Here's the editorial from the April 13 issue of Our Sunday Visitor newsweekly. Please read, and let me know what you think by leaving a comment.
America doesn't really "get" popes.
It wants to turn them into celebrities, politicians or kindly grandparents.
To the media, a pope is one more celebrity to help them sell ads, which is the primary purpose of most media outlets these days. Their coverage can range from fawning to confrontational, but it is generally unburdened by depth or insight.
For a slightly more sophisticated audience, the pope is understood primarily in political terms: Is he a reactionary or a progressive? Does he hate women's rights or oppose the war? Is he consistent, in other words, with political positions and ideologies as understood by American commentators?The answer is invariably "no," of course, which frustrates and unnerves those who want to co-opt him for their favorite causes.
And finally, there is the pope as kindly spiritual presence, dressed in white, friendly and non-threatening, a sort of grandpa monarch to warm the hearts of the pious and the "spiritual," affirming how nice we are.
None of these descriptions suits most popes, and certainly not Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict has been a kind of anti-celebrity. He is an academic in temperament, and his view of the papacy is distinctly different from his immediate predecessor in many ways. While he has grown more comfortable in the public eye, he certainly does not seem to thrive in it. He is a theologian and a writer, given to clear and concise prose even when dealing with difficult concepts. He also tends to nuance, however, a style of writing to which Americans seem particularly tone deaf.He is the leader of a Church that has never fit neatly into the traditional ideological divide of left and right. That is why efforts to turn him into a kind of Catholic Jerry Falwell or Jesse Jackson are doomed to fail.
Pope Benedict is like his predecessor in his condemnation of war (including the Iraq war) and his defense of the poor. His next encyclical may be on the topic of social justice, and he insists on humanity's responsibility to be a good steward of God's creation.He is also insistent about the importance of the life issues, consistently making the case that society must protect its weakest citizens -- the unborn, the handicapped and the elderly -- if it is to be considered morally legitimate.
The pope is not here to flatter the powerful or console the comfortable. He is here to spread the Gospel of Jesus and to call Catholics to a deeper faith and identity. And while Catholics are distracted by war and elections and the unraveling of the economy, that is all the more reason to pay attention to this visit.
Pope Benedict will be speaking first and foremost to us, and this is a singularly unique moment to put aside our daily concerns and pay close attention to what our Shepherd has to tell us.He is here to speak truth to our power.
Our challenge, as Catholics, will be to hear what he has to say, but if we rely only on the secular media for our understanding, this will be not be easy. The Catholic press in this country is an invaluable resource, providing more background, more context and more content than will ever be available in most newspapers or television news reports. With the help of Catholic radio, television and news media like Our Sunday Visitor ( www.osv.com/papalvisit), this papal visit is an opportunity for our own personal retreat with the Vicar of Christ. Make the most of this historic visit -- it is the opportunity of a lifetime.