Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Farewell, Brother Benedict

When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected ... He was seen as the Vatican's "Enforcer" ... "God's Rottweiler," the "Panzer Cardinal" ... Hence in the immediate aftermath of his election, most commentators fell back upon tried-and-true labels: "archconservative," "authoritarian," "hard-line."
Probably the best expression of all this came in an editorial cartoon in L'Unità, the newspaper of the old Communist Party in Italy. Understanding the cartoon requires a bit of background. In Italy, perhaps the most revered pope of modern times is John XXIII, known as il papa buono, "The Good Pope." One treasured memory of John XXIII is an evening in October 1962, the opening of the Second Vatican Council, when the Catholic Action movement organized a torchlight parade that finished in St. Peter's Square. The pope was not scheduled to address the crowd, but when it arrived, John XXIII wanted to speak. He said something burned into the consciousness of most Italians, repeated endlessly on television and radio. Smiling down on the crowd, he said ... "When you go home, you'll find your children. Give them a kiss, and tell them that this kiss comes from the pope." It summed up the legendary love of the man.
Thus the L'Unità cartoon showed Benedict XVI at the same window, saying, "Tonight, when you go home, I want you to give your children a spanking, and tell them that this spanking comes from the pope."
John Allen, "The Word From Rome", National Catholic Reporter
This is my favorite anecdote about the conventional wisdom on Pope Benedict. Once upon a time, it was a perspective I shared. As his papacy comes to a close tomorrow, I trust that I am not the only one who has shed that view.

Benedict confounds our American socio-political labels. His words alternately delight and enrage both the family values and social justice crowds. He refuses to be stuffed into one of our usual boxes. Theology professor Charles Camosy describes Benedict as the Pope of "the 'great et…et' or 'both/and' way of being authentically human."

Yes, it must be said that, as the headline of a more recent John Allen offering puts it, "Benedict leaves behind legacy full of ups and downs." But popes are more than just CEOs of a global corporation, this one in particular. Benedict is in love with Truth, and that is the gift he was given to share with us. "He asked searching questions of both the church and the world, and offered his own provocative answers," says Allen, who concludes the aforementioned article with another anecdote.
British Prime Minister David Cameron may have provided the best epitaph while bidding the pontiff farewell at the Birmingham airport on Sept. 20, 2010, after a four-day swing in Scotland and England.
"Holy Father," he said, "you made us sit up and think."
The reason I love Benedict so much is that I've come to believe that the central truth he is trying to get us to see is the same one I am struggling to proclaim: We are family. As Benedict himself said in his final General Audience today:
It’s true that I receive letters from the world's greatest figures - from the Heads of State, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and let me feel their affection, which is born of our being together in Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write me as one might write, for example, to a prince or a great figure one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the Church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all.
"Our brother calls us to love, love God, love your neighbor, love ... Our brother died and rose so that we might all be one people, one community."

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."

Benedict may not have blown us a lot of kisses in the last eight years, but let it never be said that his love for us, his family, was anything less than legendary.

May God bless Pope Benedict XVI, our brother Joseph Ratzinger!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Harry Potter and the Simplicity of Love

Pearls of Wisdom from Professor Albus Dumbledore
  1. Humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.
  2. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
  3. The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed.
  4. We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.
  5. Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.
  6. Once again, Lord Voldemort fails to grasp that there are much more terrible things than physical injury.
  7. Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?
My wife and I finished re-reading the "Harry Potter" series earlier this week. And once again, I was captivated by how much the novels teach about the truth of life, love, and, yes, even God. In an odd sort of way, they also mirror the journey of faith: what starts out as a children's story becomes, in the end, a very adult affair.

