Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Bottled Pope: How can water do such great things?

All the news is about Bob Brady drinking the pope's half-empty water glass, and bottling the rest. People are calling him all kinds of names. I'm not sure why. Even if you're not zealous in the way Bob Brady is zealous, you'd think respect for the diverse faith of others would be at least somewhat normative in our great nation, especially in an instance where, as far as I can tell, the congressman impinged on no one's rights and broke no laws.
Brady's reason for drinking the water was simple; he believes anything the pope touches is blessed. Now, before you go calling him crazy, do a self-check and see whether you believe some things are more sacred than others. Do you ask your children to be careful at the front of a sanctuary? Have you ever gone on a pilgrimage. Do you get quiet in cathedrals? 
That being said, do browse over to take a look at the photos he sent to the press of him holding the glass. They're pretty awkward, like an enactment of a special Bob Brady and family liturgy. 
It is a natural inclination, this notion that God's spirit is everywhere, but in certain places or people it is more manifest and intense. And if you're Roman Catholic, then the pope is the sine qua non.
So here's my Protestant/Lutheran insight. As a Lutheran, I happen to believe the vocation of all the baptized is as holy as any other. Luther liked to say that a father changing a diaper is more holy than any monk's prayers in a monastery. Which is nothing against monks or popes, their vocations are holy also. But none are above another, and the lowliest vocations are in fact in some ways more blessed and holy.

This is why, while Bob Brady may drink the pope's water, I eat the scraps from my kids' plates. Because I receive a blessing. And I hate to waste food. 

More seriously, if we attend to some good catechetical resources, Lutherans can say one more pithy thing about water. Luther taught in the Small Catechism:
How can water do such great things?--Answer.
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water.
Now, this commentary on water is in reference to baptism, which is somewhat distant from the pope's glass of water. Nevertheless, we do treat all these things in similar ways. Often we want a special person to baptize our child. I myself brought water from the Jordan River and used it at the baptism of our first child. Did I think there was something magical? Not really. Did it seem, well, richly symbolic and meaningful? Yes.

Luther reminds us that it is the word together with the water, the promise in the water, that does these things. So Bob Brady's piety is hovering around close to the theological center in the way popular piety does. It's not quite wrong, it's not quite right, but it is zealous. And in such cases it is best to leave these things up to individual piety, neither condemning or condoning, but living and letting live. 

It is, in fact, adiaphora. Take it or leave it.

Then, hold on tight to the word and promises of God.

Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labour at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful. carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.”

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, “O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers. or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labour, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.”

A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works. . . .

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools. (From Luther, On the Estate of Marriage, 1522).

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