Bulletins from the Human Side: The quest for perfection, which has no real application in the spiritual life, calls for a reach that is always beyond our grasp.
Bulletins from the Human Side
At Verdun in France, furrowing farmers still unearth the relics of World War I in the bone slivers of long-dead soldiers clinging to their plow blades as doomed passengers did to the uplifted hull of the sinking Titanic.
There are spaces, such as above the battlefields of Verdun or the sealed-over sea above the Titanic, where air has never been cleared of sorrow despite the thousand and more storms that have brooded and broken over them during the last century.
Two distinguished cardinals made news at August's end. The first, Carlo Maria Martini, a distinguished scripture scholar and champion of Vatican II who served as archbishop of Milan, died on the last day of August.
While illness ruled him out as a candidate for the papacy in 2005, it really might have been his reputation as a forward-looking prelate that threatened the backward-looking electors who chose the comforting (to them, anyway) Benedict XVI.
My wife and I only knew Aurelio Pangilinan from sitting near him, his wife and his children over the generation in which his two daughters and a son grew up and into lives of their own.
We felt that we knew them well, even though we were never in their home nor they in ours, and we never encountered each other around town. Yet we felt his loss as keenly as that of a lifelong friend when he died unexpectedly, fittingly enough on his way to a family reunion, a few weeks ago.
Aurelio, his former pastor, Msgr. Eugene Sears, told me, "was the kind of parishioner you wish you had more of," as he recalled his many good works, from the just and thoughtful ways he distributed parish tithes to those in real need in bad times to his making the annual parish picnic a treat for everyone in good times.
Right now, someone -- frequently more than just one as these web dwellers gather like flash mobs at the farthest end of long chains of tenuous connections -- is planning to “friend” you on Facebook.
Gossipy rumors have been mixed with more than a pinch of midsummer madness and served, stirred but not chilled, as a James Bond-like intrigue cocktail for Vatican conspiracy theorists who like to keep a glow on their paranoia.
The main ingredients are the leaked confidential papers of Pope Benedict XVI in an incident that has led to interpretations of such battles for influence inside the Curia that Der Spiegel claims that the "mood at the Vatican is apocalyptic."
Famed baseball manager Casey Stengel was so stunned by the studied ineptitude of the New York Mets in their first season of play that, after his first baseman was hit on the head by the foul ball he was trying to catch, he asked plaintively, "Doesn't anybody around here know how to play this game?"
On the basis of reports over the last few weeks, that might be a question that can be raised of the officials for whom administering the church seems more like a mystery they cannot solve rather than a Mystery they are called to safeguard and celebrate.
"Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?" the psalmist sang plaintively long centuries ago, raising a question that becomes our question, too, when a friend like famed Chicago lawyer Philip Corboy dies. The Old Testament bard answers his own question, and ours, before its echo dies away: "He that hath clean hands, and is pure of heart: who hath not lifted up his soul in vanity, nor sworn deceitfully."
Could words better than these be found to give us a feeling for Phil Corboy, who cleared the hill of the Lord this week after breaking time's hold on him? Finally free of its constraints, he entered the eternal field with which he was already so familiar that what seemed a leave-taking to us was a homecoming for him.
Indeed, those guarding this border waved Phil through, for he had nothing to declare and had made passage into the realm of the eternal often during his years in time. It was an easy transit for Phil because in his calling to serve the law and to love his family -- and the extended family that stretched out around him like the needy and sick at a shrine -- he forgot himself, because he was fully given to thinking of others.
I have pleasant enough memories of Cardinal William Levada who, as a young worker bee in the hive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, helped me find my way through the dim warrens of the old Holy Office when I was questioned there more moons ago than I can now count. I cannot erase my gratitude despite his persistent efforts, now that he runs the whole waxworks of the congregation, to make me, along with millions of others, wonder if he lets his right hand know what his left hand is doing. Or perhaps that is exactly what bright young clerics must learn to do if they are to reach their career goals.
Cardinal Levada -- I would call him Darth, but NCR's editor won't let me -- has, of course, also had to master a straight face when issuing, as he did this week, updated norms originally drafted when Paul VI was pope "regarding the manner of proceeding in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations."
The death of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s estranged wife, Mary, makes us wonder if a demonic terrorist beyond anyone's cunning to capture has the freedom of the Kennedy compound and will not let the wounds inflicted on one generation heal before inflicting deeper ones on the next. The bell of sorrows groans in the No Man's Land fog stretching from then to now, from the changeless past that possesses us into a present that turns away from us before we can grasp its hand.
The death of Mary Richardson Kennedy seems a flag of distress raised uncertainly by someone who does not believe anyone will see it. There is something almost unutterably sad in the news reports, as if they came from a stark and distant desert, windless except for the long sigh of human loneliness that rolls across it.
Our age is marked by the search for a place deep and remote enough to store the radioactive waste whose deadliness is reflected in a hallway, endless and mirrored, of half-lives. This news reminds us that humanity's real problem is to find a place remote and deep enough to hold its sorrows, the sadness that has no half-life and that is stored, only half-hidden, within the human heart.