- by Mandy Mizelle -
The sequester that went into effect last Friday may cut millions of jobs around the country, but national attention has been focused on one man who recently went into early retirement in Rome: Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI. Perhaps collective fascination has been as motivated by the job opening his resignation signals as anything else.
Speculation about the next pope has gotten even more interest than Michelle Obama’s new bangs. Catholics and non-Catholics alike wonder who will be voted Most Pope-able (papabile, if you’re feeling fancy). A couple of weeks ago, an ambitious young college graduate wrote a thoughtful letter applying for the position.
As a same gender loving female Protestant, I am personally not in the pontifical running by virtue of the “three strikes and you’re out” rule. I am not bitter. That enormous papal tiara looks like a headache -- literally. To whoever gets the position, I extend not only sincere congratulations and respect, but many hopes for the next chapter in the life of the Catholic Church -- and the lowercase catholic Church.
My greatest hope may be that the next pope is a literalist when it comes to the body of the Church. As theologian and minister Marcia Mount Shoop reminds us in her book, Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ, Christians practice an incarnational faith. Although that might mean any number of things to different people, what it should solidify among us all is the significance of the body in our faith -- not just the spiritual, collective body (though that is certainly important and brings valuable implications of interconnectedness and relationality), but the actual bodies in which we live, through which we experience God and the world, and God in the world.
If the new leader of the Catholic Church takes our incarnational faith seriously, he (it's a sin that I cannot write “or she”) must see the bodies of persons worldwide as the sacraments they are. His proclamations will be fallible if they fail to be good news to those bodies who have been denied full participation in the Church simply because they are female; bodies -- some in places marked by gross overpopulation and rape, many below the poverty line -- who have been denied access to contraception; bodies, often very young, who have been sexually abused by leaders in the Catholic Church itself; bodies who have been rejected because of the gender with which they identify or love; bodies who have been excluded from the sacrament of marriage.
Sadly, Pope Benedict XVI profoundly failed many of our bodies. Faith that privileges the word of God in solitary cognition over the word of God in shared experience* has little to say in the way of good news. Insiders may feel safe within impermeable fortress, but how many suffer just outside its walls? However, Benedict XVI also opened a window of redemption. By recognizing his limitations and resigning from the papacy, he left an invaluable legacy: he modeled the breaking of tradition when it is the right thing to do, and in so doing, sanctified the possibility for others to do the same.
When we see white smoke rise from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, indicating that a new pope has been chosen, perhaps it will signify not only the burning of ballots, but the releasing of beliefs and practices that do not reflect the embodied love of an incarnational faith. Rarely does the Church get such an opportunity to reincarnate itself. May it look in the mirror and see, for the first time, the image of God in the whole world.
*Shared in all senses of the word: having in common, being in solidarity with, or revealing to one another.
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