Steinfels’ Salutary Cautions
Before the talking-and-scribbling heads cruise into high gear for the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict, some commonsense observations from Peter Steinfels:
Of course, part of the problem in getting a fix on Benedict is simply the feebleness of accepted categories for understanding any serious religious leaders — and hence the impulse to deal with them as celebrities or politicians. Of all the words he speaks during his trip here, the ones that will probably go least examined are no doubt the ones he treasures most, the words of the Mass.
But the pope is not just another spiritual guide or priest. He has enormous institutional powers and responsibilities. To what extent does Benedict conceive of his papacy as a work of prayer and teaching? To what extent does he conceive of it as a renewal of structures and institutions? How does he see those aspects interacting?
His trip to the United States will presumably provide some clues. But they will be missed if it is greeted and framed with all the ready-made reflexes.
Will Peter’s cautions about cliches bear fruit? Stay tuned. (But don’t get your hopes too high.)