...hanging on the wall, a life size portrait of [Benedict] by the great Russian émigré painter, Igor Babailov.An "almost physical presence"? Maybe it's actually a hologram that blinks on and off. Also:
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio, said in advance that the portrait catches the pope’s shyness, strength, and almost physical presence, in stirring colors of light gold against the dark.
Best of all, the figure of the risen Christ towers above Pope Benedict...If Benedict is, as Novak says, "life size" in the picture, and Christ towers above him, the whole thing must be the size of a small billboard. Imagine being comfortable with a near-mural starring oneself in one's apartment -- especially one that, "in its style and presentation," Novak reports, "reaches back to the traditions of the great artists of the Renaissance." I imagine this would be a little much for Siegfried and Roy, let alone a simple man of God.
But this ostentation is just funny; some forms of Pope worship are creepier. At the Weekly Standard, Mark Shea compares the relationship between Benedict and Americans to that of St. Paul and the Corinthians -- and no, I didn't mean "American Catholics," because neither does Shea: he means the lot of us, whom he blasts as a "Paris Hilton kind of people" with "a culture that is desperately in need of the clarity, humility, beauty, and love of Christ that [Benedict] preaches with such marvelous grace."
So if you ain't a congregent, you best congregate anyway! And if you aren't so inclined, too bad, because the TV stations are all tuned to the former Inquisitor performing his Stations of the Crass: zipping around in his motorized vitrine, listening to ecclesiastical yammering (where the dazed Sam Jaffe look comes into play), and explaining to Americans (alongside their despised leader) that they aren't entitled to freedom, because it isn't a right at all -- just something God grants. If you're lucky. And he's in a good mood.
No doubt some of us will get lulled by the incessant coverage, and begin to think, well, the man talks about religion and we all know religion is a good thing, and he certainly wears nice dresses. Let me explain something:
Back when I was in the first grade of a Catholic school, the nuns used to slap us and make us kneel on metal rulers as punishment. Then came Vatican II, and corporal punishment ceased. Eventually we could eat meat on Fridays, and even take a swig of the sacramental wine. It was like the Prague Spring. We still had to do catechism drills and go to Mass every First Friday, but the small kindnesses inspired by John XXIII's Council gave us the notion, however faint, that we were not just souls to be processed for redemption, but also human beings. That may be why I was eventually able to escape.
Now consider this: Benedict and his guys want to roll back Vatican II. He didn't come to America to be your best friend: he came to lay down the law on the faithful, and tell them that "Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted." He doesn't want the souls trapped in his net to get one little breath of freedom, lest they develop a taste for it.
The simultaneous pomp and boredom of the TV coverage tends to minimize it, but the Pope's message, to put it in the mildest possible terms, is not necessarily consonant with the traditional American idea of liberty. Of course no one will ask any hard questions about it of the Americans who support and choose to stand with Benedict -- the Catholic Church has way more juice than the Trinity United Church of Christ. But it's worth keeping in mind during all the ring-kissing.