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Racing Thoughts Of A (Catholic) Bipolar Writer No. 3: On Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation and Convenient Catholics

VATICAN POPELET US PRAY FOR THE POPE AND HIS SUCCESSOR

I shall be in Italy next week (I hope). I’m just waiting for the issuance of my Schengen visa so I can jump-start my European trip starting with Rome. I have already planned my European trip with my friend Raquel since the last half of January. I am quite excited to see the major cities in Europe with my European friends, and to use this little book called The Civilized Shopper’s Guide To Rome by Pamela Keech & Margaret A. Brucia as my tour guide to all the enchanting flea markets, bookstores and art galleries, palazzos, piazzas and pizzerias.

But I think, undoubtedly, the highlight of my European trip would be at the Vatican, where the Pope is expected to resign as the ecclesiastical monarch of the Catholic Church at 85, and after eight years of public service. While I was shocked to hear the news, I also think it is the best decision for him, health-wise. I may not be as devout as my pious Catholic mother or my Catholic priest uncle, but I highly respect the papacy and the Pope himself.

It has been said that the last time a pope resigned from the papacy was 600 years ago. Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 because three rival popes were chosen by different religious factions, and had to eventually choose a successor that everybody would recognize. It took two years since the resignation of Pope Gregory XII for the Conclave to elect his successor, Martin V. In Pope Benedict XVI’s case, though, he shall be resigning due to health reasons and age, not because of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and leadership rivalry. 

GIVE THE POPE A BREAK

His Holiness elected to resign by the end of February not because he doesn’t want to perform his functions as leader of one billion Catholics, but because he recognized the fact that he can no longer perform his functions as leader of one billion Catholics effectively. An exemplary display of strength of character and humility, indeed.

That said, I still can’t help but point out, too, that the tenure of the Pope has been riddled with scandals of sexual abuse by some of the clergy, and some have even criticized him for not having solved these issues properly. Some say the Church was covering up these anomalies, and somehow caused the decline in number of the faithful and devout Catholics, and of young men choosing to be ordained into the Catholic priesthood, during his eight-year rule.

But Of course, if you are a septuagenarian going octogenarian, solving all these issues in the Holy See can take its toll on your health. Let’s cut the old man some slack, shall we? Let us just pray for the health of His Holiness, and pray, too, that the next pope would be young enough to perform the functions required of the leader of the Catholic nation, but old and wise enough to address the moral and social issues of today.

PRESCRIPTION FOR THESE MODERN TIMES

These modern issues of our modern times need to be seen from a modern man’s perspective, not from an archaic set of belief systems by people who were living in archaic times 2,000 years before. Then again, how could they have known that things were going to change this drastically, back then? It is, therefore, the duty of the Catholic Church and all major faiths to initiate some changes of views towards some modern issues like divorce, homosexuality, even abortion. Continuing with this following-the-Word-of-God-Bible-to-the-letter brouhaha would just confuse and enrage different kinds of people, and with, I fear, deleterious effects.

The Catholic Church keeping mum and turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the sexual abuses and corruption of their own clergy while going on a high and mighty Bible-thumping about (their own version) morality and Christian virtues would just be seen as hypocritical, and would do it no good. The Bible, is to some level, also just a book about the history of the ancient times. With all the conflicting information and views out there today regarding some social and moral issues by theologians, writers, philosophers, atheists, activists, and other non-faith denominations, it is easy to be confused and to just altogether drop religion and religious practices in favor of more practical, rational, scientific views.

SUGGESTION TO CARDINALS AND THE NEXT POPE

So, first stop, I suggest to Their Eminences and to His Holiness, to change some of their moral and social views. The Bible is now rendered as an obsolete form of moral authority. While it might have worked before during the times of pontificating apostles and disciples, it no longer works during these modern times of science and atheists. If people are to attend Church and remain faithful to it, then it must initiate changes on some of its views that will help stop discrimination of other people fighting for social justice, gender equality, and basic human rights.

The Bible was written by people, and can be edited by people. Times change, so should our minds and views change with the times.

HYPOCRISY AND FALLIBILITY

How can one forget what the popes of the past centuries did to remain in power? I had a Christian Civilization class back at the university and I learned all the atrocities the popes caused in the name of God. They were the overlords of the emperors and kings who must yield to their every whims and demands. Unless those emperors and kings want to be excommunicated, burn in hell, and be questioned by other monarchs of the legitimacy of their sovereignty, they must obey the pope. These power plays and ego trips by these popes only go to show that the pope is also just a human being capable of human desires, venial sins, and atrocious crimes  (read: greed, lust, infidelity, envy, vanity. and even rape and murder).

It relieves me now to think that although the popes are still considered to be absolute monarchs today, they no longer seem to have the hubris and enjoy the absolute power of a tyrannical despot. The world has truly changed since the Medieval Ages, indeed. I just hope and pray that some things which are still considered to be intrinsically evil (read: homosexuals, divorcees, and pro-choice people) in the eyes of God (or is it just in the eyes of some hypocritical, primitive men?) since the Medieval Ages will soon be recognized by a fallible, human (read: not infallible at all) pope, as natural and as funny as the business of human nature.

