The moment an individual can accept and forgive himself, even a little, is the moment in which he becomes to some degree lovable.
As in the Divine Right of Kings, hierarchies invest those who preside at the top of their pyramidal structure with absolute power to rule over the lesser ranks that spread down like a marble staircase to the broad foundation stones of those with no power at all.
Good priests never look for awards and, perversely enough in the clerical culture universe, do not receive many. Like the aged nuns who taught selflessly and nearly anonymously all their lives, these servants of the People of God only get into the papers when their obituaries are printed.
As dutiful bishops soon discover, authoritarianism, or control from the top down, characterizes the hierarchical tradition.
Human experience resembles the battered moon that tracks us in cycles of light and darkness, of life and death, now seeking out and now stealing away from the sun that gives it light and symbolizes eternity.
Bishops may often feel but cannot express the sting and throb of submitting themselves to Roman commands because the latter are always presented as tests of their loyalty to the Pope and of their absolute acceptance of his teaching authority, or Magisterium.
Francis seems familiar because Catholics have already known him in the Vatican II priests who have been their pastors and sacramental ministers over the years since that council brought new life to an old church. Catholics have known him in the bishops and priests who brought the spirit of the council to their dioceses and parishes.
Pope Francis has aimed a blow at what the whole hierarchical system is built on: a graded system with the higher clergy in the skyboxes, the devoted religious in festival seating, as they say of the crowds at rock concerts, and, on the bottom, the laity in standing room only.
The priesthood is not dying, but the clerical state is dead. It needs to be buried, preferably with a Viking funeral in Boston Harbor so nobody can miss the spectacle of its passing.
In April, God speaks to us in the seas whose rhythmic murmuring fills our ears from a long way off. It was in April that the Titanic went down into the deep to lie like a slasher's victim, bleeding the 'debris field' - its passengers' personal possessions, the everyday things of everyman and everywoman - across the ocean's floor.
Most ecclesiastical relics are fixed in time at the moment of their manufacture. That is why they are offered for veneration in casings that resemble pocket watches. They have lost their claim to mystery because they are so clearly the products of time.
Facebook may not only propagate cyber-loneliness but exacerbate the pain of loss that estranged family members feel when they hear only indirectly, through a third-party posting, news of a child or parent with whom they have not spoken in years.
The whole world feels that it knows Francis, not so much because he follows Francis of Assisi but because he is always himself. We have seen him pay his own hotel bill and heard that Francis called Buenos Aires for a pair of ordinary black shoes, like John XXIII, who preferred stout peasant shoes to the traditional papal footwear.
Friendship is something whose depth fits human aspirations and fulfills human possibilities. It has heft to it, as a gold-piece does and a gambling chip does not.
Hierarchical formulations died because their wedding cake levels posited a multiply fractured cosmos that does not match the Space Age revelation of a unified universe in which the earth is clearly in, rather than separated from, the heavens. Hierarchical representations do not reflect what either the world or we are like.
The object of religion is the imagination, that deep and inexhaustible font of our understanding and symbolizing our deepest possibilities.
Benedict's spending down his energy was a function of his fighting against the Space/Information Age's relentless pressure on the concept of hierarchy, the restoration of which he had, following John Paul II, made a central part of the program that has come to be known as the reform of the reform.
The truth of faith is a slender, glowing element that runs through even the seemingly ordinary and undramatic moments of existence. Even at low intensity, it is a steady source of illumination. Such religious truth is powerful even when it seems faint, even when it seems obscured by the larger events of history.
We not only romanticize the future; we have also made it into a growth industry, a parlor game and a disaster movie all at the same time.
The seminary of the future must relate itself to flesh-and-blood men, or it provides a framework that only talks about the people of God but never really shares life with them.