Pastor Walter Mitty woke up with a sore back last Thursday morning. “It’s that wet, heavy snow,” he groaned as his back went into a spasm. He turned the radio on and popped a bowl of instant oatmeal into the micro wave.
Cardinal George was being interviewed by a WBEZ reporter who asked him to speculate on who the next pope would be and whom he was going to vote for. He seemed surprised that the reporter would ask such a question and replied that electing a new leader for the over one billion Catholics in the world wasn’t a political process in the sense of anyone running for the office. “Cardinals don’t campaign for anyone,” he said. “We try to be open to the Holy Spirit’s guiding.”
“I have a hard time believing it’s not political,” thought the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church as he shuffled to the bathroom where he popped two ibuprofen. “The decades long cover ups of child abuse by some of these same cardinals weren’t guided by the Holy Spirit.”
As the micro wave beeped to say his oatmeal was ready, the Morning Edition on NPR turned to the subject of the sequester. The political science professor being interviewed said that the Republicans would be blamed for not compromising initially but then speculated that both parties would be held responsible in the end.
“Throw the lot of them out,” Mitty muttered out loud to the radio as he stirred brown sugar into his steaming bowl of oat meal. “Except Dick Durbin,” he added as he poured milk on his cereal. “Durbin’s not like most of the others.”
“Who are you betting on to become the next pope?” shouted his neighbor Michael Rosenthal as Mitty gingerly climbed down the icy steps of his front porch. Michael was making a path through the heavy snow the plows had thrown up his parkway sidewalk.
“Oh, hi Michael,” he answered trying to sound cheerful while grimacing as he struggled to regain his balance after slipping on the ice at the bottom of the stairs.
“You OK?” asked his neighbor.
“My back is sore, because of shoveling this heavy wet snow,” Mitty grumbled.
“I hear you,” Michael sympathized.
Mitty started to make the three block trek to his office at the church, but after a few steps, he turned to his friend and asked, “Michael, do you think it matters who becomes pope? I mean, the whole system is an anachronism. It’s like that Carnival Cruise ship. . .what’s it’s name. . . ?”
“Yeah, Triumph. . .” Mitty paused and took note of the irony. “The whole ship has to be towed into port for a complete overhaul.”
“You seem pretty cynical,” said Mitty’s Jewish friend.”
“And you aren’t?” Mitty replied. “And on top of that the government is driving our bus off the fiscal cliff tomorrow.”
“Well,” Michael replied, “I ordered marigold seeds online last night.”
“It’s like your Christian theologian—Niebuhr I think it was—said, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change; courage to change what I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. . . or something like that.”
“OK. . . .” Mitty paused to formulate a response. It was one of those times when he felt like arguing with anyone who disagreed with him, even one of his best friends. “So I get the ‘accept what you can’t change’ part, but what can we change? The church? The government? The weather?”
“I can order seeds and shovel snow, even though we’ll probably get six more inches next week,” Michael declared.
“That takes courage?”
“It’s a metaphor, my preacher friend. Look, you have a sore back, but you’re still going to the office to knock out another sermon. For what? A church that hasn’t grown in spite of fifteen years of work. And you’ll do it all over again next week. That takes courage. . .or dedication. . .or something like that.” Michael thought for a moment. “Maybe hope is the word I’m looking for. Like believing that the snow will eventually melt and my purchase of marigold seeds will not have been in vain.”
A block from the office Mitty was still pondering Michael’s little homily when he met Henry the homeless man who frequently stopped by the church to stock up on what he referred to as his “necessities.”
“Aren’t you going the wrong way?” asked Pastor Walt.
“Got all I need today.” Henry grinned like he’d just won the lottery. “Fr. Bob over at St. Mary’s gave me two $5 McDonalds certificates today instead of one. Said he was celebrating.”
“Beats me. Something about the Holy Spirit and the slight possibility of another John the 23rd being elected.”