Monday, April 7, 2008

The Pope Has High Standards, But What Would Jesus Do?

© 2008 Leighann Lord

Big doings. The Pope is visiting Gotham and good Catholics are all a glow. Lapsed as I am, I'm hoping he makes some time to visit the M.A.C. cosmetics counter. Some liberally applied concealer under eye will go a long way to making Pope Scary The First look less menacing.

Of course the Pope's schedule is tight and there's no way that he can see everybody but two lucky New York City kids have been selected to give him flowers. They were chosen based on their strong faith and good grades; although I'm sure that less than stellar grades in science, philosophy and sex education didn't hurt.

I am intrigued by the selection process. How does modernity measure faith? The jury may be out on water boarding, but most other Inquisition methods are firmly out of fashion. So how do you gage such an intangible quality? Regular church attendance? Volunteer work? A game of chicken on a busy highway? And it's not just plain old run of the mill faith. These kids demonstrated strong faith. Let's get ready to rumble! Did I miss Papal Smack Down '08!

In addition to strong faith, the kids had good grades. On the surface this makes sense. Catholic schools are renown for their high quality education. It is the gold standard. What accounts for it's success? Is it the small class size or the power of prayer? Perhaps, although founded on the tenets of the New Testament, it's the fact that Catholic school does not hesitate to rely on the Old Testament tactics of fear and shame.

If you fail you're not just letting yourself down but you are squandering your parents financial investment. Tuition ain't cheap. Parents also feel a social sting. It's hard to get loud at the PTA meeting when your kid has been labeled a dumb ass; and not in a good way.

If you get left back, the eighth deadly sin and the 11th commandment, rest assured that your friends who are promoted to the next grade will shun you like a leper. It's nothing personal, they just can't afford to be seen with you, lest your failure rub off on them.

The No Child Left Behind concept is alien to Catholic school culture. They'd rather leave a child behind as many times as it takes rather than promote a kid who can't cut it. This explains the 16-year-old man in my eighth grade class. The rest of us were battling acne, and he was shaving, driving and holding down a job.

Worst of all, academic failure in Catholic school means you have disappointed God. Jesus died to save us from our sins and you can't get it together in social studies? However, the Gospels are strangely quiet on his formal education. Even if Catholic school had existed, Jesus would not have gone. He was, after all, Jewish.

While it's important to set up some sort of criteria for Papal access, the Catholic Church is straying from it's roots and getting off message. Jesus didn't preach to the choir. He would not have met with the pious kids on the dean's list. He would have sought out the doubting Thomasi in need of tutoring. If Jesus liked a challenge, shouldn't the Pope?

The students who are struggling academically may benefit the most from divine intervention. An audience with His Eminence may be just the inspirational kick in the pants they need, and can even provide well needed insight into quadratic equations. I personally prayed a lot in college Calculus. When confronted with matrices I prayed, I cried, I shook my fist at the universe and then was divinely inspired to change my major. I think the Pope would approve.

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