On this, the first day of the College of Cardinal's secret conclave to vote for the next pope, in the Sistine Chapel, I was listening to some political commentators urging the church to recover the teachings of Jesus, compassion for the poor, the sick the infirm and the sinful.
And in the next breath, one, Chris Matthews of MSNBC, was nearly shouting that the Roman Catholic church needed a man who would clean house of all the clergy and bishops who had sinned, specifically in the child abuse matter.
And also, listening to a piece recorded by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who articulated a sentence I had never grasped previously, "While the church is not of the world, but in the world, and while those crimes of sexual abuse are committed in the world, then that becomes a matter for the church."
The church is "not of the world" a phrase that takes me back to a debate in a church when I was an adolescent, the resolution of which read:
"Christians are to be and remain separate and apart from the world"
In this debate, I was assigned the negative, arguing as I did for complete engagement in and with the world as part of the christian's way of life being both beacon and provocateur. In a purist, fundamentalist, evangelical protestant church, where the judges were all avid members of the church, the 'affirmative' side won the debate.
In the intervening six decades, I have neither changed my mind about christians needing to be among the world, nor found it in my perspective to agree with the Chris Matthews judgement of "cleaning the house" of the church of all miscreants.
Precisely, I take a very different point of view: I view all of us as sinners, and all of us as potential disciples of God, created in the image of God. Based on these caveats, there can be no separation between the church and the world, in fact, if not also in symbolism. And the Roman Catholic church, to its great and tragic sadness, has elevated the gospel words, "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church"....as the cornerstone of their megacorporation.
Unfortunately, the Pope is and always will be, in an untenable position, having to walk a fine line between the holy and the secular, the spiritual and the secular, without the parishoners having the nuanced perspective of that position.
Access, affability, selling the faith....these are the words ascribed to the projected image of pope by those seeking a more open, accessible and user-friendly church.
However, the life of prayer, meditation, reflection and scholarship is often at odds with the secular.
"Jesus with an MBA" is one phrase that a writer has coined to sum up the kind of person the College of Cardinals should be attempting to select....given the dichotomy of spirituality and management expertise.
We have so bifurcated excellence into so many different files, some of them academic, some of their aesthetic, some philosophic... that one who is strong in management skills and also commanding a high level of respect for his spiritual discipline is almost literally self-eliminated, mainly because of our narrow perceptions.
We are unable to conceive of one whose two charisms as spiritual discipline and management excellence.
It is our narrow band of consciousness, unchallenged by our prays to a higher power, unchallenged by our conversations with our peers, and most of our reading and reflection that fossilizes each person into some cardboard cut-out, including each member of the College of Cardinals.
If we are determined to separate secular from sacred, then we have no hope in our struggle to reduce and eliminate climate change and global warming. If we do not see the earth as sacred, as do the indigenous people, we have imprisoned ourselves in our blindness. Similarly, if we are unable to integrate our deployment of forgiveness with our outrage at cleric sins, regardless of the magnitude of those sins.
If we are determined to concentrate our spirituality on the superior judgements of others whom we consider impure, as compared with our own spiritual purity, we are caught in a window-and-doorless cave of our own perceptions.
So long as we are worshipping our human incapacities to bridge what may seem unbridgeable, we will continue to engage in conflicts about status, power, money and control...and fail in our blindness to compassion, faith, forgiveness and spiritual forging in the furnace of struggle and critical self-examination.
We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God....and until we come to fully integrate our impurity and our imperfections in a healthy and inclusive way to our discipleship as followers of God, we will forever dig a trough of our own habit, without ever venturing outside that trough.....something God did not have in mind when he announced that he came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly...
And whoever next sits on the throne of Saint Peter will have to teach us the complexities and ambiguities of our own refusal to bridge our sin and our holiness without insisting on their complete separation.