A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Thursday, April 28, 2005 :::
A paradox: John Paul II, of most happy memory, was seen in person by more people than anyone else in history and obviously loved being around ordinary people. Yet the first book of his that might be described as "accessible" in the popular sense was Crossing the Threshold of Hope, which did not appear until 1994, 16 years into his reign. It could be argued that the only reason it was accessible to the average reader was that it was, in fact, an interview. Subsequent books by JPII, including Gift and Mystery, about being a priest, and Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, about being a bishop, were, however, books written simply by the man himself and they are very accessible, so there was more likely some development in his understanding of communication. This does not mean that his many other writings are in any way badly written; they are often beautiful. But they require work, which great writing often does.

Joseph Ratzinger enters office as Benedict XVI with a reputation for difficulty and obscurity, and yet he is well served by three interview books: The Salt of the Earth (which is probably the place to start), God and the World (conducted after John Paul refused to let him retire), and the unfortunately named The Ratzinger Report, which sounds forbidding but isn't. Best of all is Milestones, his own telling of his life until he became a bishop. It is perhaps the best modern autobiography ever written, as it is short (barely 100 pages), yet leaves you with a complete and satisfying picture of the man. Start with Milestones and Salt, and you will have a complete and easily digested idea of what Joseph Ratzinger is about, which is the Lord's business. You will also understand why 'stern' is so inapt a description of the man as to be bizarre.

You may remember that he stood with all those who waited in line to view John Paul's body lying in state, and how it was taken as a sign that he was running. But then you find out that this is how he normally behaves, and you ask yourself how, if he simply loved Karol Wojtyla and loved pilgrims and loved being a priest, he would act differently if he were running, and the answer comes, "not at all." Read a little, and you will understand how wrong that impression was. His standing in line? What he did every Thursday when he was in town and presided over the Vatican's German language Mass. What he did every day as he walked across the Piazza San Pietro on his way to work. His eulogy? Exactly what he has always said and wanted to say again about his best friend. His pre-conclave homily? Exactly what he would say--and has said--under any circumstances about what the Church needs.

There are also reports the he resented the story that he suggested the complete silence of the Cardinals during the period of mourning for John Paul that lead up to the conclave, as he in fact thought it unnecessary. That he has let his fellow German cardinals chatter on about how he got elected indicates that he is no great fan of secrecy, and so he probably really did think the blanket of silence was unnecessary.

There is nothing--nothing--in the man's story to indicate any kind of ambition whatsoever. But there is nothing to indicate the indecisive academic who cannot handle administrative details.

How myths do grow.

And one must be fair: the comments which led to this understanding of what has really just happened came from Fr. Richard McBrien, somewhat charitably described as a theologian at Notre Dame in Indiana. Provided he did more scholarly work--and that's a big
"provided"--he would be more accurately be described as a theological historian, but we will let that pass without further comment. What he does for a living is provide comforting soundbites to secular reporters, as when he assured them that no kids would go to Toronto for the World Youth Day because JPII was losing his charisma. About 600, 000 extra, unexpected kids showed up.

Poor Fr. McBrien--except he never seems to learn.

But he did tell the Washington Post that H.E. Cardinal Ratzinger's pre-conclave sermon was not a campaign speech. His reasoning was faulty and meretricious. It assumed that H.E. Ratzinger had, at some point, been campaigning. He never was, but this writer will admit to thinking, foolishly, that he was. Fr. McBrien said the sermon was not a campaign speech because he realized he would never be elected and was going for broke.

Bad reasoning.

His homily was not a campaign speech SOLELY because he was not campaigning, and it did not differ in any detail from any homily he would give under any circumstances concerning what the Church needed.

Just as he would not respond in any other way than standing in line for hours, at 78, despite a lifelong weak constitution, thanking and blessing those who had come to say good-bye to his best friend.

What surprised him, perhaps, was that the Cardinals agreed in detail with what he had to say, and concluded that they had found their man.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 2:31 PM



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