It's funny about the popular obsession with the red shoes, huh? Two years ago there was a kind of weird miniature frenzy over the fact that Bergoglio doesn't wear them (and of course, the implicit sneer at Benedict who did.)
So much noise was made about the shoes in the press that we had Bergoglio himself getting in on the rather nasty joke during the recent triumphal progress. Like every school bully that ever existed, he does seem to make a point of picking on the weaker kids, in this case, the last remnants of believers in the Church. In what is now the normal papal style, he landed a sucker punch and then while the victim was gasping and wondering what was going on, turned around to his gang of followers and snarled out a joke about it.
Mocking and bullying devout little old ladies. What a mensch.
But why did the red shoes even get a mention at all? Why did anyone even notice they were missing in Bergoglio's chosen manner of dress?
Because they are symbolic. Because somewhere deep in the festering swamps of modern man's soul, there is still a tiny glimmer of recognition that symbols are a real thing, there is still communication going on. It's just that now, the New Catholic Man hates and violently rejects what the shoes symbolise. They were one of the last fragments of the deeply symbolic papal grandeur that Benedict XVI was able to revive, and even that so enraged the enemies of Christ that they were the subject of electronic reams of scorn-heaping articles.
But of course, none of the journalists sneering at Benedict or sniggering at Bergoglio's nasty jokes has bothered to stop and look it up, and find out why popes used to wear the things they did. A while ago someone wrote somewhere that this kind of portrait of a pope, where it looks like he's wearing so much stuff that it's holding him up, was like that on purpose. That "holding him up" was precisely the desired effect. This was because the papacy was not supposed to be about the pope. It was supposed to be about Christ and His holy Church.
Remember those photos everyone mocks of President Obama dressed in a polo shirt and cycling shorts and a bike helmet? Those are understood as symbolic garments, and the American political cartoonists have got the message: Obama is a liberal Beta male, not someone to be taken seriously. They are often placed next to pictures of Vladimir Putin bench pressing Russian bears. Political cartoonists are perhaps the last people on earth who still fully grasp the purpose of the physical symbols of politics.
Just try to imagine what the People's Pope would look like dressed up like Pope St. Pius X, Hammer of the Modernists...
Yeah. Me too.
Today I came across possibly the best description of the purpose of all that papal pomp and circumstance that New Catholic Man hates so much. Read it, and you will learn why New Catholic Man is no one I want to meet.
One of the things the following clarifies, once again, is that Bergoglio is not anything surprising. We have the pope we've been asking for, for decades. He's a pope in the populist model that John Paul II was so beloved for, only without all those tiresome big words everyone had to look up all the time, and most importantly, without all that tedious religious stuff.
[I have retained all the ridiculous American spellings, to prove that it wasn't me...]
It's a very Catholic instinct, a reflex, really, to adore the pope as our sweet Christ on earth, as the sacrosanct keeper of the keys, as the vice regent of the King of the Universe. The problem is this papal affection has been running on the wrong kind of fuel for decades.
When the papacy decided to "loosen up," lower itself, scrape off the barnacles, lose the triple tiara, dye the Church´s proverbial hair and spring for hair implants, the focus, paradoxically, went from the august office to the active, and even hyperactive, man in that office. If you observe the photo of Pope Pius XII in procession, there are multiple layers of order and decorum and rank which act like a kevlar vest for the instinctive popular clamor...
Precisely because Pacelli was ensconced in such an intricate web of sacred semiotics and, shall we say, mystical bureaucracy, the savor and brightness of his unique person was blunted, dimmed, diffused, so that the popular devotion flowed towards what he was animating, rather than towards his charisma, jawline, hand signals, idiosyncratic gestures, etc. A man elected to be pope did not just die to himself by devoting all his labors to the care of the Church, but his personality was radically smothered by the byzantine demands of his clothing, routine, manner of speech, associations, residence, and so on. That was how a sacrosanct office ran on the fuel of sacrosanct populism.
As things stand now, though, the papacy has become so democratized, so "personalized", that the ancient instinct to adore the pope can only find purchase on the unique surface of the particular man with the papal ring. Without the traditional semiotic buffer, the pope-man cannot but become one Great Leader among others (e.g. "the Catholic Reagan," "the Catholic Obama", etc.). This is why Francis's famous "humility" rings so hollow.
Precisely by rejecting the conventional residence, clothing, shoes, forms of expression, associations, liturgical disciplines, etc., he becomes a tractor beam of attention. It may be unwitting but he´s inadvertently become the biggest egotist in the world, sort of like the man who becomes the loudest in the room by repeatedly assuring everyone that he´s not going to say anything else. He is Pope Kanye West and he is here to stay.
As for the selfies, that's just symptomatic of our dumbass age. I suspect Dante would have penciled in a perverse punishment for the vanity that smart phones generally sustain. Perhaps an arm wrapped around one's own throat in an eternal sneering strangulation.
But I digress...