We journalists relish the opportunity of raising binoculars to eyes, scanning the road ahead and hollering back to the customers word of what we see. It seems to fulfill us -- like now, as we sort out the varied challenges awaiting the next pope. Poor guy, we might add, given the responsibilities we are heaping upon him already.
One of these days, when I'm in charge of journalism curriculum for the whole planet, I mean to position history at the center of our studies for the large view it affords -- larger than is obtainable with binoculars.
History would show us right away how rarely the Catholic Church has managed to rest from major challenge. There's always something -- sweeping up after the Vandals and Goths; fending off the Northmen and the Moslems; the Crusades; the Black Plague; the Reformation; scientific materialism and atheism. As my sainted mother was given to saying: "Just one 'd' thing after another!"
But it's not history alone to which we wrongly deny a role in proportioning our assessments of the church. Even more fundamental is the nature of the church -- not just the Church of Rome (as we Episcopalians sometimes say, a little sniffily), but rather the church that daily unites itself to Christ's birth, baptism, crucifixion and resurrection. We have here, under a variety of names, a supernatural enterprise, not a human one. That makes it very different from, say, the Republican Party or the Sierra Club.
Testaments to the witness of the late John Paul II are all over the place, and rightly so. Attention must be paid, to paraphrase Arthur Miller, when an extraordinary man of God exerts on his time such extraordinary influence as did this pope. However, the way to understand any pope, it seems to me, is to assess him chiefly as steward of a great mystery -- the mystery of what God has prepared for his people.