If absolute power must be exercised at all by any pope through a papal decree after Pope Benedict XVI, let’s hope he exercises it with liberal open-mindedness and intellectual plasticity, not with authoritarian conservatism and prejudiced liberalism.

A CONVENIENT CATHOLIC

If you wish to find something inspiring from this post, or to find a verisimilitude of a religious epiphany or apparition, you may stop reading now because it isn’t like that at all.

You see, I am what you call a Catholic by virtue of convenience — someone who chooses to believe in his own Catholic version of God and his own Catholic version of moral catholicity. A convenient Catholic.

I realized that there is no point in fighting it. I was born to Catholic parents and was raised a Catholic in a country that is predominantly Catholic.

No matter how hard I tried to intellectualize the existence of God, or his non-existence, I still cannot escape my inherent Catholicism, and cannot bring myself to forget the Catholic traditions of my family. Ultimately, I think it’s good to be a convenient Catholic, to discriminably choose your own version of beliefs and truths, selecting only those that reflect your sense of morality and goodness: some from the Bible and some from the teachings of the Catholic Church.

I’m sure the Pope wouldn’t mind.

Raymund Fernandez of the Philippine Daily Inquirer explains in a column, “Having religion does have its share of conveniences. For one, it provides us the markers we need to structure our lives, the events by which we might recall what we have gone through in our travel through time, baptism, confirmation, first confession, first communion, marriage, birth, death. These are rituals of a cyclical order. They mark not only our own lives but everyone else’s. And that reassures us in a way that we often do not think about too much. Its just there, like some monumental immutable part of the planet, like infrastructure, our world, kalibutan…”

He goes on saying, “[This] is the consequence of being born into the neighborhood religion, the national religion, the religion of our parents. And many of us are Catholics by virtue of that fact. Our religious experiences are defined by it. It might be peculiar but we cannot say that with certainty. We are Catholics that way. We are Catholics not because we need to or chose to. It is simply a convenient fact.”

GOD BLESS THE POPE

But even if I am a self-confessed convenient Catholic, I was still stunned by the decision of the Pope to resign. Still, I couldn’t blame the old man. He’s also just human. I read in the papers that he had made the decision since last year. Consequently, when the news broke, some atheists and non-Catholics alike made some rather insensitive to the point of sacrilegious remarks and wrote as headline for their articles and blog posts like “Chosen By God Quits” and “God Chose The Wrong Guy.”

Oh, come on! Well, here’s a headline for you: “The Pope Is Also Just Another Human Being. Duh.”

He gets tired. He makes mistakes. He changes his mind. And just like God Himself, the Pope also needs to take some rest. It’s about time the old man took some rest. More thank anything, I think His Holiness’ decision to resign is more of a testament to his commitment to serve God and the Catholic people by letting someone more fit and healthy to take over the Vatican. It’s not fair to persecute an 85-year old man just because he wants to spend the remainder of his days as a Benedictine monk.

I, for one, think that it’s actually quite exciting to have a new pope elected by the cardinals and quiver in convenient Catholic anticipation. Besides, it will also give the atheists and non-Catholics another chance to to anticipate another abdication of a Pontiff who is apparently appointed by The God Himself. Win-win. It’s a cause for celebration for both parties of the Catholics and the convenient Catholics & the Atheists and Non-Catholics.

When, I wonder, then, shall we all hear the words “Habemum Papam” again? I guess we’ll all find out together soon.

And whoever he may be, he shall have my unwavering respect and support, along with the rest of the Catholic nation. I know the Catholic Church and the Pope cannot force anyone anymore to believe in God. That is a whole different thing altogether as it is now considered bad form to have someone excommunicated just because he doesn’t share your beliefs. Not even your pious Catholic mother can force you to do that even if she groveled, cried, and begged you to because she fears your soul might be eternally damned.

Now, everything is a matter of choice — the individual’s choice.

But it sure doesn’t hurt to believe or choose to believe in some things, even if those beliefs were just chosen for the sake of convenience. And it sure doesn’t hurt to come home to a happy family celebrating Christmas, hearing mass together and feeling the electrifying, collective energy of the faithful, converts, the on-the-fencers, and the convenients like me.

It sure, as hell, doesn’t hurt to be a convenient Catholic, and to believe in heaven and God. Walang mawawala kung maniwala ka (It wouldn’t hurt to believe).

And it sure doesn’t hurt to celebrate a momentous occasion in Rome together with the rest of the faithful, converts, the on-the-fencers, and the convenients this Ferbruary 28th (if I get my visa on time) at the Vatican. I hope to see you there, too, atheists and non-Catholics. It’s going to be one helluva a thriller event, don’t you think? Cheers!

May God bless the Pope, Benedict XVI, and his successor, and the successor of his successors. And may God bless us all and may God also save the souls of those frightfully wonderful atheists and non-Catholics, too. I hope and pray that they make it to 85 just like the poor, old man who had the great humility to quit in order to rest  and to give way to a younger and abler ecclesiastical ruler by The One Chosen by None Other Than The Man Up, Up,  Up There Himself.

Amen.

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