Christians Awake Part II: What Do You Believe?

Part I was about a cult begun by an egomaniac, exploiting people in the name of Jesus. Part II asks what is the difference between a cult and a religion? Is it that religions don’t set out to exploit people?  But what about what they say they believe?

Consider three anecdotes about friends who were raised as Catholics:

1) Today some of us were sitting around and the subject of religion, then communion came up. Someone said, “You know, the Catholics believe that when the priest blesses the wafer, it actually turns into the body of Christ—it’s not a symbol for them, it really is His body.” One of my colleagues who was raised Catholic, and had gone through First Communion at the age of 13 was dumbfounded—she didn’t attend services anymore, but somehow she had missed that central tenet of the Roman Church all these years.  Now she just shook her head in disbelief and a pained look crossed her face.

2) A few years ago I was talking with a Catholic friend and the subject of the Immaculate Conception came up.   “That’s the same thing as the Virgin Birth,” he said—that Mary miraculously conceived even though she was a virgin.” I corrected him, reporting that it’s actually the belief that Mary herself was conceived immaculately, that is, free from the taint of Original Sin. Her mother, St. Anne, conceived the normal way, they say, but God acted on Mary in the womb, removing that sin so she would be a proper vessel (if that’s the phrase) for the baby Jesus. My friend stared at me a moment, somewhat shocked, then heaved a big sigh.

3) A friend who went to a Catholic school in a major city told me recently that the moment he became an atheist was when he was 14 and the bishop came to visit their school.   The boys were all lined up in the chapel to honor his visit, and here he came, down the aisle in his robes, his finery, and on his hat, the mitre—or “that pointy hat” as my friend called it. In that moment he said to himself, “How can we take all this seriously? There is no way that God wants him dressed like that.”

It’s presumptuous for a non-Catholic to make these observations, but the point is simply this: if you say you are part of a group, Catholic, Protestant, or anything, shouldn’t you know what that group’s beliefs are? Otherwise, if you can’t buy into those beliefs, or accept the rituals and the dress, shouldn’t you call yourself something else to avoid confusion?   And if you can’t buy into some of those beliefs, which beliefs are you buying into? The ones that seem more reasonable?

Do you get to do that? Pick and choose?

Most church leaders would say no.

The Humanist would say yes, that’s exactly what you should be doing.

A Nation of Ghouls

Folks, we are in a dark place. Exactly how dark came home to me the other night as I sat down to find something to watch  on Netflix. Among the thousands of shows they have on offer is a category called “Netflix Originals” which has been getting a lot of attention for its creativity and success. I’d already watched some episodes of several of them, and as I scrolled through now, I realized that most of them were either murder mysteries or sci-fi heroes fighting evildoers.  The crimes we are watching are no ordinary felonies, they are horrific rapes, tortures, dismemberments, cannibalism….you name it, some writer has come up with a script for our amusement. We are offered deranged cult leaders, serial killers, pedophiles, drooling sadists or megalomaniacs wielding apocalyptic weapons of mass destruction, and the murders are the most gruesome, disgusting, horrifying deaths any demented scriptwriter could ever conceive, with the camera often lingering over mangled corpses, caressing them like a lover for our viewing pleasure.

We have become a nation of ghouls.

Never mind worrying about our kids–this is what we’re feeding ourselves a steady diet of night after night. No wonder people are jumpy, paranoid and mistrustful!

It’s not that some of these shows aren’t well written, it’s not that they don’t raise interesting moral questions or illustrate important aspects of our humanity–they often do.  But, I’m telling you, friends, get away from it! Living with these stories day-in, day-out is making us kind of crazy.   It’s a subtle way for the Dark Side to slip into our very beings and turn us all against each other.

There is one show that consistently takes us along the higher road: Call the Midwife.   In this British import we find a paean to the Sacrament of Birth and its extension, childrearing.   In 1950s London the midwives are the heroines, along with the nuns who in their generous, open-hearted spirits remind us why becoming a bride of Christ has been so appealing for so many through the years. It’s all about compassion, something we all have to offer no matter what our place is in the world.   Perhaps the show is a bit saccharine at times, but a taste of sugar feeds the Spirit a lot better than a mouthful of gore.

