October 6, 2013 A View from the Rectory Window

As I write this on Monday in preparation for publication in this Sunday’s bulletin, the foremost news of the day is a pending government shutdown at midnight tonight. Perhaps (and hopefully) at your reading this will be old news and the matter resolved. Interestingly, Pope Francis has certainly gotten much attention from the media as well. I share with you some excerpts from an Opinion (September 21) in the New York Timesby Frank Bruni entitled, The Pope’s Radical Whisper, that I believe speaks to both these issues, and to the issues in our lives. Mr. Bruni writes:

“…it wasn’t the particulars of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking message in an interview published last week that stopped me in my tracks, gave fresh hope to many embittered Catholics and caused hardened commentators to perk up. It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings.

In the interview, Francis . . . made clear that the flock harbored as much wisdom as the shepherds. Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper . . . And what a refreshing example of humility in a world with too little of it.

That’s what stayed with me . . . his personification of a virtue whose deficit in American life hit me full force when I spotted it here, in his disarming words. Reading and then rereading the interview, I felt like a bird-watcher who had just stumbled upon a dodo.

But Francis’ tone so far is interesting not just as a departure for the church but as a counterpoint to the prevailing sensibility in our country, where humility is endangered if not quite extinct. It’s out of sync with all the relentless self-promotion, which has been deemed the very oxygen of success. It sits oddly with the cult of self-esteem.”

Humility has little place in the realm of social media, which is governed by a look-at-me ethos, by listen-to-me come-ons, by me, me, me. And humility is quaintly irrelevant to the defining entertainment genre of our time, reality television, which insists that every life is mesmerizing, if only in the manner of a train wreck, and that anyone is a latent star: the housewife, the hoarder, the teen mom, the tuna fisher. Just preen enough to catch an audience’s eye. Just beckon the cameras close.

Politics is most depressing of all. It rewards braggarts and bullies, who muscle their way onto center stage with the crazy certainty that they and only they are right, while we in the electorate and the news media lack the fortitude to shut them up or shoo them away. They disgust but divert us, or at a minimum wear us down. Humility doesn’t work in the cross-fire of our political combat. Certainty and single-mindedness are better fuels.

[Pope Francis] didn’t present himself as someone with all the answers. No, he stepped forward —shuffled forward, really —as someone willing to guide fellow questioners. In doing so he recognized that authority can come from a mix of sincerity and humility as much as from any blazing, blinding conviction, and that stature is a respect you earn, not a pedestal you grab. That’s a useful lesson in this grabby age of ours.”

Monsignor Peter M. Joyce