Today is Ash Wednesday — at least for a couple more hours. Since Catholic ritual and Lent in particular have always fascinated me, I thought I would post on the meteoric news currently causing tsunamiesque waves in Vatican City. The news — for those who have been under a rock since Monday — is nothing short of monumental. For the first time in six centuries, the Pope — the head of the Roman Catholic Church — is going to resign instead of remaining in office until death as is customary.
To give y’all an idea of just how big of a big honking deal this announcement is, in the loooong history of the papacy, 266 men (or maybe 265 men and Pope Joan) have occupied the Holy See. Of that number, a whopping total of EIGHT have resigned. The rest served until their deaths.
The last pope to “resign” was Gregory XII way back in 1415. You read the date correctly. The last time a pope resigned, Christopher Columbus had yet to be born, much less “sailed the ocean blue.” I put resign in quotes for Gregory XII because he didn’t really want to step down but the church was in a serious hot mess called The Western Schism which saw three popes, or more correctly one pope and two antipopes, claiming the highest church office. Gregory was a decent guy or anyway had a good sense of responsibility so he took one for the team and stepped down voluntarily so the other two guys could step down and save face . . . and save the Church in the process.
The last Vicar of Christ to step down because he jolly well wanted to was Celestine V in 1294. He had been a monk and a hermit before his election as successor to Saint Peter and he LIKED being a hermit monk. When he found out the College of Cardinals had elected him, he ran away and hid, but they found him and he ended up serving a grand total of five months during which time he impressed everyone by being the worst, most incompetent ruler of anything since Joffrey Lannister/Baratheon. Finally, the cardinals realized they should have left the poor guy alone in the woods and told him he could leave, which he did — immediately.
Now I realize all this papal trivia is wildly fascinating to most of you, but I mention it all just so I can get to the main part of the post and the reason for such a sinister title. It seems even though we dodged the Rapture in 2011 and the Mayan Apocalypse in 2012, we remain in the cross-hairs of Armageddon. It seems Pope Benedict’s resignation has the unintended negative effect of ushering in the End of the World . . . again.
What I am referring to is the swiftly trending on Google topic of The Papal Prophecy of St. Malachy. It seems a text surfaced in the 16th Century purportedly written by the mystical 12th Century Archbishop St. Malachy who was apparently some sort of Papal Nostradamus. The prophecy takes the form of a list of every pope from Celestine II, who was pope in St. Malachy’s lifetime, all the way to the last pope known simply as “Peter the Roman” who would come to power 112 pontiffs later.
I’ll give everyone three guesses what number on the list the current Pope Benedict happens to be. Ding, ding, ding!! You guessed it! He’s number 111, which means — according to the prophecy — whomever the College of Cardinals elect to the Holy See in March will be “Peter the Roman” who by some accounts will be the Anti-Christ and by others will be the savior of the Church in “The Last Days.” Now as an NBC article points out, this new pope isn’t going to take the name of Peter II. So far, no pope has possessed the cajones — and believe it or not, the cardinals used to check to be sure — to name himself after the Fisherman from Galilee. Still, some people think whoever is next to occupy the Papal Throne is going to cause some serious upheaval in the world.
Of course, just as many if not many more people believe the “list” is about as useless as a milk bucket under a bull and about as accurate as Mitt Romney’s tax disclosure. They point to several historical inaccuracies in the “original” document as well as to the fact no one had ever heard of this whole prophecy deal thingy for over 200 years after St. Malachy died.
Well, as they used to say on the X-Files, “The truth is out there!” I’m not going to deny the whole thing creeps me out a pretty good bit. I was raised being taught the Rapture was imminent and those who didn’t go got to stay behind to face The Great Tribulation and live in a world ruled by The Anti-Christ. As a result of all the “Rapture talk” I grew up listening to from my elders, I have a bit of a phobia of “The End of Days.” I realize such a confession might make me look naive and unsophisticated in the eyes of some intellectuals and all atheists, but I’ve got a story I’ll tell later that gives credence to my fear.
Luckily, I had a thorough Biblical upbringing so even though the creep factor is high, I tend to discount any notion that a monk — however saintly and knowledgeable — could predict the End of the World accurately. I hold with Matthew 26:36 where Jesus told all the date setters around Him, “”However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” I figure if the last day is something even Jesus doesn’t know about, I have nothing to stress over.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t stress anyway!
Love y’all and keep those feet clean!