I've been following a bit of the live coverage of the visit of Pope Francis to the United States -- live coverage as provided by the US Council of Bishops rather than what's been on commercial TeeVee.
The US Bishops, of course, have some issues with His Holiness, in part because he has shamed them.
There's nothing particularly radical about Francis's theology or message; instead, the bishops have been carrying on a radical crusade of their own to "purify" the Church of its taint of inclusion and spirituality and transform it into a reactionary and hostile social/political entity standing in opposition to any movement toward a better future for all.
Pope Francis has not only told them they are on the wrong path, he's used his authority to retire and/or replace particularly recalcitrant and bull-headed bishops in the US and all over the world. He is no slacker when it comes to enforcing his sway over the Church.
He has even gone so far as to suggest the bishops are obsessed...
Indeed, during the past few decades, the Church's obsessions, particularly with abortion, contraception, and control of women's bodies and other people's sex lives, have been idees fixe and often seem to be the only things that matter to the Church hierarchy. Under the circumstances, the Church has had a tendency to drive away members and has self-limited its presence in secular society.
The Church became a rejectionist force in the world. And Francis says, "No." Don't reject, withdraw, antagonize, denounce, or delimit. Go forth with joy. Proclaim the Gospel, do good and be holy.
For Heaven's sake. Who'd a thunk it?
With the bishop's negativity as a backdrop, Francis's presence and message is seen by some observers as a threat to the hegemony of radical rightist power that characterizes the United States and much of the English speaking world.
A threat because the Pope ("of the Holy See" as he was introduced to Congress yesterday) doesn't buy into the crap and the bullshit and the nonsense that have come to dominate the political and social dynamic of the United States. No way.
He sees things so much more openly and inclusively. And he has no fear at all.
Good heavens, when I saw him wading into crowds in Washington and New York, it was astonishing. American politicians and celebrities do not mingle with the common people. At all. Ever. They live and breathe a separate existence, as cut off from you and me as it is possible to get -- as cut off as any imperial potentate of yore.
And of course they live in holy terror of the rabble.
That may be because they know they are doing bad and bringing untold harm to the masses.
But that would imply a conscience, and I'm never sure the high and the mighty possess such a quality.
On the other hand, His Holiness simply does what he believes to be right, including mingling and presenting a simple and humble appearance, as if he were, perhaps, the servant of the servants of God. Oh. What a concept.
His motorcade, for example, marks the contrast between the humble Pope of the Holy See and the Titans of Security who accompany him. Pope Francis is driven hither and thither in a tiny Fiat 500 -- with the windows down -- whereas his security detail provided by the US Government travels in huge armor-plated and bomb and bullet-proof SUVs, the kind we've come to expect the higher ranks of pols and celebs to travel in as well.
They are so frightened, after all, of you and me.
I noticed the same phenomenon during the Queen's visit to Germany earlier this year. She was quite fearlessly riding around in a non-bullet-and-bomb-proof Daimler whereas Fraukanzler Merkel was surrounded with security forces while being transported in an armored limousine which probably nothing short of a nuke could penetrate.
So it is with the Pope. He's not afraid.
Just the fact that he fears not has the effect of shaming the Powers That Be.
I'll be eager to see the Pope at the prison tomorrow.
He has dared to say that hope must be part of any effort at punishment.
And he has repeatedly declared the necessity for Dignity, Justice, Community and Peace throughout his American journey.
His references to Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton in Congress yesterday must have stunned the assembly. How. Dare. He.