I’ve spent the morning sitting on my balcony reading student papers and enjoying the quiet. The church two blocks from me had been ringing its bells for about two minutes before I realized that it wasn’t noon, and wasn’t Sunday, and there wasn’t a Mass about to begin. The bells have now been ringing for about ten minutes, and should go on for another twenty: the Pope has died.
What I’m feeling now is nothing short of weird. I was no fan of this Pope, who I’d argue, as does jo(e), single-handedly set the Church back decades, and who made it impossible for me ever to make a full return to the faith of my childhood. Through his dogmatic (literally!) positions on birth control, on abortion, on women in the priesthood, on stem-cell research, on celibacy, and so many more issues, through his refusal to acknowledge the complexities of life in the twenty-first century, he made me feel that my relationship to the Church could never be more than partial, with qualifications and caveats and asterisks.
But there’s something in this moment — listening to the call of the church bells, knowing that a worldwide mourning has begun — that does remind me, deep in my blood, that I am and always will be a Catholic. Like it or not.
And there’s the slightest glimmer of hope. Hope for a return to the days of John XXIII. For a new beginning.
The “catholic” referred to in the Nicene Creed, quoted in my title, is the lower-case version, implying universalism rather than denomination. And perhaps today the upper-case version might have the opportunity to imply the same.