Venerable Pope Pius XII died on 9 October, 1958. I was born a day later and thus was born during an interregnum. Really much of my life was an extended interregnum. Moving beyond the See of Peter being empty, for me the throne of the Heavenly father was also empty and in fact nonexistent. I had my own chair to sit in issuing infallible opinions.
As for the various popes who lived during my lifetime they just did not enter into my life at all. In my early teenage years I saw a poster much like this one.
I must have vaguely interpreted the person in the poster as some religious figure, possibly even a pope. Being naive about “the pill” I had no idea really what the poster represented other than it must be a reference to the obvious religion and science divide. I might not have known about the pill, but science class told me all about what the Church did to Galileo Galilei. For whatever reason this poster stuck in my mind.
It would be some years before I even thought about a pope at all. It was during the running of the TV mini-series “The Thorn Birds.” At one point they are in Rome and have a scene with the pope. It was really the first time I had thought of a pope other than as some figure in Mediaeval history. The idea that there still existed a pope at all seemed so odd to me. Sure I understood there were religious believers, but a pope in this day and age?
The fact that it was this miniseries that brought my attention to the fact that popes continued on might seem especially odd since in high school I had spent a year singing in the small ensemble choir of a Catholic parish. My mother, aunt, grandmother had all entered the Church recently as converts from Methodism. Although since faith was something never talked about in my house I didn’t know this at the time. When my mother dragged me to Mass and I assumed they had always been Catholics. I went to Mass to please my mother and since I love to sing got involved with the small choir. While pleasing my mother was laudatory, no doubt I was quite prideful in my atheism laughing at the faith of others interiorly while I knew better. My parent’s divorce ended my brief foray into Catholicism. The liberalism of the parish and the priests was high even among Portland, Oregon standards. Why I reflect on this at all is that there was never any mention of a pope or any idea that there was something beyond the parish other than a narrow social justice focus. I was apparently living just fine without a pope, and seemingly so was this parish.
It would be several years after The Thorn Birds that a pope came on my radar at all again. It was Blessed John Paul II’s trip to New York in 1979. The lens that I received this trip through was via the media. So my impression of the pope was that he caused traffic jams and enabled hordes of people hawking cheap plastic souvenirs. No doubt I heard about him again when he was shot, but it didn’t make much impression on me at the time.
In the succeeding years I would see reference to JPII every once in awhile. In my own move from liberalism to conservatism I would hear mention of him via a conservative political lens and started to view him somewhat favorably. Besides his being pope for a church of a nonexistent God he seemed pretty decent to me. On talk radio I also started hearing more about him in regards to the pro-life cause especially his phrase “Culture of Death.” The Temple in Jerusalem had the Court of the Gentiles. I had my own Court of the Believers. I would allow religious believers to walk in this court and I could even admire them. They just were allowed to enter into this outer court as long as they didn’t get too close to me.
I reflect on all this now since it seems so odd to me my previous disregard of the papacy and the fact now I am now on pins and needles waiting for white smoke. The palpable excitement, or is that papabile excitement? The incongruity between my previous papal blind spot and the thrill of a papal election. St. Catherine of Siena called the Holy Father the “sweet Christ on earth” and I have come to really appreciate this. Really though I am so thankful that there really is a Christ and that he started his Church. Sweet Christ might seem so sacharine, but it leaves no bitter taste in my mouth to repeat that phrase. Faith for a sinner such as myself is such a total gift and surprise that I am still taken aback by the wonder of it all. I wonder in my faith while also revealing in the mysteries of the faith and Jesus who died for me.
It can be easy to be caught up the worries and our own agendas regarding a new pope. We develop our own checklists of what the new pope must do. Unfortunately I can forget to put a check next to “Go out into the whole world and spread the good news.” There can be a certain amount of anxiety mixed in with the excitement. Still I come back to what Maureen at Aliens in This World had written on the date of Pope Benedict XVI resignation
Whatever happens, the Lord will no doubt send us a pope: maybe a saint, maybe a scourge, maybe a martyr-to-be, probably just a decent guy. The Lord loves His Bride, His fishing boat partners (koinonia), His Church. It is the Lord who rules us and fathers us; the Pope is just his prime minister and vicar.
God will never leave us orphaned. We will have a new Papa soon.
Im just glad that my own long interregnum is over as I await a new pope.