A Christmas Visit with Pope Francis

Yesterday I was slothfully bumming around the boob tube and I landed on one of those late-night comedy shows.  One of the show segments dealt with recent newsworthy comments made by Pope Francis about adultery.

It seems one of the Pope’s employees, Archbishop Blah-Blah, was fired because he supposedly had sex with, or groped, or massaged or caressed, or grazed the shoulders of, or maybe leered at a female.  (The media is still unclear about the extent of his so-called “sin,” but that’s neither here nor there.)

Even if he did have sex, his behavior wasn’t technically adultery, since Archbishop Blah-Blah isn’t married.  But the Pope’s people have to remain celibate and also conduct themselves like gentlemen, so he did, at the very least, violate his employment contract.

Today we have a preponderance of “fake news,” as well as factual news that certain people claim is fake.  After cranking up my search engine, though, I landed on enough fairly credible sources carrying this story that I concluded Pope Francis actually did make the comments in question.

I decided to fly to the Vatican to speak with the pontiff himself.  Although I’m not Catholic, nor even a technical “Christian”, I have a grudging respect for a few spiritual leaders, despite disagreeing with them on technicalities.  I wanted to get it straight from the horse’s mouth.  Did he really say these things?  And if so, could he please elaborate on them?

So here’s my interview with the Supreme Pontiff:

longitudes:  Merry Christmas, Pope!

Pope Francis:  And Happy Holidays to you, my son.

longitudes:  Uh…yes.  Pope, I know you’re a busy man, what with Christmas and your governing chores, so I’ll try not to take up too much time.  But I have some questions about some things you recently said that might be construed as being controversial.

Pope Francis:  Fire away, my son!

longitudes:  My first question concerns your response after Archbishop Blah-Blah was fired for, uh, doing “something” with a woman.  You said—and I quote—“Sins of the flesh are not the most serious.”  What did you mean?

Pope Francis:  I meant just that.  On the scale of sinfulness—the other sins being gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride—lust isn’t that big of a deal.  I mean, we all lust, even Jimmy Carter.  (Different denomination, but he’s still a brother-in-arms.) It’s not exactly like murder, or something.  It’s more like jaywalking.

longitudes:  Okay.  But some people might view this “jaywalking” as condoning cheating on one’s spouse. After all, many of them have taken a vow of faithfulness, and some have even done it in church.

Pope Francis:  Well, lust is still bad.  But it’s more like a misdemeanor than a crime.

longitudes:  Gotcha.  But lust could be defined as anything from having sexual thoughts about someone, to jumping in the sack with your neighbor’s wife or husband.  Where do you draw the line?  Are lustful thoughts and extramarital sex both misdemeanors?

Pope Francis:  Yes, but one is a more serious misdemeanor than the other.

longitudes:  And if indeed there is extramarital sex, is hitting a home run a greater sin than merely reaching third base?

Pope Francis:  I don’t understand the analogy, my son.

longitudes:  Sorry sir.  What I meant was, is intercourse a greater sin than heavy pet—um, than touching the genitals?

Pope Francis:  I think we’re splitting hairs here.  But let me cut to the quick.  Lustful thoughts will require a brief anteroom meeting with God.  Extramarital sex, however—which includes the home run as well as reaching fourth base—requires temporary purgatory, and maybe a few flame lickings on the backside.

longitudes:  And how do you know this?

Pope Francis:  My son, I think you would have to be Catholic to understand.  Are you Catholic?

longitudes:  No, I’m not much for organized religions.  I’d list the reasons, but I don’t want to offend you or others.

Pope Francis:  I admire your humility, my son.  We could use a few more like you in the Christian faith.

longitudes:  Thank you, sir, but I’m not as humble as it might appear.  (And sorry for the false modesty.) Another question I have concerns your comment that Archbishop Blah-Blah was merely “condemned by gossip” and “could no longer govern.” 

Pope Francis:  Right.  Blah-Blah is not a crook.  The press was out to get him.  Then there’s the gossip factor.  But now that I kicked him out, they won’t have him or the church to kick around anymore.

longitudes:  This sounds familiar.  But anyway, you accepted his resignation, quote, “not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy,” unquote.  What did you mean?  It sounds like you are defending him while at the same time capitulating to those critics who want him removed.  Similar to certain American politicians.

Pope Francis:  I have 1.3 billion Catholics in my flock.  Not to mention 5,000 worldwide real estate holdings.  This is not just a government, it’s also big business.  Oh, yes, it’s also a big-time religious denomination!

longitudes:  I see your point.  One last question, your supreme pontificator. Despite their significance, I noticed your statements weren’t carried by either the National Catholic Reporter nor the Vatican News. Might there be a quid pro quo going on here?

Pope Francis: My son, I’m impressed! You spoke Latin! Unfortunately I can’t comment on this. I’m unfamiliar with the first-named publication, and my subscription to Vat News ran out last March.

longitudes: I see, Holy See. Anyway, I’d like to thank you for meeting with me this most joyous time of year.

