics. There are still a few of them that I am not very fond of, but such is human nature. In any group there are going to be good people, people who fall a little short of the mark, and absolutely reprehensible individuals. I do not blame religion or culture for them; I blame the individual and those who enabled them. But that is not the point of this conversation today. I will tackle that landmine at a later date.

One of the things that my time in Catholic School taught me was the structure and history of the Church, including the Papacy. I learned about Priests and Nuns, Bishops and Cardinals, about living a life of service to God. There was something about this idea of service that struck a cord with me. I did my best to be a good Christian, but my heart was not in it. I felt my feet were destined to walk another path, so I moved away from Christianity. But I never put down the idea of service to others, nor did I loose my interest in the history and Traditions of the Church. Then a pope died.

When Pope John Paul II passed away I learned a bit more about the way that the College of Cardinals passes on the power from one pope to another, and I watched with interest as the Conclave progressed, until the day the white smoke was seen above the Sistine Chapel. I was introduced to Pope Benedict XVI (now Pope Emeritus) . I watched the announcement and part of his speech. A few days later, I looked up pictures of his inauguration. After that I have to be honest, I did not really follow his career much. I was too busy learning about the Pagan Path and exploring my Irish roots. My interest was slightly rekindled with the release of the Davinci Code movie and Angels and Demons movie.

I watched them from time to time, but still did not really follow the news of the Papacy, until one day I heard that a Pope was retiring. My first thought was “WTF kind of prank is that? Popes die, they don’t retire”! But further research confirmed that indeed the Pope was retiring. So I followed this news with interest. The first time in 600 years this has happened, so it was fascinating to me. I watched the reporting at St Pater’s Basilica and was very excited to see the white smoke again. Eventually I saw the announcement of Pope Francis.

Over the next few days, I pondered about my interest in the Papacy (After all, I walked away from this faith years ago, and have devoted myself to a faith that often seems to react to Catholicism like oil does with water) . I also took some time to reflect on the three Popes I have seen in my lifetime. I came to the conclusion, a rather startling conclusion for many Pagans; I realized that I have learned a great deal from each of these men.

Pope John Paul II was the first introduction to a life of service I had really had. I did not understand how so many clergy, across the world could devote themselves to the betterment of humanity and spend their lives in service to that which is greater than themselves. I had never really connected the idea of Priests, Rabbis, Shamans, Medicine Men/Women, Reverends, Mullahs, Monks, and Nuns (or any other religious person whom I have forgotten) and the lives they live, until I learned about the life of Pope John Paul II. This then led me to my second revelation: Tolerance.

Pope John Paul II was a Catholic man. He had spent his entire life in service to the Catholic Church, it’s members and it’s God. Here was a man who truly believed in the tenets of his faith, and yet he met with many religious leaders across the span of his time as Pope. His praying in a Synagogue and removing his shoes to pray in a Mosque were examples of understanding and respect that any member of any faith can learn from. He taught me to respect those who are different from me, while remaining true to my own heart and conscious. I was genuinely sad to hear of his passing.

The next Pope, Benedict XVI was a much different Pope. Being a man that was far more interested in preserving the Doctrine of the Church than building bridges the way his predecessor did. He also was considered a very flashy Pope, wearing designer shoes, golden crosses and big on pomp and circumstance. I have to admit, I did not cast favorable eyes in his direction. I heard a bit about the Church sex scandals and my opinion of the man fell lower than I had thought possible. Until the day he announced his retirement. I saw a frail, old man declaring to the world he no longer had the strength to carry on his work. From him, I learned the value of tradition and how to accept limitations.

Now, I do not want to get into an argument about how awful he was, or about everything he did wrong. I acknowledge he made many mistakes and there was much he could have -- and probably should have -- changed. Having said that, I am not he. I was not in that position. While I would have done things differently, I cannot promise I would have done any better. I will leave his judgment in the hands of those he led, those who were wronged by his decisions, and the God he prays to. I do not have that right. And as I said, his example taught me some things.

Ceremony and tradition are important parts of our lives. They give continuity from one generation to the next. They give us the framework from which we are able to fill our lives with meaning. Without this framework, we would wander, no past to give us roots, and no way to envision a future to fly to. While I do not agree with many of their traditions, I respect it, and the right of people to follow it.

As to limitations, it must have been very hard for him to admit to the world at large that he was too weak to lead the Church. He acknowledged the decline of his physical state, admitting his body was failing. He also admitted to the strain psychologically; a man, who prided himself on the power of his mind, admitted to the world that it too was failing him. I am not sure I would have been strong enough to admit this to the world, even when it was blatantly obvious. I also know that I struggle immensely with knowing my limits. I often work myself to exhaustion without resting, or admitting that I need rest. This old man, who I though was a jerk, taught me to care for myself.

Then came along Pope Francis. I have to admit, I rather liked him from when they first announced him as Pope. He presented himself to his followers in the plain white clothes of the Pope, a simple iron crucifix around his neck. No grand displays of wealth and power, he showed himself to the world as a simple man. Over the next few days, my like turned to respect. After being elected, he was offered the choice to take a limousine from the Sistine Chapel. He refused, instead telling the Cardinals that he rode with them to Conclave on the bus, and he will ride back with them. The man is well known for his frugality, cooking his own meals, using public transport and care for the poor and the homeless.

In the days that followed his election, he greeted many of his followers, walking amongst them, touching their hands and blessing them. In his inauguration speech, he reminded people to care for the poor, be compassionate towards each other and care for the environment. From him, I am learning humility and how to better care for those around me. I was reminded of how sacred service to others is. How caring for those around us lifts us all up and brings us closer to the divine within and around us. His teachings have reminded me that every person around me is my brother and sister, and that practicing kindness, compassion takes more strength than do my snarky and sarcastic impulses.

So, there you have it. Who would have thought that a Pagan would have every learned anything from the Catholic Church, let alone from three different Popes! But the reality of it is, when I set aside my arrogance, my ego fueled need to be right and them wrong, and opened my heart, I learned. Rather than being blinded by my own bigotry, I allowed myself the gift of opening my eyes and hearing the words of another. I leave you now with a quote I stumbled upon recently, and a prayer that we, as human beings, can listen to, learn from and respect each other:

“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit. ” - Kahlil Gibran





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