If you’re a regular “Bless Your Heart” reader, you know I rarely watch TV. Yesterday, though, I was a captive audience for about three hours in a hospital waiting room. The public television was tuned to Fox News (That’s right…I live in Huntsville, Alabama.) There were blurbs about Jodi Arius, a shooting spree in Herkimer, NY, and a story about a woman who was arrested for reading from the constitution during a tax dispute. But, far and away, the lead story was what was happening up in a tiny chimney pipe at the Vatican. The little chimney had a place on every viewer’s screen for the entirety of the morning… even during the commercial breaks! Several newscasters at Fox News were consumed with talk about the riveting and mysterious goings-on inside the Vatican. They had an on-site reporter in Rome keeping a pulse on the crowd outside the Sistine Chapel. There were guest interviews with various priests and bishops. There was even a segment on where the cardinals inside were allowed to smoke their cigars, even detailing how that some unscrupulous person could be excommunicated, if caught, for letting us know that the cardinals had been served pasta and wine for their dinner the evening before.
It’s extremely difficult to talk about the make-believe world of the papacy in a world where the pope’s appointment can take center-stage in the media, but I really want to write about the absurdity of this. These are grown men wearing flowing robes and little red hats, sequestering themselves off in a hall in the Vatican, along with a physician, a plumber, an electrician, cooks, dishwashers, maids and bell boys… just to make sure no one goes in or out during their retreat from reality. On top of their pretentious clothing and austere rules of secrecy, they are pretending that the whole purpose of their meeting is to get a message from God–a revelation of the identity of the next Pope (or vicar of Christ). But, in order to get this message from God, they (mere men) have, at some point in history, decided that their own 77 votes are required to name the potentate of the world. Whenever they did name him (as they did later in the day yesterday), they allowed him to decide a papal name by which he will be called, they measured him for rich robes and head gear, and they lined up to bow before him and offer obeisance. When the robes are ready and the celebration is over, they will send him around the world so that throngs of people will line up to bow before him and kiss his ring. But before any of this business began, they had their underlings mix up a chemical to put in the chimney fire, so that the smoke that billowed forth for the millions to see outside the Vatican and via international television would be white smoke at the moment the final vote had been counted. White smoke from the little chimney: the holy signal that the new voice of God on earth had been chosen.
I really do not want to be abrasive, but it was very difficult for me to believe that the intelligent people of the news media could cover this story with straight faces, acting as if this process all makes perfect sense… that God really could be revealing a human potentate with profound authority… a potentate about which he has said nothing in His Word. Further perplexing is that millions of people are buying into the notion that God is really submitting to the whims of this group of men in red hats… that He really is choosing his representative by letting them vote… again, with not one hint of this vote’s validity or even a mention of such a vote in scripture. That literally billions of people around the world are okay with this mere mortal assuming the position of speaking for Deity is nothing short of amazing to me. To dress him up in regal robes and parade him around the world for people to bow before him and kiss the ground on which he stands… to worship him (no matter that Matthew 23 strictly forbids the wearing of special apparel for religious purposes and the claiming of special seats and chief places in religion) is preposterous to me. And to actually believe that people were waiting with bated breath to see whether the smoke from the chimney was black or white, that Fox News was leading their newscast with this story, was incredible to me.
I know that there are 1.18 billion Catholics in the world. That’s one in every five people. But that does not answer my query about why. That number only confounds me more. How can literate people have the Holy Book, the Bible, accessible and understandable, and still be falling for the pretense of men… men who are pretending to be the aggregate voice of God? I don’t get this.
When I think of times in history when this process of papal appointment was occurring and gridlock happened, I am forced to think about the supposed limitations that cardinals have imposed on God Almighty. There have been times when the cardinals have been denied provisions in order to make them hasten their decision after weeks of voting without the necessary majority. There was one time when the roof on the conclave was actually removed to expose the cardinals to the elements so that they would hurry up and come forth with a new pope. Does the Bible ever, ever portray God as having a difficult time manifesting His will? Does God ever get caught up in gridlock with Himself? Does He have trouble letting us know, even enforcing His will in our lives?
I have Catholic friends. I love them. I hope they are reading and I would love to engage them in a study of God’s Word. I hope they can stand back for a moment, take a look at what happened this week, and really contemplate the power of God and the authority of His Word. I mean no disrespect to them, but I hardly know how to put the authority of the Word on the plane it demands as the God-breathed Will of God, without relegating the pretension of the Vatican this week to the blasphemy that it is.
That white bird that sat on the chimney had it right. That group of men inside are just men. That pope they selected is just one of those men. He is not the Holy Father. He is not the vicar of Jesus. He is not the leader of the true church. That building in Rome is just mortar and stone. That smoke is just an ordinary chemical and its color is not noteworthy in the sight of God. That chimney is just another place for a bird to sit.
“Upon this rock,” Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He built that church. The book of Acts and those following it in the New Testament detail that church: its inception, its organization, its leadership, its worship and practices. The ordination of a papal system, the observance of mass, the order of nuns, the right to pray to Mary or to exalt some “Christians” to sainthood while denying others that position—none of these are ever mentioned in all of the New Testament. I know New Testament Christians who have turned their backs on simple Christianity in the church bought by Jesus in deference to the complicated man-inspired rituals of Catholicism. Perhaps there’s comfort in the multitude. Maybe we connect to the world’s recognition and the connection of Catholicism to governments. Perhaps we decide that we too can believe if the media can be so taken with this process. To me, though, it still seems like a sequel to “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” If all of us who claim to adhere to scriptures would just put away the pretend and go back to the scriptures, then Catholicism would crumble. The papacy, the robes, the sacraments, the Vatican, the ring-kisses, the red hats, the chimney and the white smoke would all disappear from religion.
The white smoke would disappear.
Asked another way… if all that was not found in the text of the Bible was subtracted from yesterday’s religious events in Rome, what would be left to talk about on Fox News? I don’t think that white bird would have found his way to international TV.
***If you would like to hear a full discussion about the Scriptures and the Pope, click the following link for last Sunday’s lesson at the West Huntsville church of Christ.
And come back to “Bless Your Heart” on Monday for the conclusion to “School Days,” by Ally Cole.