First Servant of Servants, not Pope!
Ideal Church Leader should be First Servant of Servants among equals from dawn to dusk, a foot-washing minister always like Jesus, not on Holy Thursdays only, never a pontificating Pontiff, but one talking from house tops to ensure transparency.
All eyes are now focused on who should be the next Pope cast in the role of a sacrificial lamb. Every believer could, as far as possibilities are concerned. All eyes include not only of those of 1.2 billion Catholics all over the world but also of all countries of the world since Vatican happens to be an independent state among the comity of nations.
In principle the next Pope should be one who fits the post, that is, one who is competent to deal with manifold challenges facing the Catholic Church in today’s globalised world of internet and instant communication driven by a critical and questioning generation known for their just demand to free speech and transparency in public affairs. Just think of Wikileaks and now Vatileaks spilling the beans and exposing financial and sexual rottenness within the Holy of holies! These are all traits of our emerging Knowledge Era, where the active players are mostly the younger generation.
In short the next pope should be smart and agile enough, not too old nor too young, to navigate the bark of Peter through rough unchartered waters, buffeted literally by wild winds and chilling waves with hardly any light house to look up to, not even the palpable presence of an all powerful sleeping giant Jesus to rush to for help in crisis situations. Emeritus pope Benedict already hinted at such passing crisis situations in his short lived papacy.
While this may be a legitimate human and rational perception, the traditionally held belief among Catholics is that it is the Holy Spirit who is at work in selecting every successor of Peter as the Vicar of Christ on earth. With the result they say, every Papabili, hopeful of getting elected, come out of the conclave as just Cardinal, while the one who rates himself as most unworthy in his own eyes and of his confreres come out crowned as Pope to his own and to everybody’s surprise. Thus goes the common belief.
This belief is now called into question due mainly to the mindboggling act of Benedict’s resignation. It simply has unsettled a plethora of settled traditional beliefs. Some of the questions it raises are the following:: 1. If it is the Holy Spirit who raises one to the Papacy, following the accepted axiom in Gnanapani (It is the Lord who catapults the beggar on to a throne and topples the enthroned to pick up the beggar’s bag) is it ever possible for the one thus enthroned to run away from his divinely commissioned office without committing a sin against the Holy Spirit? 2. If on the contrary, it is just natural human standards, flawed at times, that are at work, as it happens in the election of a leader in any democracy, what are the norms to be followed in the Church? 3. In the latter case should papacy be for life or a fixed period only – five years or ten years at most? 4. In that case what should be the spiritual, intellectual and physical stamina (here age limit becomes a decisive factor) needed for one aspiring to become or one proposed for the post by the majority in the Electoral College? 5. Who should be members of this Electoral College -- a group of cardinals with no biblical hierarchical base to stand on -- just handpicked by a reining Pope?
6. Should then the Electoral College be made up of the entire now recognized priestly hierarchical class in the church, made up of Bishops, Priests and Deacons only? 7. Then what about the multitude of believers to whom tradition may have assigned only the triple duties of pray, pay and obey? 8. But then, is it not this concept that Vatican II has turned topsy-turvy and declared that the laity are not only in the forefront of the Church but are and constitute the real church with or without out any manmade hierarchical divisions unknown to Jesus nor extant during apostolic times? 9. Then, if the Supreme leader and head of the church is to be elected by the entire people of God, how is it going to be any different from an orderly election in any democracy? 10. Finally, here what are the options left open? Direct voting by the entire people of God spread through out the world following the American model or indirect voting through elected representatives of clergy and laity in each country?
It is not the purpose here to demythologize the Papacy but to highlight how a lot of blind beliefs associated with Papacy get diminished, devalued, discredited or even get evaporated for thinking sections both inside and outside the Church. Nor is this to assert that Faith and Reason are in perpetual mortal conflict or can’t coexist. Both need each other when they reach their blind alley, their tether’s end.
To take the first instance, reputed columnist Babu Paul writing in Madhyamam asks: If it is Holy Spirit who enthrones one as Pope, is it left to the choice of the enthroned to cast it away casually? The reply from Blessed John Paul II was an emphatic NO. So too was the view of Patrarchis Babha of Antioch, the supreme head of Babu Paul’s Orthodox Church. According to him Babha of happy memory also toyed with the idea of resigning but resisted citing what John Paul had said. That drives one to conclude that abdicating a God given office is as great a sin as craving for it ahead of actual surprise choice. Both are equally sins against the Holy Spirit. Now comes a different example and escape route in the aftermath of what God’s Rotller (a top notch theologian himself nicknamed, Faith’s Powerful watch dog) has done. Theologians will have to come up with convincing explanations, according to Babu Paul.
Theologians of course are free to discuss how many angels can stand on the tip of a needle. But for ordinary mortals the problem is easily solved by not dragging in God’s intervention to justify unjustifiable mistakes and blunders done by fallible humans. Pope John XXIII the mastermind of Vatican II said as much when he asserted that he was infallible only when he said and did the right thing. To err is human and that applies to everyone born of man and woman. Besides the history of Papacy is a thundering warning that many of the corrupt, avaricious, immoral profligates among them could never have been directly hand picked and enthroned by the spirit of God.
Can’t Paddle in two Canoes
Once this core sore issue of justifying oneself with alleged heavenly approval, which after all is what the outdated “Divine Right of Kings” was all about, is settled, answers to all other questions will follow or flow like pump water. In my puny, fallible, humble mind what is needed as Sine qua non in all human behaviour is to abjure ruthlessly the pharisaic “better than thou” attitude in all of us whether it is in religion or politics. That is the core message Jesus taught with his parable of the Pharisee and Publican praying in the temple.
But after all Papacy is not without an all endearing, flawless, shining title par excellence: “Servant of Servants”. It is not a precious preserved pearl to be taken up and flaunted on festive occasions only. Nehruji started his Premiership with the declaration: “I am your First Servant.” No servant can be greater than the master; no follower can be ahead of the Leader. This is the only good news every Pontiff would do well to pontificate not by words only but by deeds every day from dawn to dusk as demonstrated by Jesus by his “Foot-washing Ministry” at the last supper.
It was not an occasional gesture for Jesus, but the climax of an uninterrupted service to the underdog and caste out in society all through his life. But that title can’t flutter along with “His Holiness” which is blasphemy pure and simple, as it is appropriating to oneself what is due to All Holy God alone. You can’t paddle in two canoes and that in opposite directions. You can’t serve God and Mammon at once. Jesus didn’t and his true followers can’t without betraying themselves to be hypocritical and pharisaic. The much trumpeted New Evangelization should have this as its main thrust.
If the Holy Spirit is actually at work in the election of the Next Pope, my firm but humble fallible view is that He will surely throw up a “Foot-washing First Leader” among equals with no worldly trappings to sell itself in the market place of cutthroat competition in our present too worldly a world. Finally for the peace of my soul I must conclude with the prayer of St.Philip Neri adapted for me: “Lord keep thy hand permanently on my head so that I may not betray you not once, twice or thrice but every other moment which I am capable of, left to myself.*
The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
With Warm Regards,
Dr. James Kottoor,
Dr. James Kottoor,