21 April, 2008

Seeing the pope in the Age of Celebrity

I've never been comfortable with Ultramontanism, but I was shocked all the same by some people's reactions to the Pope's visit. Expressions to the effect of "This is the greatest experience of my life!" and "Now I can die!" were broadcast on the radio and on television.

The shock comes from believing that these are Catholics who supposedly receive the Eucharist. I am no theologian, but my personal opinion is that the greatest moment of anyone's life comes each time the minister of the Eucharist lays the sacred Host on a tongue.*

I probably shouldn't take such expressions of emotion too seriously. Humans have a curious tendency to celebrate celebrity—there's fertile ground for psychological studies, if you ask me, and yes I know that no one asked—and the Pope has always been something of a celebrity, even if the Age of Celebrity seems to exaggerate this. The mass media provide a wonderful avenue for distorting and exaggerating the absurd. If I were a betting man, I'd wager good money that any gaggle of mathematicians would gladly go ga-ga if Andrew Wiles (say) were in town, as would computer scientists with Donald Knuth, or popularizers of science with Richard Dawkins. The young ones might even exclaim how they can finally die. I'm not exactly a representative sample, but consider what I wrote after an encounter with a well-known researcher two years ago:

I walked away trembling. It's difficult to approach people who don't know me, even more so when I regard them highly. I asked myself jokingly if this was like a teenage girl who had just spoken with her rock star idol... For the first time in my life, I felt sympathy for such girls. ;-) But only briefly. :-)

If you stopped and put the question to these Catholics, they would probably admit that, yes, they've had more important experiences in their lives. They might even mention their encounter with Christ in the Holy Eucharist as much more important. :-)

It wouldn't surprise me at all, however, if an evangelical Protestant watching such expressions would consider this equivalent to idolatry of the Pope. Evangelical Protestants rightly regard their encounter with Christ to be the most important moments of their lives. So do Catholics, at least right-thinking Catholics—and no, encountering the Pope is not the same as encountering Christ, whereas receiving the Eucharist is.

*It remains an open question whether I genuinely receive Christ in such moments, and whether he continues to heal my soul and transform my life. The question is worth contemplating from time to time, and that impels me toward Penance.

1 comment:

Lee said...

Reminds me of a quote from C.S. Lewis. He said that next to the Blessed Sacrament, your neighbor is the most sacred object ever presented to your senses. I assume the old Ulster Prot would even have included the Pope. ;-)