A Poet’s Suggestions for the Pope

Quentin Kirk—who has been a Cold War spy and a schoolteacher but now literally wears a “poet” hat—sent us the following dispatch today.

From Quentin Kirk, a poet living in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

A Poet’s Suggestions for the Pope

He has not actually called for suggetions…but I want to be ready:

  1. Live, and direct the cardinals and bishops to live in gentle poverty using the example of Paulinus of Nola, Italy (390 A.D) Paulinus, wealthy, married to a Spanish noble lady, led a luxury filled life but they decided to give their wealth and their lives of service to the poor. He became a writer, a poet, and was elected bishop of Nola and served twenty years or so with much distinction – he is now called Saint Paulinus.Since Jesus, founder of the religion said: “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Maybe it is true that in gentle poverty there is more time to feel the earth and elemental things. There may have been a time when the ambiance of big houses and dazzling clothes of kings and princes was part of their power but perhaps it is no longer true. Gandhi comes to mind. In the age of unrestrained capitalism, grab as much as you can, and moneyed extravagances, it may not be good to look and live like them.
  2. Do not travel through the streets in the bullet proof popemobile waving to the multitudes like a rock star. Rather appear suddenly among the poor in the far corners of the earth. Talk with them and listen and listen and listen. Do it often, so that even the smallest forgotten towns in distant Asia will watch for you. Not just Christian towns, any town, if Catholic is to mean universal.
  3. If the reason for celibacy is that the priesthood is a life devoted to religious service without the distraction of family, then in some orders (Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans ,Jesuits, others) of the Church encourage unmarried women to become priests. In some orders encourage married priests. What is the use of having orders if they are not used to explore different paths.
  4. Instruct that the Sermon on the Mount is be read aloud at least once a month in every Catholic church as these are the words of the Founder and that Jesus believed were the most important to say. He says nothing about birth control, male priesthood, and many other church teachings because he considered other things more important. The multitude of sermons, epistles, and homilies are other important people’s choices of words, but not the Founder’s choice. There are many guides pointing which way to go, but we could look at the compass itself once a month at least.
  5. There are things to worry about: can a priesthood of unmarried men, with lifetime jobs and protected retirements, counsel people about marriage, family, being a husband, being a wife, being a woman, work issues, raising children, and retirement? These are big worries in most lives and a priest has no experience. Though he may listen well, he is working in a vacuum.
  6. One could worry about the teachings about birth control and family planning, widely disregarded by the entire laity. Is this teaching compatible with modern understandings of biology and the capacities of the earth? One could worry if our ancient list of “sins” is adequate to the modern world’s problems: evils of pollution, global warming, unrestrained nationalism, destruction of nature, ocean pollution, and a host of others. Perhaps given the two thousand years experience and the crowding of the earth, a new look at the Ten Commandments is in order.Perhaps each millennium we could take a look at our holy books. The chapters of the present collection were assembled by a committee from literature of that time. In two thousand years have we written anything of enduring importance? Does the violence of the Book of Revelations and the war story of the Old Testament really augment and enlighten us about the Sermon on the Mount? These are all my suggestions now, but if he doesn’t call soon I will have many more.

What d’ya say, Benedict?

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.