April Fools

Originally posted on Sightings at the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Look up April Fool’s Day or April Fools’ day in Wikipedia, no less! and no fooling! and you will relearn that this unofficial holiday is a time when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other. (It’s also called “All Fools’ Day,” so let me play the role of one of them.) Suppose I’d been unconscious since March 13 and just learned that there’d been a papal election. Suppose I asked “you” for details, you answered, and I responded.

You tell me that this man now named Pope Francis, who is CEO of the world’s largest organization, shunned the limousines that seem to come with the office, and regularly rode the bus in his native Buenos Aires, that he vacated the archiepiscopal palace and lived in an apartment, and I believed this, I should expect you to reveal the hoax and shout “April Fool!” And we could go on with living today, a secular holiday.

That would not satisfy me. I’ve been a victim of practical jokes too often to become “Mr. Gullible” and swallow that, reserving the right to have more evidence from you. Then suppose that, in order to allay my suspicions, you showed me a clip of this holder of highest Churchly office on Good Friday, as he ceremonially washed the feet of others. No big deal. His predecessors did the same. But you choose to make it a big deal, and show that he is washing the feet of juvenile prisoners, some of them women, and as I hear the news announcer I’d expect him or her to end the clip with a wink and a condescending “April Fool!”

That ought to have ended it, but then the clip goes on and I learn that this man who is expected to sit on a throne whence he can hurl judgments about the utter wrongness of all who do not share obeisance to Rome, disdains the throne and the condemnatory epithets or gestures that go with exclusion and, instead, includes a Muslim in the ceremony. By now I am convinced something inauthentic and fishy is going on, and the suspicion shows on my face as I await another “Ha! Ha! April Fool!” But then I check it out and find that his relations to Muslims, Jews, and even Protestants in his native Argentina have often been positive, and I begin to determine that maybe I was the April Fool who could not accept surprise at this papal election.

Enough? If I’d been unconscious all these days and bore memories and mental images of Vatican splendors which are so favored by most hierarchs and, therefore, being ready for visions of splendor, I would have trouble focusing on what I am seeing. He has the right and the precedent to wear cute little red slippers made by Prada, so when I see him in ordinary shoes, I suspect a hoax. I don’t want you to holler “April Fool!” again, so I am quiet, beginning to ready myself for greeting unfamiliar images and symbols.

I’ve been warned, and will heed the warnings, to expect a hard-liner on somc controversial papal teachings and practices, so I am allowed to keep my fingers crossed and my eyes wide open. I’ve been in the company of those who do remain suspicious of his ties to Communio e Liberazione, which scholars in our company of those studying Fundamentalism deemed a rare Catholic “Fundamentalism.” I’ve not yet heard anyone say “April Fool!” to anyone who has a guard up on issues like that. There will be many more. But, for the moment, forgive us who, aware of the contingencies of history and the paradoxes with which leaders live, enjoy a springtime in which jarring and unsettling images connected with the papacy and church leadership in general are not simply negative. We celebrate April Fools’ Day not as victims but, perhaps, as wise.

Originally posted on Sightings at the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.