Pope Francis:  My pleasure, my son.  Have a wonderful holiday season, and don’t drink too much egg nog.  Remember, gluttony is also a deadly sin.  Actually, it’s not exactly “deadly.”  And probably not a sin, either.  Definitely a misdemeanor, though. Two flame licks and a closed-door meeting.

    

DISCLAIMER: This is not a real interview.  I did not actually meet with the Pope.  Anyway, I can’t afford the airfare, and he never visits my neck of the woods.

“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

That is the question.  Whether ‘tis nobler…

Prince Hamlet’s thinking leaned more existential than a choice between appropriate verbiage for a non-secular holiday salutation in the 21st century. Still, it’s a question we modern-day philistines are faced with. And there’s an element of nobility and gallantry behind deciding how to answer the question posed in my essay header.

I’ll get to the quick: while I’m not anal about it, I prefer “Happy Holidays.” You conservatives might say it’s because I’m a leftist liberal.  There’s a grain of truth to that (although I’m not as leftist as some of you might think).  I would say a more appropriate reason is that I often employ the same brain machinations in non-political as political ways. Hey, I am what I am.

When I was a kid I threw around “Merry Christmas” all the time (or in print, the lazier “Merry Xmas”).  I didn’t know anything about religion.  Hell, I barely knew how babies were made.

I’m older and somewhat wiser now.  I now realize that Christmas is a commercial religious celebration (or at least it started out religious), but that a lot of my fellow Earthlings actually are not Christians.  Eureka!  We’ve got Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, paganists, agnostics, and atheists galore here in Uncle Sam land.  (Maybe not in North Dakota…but you know what I mean.)  Lots of smaller cults, too.

I’ll still say “Merry Christmas” in return if I’m greeted that way, because I know the person greeting me is okay with it.  But if I’m doing the initial greeting, and I’m ignorant of the religious or non-religious affiliation of the person, I always say “Happy Holidays.”  Like Mutual of Omaha, it’s an all-encompassing insurance policy.  It covers New Year’s Day, Hanukkah, and I think it usually satisfies atheists and garden-variety, Christian-tinged agnostics like me.

(I shouldn’t forget Kwanzaa, a black cultural celebration occurring just after Christmas.  Kwanzaa’s popularity has evidently declined since its peak in the 1990s, to the undoubted dismay of Hallmark.)

***

So to those fist-pounding militants who want to “Put Christ back in Christmas,” like the guy around the corner with all the crazy yard signs, I say “knock yourselves out.”  Just don’t foist it on me.  Nothing against Christ—who, by the way, preached humility and tolerance—but I’ll celebrate Christmas in my own way, thank you.

It’s all about politeness.  Or gallantry and nobility. You know, “’Tis nobler.”  Unfortunately, and as we’ve seen with people who are adamant about their “individual rights” and defying “government intrusion” by refusing to wear facemasks in public—masks intended to protect themselves and others—politeness is in absentia in certain dark corners of the country right now.

But in the Christmas spirit, I’ll offer a “Happy Holidays” to even these people.  And throw in a “Be Safe” for good measure.

The Dead Sea Scrolls on Tour

scrolls

Jerusalem (population 800,000) is the holy city for the three main Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  It’s located on a plateau surrounded by valleys.  If you head southeast from the city, the terrain becomes increasingly rocky and desolate.  About 21 miles (34 km) from Jerusalem, near the northwest edge of the Dead Sea – the lowest body of water on earth – is an ancient site known as Khirbet Qumran.  There are steep cliffs surrounding Qumran, with a series of small caves poked into the cliffs.  And within these caves were discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The scrolls are a collection of 972 texts that date to the first few centuries BCE (BC) and CE (AD).  Some of the texts are non-biblical, some are manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament to Christians), and they comprise the earliest known writings of Second Temple Judaism.  One scroll is an entire copy of the Book of Isaiah.  The scrolls lay hidden in darkness for 2,000 years until being discovered by a Bedouin shepherd in 1946.  Then for the next several decades they were painstakingly pieced together and eventually published.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to view a small part of the scrolls at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  The exhibit is subtitled “Life and Faith in Ancient Times,” apropos because many of the scrolls offer clues about the type of society in which the scrolls were conceived.  Many historians think the scrolls formed the library of a long-extinct Jewish sect called the Essenes, who left the more mainstream Jewish faith to practice a more ascetic form of Judaism (although the true authors of the scrolls may never be known).

It’s hard to describe the feeling: peering into a thick glass case at ancient, torn parchment that existed before, during, and after the time of Christ.  Just gazing on a few shreds of browned goatskin, with faint but precise Hebrew (or Aramaic) lettering from the Book of Numbers: “…May the Lord make his face to shine upon you.”  It sent shivers up my spine.  Until the discovery of the scrolls, the oldest known Hebrew Bible manuscript dated to the 10th century.  So the Dead Sea Scrolls were a leap back of 1,000 years.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority is currently digitizing the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The exhibit in Cincinnati will run until April 14.  The scrolls will be rotated out in sets until then.