Humility: It’s Not Just for Catholics

I’ve been following the papal election with interest because I have more in common with Catholics than I don’t. In other words, Protestants and Catholics disagree with each other on a relatively small percentage of doctrinal points. It’s just that this small percentage makes the most noise. So I’m praying for them and their process. They’re my brothers and sisters. (Also, I have this little Medieval Studies major that I accidentally completed in college, and I need to feed my inner history-nerd. An event that hasn’t changed that much since the Renaissance? Yeah, that’s right up my alley.)

John Thavis’s blog has been a great way to get a feel for what’s going on. I’ve been reading it mostly to fulfill my curiosity. What do they put in the stove to make the smoke black or white? What does the set-up in the Sistine Chapel look like? What’s the latest whisper about who’s ahead in the voting? There are also gorgeous pictures.

As far as I can tell, Thavis knows his stuff, is a sound critical voice, but also really cares about the future of the Catholic Church. This morning, I came across this gem of a post about humility.

Thavis tells us that the cardinals will pass through the Sala Regia (royal room) on their way to the Sistine Chapel. Its walls are painted with pictorial reminders of the historic power of the Catholic Church among the royalty of Europe.

And he ends with this:

I wonder if we’ll ever see a Vatican hallway decorated with less-than-triumphal scenes from the modern papacy. A pope who resigns. A pope who meets with sex abuse victims. A pope who apologizes to groups the church may have offended in the past.

They could call it the “Hall of Humility.” It could be a project for the next pope.


There’s a whole lot about this conclave that reminds me how different little old Protestant me is than the Catholic Church. Just for starters, my clerical garments are pretty tame. Check out the embroidery on some of those cardinals. My fanciest stole has nothing on that!

I am hopeful that Benedict’s decision to step down speaks of humility, an understanding of the limits of human and institutional ability. I am hopeful that his decision might mark a small turning point for the Catholic Church. (I am also hopeful that he will have a gentle and quiet retirement.)

They sure could use a hall of humility, I thought.

But, then again, so could the rest of the church.

So many of us North American Protestants are used to being the establishment. A central pillar of the community; the hub of people’s lives. No, we did not have Charlemagne giving us huge tracts of land. (Though, there was a time when municipalities made their plans so that church structures had pride of place in the middle of town.)

And even churches that were not the anglo-saxon establishment congregations in their towns were often the center of their own members’ lives.

But as things change, we are not always at the center of everything anymore.

And perhaps that’s a reminder about humility for us, as well.

We’re going to have to do things a little differently.