By Dom Cioffi
On Feb. 11, 2013, in speech before the most important cardinals in the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world by becoming the first pontiff to resign the papal leadership position in nearly 600 years.
There was no scandal; there was conspiracy. Pope Benedict was simply tired and of sound enough mind to realize that he was no longer the right man to shepherd the millions of Catholics around the world.
Most people were caught off guard by this announcement, since it was incorrectly assumed that the position lasted from the day of election until death. And while it had been centuries since any pope had opted to resign, it was well within his right to do so.
I was impressed with Pope Benedict’s decision. To me, it showed a lack of an ego-driven mentality and a true selflessness toward the church. I mean, how many people would walk away from being arguably the most well known human on earth?
In his place came Pope Francis, the current pope, who has been on a whirlwind tour of the United States over the last week.
I’ve watched a bit of the coverage and followed a few of the stories that have arisen since his arrival. I understand the importance of his tour and fully recognize the respect that must be paid to such a global authority figure. However, I’m far from aligned with the Catholic Church on many issues.
So while I don’t agree with everything that Pope Francis says or believes, I do respect him – and for a number of different reasons.
First of all, I love the fact that Pope Frances refused to move into the palatial papal residence and instead has opted to stay in a small apartment. He made the same choice when he was elected a cardinal in South America, where he also chose to use public transportation instead of the statelier church limousine.
Talk about walking the walk!
As the most powerful religious person on the planet, he is also within his rights to order filet mignon for dinner every evening and have it prepared by a renowned chef. But instead, the pope prefers to cook simple meals for himself.
In fact, stories abound about the pope’s utter disdain for any form of opulence. He could request the most expensive bed linens on earth and have them delivered within the hour, but there’s little doubt he’d simply turn around and hand them over to a homeless person.
I also love that in his early, secular life the pope was a lowly janitor and a bouncer at a nightclub. While the janitor gig certainly falls in line with the caretaker tenants required of a pope, the bouncer assignment is wildly unexpected.
I’ve yet to read anything unsettling from this period in his life, but can you imagine if some guy from South America surfaced claiming to have had the crap beat out of him by the pope? Now there’s a headline!
In an age where religions are coming under increasing scrutiny, I have to admit that I am truly impressed with the current pope and the choices he makes. There’s little doubt that he’s making other church leaders from around the world take notice simply by living his life exactly as Jesus taught: no mansions, no fancy cars, no extravagant vacations – just preaching and living true to the Word.
I imagine one day the pope’s faculities will also go into decline. If that happens, we can only hope that he too will recognize his limitations and selflessly resign his position as well.
The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas once wrote, “Do not go gently into that good night.” Perhaps he was wrong? Perhaps we shouldn’t fight old age and instead let it wash over us unabated while willfully ceding the duties of life to the next generation.
This week’s film, “Grandma,” features an elderly woman who is anything but papal in her approach to life, aging and other people. In fact, outside of being totally broke, she is easily the polar opposite of Pope Frances.
Starring Lily Tomlin as a bitter, depressed senior citizen, “Grandma,” drifts in and out of pseudo-comedic situations revolving around the unwanted pregnancy of her granddaughter.
While I can respect Tomlin’s comedic talents, I was sorely disappointed with this film and her portrayal specifically. Too much of the movie felt contrived, almost like it was built around a marginal standup act from Tomlin’s past. And it’s too bad because the potential for a funny, meaningful storyline was definitely there.
Check this one out if you’re a fan of Tomlin’s work, but don’t expect the laughs you’ve come to expect from such a comedic icon.
A decrepit “C-” for “Grandma.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]