Archive for April, 2005

The Lion in Spring

The following appeared in the Summer 1995 issue of Caelum et Terra:

Was it really only a year or so ago, when Pope John Paul began showing signs of physical weakness, that his critics were eagerly discussing his demise and speculating about his successor? At least one of them–Peter Hebblethwaite–himself met an untimely death, may he rest in peace, but the Holy Father has gone on to the most spectacular phase of his already spectacular papacy. In the past year or so he has: stared down the powerful of the world at the Cairo population conference, preached to the largest gathering of human beings in history (five million) in the Phillipines, promulgated the Catechism, released a best-selling book and an apostolic letter on the coming third millenium. And as a sort of stern counterpoint to the radiant hope reflected in the book and the letter, John Paul has given us Evangelium Vitae, a prophetic masterpiece and a rallying cry for resistance to the "culture of death."

The world has fallen back astonished, sort of like the men in the Gospel who came for Christ in the garden. The phrase "the lion in winter" keeps reappearing in their mumblings, and while I think they have the leonine image right they may well have mistaken the season. John Paul is planning on greeting the year 2000, and while the charism of infallibility does not extend to such plans, this man has other, more personal charisms and I tend to think he’ll make it. Another five years like this last one? This may be, not winter, but spring: as aging takes its toll on John Paul’s physical strength it seems to concentrate and focus the fire that burns within him, strong and pure and radiant. I have long said it, and I repeat it: he will be known as Pope St. John Paul the Great, a pivotal figure in human history.

The mistake of his would-be pallbearers was to see only the outward, immediate evidence: the cane, the wince of pain passing across his face, the occasional stumble. They missed the wider pattern, the deeper movement. "In our weakness is our strength" wrote St. Paul, and it is really no great wonder that this pope has found new strength in the crucible of physical suffering. Long may he live, and long may he guide Christ’s Church.

Daniel Nichols


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Excuse Me, Mr. Novak

In the April 25th issue of National Review, Michael Novak includes this statement in his tribute to John Paul II:

To the best of my knowledge, we at Crisis magazine early on were the first to put the name "John Paul the Great" in print, and new editor Deal Hudson emblazoned it on the front cover in 1997.

I know I remember Daniel Nichols using that phrase–with the addition of "Saint"– in conversation long before 1997, and indeed before 1990, unless my memory is wrong. And I thought I remembered it occuring in Caelum et Terra. Which it did: Daniel has located it, in the Summer 1995 issue.

Upon re-reading Novak’s statement, I see that it’s not clear as to whether the 1997 cover was the first appearance in of the phrase in Crisis. But at any rate let it be noted that we used it before the instance he mentions.

Daniel’s piece is just a few paragraphs, so I think I’ll take a few minutes and type it in as a separate post.

Maclin Horton

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What Did We Do To Deserve This?

Maclin Horton

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Ok, those of us who are delighted by the election of Benedict XVI have had a couple of days to rejoice now, and I know I’m far from alone in taking a certain pleasure in the confounding of the progressive party. That’s not a very admirable or virtuous attitude, and I tried to curb it pretty quickly. But I think it’s understandable.

Now I’m hearing something else here and there: a really malicious desire to see certain people or certain classes of people heaved over the side of the barque of Peter. Too many of us who have suffered through the liturgical and catechetical horrors of the not-very-distant past–even more, those who are still suffering through them–are exhibiting an eagerness to see heads roll that is not compatible with charity.

Whenever I feel the urge to congratulate myself on not being like the publican or the pharisee, I get nervous. Even more so when I find myself feeling like Jonah, annoyed that God is not raining fire upon Nineveh.

The great clearing of the air that began with John Paul II continues, and it seems safe to predict that some, perhaps many, will leave the Church eventually as they despair of remodeling it to contemporary taste. But if we react to the departure of those who have lost their faith by rejoicing in their humiliation, we’re courting the same danger. Flannery O’Connor’s great short story The Life You Save May Be Your Own is a wonderful parable on the topic of self-righteousness. If you don’t know it, you should, and think of that shower that follows Mr. Shiflet.

Amy Wellborn has  a fine comment on this (the situation, not the story), with a lot of interesting comments following.

Maclin Horton

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More on Benedict XVI

"Pope Benedict XVI". I like the sound of it. He invokes the patron of Europe,
and establishes that he is a man of tradition, of roots. But what is that sound?
From the shrinking camps of  the Catholic modernists there is wailing and
gnashing of teeth. There are cheers on the Right, though I doubt that will last,
at least among those for whom Republican politics and Catholic orthodoxy seem a
neat fit: Joseph Ratzinger has been, if anything, a more strident critic of
capitalism than Pope John Paul II. He has questioned whether modern warfare can
ever be justified [Benedict XV, whose name he has taken,  was a near-pacifist],
he has criticized  American cultural dominance, and has even noted the negative
influence of modern technology on the religious imagination.

I suspect the Catholic neocons are even now heading for the high ground,
and discussing tactics for influencing the selection of the next pope.
Not that one would expect criticism; they changed tactics in the early 80s to
flattery and subterfuge, which have served them well.

John Paul II was loved and admired, even by many who took issue with his
teachings; and there were few who did not find something to take issue with, as
the late Pope refused to be bound by the human categories of Left and

I doubt, though, that Pope Benedict XVI will be so loved He already is
despised by many [barely] within the Church. Indeed, while I expect a strong
pontificate that will continue the Reform of the Catholic Church begun by his
predecessor, I also expect that he will be widely vilified, even hated. By all
accounts a soft-spoken, scholarly man, lacking the raw charisma of John Paul
II, and I fear he will suffer much. From his youth in World War II Germany to
his association with the successor to the Inquisition, he will be easy to
caricaturize. Brace yourselves, and hold on for what will undoubtably be a
controversial, and splendid pontificate.

Daniel Nichols

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Benedict XVI

I’m having a particularly busy day at work and don’t have time to really absorb this, much less discuss it, at the moment, but I’m delighted. And surprised, obviously. I really didn’t think he would be the one.

I’m also trying very, very hard to think only charitable and conciliatory thoughts toward the opposition.

I’m certainly interested in hearing everyone’s reaction. I see Amy Wellborn’s thread is racking up comments in record time.

Deo gratias.

Maclin Horton

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The Cardinal Prophet

Ratzinger, I mean. Apropos his apparent strong role in the conclave, a few examples of his prophetic insight.

Maclin Horton

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