Universalis, your very own breviary in pixels...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Only the Dead Can Not Change Their Minds

We, the quick, (well, I'm of the sloooow quick,) can learn and grow.

Interesting interview with a filmmaker

The making of this film has been something of a voyage of discovery for me. I can’t be the only Catholic in the world who had major apprehensions on April 19 2005 as the conclave made its decisive choice to elect the first German pope since the 11th century (I don’t count Adrian VI, born in Utrecht in 1459, part of the Holy Roman Empire). I was worried about whether the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith might be just a little too polarising. I am no expert of conclave arithmetic, but my hunch was that he simply had too many doubters inside the College of Cardinals to get the required votes. Wrong. And I have been wrong about him, too. It is not that he has changed radically since taking up the papacy; it is simply that when you have to make a one-hour programme on one of the most clever and gifted people on the planet you have to look behind the headlines and the angry rants on the blogosphere. In short, you have to do justice to the man as best as you can.

Something similar is going on with Pope Benedict at the moment as has been occurring with John Henry Newman in recent months. Recognising the brilliant intellectual acumen of an individual often leads to wings, sections of the Church, staking their claim. They want to possess them as “their own”. I can understand why. But there are occasionally rare moments when these drives towards colonising the output of a gifted mind simply fail on account of the sheer dynamism and multi-facetedness of the individual concerned. So Pope Benedict’s uncompromising language on homosexuality, his disciplining of liberation theologians and 2007 Motu Proprio on the Old Rite of the Roman liturgy all have conservatives ticking their boxes and approving. But how then to deal with some rather contradictory evidence, not least of all his championing of workers’ rights in Caritas in Veritate and his uncompromising critique of neo-liberal economics?:

“I would like to remind everyone, especially everyone engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity” (italics from the text).

Similarly, those who complain of the betrayal of Vatican II and have this pontificate down as unreservedly restorationist and insular have some explaining to do. How is it that such a man commands the respect of a towering figure and atheist intellectual such as Jürgen Habermas, so much so that they are prepared to engage in a dialogue in public? How is it that such a man devotes his first encyclical to a profound discussion of human love and ponders on the potential for Eros and Agape to be a bridge between the human and the divine? Furthermore, how is it that this pope has taken every opportunity to emphasize that care from the environment is not some woolly-minded aspect of New Ageism, but an integral part of his theological outlook? So much so that in January His Holiness called in many of the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See and berated them for the “economic and political resistance” that resulted in the failure of last December’s climate summit in Copenhagen....

That Joseph Ratzinger has not quite lived up to his predictable billing is a point well understood by the Italian senator Marcello Pera, with whom Pope Benedict wrote a book on Europe and culture called Without Roots. When I met Pera in the heart of Rome earlier in the year he told me of the reaction of his fellow legislators.

“There was a huge prejudice,” Pera said. “Everyone was expecting the Rottweiler. I had invited him to address the Senate: this was the first time a cardinal had ever set foot inside the building and they were amazed. He really charmed them.” What exactly was Pera doing, as a godless man, engaging with the Vicar of Rome?

“I wanted these secularists to reflect. They talk about the absolutist nature of human rights, but they have no idea of the basis of where such an idea comes from – namely, that everyone is made in the image of God and deserves respect and has an integrity based on that.”

Pera makes a further point: “Let’s look at this question from a historical point of view. What happened to Europe, when it denied Christianity? We had Nazism, Fascism, Communism, anti-Semitism. That means that when Europe tried to avoid its own roots and so the culture of rights, specially the respect of the human person, Europe finds itself in dictatorship.”

Good for Pera. Can you imagine this from the archpriest of atheism, Richard Dawkins?

But the real delight for me has been in engaging with the writings of this 83-year-old man. The encyclicals have been given deserved space and attention. Yet you have to go back to 1968 for his classic, Introduction to Christianity, a work in which it becomes abundantly clear that, for this gentle and determined Bavarian, that man does not create his own truth through effort and endeavour, but, as he writes: “To believe as a Christian means in fact entrusting oneself to the meaning that upholds me and the world, taking it as the firm ground on which I can stand fearlessly… to believe as a Christian means understanding our existence as a response to the word, the logos, that upholds and maintains all things.”

I indulged in a long rant one night at dinner during the Colloquium this June (I have always depended on the manners of strangers... how I impose!) Does NO one understand the difference between primary and secondary sources any more?!?#?$%? I whinged.

But my pet peeve is warranted, I believe. How many of us in this country form our political opinions about someone based solely on what his enemies have said about him?

How often does someone want to operate based on the knowledge of a document which he has received from the "hand-out" given by a "facilitator" from a "workshop" -- rather from the easily accessed document?

How many hate the Church for what they just KNOW She believes --- and about which they are utterly mistaken? (Asbp Fulton Sheen had a famous thought on that...)

Excellent column in the paper a week or so back, (sorry, can't credit it,) warning us to beware of believing secondhand information that supports our prejudices and preconceptions.
Very wise words.

The sweet man who we are so blessed to have as pope right now has been a real victim of that sort of thinking.

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