So get out of that pool of blood you’ve been wallowing in and get back to normal!  You don’t have to become a Catholic nun,  just look around for the sacred in life.   Go play with your children or your grandchildren.  Celebrate life every day.

Pope Francis on Islam: Is He Delusional?

Pope Francis recently said that he can’t condemn the brutal murder of the Norman priest, Father Jacques, as Islamic terrorism because “It’s not right to identify Islam with violence. It’s not right and it’s not true.”

This unleashed a furor.   On the Daily Express website for example, swarms of furious readers wrote in that the Pope was “blind”, “deluded”, “a nutter”, “an old fool”, “brain-damaged”, “an imposter”, “the antichrist”, “pure evil” “ a “Satinist”… Strong stuff!

So let’s unpack this.

Is it right to “identify” Islam with violence?

Bad choice of words.  What do we mean by “identify with”—that’s a confusing verb for this discussion. Let’s rephrase it:

Do some people who claim to be Muslims resort to violence to enforce their religious views?

Yes, undeniably.

Are they justifying their actions by pointing to what their religion teaches them?

Yes, absolutely.   In the holy books of Islam there are passages that unequivocally support violent acts to further their goals, including killing infidels to spread Islam. See link.

Does that mean that Islam is a religion that encourages violent and terroristic acts? Yes and no.

Yes, if you are someone who believes and teaches others that you must follow every word of the Quran. That is what we mean by fundamentalism: follow the holy text. There are from 1 to 5 % of Muslims in Middle Eastern countries who support the fundamentalism of ISIS.

No, if you believe that you can ignore certain parts of the Quran as outdated. See link.

This brings us to the most important part of the Pope’s recent statements: “Nearly all religions” have a “small group of fundamentalists” so don’t tar Islam with that brush.

Holy Cow! What the Pope is saying here is we have to beware of fundamentalism in any religion, including Roman Catholicism. Wow! What that would mean is exactly what Seven Sacraments for Everyone is getting at: we have to get beyond the slavish adherence to texts written thousands of years ago and to traditional practices that developed over centuries.   What we should be doing is “editing” those texts, looking into our hearts, looking at human experience to search for those transcendent moments that lead us to the Divine, that point us on our way to the Greater Good.   Killing innocent people in cold blood is the antithesis of this path.

Once again, two cheers for Francis!!   But he could have been clearer in his condemnation of terrorism under the guise of religion.

 

Birth Control: Is Pope Francis Leading Us to the Gates of Hell?

News surfaced yesterday that there is a cohort of Catholic Church leaders who are not at all happy about where Pope Francis is taking the Church.   In a video they created called “Plea to the Pope” they are extremely upset by his hints that the times they are a-changin’. They object specifically to the ideas that

-contraception is OK to combat zika

– divorced Catholics who have remarried should be permitted back into the Church

– Church leaders should be more accepting of gays

The video-makers feel like Francis is creating ambiguity if not chaos within the Church by changing decades of traditional teachings. Their language is apocalyptic:

“I love the Holy Father. I pray for him every day, …but we need to work for Christ and his truth. And I need to defend my own family, and [statements he has made are] a threat to the faith of my children.”

Wow.  “Defend”?…”Threat”?  One woman calls the present situation “a horror.”

Others mention that the Catholic Church will cease to exist if it accepts contraception. One participant warns that “the contraceptive mentality destroys families, it destroys countries, and it will destroy our Christian civilization.”

The supplicants begin by assuring us that they love the Holy Father but he’s leading the Church to the gates of hell.   Most interesting of all is that they all pray for him every day, and urge their listeners to do the same. This is surely a backhanded way of saying that they’re pretty certain they know something the Pope doesn’t know (i.e., what God really wants) and if they pray hard enough God will get him to snap out of whatever blind, bum trip he’s on.

But here is the paradox for Catholics: is the Pope infallible or isn’t he? Just to refresh the memory: infallibility means that whatever the Pope says on matters of great moral import can be considered God’s truth. There is a limit: he cannot contradict what is clearly stated in the Bible, but through study, he can guide the Catholic Church on “solemn, official teachings on faith and morals.” So if the Pope decides there is nothing against condoms in the Bible, then these folks have got to either accept it, or start their own church. That’s what the Protestants did, and for the same reasons.  He was the Antichrist then, remember, and though no one has applied that term to Francis, it’s really what they’re hinting at when they say he needs to work for “Christ’s truth.”

