Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Good Word

There is no adequate apology, of course. There are no words that will make a meaningful difference. Words are what we use to tell lies with. Words are the tools of seduction, and corruption, and molestation. So whatever the Pope said, when he met with those five victims, will be, in a way, irrelevant. What would have been meaningful was his honesty, his sincerity -- the presences of his humanity.

He must weep with shame, when he is alone. He would do so, if he is what he appears to be. The man looks like a saint. His voice, mellowed with the soft sibilant accent of southern Germany, is as gentle as love can be. So I believe him when he speaks of the shame that responsible authority must feel over what their church has allowed.

He held their hands, and let them speak. Perfect. We know his office has been polluted by monsters. Medicis and Borgias come to mind. There were corrupt High Priests in the Temple of God in Jerusalem. There were venal prophets and corrupt judges. An office does not redeem a man. I hardly know what can redeem a man. I know that gentleness has something to do with it. Frail Peter, shamed and encouraged by no word of reproach, wept in bitterness and found his peace in the example of sacrifice. There are worse things than pain. What can ease the suffering? Not compassion alone. Compassion that acts.

The rituals have their psychological truth. The vestments have their function, of lofty solemnity. Miters and incense and rosaries serve their purpose. But these have been used throughout history, by authorities holy and vile. God is not deceived by similitudes. Neither will we be. Just as God wants mercy, not sacrifice, we will not be deceived by clanging cymbals and wind sounding through hollow trees. When our righteousness can be nothing more than filthy rags, and there is no pleasing thing in us, what offering can we bring? Well, isn't it obvious? Humility. And we start with each other. That's where we finish, too. God, alas, can't be fooled. I would if I could. Since we can give no good thing to God, we have to give what seems to be good, to each other.

That's why this Pope got it right. In the presence of unspeakable pain, only God should speak. The rest of us, no matter how honored, should shut up. In his stillness, the Pope may have reflected, faintly, the presence of a merciful and forgiving and compassionate God. If we are ever to find peace, it must be through such a revelation.


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