15 March 2013

The Palimpsest

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

-Theresa of Avila.
For those of you who have never heard the term before, a palimpsest is a page, or a scroll or even a book of parchment that has been scraped or washed clean so that it may be re-used.  Some books of the ancients, such as Catullus, and some of the writings of Cicero, survived only in a palimpsest, the original words still visible over the newer text, the original words still visible on the newly white page.

By now, we have all seen the pictures of Pope Francis standing on the Loggia, wearing his simple, white cassock.  Many people are deeply upset by it.  Why, of all the comments to be made, is that the most common?  Why is the denial of a more spectacular spectacle that which rankles? What is it about this unforgivable whiteness that so offends our senses?  It was as thought the papacy has been washed clean, and where we expected a stirring message and a new chapter in a continuing story, we were presented with only a blank page.

And the blankness was not only in his clothes, but on his face.  Confronted with this blankness, many have chosen to write in their own words, find their own message in this.  Some say the look on his face was shifty, others say he was calm, still others that he was clearly a deer caught in the headlights, wondering at the enormity of the task he has just undertaken. 

This blank extends to his actions.  As of writing, he has not reinstated the Curia, something both Benedict and John Paul II did within twenty four hours of their election.  It, too, stands as a freshly blanked page, waiting for the ink to either write or be spilled.

Some have written of the blank that is the Conclave itself, and a report has been carried in one of the Canadian newspapers that Ouellette, whom I would have liked for purely nationalist and selfish reasons to have been made Pope, was kingmaker, and told all his supporters to vote for Bergoglio, and not himself.  The paper concludes that politics and backstage dealings lead to this conclusion, and that Ouellette will be rewarded for his astute politicking.  The paper tells this story because that is the only story it knows how to tell, and it can tell no other.

So the new papacy begins with a blank page, a blank slate, and we are left looking for the message to be found within.  Some look through the whiteness, to see not purity nor potential, but to see what has gone before, as if that determines what is to come.  Therefore they look to the time the man spent in a corner of the world little known and little regarded to us in our northern hemisphere and western culture, and find only fragments.  They piece them together and tell the only stories they know how, and thus we hear that Francis is a fascist who is also a liberal, who supports the poor and sought to oppress them, a successful bishop who failed to keep his diocese together, a humble man who is proud of his humility.

 It may be satisfying, for a time, to tell these stories, and to use these narratives to vent our unease, but in the end, these are our stories, not his, and they our our messages, written onto this blankness.  I suspect that, in time, Francis will make his message to us clearer.  For now, I see this blankness not as message, but as potential.  We are waiting for the message to come, to read the latest chapter of this story that is always old and ever new.  Whether or not it is to our liking is not important.  Many are the times when we must hear something we'd rather not, and often it is for our own good that we hear it.  But whether Francis prove to be a good Pope or a poor one, we are still left with our original purpose: to be Catholic.  It helps us if we have a good Pope to guide us, but, even if he were to prove to be a poor one, the responsibility to remain true to our faith remains with us still.

No comments: