This week, my politics-averse friend is in good company, because Holy Week is the time when many Christians pull back a bit from the thrum and bustle of worldly cares. This year, for me, it is with a fresh and unusual sense that things are getting on track, and that I can safely tend to my inner world with some firm hope that the outer world will take care of itself just fine without my nanobit's worth of attention.
Last week's spiritual double-header is the source of my hopefulness. First, we saw a guy take Saint Peter's seat who personally invites trash collectors to his Papal Masses and takes the time to cancel his own dental appointments back in Buenos Aires. He eschewed the ostentatious (fake)ermine-trimmed cape-let and jeweled cross to greet the waiting throngs in the simple white cassock. He bowed his head asking for the prayers of his people before he bestowed his first Papal blessing. He used to cook his own meals and still rides in buses. I am Benedictine enough to believe in the value of physical labor for all members of a community, no matter how highly-positioned in the community. It is good that Francis is Pope. I won't engage in extensive criticism of his predecessor, but it seems highly unlikely that this guy will bother with prissy wording changes, like going back to "and with your spirit" instead of "and also with you." Nor is he likely to micromanage his generally well-trained, competent, and dedicated legions of clergy with administrivia like telling them that they must wear clerical collars every minute that they step outside their homes or that the chalices must all be set out on the altars and filled prior to the Eucharistic prayers.
All this seems very, very good.
Second, we watched this bright-eyed little guy go on a prayer pilgrimage through England before his installation as the Archbishop of Canterbury. He recycled the vestments of a beloved deceased colleague, rather than commission new ones to be made for him. He chose as a text for his sermon Matthew's "Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid," and admitted his own trepidations upon assuming leadership. He had the temerity to talk about "obedience to God, both in public care and private love." He is a man well-experienced in the work-a-day world and three times he narrowly escaped death at the hands of terrorists. Again, I do not wish to engage in extensive criticism of his predecessor, but Justin Welby seems unlikely to suggest that Sharia law would be a good thing to implement in Britain. It is good that he is Archbishop of Canterbury.
With the election of these two men, the world has gained two leaders markedly different from the current crop of secular leaders who cultivate the life-styles of rock-star celebrity. Perhaps these secular leaders will emulate the alternative that Francis and Justin embody. "Calmer, humbler world" sounds a lot like the "kinder, gentler nation" that one of our own secular leaders called for a few years back. Will the celebrity-worshipping media heed the current call to sanity better than the last? Francis' first press conference suggests that they might. Even if not, there is still the likelihood that the public at large will at last remember what true leadership looks like. Ultimately gold is much more attractive than glitz.
Yep--it is with heightened gratitude and decreased anxiety that many will be saying their Good Friday prayers for all the world. China, North Korea, Syria, and Russia may all be rattling their sabers, fellow Christians are being martyred by Islamic hardliners, our national debt continues to soar, and in some places kids can get abortions on demand but not large-sized soft-drinks. Everything is not, as Superstar's Mary Magdalene sang, "all right, yes," but things are, overall, just possibly, trending up.