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All the Kingdoms of the World Print E-mail
By Anthony Esolen   
Thursday, 28 February 2013

A few months ago, the people of the United States terminated a two-year-long carnival, a mad caravan of barkers, shills, “gaffs” planted among the crowds, clowns, strong men, bearded ladies, acrobats, and toothless-lion tamers. We spent billions of dollars on the show, not to mention many collective billions of hours watching it, and now we have as Entertainer in Chief a man who says, without any sense of absurdity, that he defines “sin” as “not being true to my ideals.”

It’s hard for sinful man to keep his eyes away from the harlot, Power. Even the apostles, sitting with Jesus at the Last Supper, for a moment forgot His revelation that one of them would betray Him. They began to argue about who should be accounted the greatest among them. Then Jesus rebuked them, with what must have been a sigh of infinite patience. 

The man from the outback of Galilee knew the emptiness of the pursuit of power. “The kings of the Gentiles,” He says, “exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.” Thus are the people moved to thank the kind officials who strap the burdens to their backs: “But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

In a few weeks, the cardinals of the Catholic Church will elect a new successor to Saint Peter. It won’t take long. There will be some cost in airplane tickets, lodging, and meals. That’s all. The cardinals will pray for direction by the Holy Spirit.  No doubt there will be those who favor one man over another, and no small occasion for argument. 

Representatives of the carnival will throng the streets of Rome, frustrated by the silence of the Vatican. If the new pope is like the departing Pope Benedict, he will be abashed by his “victory.”  “Simon, Simon, behold,” said Jesus, after He had admonished the apostles that the greatest must be the least, “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” 

I do not know whom the Spirit will move the cardinals to choose. I do know this: the world will not understand him, no matter who he is. The world speaks the argot of the carnival; of lust for wealth, celebrity, and power. The world considers it a “mistake” if Peter speaks the truth, in season and out of season. The world has one way only to understand success: bodies that pass through the turnstiles. 

The world mocked when the Church, in the person of her bridegroom, died upon Calvary. The Church will die again, and the world will mock again; and the Church will rise again, and the world will deny it; so it will continue until the end of the ages.  Here, the carnival; there, the saints and sinners devoted to the works of faith, hope, and charity. 


Sometimes the carnival and the Church mingle too freely; sometimes the Church succeeds in making the carnival a little less blood-lusty, and a little more humane; sometimes the carnival succeeds in placing a clown or a knave in a position of authority in the Church; but “all that is in the world,” says Saint John, “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” 

The Church can love the world by being in it, but not of it; by renouncing the carnival, and being content to be called foolish, for the sake of the fools in the whiteface and floppy slippers, who scramble for the seats reserved to Very Important People.

The carnival barkers will speculate about Why the Pope Resigned. Why would any man willingly give up the harlot, Power?  They will judge according to their hearts. Either the man is so incapacitated that he can no longer derive pleasure from the harlot, or he has been compelled to give her up against his will. 

They will not listen to what Pope Benedict has said. He did not seek the chair of Peter. It is a fearful charge, to serve the Church faithfully at any time; all the more fearful in these mad times. He is going to do exactly what he said he was going to do; not even his enemies have ever accused Pope Benedict of indirection. He is going to ascend the mountain, to seek the face of God, and to pray unceasingly till the quickly approaching end of his days, for the welfare of the bride whom he was chosen to serve.

Pope John Paul II gave the world an eloquent witness of the love that patient suffering can unleash. His very feebleness was a firm rebuke to their worship of strength. The world did not understand his final days; the carnival fears both the silence of prayer and the silence of death. 

Now Pope Benedict is going to give the world an eloquent witness of ascent into silence. The carnival clowns, once they are hooked from the main stage, cannot be still, but must make a big show of themselves, mingling among the audience and mugging and posing and trying to upstage the new Entertainer in Chief. 

Pope Benedict will not do that.  While the carnival blares out its silly and incessant noise, the Servant of all the Servants of God will be on his knees, trembling with age, but at peace, in communion with Him who is Himself a communion of love. 

And maybe some who wander in the fairgrounds will turn a glance his way.

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College.
 
 
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Comments (15)Add Comment
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written by Gratitude, February 28, 2013
Oh my God I think you're right, the Pope's motivation is completely obscure to them:

"Either the man is so incapacitated that he can no longer derive pleasure from the harlot, or he has been compelled to give her up against his will."

In the same way Frodo and the Fellowship were completely obscure to the 'Great Eye'?
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written by Frank, February 28, 2013
Thank you . That was very moving on the last day of our beloved Pope Benedict's papacy. I shall miss him dearly as much as his great predecessor JP II.
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written by Mack Hall, February 28, 2013
In the last two week there has been much foolishness written about our Holy Father Benedict, and many good, wise, and humble observations and appreciations. Anthony Esolen's essay, brilliant in its brevity, coherence, and defiance, is the best commentary of all.

