Last year, at the end of the year I posted a rather grim “goodbye and good riddance” dismissal to 2012.
I couldn’t think of a single good thing that happened in that cursed year. The dopiest presidential election until the next one, various natural and human disasters, bad news, bad news, bad news.
And my bride’s mother died a few days before my own mother. I hope I do not have to explain what that was like for my children, whose previous total experience of grief consisted of the death of a two year old golden retriever.
2013 was little better in the world scene, though we were spared the tragicomedy of a national election, and no great woes touched our family.
But whatever disasters occurred, and they were legion, they were balanced by the singular grace of the election of Pope Francis.
As I have said before, if I had been asked to design a pope I could not have outdone what God in fact gave us. Except that I would have made him 56, not 76.
At the time of his election there was talk of Cardinal Dolan as a possibility. If this had occurred I would have gone into exile, sitting in the back of the local Greek Orthodox church until this had passed.
Instead, like a gift, this pope walked out onto the balcony and asked the faithful to pray for him.
That was a very different beginning to what has turned out to be a very different pontificate, the central theme of which seems to be the recalling of all of us to the heart of the gospel, to the Person of Christ, and putting all that is secondary in its place.
All of this has been tremendously attractive to those outside the Church, even as it has vexed many within.
Not that this attraction is universal; the economic and political right in particular have reacted with hostility, Rush Limbaugh infamously calling Francis a Marxist. Other secular right wingers have echoed this.
But Catholics of the political right face a more difficult challenge, and they have responded in various ways: the pope’s concerns are delusional because none of them are anarcho-capitalists, the pope is from Argentina, so he, in criticizing the free market, isn’t really addressing capitalism in any sort of global way, or even Michael Novak’s recent declaration that popes have no competence in addressing economic issues.
No, Mr Novak, but they are hugely competent in addressing moral issues, which the economy encompasses.
So 2014 looks like it is going to be interesting. Congressional elections, to be sure. Some state ballot initiatives, including an attempt to get a long overdue medical marijuana bill to the voters here in Ohio, no doubt more weather disasters, which of course have nothing to do with climate change, etc.
But I am heartened, and excited about this pope, and entertained by the discomfort of my old enemies amongst the neoconservatives and libertarians.
And don’t get me wrong; I do not view this controversy, which I have long been engaged in, as the mere disagreement about prudential matters among brethren. The system that the Catholic economic right has promoted for decades has decimated the poor and the working classes. These people are enemies.
Of course I follow Christ; I try to love my enemies.
But enemies they are, and may God forgive me if I enjoy seeing them on the defensive for once.