Nice things are said at funerals. Last week’s funeral was no exception. John Paul’s was one of the best funerals we have witnessed in a long time. Now, there are those who want to “fast track” the late pontiff to a higher place in paradise. There is a grass roots movement to make John a Saint. Usually, the deceased are allowed to “Rest in Peace” for a few hundred years before they are put to work on the switchboard, answering the phone banks, which according to Catholic doctrine, ring non-stop in heaven. It would seem to me that Saints have bigger fish to fry in eternity than to be distracted by all the nonsense going on down here, but what do I know? Personally I think John Paul needs some time off. Anyone being Pope for twenty-six years must be pooped.
That having been said, Popes and Kings are things of the past. They are at best figureheads that hardly figure into the modern equation of internet, bloggers, and ipodders. Why Prince Charles wants to wear a crown or any Cardinal wants the Holy See is beyond me. Princess Diana was a hard act to follow, to say nothing about any mortal who dares put on John Paul’s satin slippers. When we see that puff of white smoke you can be sure that where there is smoke, there is fire.
There will be plenty of fires for the next Pope to put out. Not being Catholic, we had best be paying attention to some of our own problems. We are told that the churches in Italy and England are empty. So are many of ours. No one will have much trouble finding a seat in one of our New Testament churches. Pretending that it is our “truth” that keeps attendance down is like saying it is the “food” that keeps the truckers away. Even truckers know where not to stop along the highway to eat. While One Billion Catholics are looking for their next shepherd, real sheep know a real shepherd when they see one. Real shepherds are not elected. Woe to the Assembly that casts lots for vacant bishoprics; and woe to the Assembly that has no shepherds. We are not talking about Kings and Popes. We are talking about someone ordained and called of God to give his heart and life for the care of the sheep. Christ is our Chief and Good Shepherd, but He ordains elders. A church without shepherds is probably a place where someone without the gift works hard to make sure there are none. A real shepherd is not the head of the church, but he is the heart. A church without shepherds is as confusing as a conclave burning wet straw. When someone visits a leaderless church and there is no single and unified voice, it is hard to tell if the smoke is white or grey, or if those there are really on fire, or are just “blowing smoke.”