The filmmakers are to be admired for their desire for the Good, but surely their reliance on tradition and Bible verses from 2000 plus years ago is misplaced. Isn’t it clear on a pragmatic level, that using no contraception will inevitably result in disaster as overpopulation destroys us? That, and not the Pope, is what is going to lead us to the gates of hell, when starving people driven to desperation try to move en masse to other countries, or start wars to acquire the dwindling food stores and water supplies that remain on this over-burdened, suffering planet.

98% of American Catholic women of child-bearing age have used contraception despite what the Church has taught for decades. Thank God for that.

See also A Lost Parable: The Sin of Contraception.

Pope Francis on Marriage: Get it Together, People!

Pope Francis is in hot water with conservative Catholics.   He recently responded to a question on marriage by saying that most (later changed to “many”) marriages were invalid because the couple didn’t understand the sacrament of marriage. They did not, he said, fully comprehend what they had agreed to as they exchanged those vows. His antagonists began piling on, saying that he was making the entire Catholic community wonder if their marriages were legit, and “muddying the waters” of the Roman Church even more than he already has with his liberal attitudes towards gays, divorcees, and others living beyond the pale (their pale, that is). You could almost hear the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments as they proceeded to excoriate the Pontiff, as if he were an ordinary Joe off the street instead of the Vicar of Christ.

But Francis is on to something important.   Marriage doesn’t mean as much as it used to. It’s been plutoed. The Pope’s point is that those contemplating marriage are not being prepared properly for its demands, and that’s why there are so many seeking annulments (the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce).   They are too willing to call it a day and go on to the next partner on their dance card.

There are two things going on here. The first is the need to recognize that there are going to inevitably be some bad marriages and those people need to split up.   Maybe it’s nobody’s fault, maybe you can lay the blame at somebody’s feet, but every marriage is not going to be forever. People change. They get married too soon, too young, too unaware, blinded by passion and then one day they open up their eyes to a different person than the one they thought they knew.  They should be able to go their separate ways and start over.

But the second point jives with what Francis is trying to tell us. There is a sanctity in marriage, and not just for the Christian Faithful, but for everyone. Our partners in life, those with whom we beget our children should be our best beloved, and in that deep, ineffable affection and the intimacy of sexual union we find the Divine.  Call it God, call it whatever you want, it’s sacred.  Marriage should  ideally be for the long haul. But we live in a world of refunds, retooling, redecorating, and regifting. We have even invented the word “trial marriage”, an irritating phrase if ever there was one.

Forget for a moment the annoyance you may feel at celibate men of the Church ordering you around in this realm of intimacy and domesticity.  The world would be a better place if marriage were viewed as a sacrament instead of a tax benefit. The Pope is doubtlessly correct that many of us are woefully unprepared to be good spouses. But what is sacramental about the union of two souls, is not what happens in front of an altar as a priest utters some magic words. The sacrament lies deep in the heart of the bride and groom if they really care about each other and are willing to make sacrifices for each other and work together to make the marriage more important than either of their own individual lives. It is that depth of feeling that unites them, and makes them married in a spiritual sense. It is Divine. But you have to work at it.

 

Pope Francis Does It Again!

In a new “Exhortation” entitled “On Love in the Family” the Pope has broken new ground in humanizing the Catholic faith.   So much of this is desperately needed that it bears repeating, so here’s some of what he had to say:

1) Get it Together, Men! The Pope goes after domestic violence and verbal abuse of women as the antithesis of what a loving union should be.  Absolutely!

2) Not Sex Ed, …Love Ed: he warns about the danger of encouraging adolescents to “toy with their bodies and desires” treating the other person as a means of blithely fulfilling their own needs. They need to be taught that sexual union is based on a profound love, not personal gratification.