God bless Pope Benedict XVI!
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written by Achilles, February 28, 2013
I agree with Mack! Suburb, sublime, sober, mature, beautiful, profound. Thank you Dr. Esolen!
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written by Jacob, February 28, 2013
We'll never know why the life of a holy man makes some men weep for joy and others out of bitterness.

My life has been no better than the men who hate him because he's lived a better, holier life than they and yet I see his great success in life as a tiny point of light, of hope among the void of darkness, while they view it to be the chief torment among a world that is otherwise full of easy pleasures.


I'm not trying to shock anyone (I'm guessing it's not very shocking to this crowd), but the majority of Americans, and, of course, of all humans have to be insane to tolerate the world as it is while at the same time constantly berating the Church, the institution which has done the most to reduce the horror of the world.
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written by Layman Tom, February 28, 2013
Wow! Whoever said literature is dead and all the great works are long since written has never been to our little oasis. Excellent, Tony. I love your writing, but this was extraordinary. Truly brilliant.

Thank you.
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written by Chris in Maryland, February 28, 2013
What a wonderful season of gifts God has given us in the long season of Cdl Ratzinger/Pope Benedict. Whether a bitter winter is coming, our Father in heaven only knows, but we are better provisioned, because of Pope Benedict.

What a fine tribute paid to our Holy Father Pope Benedict, whom we love so much.
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written by debby, February 28, 2013
omGOSH! that was GREAT!
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written by Maggie-Louise, February 28, 2013
Thank you so much, Dr. Esolen. it almost seems too much of a feast for Lent, especially in combination with Prof. Arkes' essay. The photo offered the perfect visual accompaniment.

Thank you.
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written by Grump, February 28, 2013
Well said, Tony. CNN lead: "Pope Benedict leaves a Church mired in scandal. Will its future depend on whether it changes its views on sex?"

For all its sophistication, the secular world is totally lost.
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written by Tony, February 28, 2013
Dear Grump, Yes, they are lost. They lack even the sense of wistfulness that overcomes somebody in the dark woods, when they recall a place of light and peace; because they have never been to that place. Joseph Ratzinger's teacher, Romano Guardini, said that we had reached that sad gray state of man-without-culture, which means man-without-feasts, man without joy.

It never occurs to CNN, either, that the Church cannot "change" its "views" on sex -- that its "views" on sex are not views, but commandments entrusted to Her by the Lord. They thus reveal what Pope Benedict has long noted -- the symbiosis between moral relativism and totalitarianism. That's because they see ALL things through the prism of power politics. There's no loyalty there, no self-sacrifice, no martyrdom for a greater cause, no holding to the truth regardless of how unpopular it is. And no God, to guide the Church. But I guess we could say that we'll listen to CNN's recommendations on How to Survive, when CNN is 2000 years old ...
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written by Grump, March 01, 2013
Dear Tony: As you can perceive, this old agnostic is coming around and hoping the Lord will find room in His Kingdom for such as me. I've been doubting Him my whole life but He never lets gives up in hounding me. He's always knocking on the door of my heart.
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written by Chris In Maryland, March 01, 2013
He keeps knocking Grump, because He loves you, and He knows that you are worth it. He stoops to conquer each one of us ...because He is determined to gather His family to Him. He loves us so...poor lost sheep that we are.
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written by Louise, March 01, 2013
Tony, I wonder how long of a honeymoon the new pope will get from the media. I wouldn't be surprised if they are gathering negative oppostion research on every cardinal as we speak!
Grump, from your description you've probably had unrecognized faith all that time. Really, you can't doubt something you don't have. It's easy to confuse the temptation to doubt with lacking faith. Temptations are annoying little things and that is all they are. Sort of like those no see em bugs that come out certain times of the year.
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written by Graham Combs, March 01, 2013
On Tuesday USA Today declared on its front page that the Benedict XVI was leaving the Church in a mess -- a failed Papacy. I couldn't help thinking that on the day that this president hands over the White House to the next that headline will be appropriate in fact. The Pope Emeritus has left the Church more holy, faithful, and forward-looking than when he became the Holy Father. Continuing the work of Blessed John Paul II. This power-obsessed president who will have as his legacy a country demoralized, cynical, and mired in bi-partisan disgust -- a faithless citizenry living in a near-fatally wounded civitas. The choice of the next president may well be irrelevant but this is not true of the next Pope -- his election could not be more critical. The president and men and women like him are mocked by the crowds that have gathered to say goodbye to a true leader, a true Pastor. Perhaps at the core of Msgr. Benson's LORD OF THE WORLD is not prophecy so much as the rage and fury at the secular heart of the drama we are now living through. The clergy, the episcopacy, the college of cardinals, and the next Vicar of Christ on earth will have to confront this rage and no longer pretend that protocol and diplomacy will blunt the attack. It is, as George Weigel has said, "different cultural moment." And too many Catholics voted for it.

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