The Holy Father has just completed his one-day pilgrimage to the Holy House of Loreto. As tradition has it – not of divine faith, but small-t ‘tradition’ – this is the original house of the Holy Family in Judea which, in the 13th century, was miraculously ‘flown’ from there by four angels, first to Tersatto in Croatia in 1291, then on to present site at Loreto, Italy in 1295, to protect the holy dwelling from desecration by Muslim invading the Holy Land. No sentimentalism there, when conquest was called what it was, in a different era when lines, including lines of belief, were more strictly and realistically drawn.
Ah, yes, while on the notion of tradition, I am as perplexed as anyone else why Pope Francis, in greeting fellow pilgrims, does not allow them to venerate his papal ring. The custom is for the faithful to kiss the ring of Popes and Bishops as a sign of respect for and obedience to their office. Instead, as you may see in this rather odd video, the Holy Father awkwardly jerks his hand away each time. I like the custom of bowing and kissing the ring of bishops – I have met only a few, and never the Pope – and only one I thought heard whisper ‘please don’t do that’, although I could not be sure. Some are embarrassed by traditional customs, sensing some danger, I suppose, of confusing the man with the office. But, then, respecting the ring was one way of maintaining that very distinction. As is said in the military, you salute the rank, not the man, and, especially in the papal office, no man is fully fit for the rank. Being the Vicar of Christ is above anyone’s pay grade.
Then again, as someone mentioned, perhaps the Pope is scared of spreading germs. I’m not so sure about this one.
Regardless, why not make an announcement beforehand, so that all this awkwardness could be avoided? The loss of customs in our society is a large part of why we can’t get along better than we do, and do what should be done.
And on jerking’ one’s hands about, I enjoyed this brief essay by Mark Bauerlein on what may initially seem the rather ironic connection between physical skill in fighting – in this case, boxing – and politeness. But it makes sense. The more one is aware of the violence one can do – or, perhaps more to the point, can be done to oneself – the more one learns both confidence in oneself and respect for others. But only if the ‘violence’ is controlled, disciplined, focused, and rarely, if ever, really used. Teaching our boys in particular the value of physical exercise, to the point of pain and exhaustion, would go a long way to making men of them. As Pope Saint John Paul – no stranger to bodily and mental exertion – said in his 1984 Letter to Youth, Dilecti Amici:
And so my hope for you young people is that your “growth in stature and in wisdom” will come about through contact with nature. Make time for this! Do not miss it! Accept too the fatigue and effort that this contact sometimes involves, especially when we wish to attain particularly challenging goals. Such fatigue is creative, and also constitutes the element of healthy relaxation, which is as necessary as study and work.
This fatigue and effort have their own place in the Bible, especially in Saint Paul, who compares the whole Christian life to a race in the sports stadium.(79)
Each one of you needs this fatigue and effort, which not only tempers the body but also enables the whole person to experience the joy of self-mastery and victory over obstacles and barriers. This is certainly one of the elements of “growth” that characterize youth
We are, as the Holy Father never tired of repeating, persons composed of body and soul, and we should order our lives, in right order, to the proper virtues of each.