3) Treat Gays Kindly: we must respect the dignity of all, regardless of sexual orientation, and treat everyone with consideration

4) Stop Dissing the Divorcees: far from ostracizing those who get divorced, we must encourage them to be part of the community

A lot of this comes down to that best of all Bible passages: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It also emphasizes the need for a serious education, starting in childhood, on what this whole range of mysteries is all about: sexual attraction, marriage, and sexual union.  Too often we’re doing a bad job of this right now.   Mother Jones recently published an article on the “Abstinence Only” sex ed laws in Tennessee, which got their start when the daughter of a legislator in that state came home to announce that her instructor in AIDS prevention had illustrated the use of condoms by rolling one onto a vibrator—with her mouth!

Yes, that would do it.

We desperately need to let our children know that sexual union is sacred and it all ties in with how we treat each other as sexual partners and how we regard the sexual orientation of others. This needs to be taught in the home and taught at school, no matter what you think about God.

On the other hand, there are some things in Francis’s exhortation that are problematic, even for the most devoted Catholics. Take the Pope’s unhappiness with birth control, for example. Francis jumps on the fact that we call contraception “protection,” as if a future child were an enemy.

Semantics can be such a problem.

Even in the most Catholic countries, couples are ignoring the Church’s teaching on this point and using birth control in massive numbers.   If they were not, there would be millions of unwanted babies. The “enemy” if there is one, is not the child, it’s Want, Poverty, Starvation and all the social ills that come with them. The Pope and his men seem unaware of the dangers of the Population Bomb, or if they are, apparently they would address it by having us buck up, strengthen our self-control, and simply refrain more often from sexual activity to avoid the 12-child family.   They are dreaming. We are programmed to procreate–the urge is too great for most to resist.  Without contraception famine, wars over scarce resources, and mass migrations of peoples would overwhelm the earth even more than they already are.

So Two Cheers for Pope Francis, and thank God that Catholics around the world are using their common sense where it’s badly needed to keep Poverty at bay.

Beware the Politician Who Talks to God

Urgent message to my fellow New Hampshirites who are puzzling over who to vote for in next week’s primary:

Please don’t vote for Ted Cruz.

I know, I know, he’s got a lot of what you’re looking for in a president: he’s arrogant, he tells bad jokes, he can make his voice do all those weird things when he gives a speech—that quiver, that whisper, that calculated pause that reminds you so much of the televangialist about to pick your pocket.

But whatever appeal he has for you, consider this: the New York Times reported that Cruz believes a president should spend every morning on his knees in prayer, asking for guidance from God.   Now that may sound good, but in reality, it’s hard to know when God is talking to you, and when you’re talking to yourself. The last president who so openly made a point about praying on his knees to God was William McKinley in 1899.   Back then there were many in the United States who were proud of the fact that we, unlike the Europeans, had never wanted an empire.  Yes, it would have been nice to remind them of all the land we took from the Native-Americans and the Mexicans, but at least we were not trying to colonize Asia and Africa. Then along came the Spanish-American War, and the question of the Philippines. We had defeated the Spanish with the help of the Filipino freedom fighters, but then what? The Filipinos wanted independence, but McKinley got a message from God:

I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way—I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France and Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-government—and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly…

In other words, God told McKinley to double-cross the Filipino rebels.  For Christ’s sake.  The results were a three-year war–the USA against the rightful leaders of the Philippines–25,000 dead fighters, an unknown number of civilian deaths, brutal massacres, diseases, ….the usual horror stories.

God also forgot to clue McKinley in that the Filipinos were already Christians—7 million out of 7.6 million people.   OK, OK, …so they were all Catholics, so maybe what God meant was that He wanted McKinley to get out there and turn them into good evangelical Protestants, like….hey! like Ted Cruz!

Cruz wants to carpet bomb ISIS–is that what God told him?  Why not just use a nuclear weapon? The sky’s the limit when you clear your mind of the facts in order to chat with the Creator.

So let’s ask for a little less God in our president, a little more reason, and a lot more integrity.

