All the Kingdoms of the World Print
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.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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