I didn’t pay too much attention to the recent visit to America by Pope Benedict XVI, apart from feeling a slight disgust at the constant harping in the media upon the “priest sex scandal.” (As appalling and deserving of punishment as the priests’ criminal behavior is, it is a distraction from the fundamental evil that the Church represents.)
However, I have to say that I found one thing to be particularly disturbing: the sight of Pope Benedict XVI in Yankee Stadium. Any baseball park, especially one so storied and magnificent as this one, is a symbol of American freedom quite unlike any other. Only in this land of freedom earned by our fathers could a game flourish like this. The figure of the pope in Yankee Stadium is viscerally jarring to me.
Let us extend John Adams’ famous statement that, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy... in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music...” So too, the Civil War generation inherited and preserved the freedom to invent this not-so-simple game of baseball, so that the next generation could turn it into a profession, and the following generations could refine and improve and profit from it. It’s a uniquely American game, not only because it is a conspicuously for-profit enterprise (a single Yankee, Alex Rodriguez, makes more money than the whole Florida Marlins roster), but because it is grand entertainment, with heroes and villains, drama and rivalry, all cast in the most benevolent of settings.
Yankee Stadium is a place for 57,000 fans to bask in the glory of a game on a warm summer evening, to cheer in elation or groan in dismay - and above all, to experience pleasure.
The pope simply does not belong here.
One of the hallmarks of an advanced civilization is that they play. The play because they are free to play, because they have leisure to play, and because they are happy enough to play. The ancient Minoans, the Greeks, and the Romans all had games. I know of no such thing after the collapse of the Roman Empire, when Christianity and Islam dominated Europe. Games (outside of royal courts) did not return until the Enlightenment. Baseball is unimaginable in the Dark and Middle Ages. How could anyone play when one had to work from dawn to dusk in order to hold off starvation for one more day? How could one play when one was busy fighting religious wars or hanging witches? How could one play when one was taught that suffering is the way to salvation, and that pleasure is sinful?
It is to rank medieval squalor that the pope belongs. This man in these absurd sacerdotal vestments would be at home in a dark and solemn cathedral, with mourning plainchant droning in the background - not in a splendid arena that looks upon the New York City skyline.
Or perhaps there is a setting more sinister than a cathedral that would be appropriate for him. After all, before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Herr Ratzinger held the office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The lengthy name of this office is relatively new and is rather less direct than the more ominous name that it previously bore: the Holy Office of the Inquisition.