If you liked this, try “God’s Plan” or “How to Ruin the World

Chimamanda Adichie on Francis and the Catholic Church

As I reported in my book, Catholic churches are emptying at an astonishing rate.   What’s the reason? The answer can be found in an excellent article by Chimamanda Adichie that appeared a couple of months ago in the Atlantic. “Raised Catholic” should be required reading for any priest, nun, monk, or Church official who wants to find out why so many people have stopped going to mass in the Western World. Growing up in Nigeria, she loved the church service as a child. The sensory stimulation, the smells of incense, the sounds of bells and music, the majestic robes of the priests, the poetry of the liturgy, and the mystery it all conjured up made her feel part of a group, a tribe, as she took part in the rituals. She longed to be a priest.

And then as a teenager, skepticism crept in, as it does for so many of us.   She began to see the mean side of the Church, the disdain for non-Catholics, the ban on intermarriage, the petty humiliations, the punishments, the swagger of the priests, the insistence on the letter of canon law, while ignoring the spirit.

This could be the story of many of the world’s religions.   There is a fascination with the rituals, a powerful sense of belonging to the group, a satisfaction in knowing that your people have an answer to that most troubling question on earth: why are we here?

But then we, or at least some, begin to see the problem with the other side of the coin. If my tribe is right, then yours must be wrong, and that means you are a threat to us.  I must either convert you, shun you, or kill you. If my leader has a monopoly on truth, then anyone who raises questions must be expelled or the foundations of the system will crumble.

The most important part of Adichie’s article is when she tells us that she never thought of compassion as a tenet of the Church… and then Francis came along.  Pope Francis inspires her not through his humility, but through his humanity. Her article says so beautifully what many lapsed Catholics around the world must find stirring in their hearts: Let’s stop judging each other and start helping those who need it.

But this is not just for Catholics. There is a universalist message here.  It doesn’t matter so much whether you kneel and take a wafer of wheat in your mouth Sunday morning or if you stand on your head chanting the 35 names of the Creator.  Do that, by all means, if it anchors you with a sense of belonging to a tribe. We all need to belong to something.   But don’t stop there.  What really matters is how we treat each other, even those outside our group and that’s called Humanism. Francis seems to be inching his way in that direction, dragging the Holy See with him in spite of itself.   We’ll see how far he gets….more power to him.

God Works in Mysterious Ways

I had an unusual experience last weekend visiting relatives in beautiful Central New York State.  Fall is the perfect time to travel through the undulating hills and valleys that characterize that region, and it’s especially entertaining to try the highways and byways you’ve never explored.   This time, as we cut across Otsego County southwest on Route 80, we came to the unassuming township of Edmeston, population 1,826. The Amish have settled in the area recently, and just as we were passing several families in their horse-drawn carts, we saw an inconspicuous sign pointing to the right : “Rosa Mystica” it said. Curiosity got the better of us, so up the hill we went along a country road with very few houses on it. After about 2 miles we found Rosa Mystica, and let me tell you, it’s a surprising place.   There is an ornate white chapel surrounded by statues of angels and Mary in all sorts of sizes and in all sorts of poses. Next to it is the “Jesus the Divine Healer Prayer and Meditation Chapel,” a log building just 2 years old. Across the road there was the “Stations of the Cross Woods Walk” with even more statues of Mary and angels, and one larger-than-life Christ on the cross (26 feet high). A life-size replica of Michaelangelo’s Pieta can be found on the grounds and we also saw little log cabins across the road—maybe a dozen or so, built for participants in retreats. What was all this doing here?

That’s the most surprising thing of all.

The website tells us that for ten years starting in 1973, an Italian woman, Mother Leonardi , a follower of Padre Pio, was given a series of numbers by Mary. Those numbers turned out to be the longitude and latitude of a spot on the globe: Edmeston, NY.   She traveled here to determine the exact location for the chapel and the building was dedicated as a Marian center for priests in 1985. It’s mission: to bring more people to Christ through Mary.

What are we to make of all this? It all seems so improbable.

Well, first of all, never underestimate the power of religion. It will move mountains.

Second, it’s comforting to know that Catholics can find solace and strength in contemplation and prayer in these environs.   We all can use a dose of that now and then to help us deal with the human condition.

Third, and here’s where my impious side kicks in, I couldn’t help wondering why Mary couldn’t have given Mother Leonardi a tip on how to solve world hunger, or the population bomb, or tropical diseases. Why this cryptic series of numbers that turns out to be coordinates to a location (wasn’t that an episode in Lost?). Are my brethren of Central New York so in need of salvation that Mary had to go to these lengths to save them?   To my heathen mind it all seems so medieval, as does referring to Mary as “Our Lady.” or the relics, the focus on Christ’s blood, his wounds (and by the way Padre Pio is famous among other things for bearing the stigmata of Christ for decades).

