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Catholicism and I first met a crossroads when my thirteen-year-old self raised his hand in CCD and declared, “Jesus was just a schizophrenic with an easily-entertained audience!” Rather than excommunicating me to the holy-water dunk tank, my teacher rolled her eyes so hard she tripped over her own orthopedic shoes and continued on with the lesson. I’m sure she hoped that her disapproval would have discouraged me from my wicked ways but it instead spurred an even stronger interest in a religion that I have always found equally intriguing and incarcerating.
It was hard to miss the news coverage of the recent papal conclave…and by hard to miss, I mean that my television turned itself on at one point to assault me with the newest image of a dormant smokestack. The media was granting attention to the Catholic Church with vigor usually only granted to celebrity divorces and the newest way that acai berries will evaporate cellulite and all memory of bad previous relationships. Had it been just one or two days more of black smoke, I’m positive a network would have come up with Catholicism’s Next Top Pope in which the most fabulous of the cardinals would judge the vying vicars on their Covergirl commercial and the flavor-notes of their Communion wine.
Home on spring break, I was halfway to my goal of leaving a permanent indentation of my rear-end on the sofa when white smoke was finally seen from St. Peter’s Square. When Pope Benedict succeeded Pope John Paul II, I was in the fifth grade and obviously had bigger fish to fry—I’m literally talking fried fish here; I weighed as much then as I do now—because I could hardly recall the intricacies of the whole process. However, the lessons I learned observing the pomp, circumstance and ssstellar ensembles that followed the appearance of the white smoke that afternoon was enough to qualify me as an under-study to Whoopi Goldberg circa her Sister Act days.
If there wasn’t a gay man orchestrating every minute of the papal conclave, then I’m Pontius Pilate. I realize that Catholics have an age-old penchant for over-the-top displays of pious pageantry but the election of Pope Francis it really takes the (fruit)cake. The rigmarole that ensued after the new pope was chosen can easily be categorized alongside Cher’s Oscar acceptance speech and the premiere of Golden Girls as one of the most thrillingly homosexual events to ever occur.
As the double-doors of the St. Peter’s Basilica balcony were opened in unison and Pope Francis I came out to a throng of thousands chanting, “Viva il Papa!”, I was white-knuckling the upholstery of my couch in a state of euphoria I usually only experience when watching an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The fact that the Argentine Pope Francis did not deliver a rousing performance of “Don’t Cry for Me, Vatican City” to the des-catholics-ados below was all that kept me from immediately ascending into heaven in a state of utter bliss. I repeatedly asked my dog if we were watching CNN or Jesus Christ Superstar.
After returning from spring break, I was passing through the Administration Building of Emmanuel College one night and found myself dwelling by the doors leading into the chapel. Walking down the center aisle, I could smell the distinctively-ecclesiastical aroma of wooden pews and Catholic guilt while feeling the muted power of my lofty surroundings. Growing up, I’ve had trouble believing in a faith that didn’t believe in me; believing in a creed that so rarely scratches below its theatric, ostentatious surface in fear of confronting age-old degradation of women, gays and shellfish. But basking under the inspiriting glow of the altar, I couldn’t help but hope that a time will come—whether under Pope Francis’ papacy or someday far off—when we will do unto others as we would have done unto us.
I said a little prayer.