Did Jesus array his apostles in beautiful but frightfully costly matching vestments that set them apart from ordinary people? Did he speak in the elegant language of the educated elite, or did he tongue the popular Aramaic dialect of his first disciples? Did he wine and dine sumptuously? Yes, probably, to this last question, but as a means of reaching the sinners whom he joined at table, not as a customary privilege elevating him above the hand-to-mouth contingency of daily life for most people on the planet at the time, if not also for the majority of people on the planet at this time.
I do not begrudge the opulent architecture of all the Vatican's churches. Beauty is a powerful language for teaching about God, and praying for the protection of these religious treasures is a great idea. A terrorist bomb or two could obliterate these memorials of spiritual magnificence forever, because wealth sufficient to recreate them is no longer in Christian hands, even if there were new Michelangelos equal to the task. Obliterate these artistic splendors, and their power to witness and transform is lost forever.
I do, however, begrudge the grand trappings and lifestyles of the aptly-monickered "Princes of the Church." I wish that I could reproduce here an image of the bedraggled Saint Francis appearing before the oppulently-arrayed Pope Innocent from the movie, "Brother Sun and Sister Moon," but copyright sanctions seem to make that impossible. Who is remembered more today--the bare-footed friar or the wealthy Pope before whom he stood? Similarly, who today could speak most credibly in the name of the carpenter from Galilee?
I include my own denomination within this reflection. I so would love to smack those colleagues who smugly hint online about how busy they are and how hard they work. They are a tad out of touch with the ever-increasing demands in the secular work force, not to mention the stresses of prolonged unemployment, not to mention the grinding systems of poverty institutionalized abroad and increasingly created here at home through misguided social programs. "Pampered" is not too strong a word to describe the level of privilege many clergy are provided, especially considering that the work we do is of the same sort that laypeople do in addition to earning their living.
But--back to this Pope-election thing. One very particular, humble, spiritually-authentic follower of Jesus undoubtedly sits among the splendidly-attired cardinals now gathered in the Sistine Chapel to select Saint Peter's newest successor. Let's keep our fingers crossed (in prayer!) that the Holy Spirit enlightens the Cardinals to properly discern that very particular one. Then let's keep those fingers crossed in prayer that the Holy Spirit will further inspire and empower that person to cast away or clean up everything that would tend to prevent the world from seeing who he truly is and hearing his message that Christ came into the world to save us all. And while we're at it, may that chosen person throw open the doors to all who would join him in his work, so that his people might flourish and not watch churches close for lack of sufficient priests.