To add an additional layer of unreality to the picture, a gentleman named Anthony Fuina experienced “the Lord’s miraculous blessing and healing through Saint Pio.” It happened while he was driving his car, so Anthony donated his car to Rosa Mystica, and there it sits, under a small roof in Padre Pio’s Grotto.

I couldn’t help wondering what the Amish thought about it all.

Pilgrimages to the Pope and to Mecca

There’s been a regular giddiness in the USA this week because of the arrival of the Pope.   People are in awe. They’re falling over themselves to get a glimpse of him, making the pilgrimage to Washington, New York, or Philadelphia to cheer him. A joint session of Congress plus the Supremes gave him standing ovations. 50,000 people watched on the West Lawn on four jumbotrons so no detail would be missed. On to the UN for a big speech!   1.5 million pilgrims are expected to hear the papal mass at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia. All the networks are hanging on his words, beaming them out to us for our edification, even to the 75% of Americans who are not Catholics.  And it’s a good message: you guys are rich, so take care of the poor.

At the same time another even larger pilgrimage has resulted in tragedy as over 700 people were killed in a crush during the Hajj, the journey to Mecca that all Muslims must make in their lifetimes. There have been crushes and stampedes before during the Hajj, lots of them in fact. Now Iran is blaming the Saudis, accusing them of incompetence at managing such enormous crowds.

But let’s back up and ask a larger question: what’s going on with these pilgrimages? Why do so many people put their lives on hold, or their lives at risk to undertake these journeys to begin with? In the case of the Hajj, knowing there’s a potential for death, and a particularly horrible death at that, why do they come in the millions? Or why would you drop everything and fly to the East Coast to stand in a street cheering a man who you only see briefly driving by in a car?

What’s at work here is the power of faith. It’s astonishing, really. Here we are creating technological marvels by the boatload and figuring out all kinds of answers to how the natural world works, pushing aside old superstitions from ancient worldviews, but still there lingers that part of our beings that desperately wants to link up with something larger than ourselves.   We take a humble man from Argentina and decide he’s now the Vicar of Christ, ruling from the Chair of St. Peter with a direct line to God, infallible in his pronouncements. Of course it was the Curia who chose him, but we go with it and make him a celebrity with all the media frenzy that goes with it.

For Muslims the Hajj is one of the five pillars of their faith. They must risk their lives and go, taking part in all the various parts of the ritual, including throwing pebbles at a wall symbolizing the devil which is where the stampede usually occurs. It’s astonishing–this compulsion, this incredible pull with so many people sacrificing so much to make this trip. Let no one deny the power religion still holds over billions of people.

It’s also what I call the Sacrament of the Group. We want very badly to belong to something. If we’re Catholic, being in that body of believers with its rites and history and places of worship gives us comfort. It grounds us in an unstable world full of challenges and troubles. If we’re Muslim, knowing that there are others like us, praying like we do, celebrating the same holy days, following the same rules, brings us contentment and a sense that all is right in the world. At times, we may experience a transcendence in the company of our co-religionists that is like no other experience on earth. When we’re in a crowd of like-minded people, waiting for the Pope to arrive we can become overwhelmed, weep, or laugh hysterically. Pilgrims arriving in Mecca sometimes weep as well, and by taking on this arduous journey, by taking part in these rituals in 100 degree heat, restricting their diets, shaving their heads, they are meant to experience submission and obedience, to have their sins forgiven and, in short, get right with God.

If only we could channel those kinds of energies beyond our groups into a feeling that we’re all citizens of the world–humanists.   That’s really the Pope’s message and I would like to think the true message of Islam.   We have to take care of each other—not just our own people but everyone who needs our help.    Whenever Muslims mention the Prophet, they add “peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.” If only that were extended by all of us to all of us. Could we ever get to that point without the need for masses, rituals, and pilgrimages? Or without the cult of celebrity around someone like Pope Francis?