For "Harry Potter" does not preach about the sappy love of greeting cards or the misty love of self-help gurus. No, it unflinchingly tells us that self-sacrificial love is the most powerful magic of all. It drills that message into us with the deaths of Regulus, James, Lily, Albus, Dobby, Severus, and so many others. And then it asks us to feel pride as we accompany Harry through the forest and stand watch while he allows Voldemort to cast the Killing Curse without a fight. As someone else once said, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

And speaking of Jesus, it has never been lost on me that the wizards and witches in "Harry Potter" celebrate Christmas and Easter just like their Muggle neighbors. God is never mentioned by name, but there he is nonetheless, hiding in plain sight. We could dismiss this presence as meaningless background scenery, or we could take it as sly evidence of a Presence that is the source of love and magic alike.

"For us, there is simply our way of being, which is a path of great power. This power takes many forms, but it always produces what we desire."

Many will scoff at the idea of a children's book about magic being a font of theological wisdom, but I think God delights in showing up in unexpected places. Besides, what good is Truth if you need a doctorate to understand it? It seems to me that our Parent wants to converse with all of us, not just those in graduate school. "Harry Potter" is a great reminder that the Gospel isn't so complex after all.

"Why do you babble so much about me? So much time and energy, for what purpose? What more is there to understand about us than love?"

On a side note, I am once again publishing on Friday instead of Wednesday. I fear this is not going to be an easy Lent for me. But perhaps that is a not such a bad thing. For as J. K. Rowling has so admirably shown us, the most difficult path to a destination is sometimes the only one that will actually get us there.

1.   J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", Page 297
2.   J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", Page 333
3.   J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", Page 426
4.   J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", Page 723
5.   J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", Page 826
6.   J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince", Page 559
7.   J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", Page 723

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lenten Journeys

I feel I must begin this post by acknowledging the obvious, that it was not published as scheduled on Wednesday. I have struggled with my words the last few weeks, until finally, inevitably, they failed to arrive on time. But why should I have expected them to? They aren't really my words, after all. They belong to something greater.

Because it's not about me.

I say this to my wife when she asks where I want all this writing to go. It's not about what I want. The end goal is God's not mine, and they haven't exactly given me a ten-point plan. Is that frustrating, bewildering? Sure. But say no to my Creator? Never.

Because it's not about me.

I heard this from Pope Benedict in his decision to resign his office. How many people would give up the kind of power, position, and prestige that he has? And yet he does so willingly, perhaps even joyfully, because it's about the Church, not him, and not just the Church institutional, but the People of God, us. More to the point, it's about what God desires for us, their family, not the plans or dreams of one member of that family. And so our brother Joseph was wise enough to hear God's will in this matter, humble enough to accept that will, and brave enough to live it.

Because it's really all about God's will.

We see this every time we look upon a crucifix. It is God's will in all its frustrating and bewildering glory. It makes no sense, until we get to Easter morning, and we have a glimpse, a taste, of the overwhelming beauty that is Love.

And so another Lent has begun. Forty days to prepare for our glimpse, our taste, of something wonderful. Forty days to discern God's will for us, for you, for me. Forty days to dwell in the most sublime mystery. It's really my favorite time of the year.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

One Family

At the Inauguration two weeks ago, a prophet spoke to us. He was not a preacher, nor a politician. He was simply a poet, telling us of "One sun ... One light ... One ground ... One wind ... One sky ... One moon ... All of us ... Together." One family.

Richard Blanco wrote "One Today" specifically for the occasion. I doubt he was trying to be a prophet, and he may never be one again. But on that morning, on that stage, he was. So listen to his poem, and hear not just his words, but God's Love.

"You are my sibling. We are family. This is the essential truth of life. It is the only moral truth that really matters."

Friday, February 1, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"Don't Forget About the Baby: A Homily for Respect Life Mass"
Blase Cupich, America

"A short walk that crossed worlds"
Dianne Goddard, Los Angeles Times

"First, Last, and Only"
Terrance Klein, America

"Singing to Jesus with Eyes Closed"
Kaya Oakes, Killing the Buddha

"The God of Death, Too"
Joe Simmons, The Jesuit Post

"Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?"
Paul Tullis, New York Times Magazine

"Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A"
Shane Windmeyer, The Huffington Post

Please follow me on Twitter (@jwbidwell) for additional reading recommendations.