I hope nobody thinks I mean anything offensive against our new pontiff by my headline. What I'm really talking about here is how Catholic bloggers, and even some non-Catholic ones, have fallen into what I can only see as a sort of predictable trap: spinning the news of the elevation of Pope Francis in such a way as to make it fit their favorite templates.
This isn't the kind of post where it would be helpful for me to point fingers, because, after all, I'm probably guilty of it myself. But you know the kind of thing I'm talking about: angry-trad bloggers go all angry-trad on the pope, sane-trad bloggers take sane-trad views while distancing themselves from the angry-trads, Ordinary Formers either note the angry-trads and their exploding maniples or point to the sane-trads and their oil-on-troubled-waters approach, pro-life bloggers highlight the new pope's pro-life record, social justice bloggers highlight his social justice record, and the introspective introverts who crowd the Catholic blogosphere fire off three blog posts, eight Facebook updates, and 12 tweets on the all-encompassing topic: What I Thought When I Heard About the New Pope, and How It Is Affecting Me Personally. (And if you guessed that tears, damp or misty eyes, or hard blinking is going to be mentioned, you're probably a subscriber.)
And just for fun, the mainstream media staggers back in collective shock when they learn that the pope is still Catholic.
This is such a human thing for us to do, isn't it? I can't help but think of the eleven Apostles, huddled together in that room after the Crucifixion. At first, there was probably nothing but shock and fear: Jesus was dead, Judas had killed himself, and who knew who would be next? I imagine there was a lot of silence going on.
But eventually someone broke the ice. Who, I wonder? Was it Matthew, who had worked along with the authorities once as a tax collector, with, perhaps, some practical ideas about where they could hide and how long they could exist on whatever money they already had (if the money hadn't vanished when Judas did)? Was it James, one of the Sons of Thunder, with harsh words for all of them--harshest for himself--and a call to go buy weapons and take the fight to the ones who had started all of this? Did they all start to argue and squabble along familiar channels, in the kind of arguments they had engaged in even before Jesus had been so cruelly executed?
The election of a new pope is nothing like the Crucifixion, of course, and I don't mean to strain the comparison too far. My point is just this: the apostles didn't somehow magically become new, different people after the Crucifixion. Even after they saw the risen Christ they were only beginning to change, and Pentecost showered forth the Holy Spirit upon them--but they were still exactly who they were. They were just on the way to becoming their best selves, not their worst ones. Only Judas who gave up before the transformation could begin would forever be his worst self.
And we also are on a journey to our best selves, not some hypothetical best self whom we'd be if the Fall hadn't happened, but the real best self, the one we are called to be and given time to become. Only if we refuse to cooperate with grace will we fail to reach that journey's end. Only if we give up and close ourselves off to the possibility of true repentance and redemption will we fail.
I mentioned St. James: tradition has him as the first of the apostles to be martyred, as his death at Herod's hands is mentioned in the New Testament. The one who along with his brother had asked to be at Christ's right and left in the Kingdom was the first to die, and St. John the last--and the only one not martyred, as fitting the only one who didn't flee from the Crucifixion. Their best selves: they had wanted earthly glory once, but became worthy of much greater than that.
So even a Catholic blogger like me can become her best self. Even when I slip up and fall back into the old snarky templates. God has a way of transforming us toward the good, if we let Him.