Joan Chittister, osbby Joan Chittister, OSB
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Like most people in the Catholic community — and far beyond that, I’m sure — I am following the transition from one papacy to another with great interest. Which in itself is something to be considered. After all, there have been six papacies in my lifetime, so you would think that by this seventh one, the fascination may have faded. On the contrary: The sense of fascination this time is even more heightened than in the past.

We are about to elect a new pope who will face serious 21st-century issues using 19th-century structures to resolve them. The cognitive dissonance of a situation like that cries to heaven for resolution. And this one may take heaven to resolve.

For instance, symbol systems are very important. But when they lose their meaning to the people with whom they are meant to communicate, they can become both meaningless and impotent. In fact, they can blur the impact of the message itself. Case in point: I heard three different commentators on three different stations, each of them attempting to communicate to a contemporary public exactly what is going on in this process at this time.

One of them called the time between the resignation of one pope and the election of another pope an “interregnum” — as in, “The king is dead, long live the king.” The second commentator was more interested in knowing the meaning of the pope’s red shoes. The third described Castel Gandolfo as the place where the pope met with his “court.” I winced. So much for St. Peter and the Jesus story.

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