I confess: I'm Catholic curious. Sort of. I've always been fascinated--and, admittedly, frightened--by this notion that Catholics can slip behind a closet door, confess any kind of sin, from the monumental to the mundane; and, theoretically, emerge with a clean slate. A true tabula rasa. Where do I sign up? Simply admit my sins, and I'm back to zero? Is there a credit card with these kinds of benefits?
My corporate pilot husband is a man of few chosen words. But, as luck would have it, people seek him out, to reveal their innermost thoughts. When we were first married, he flew movie and rock stars around the country. My least favorite story was when an Oscar-winning actress slinked into the cockpit, with vegetable tray in hand, and whispered, "It's my fantasy to be a flight attendant." (Those pilots have never eaten more vegetables in their lives, or since.)
To my mind, though, his most captivating conversation was with an anonymous stranger that he recently encountered in a hotel lobby near the Vatican.
He had just landed in Rome, and was sitting alone, still wearing his starched white shirt and epaulets. Suddenly, he was surrounded by a group of adorable, golden-aged American women. They were all giggling like teenagers, and talking all at once, how they were on their way to a formal, 15-minute meeting with the Pope--one that was one year in the making. "What if we accidentally say the wrong thing?" one of them asked, ever so sweetly. Before my husband could answer, they scurried out the door. Later, he ran into her again near the hotel elevators.
"What did you ask?" he said.
"We were speechless for a really long time," she replied. "We just stared at him, for what seemed like eternity."
"Well, what did he say?"
"He said, 'This is the first time I've ever been around women who had nothing to say!'"
The meeting lasted for one hour.
The anecdote got me thinking: Who thinks of the Pope as having a sense of humor? And, What would I ask the Pope? My thoughts turned to me at 10 years old. I'm on my way to a Christmas play, at The Church of God. (In the '60s, most kids went to Sunday School, as a matter of course.) I'm sitting at my sister's vanity table, staring at my reflection. I'm holding the Bible in my hands, and I'm literally praying to God that my mom will stop fussing with my long, chestnut-color hair.
She's now coming toward me, with Final Net, and a nylon-bristled hairbrush and curlers that always got stuck in my hair. Suddenly, God (I never knew there was a difference between him and the picture I had of Jesus), answered my prayer. "Tell your mom," I was sure he told me, "that you're starring as the Mother Mary, and she must leave your hair straight and scraggly for the play." That stopped her in her tracks. Imagine her surprise when I didn't even have a speaking part, and was cast as a hooded, barefoot beggar, instructed to walk slowly across the stage, with head down--to indicate hard times, I suppose--with imaginary money in hand, to purchase shoes from a cobbler.
This morning at breakfast, my husband said he'd ask the Pope if there is government in heaven. "And if there is," he continued, "then I don't want to go there!" When I asked my 6th-grade son if he knew who was the Pope, he assured me that he did. "He's the police of the Jesus people, right?"
I then posed the question to random friends and their offspring:
- If God sends people to Heaven, and the Devil punishes bad people by sending them to Hell, then isn't the Devil good?
- Why is the Christian faith more real to him than any other faith?
- I don't know who he is, but I would rather ask questions to my parents than ask someone who is Catholic.
- How do you hope to address the issue of poverty?
- I'd applaud him for truly embracing what a Man of God should be in today's society. And I'm not Catholic.
- What are your thoughts on the afterlife?
- Do you believe that our loved ones come to us in our dreams, and give us messages?
- Will we see our loved ones in heaven?
- Do we stay the same age in heaven, as we did when we died?
- How will he utilize the digital-age computer to teach the younger members about the Catholic Church?
- "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent? Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent? Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" - Epicurus
- What's his favorite work of fiction?
- How can anyone--from any religion--think they're the only ones who will be saved?
- What is your vision of God?
- I'd have him pray for "Unc."
- How can Christians, or any faith, justify killing in the name of religion?
- Who would he like to go to lunch with?
And then the one that stopped me in my tracks this morning, sent by one of my dearest friends:
"Honestly, Kerrie, I would ask him to pray for me, because I am just barely holding on. The pain I feel in my heart is at times unbearable. I need hope that I will see the light that will guide me because right now I only see darkness. I don't have faith that my prayers will be answered. I prayed with my heart and soul that the one I love would beat the cancer, but they were not answered, so I could use his help. I guess it is selfish of me to ask him to pray for me."
So, dear readers: What one question would you ask the Pope?
I wanted to somehow close with comforting words of wisdom to my friend, by offering a link, in my estimation, to the three most powerful words ever set to music. They're not, "Let it Go," as popular culture would have some believe, but: "Let it Be," by The Beatles.
Instead, I must address the uncomfortable. For me, I simply cannot erase from my mind, the permanent stain with which, virtually, all outsiders associate the Catholic Church. As one friend so eloquently stated, "Why does the church continue to shield criminals, who have [sexually] abused generations of devoted, innocent followers?"
That's the 170 billion-dollar unspeakable question of the century, to which believers and non-believers, alike, simply must insist upon an answer.