As you perhaps know, Facebook has a feature whereby it greets you every morning with your ‘memories’: that is, with some random posts you made on this day in years past. I quite like all this: the posts tend to be photos of my two daughters, or amusing quotations (well, I like to think so) from the eldest one. Both things, that is, it’s nice to have one’s aging memory jogged about.
Today was somewhat different, although – in its own way – also worth being reminded of. Instead, I was greeted by a Daily Mail headline, from a link I’d shared three years ago: “Killjoy Pope crushes Christmas nativity traditions”, it screamed.
The article itself, as you might have guessed, was referring to the third and final volume of Benedict XVI’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ trilogy: The Infancy Narratives.
The Mail’s quasi-review, while not exactly having the feel of being based on a close and careful reading, is hugely entertaining. The Holy Father is depicted as a kind of cross between Thomas Henry Huxley and the Grinch, “bust[ing] myths”, in order to “put a dampener on the festive period”.
Pope Benedict “rubbish[es]… the idea that donkeys or any other animal have a place in the traditional nativity scene”, while simultaneously “trashing the much-loved carol ‘Hark! The herald angels sing'”.
Fortunately though, this papal Scrooge gets his comeuppance. After all, his myth-busting only extends so far (“Pontiff DOES say that Mary was a virgin who became pregnant by God”). Furthermore, his hypocrisy is uncovered with the revelation that “at the heart of the Vatican” there is often displays a giant Nativity scene, featuring “an array of animals”.
Ultimately, the Killjoy Pope’s Christmas-wrecking schemes come to naught: “However, the Pope is convinced despite debunking the theory, the tradition is here to stay, saying: ‘No nativity scene will give up its ox and donkey'”.
Now as far as I’m concerned, all this was an even better gift for the start of ‘secular Advent’ (ie. December 1) than my Darth Vader chocolate calendar.
First of all, it’s always a pleasure to see Habakkuk quoted knowledgably (for it is indeed “the eighth book of 12 minor prophets in the Old Testament”) in a mainstream newspaper.
Secondly, and more importantly, it is a salutary reminder of how – one wonderful week in September 2010 notwithstanding – large segments of the British media used to report on the sayings and doings of the Holy Father.
That “Killjoy Pope” headline was first published on November 21 2012: less than four months before “The Buonasera that Shook the World”. Can you even imagine such a headline, or such an article, today in a major British (or American, or wherever else) newspaper?
Say what you will about Pope Francis (incidentally, another notable feature of this morning’s Facebook feed!) but the revolution in how the Successor of Peter is viewed, interpreted, and talked about not just by the media, but by non-Catholics in general, is absolutely astonishing.
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