By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 16 February 2013 in The Madera Tribune
With uncanny timing, this week has brought together the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Ash Wednesday kickoff to the Lenten season, and the annual hijacking of St. Valentine’s Day. How wonderful for unmarried Catholics, who now have ample excuse to be somber and reflective!
Not that all of us require one.
Yet a common thread of a different color can be also seen, and that would be love in its many forms.
For outsiders, the bond between Catholics and the Pope isn’t quite understood I suspect. After all, no one can deny the charisma of Pope John Paul II, who some pundits foolishly trivialize as a “celebrity pope.” But Pope Benedict is more known for his intellect. So why have some Catholics felt a sense of loss, upset or even guilt over his retirement?
In truth, such a reaction isn’t necessarily unique to any particular pope and even reporters are not immune. A CNN article published Wednesday describes how an elder journalist recently responded to a question of how he felt about the death of Pope John Paul I: “He shot me a horrified look, as if I had asked how he had felt after a family tragedy. ‘How do you think I felt?’ he shot back. ‘It was absolutely heartbreaking!’”
It is not a coincidence that the root of the word “pope” lies in ancient Greek for “father.”
Theologian and professor Scott Hahn, of Franciscan University of Steubenville, noted Tuesday on the website Facebook, “It’s a hard thing to explain to outsiders, the mystery of a family bond that we Catholics all share, and how deeply we feel it. But here is a man who is a father figure to us all, and not just in a symbolic way; for we really are united by a new birth, in the flesh-and-blood of the Eucharist. And this man, we know him to be our spiritual father, in a very real and mysterious way, even more than our own natural dads.”
If mainstream western media has tended to misinterpret this moment and the Catholic reaction, the shock felt by most has been far more universal and understandable. Depending on the source consulted, only two or three popes have voluntarily resigned in the past. Others resigned under pressure and several of those died as martyrs. The most recent resignation was Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 to heal a split in the Catholic Church.
Nearly six centuries later the resignation of Pope Benedict seems to contrast starkly with his more recent predecessors who died in office.
“But there comes a time,” Hahn wrote, “when a father becomes so old and infirm, that one of the most profound gestures of love might be to hand things over to the next one in line, like we see in Scripture, when David stepped down as king, for Solomon to succeed him, shortly before he died (1 Kings 1-2).”
Naturally the attention of many is on the imminent conclave in Rome to elect the next pope, which must begin between March 15 and 20 according to church law. All of the cardinals younger than 80 will participate, a total of 117 by then. Of these, 67 were appointed by Pope Benedict, and the rest by Pope John Paul. A two-thirds majority (78) will be needed to win the vote.
Thankfully this will take place during the Christian season of Lent, when Catholics, Orthodox, Episcopalians and some Protestants prepare for Easter Sunday with renewed prayer, repentance, self-denial, and compassion for those in need. When better than such a time to seek God’s guidance for such a decision?
I hope all people of good will, whether Catholic or not, will lend their prayers to ours that the world will be richly blessed by whomever the cardinals elect as pope.
As for Pope Benedict, he reminds me of words by author Rudyard Kipling, “If you can dream -- and not make dreams your master; / If you can think -- and not make thoughts your aim; / If you can meet with triumph and disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same; / If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken / Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, / Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken / And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools… You’ll be a Man, my son!”
You may even be a pope.
Let us remember all of our “fathers,” spiritual or otherwise, in prayer this Lent.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 2 February 2013 in The Madera Tribune
I'm mud puddle famous. Doubt me? Well, your skepticism means you're reading my words, which proves my point, soggy and murky as it may be.
In contrast, I remember being a somewhat big fish in a little pond, as the saying goes, when I attended Madera High School.
Eager to come out of my isolated shell, I had joined more organizations and activities than I could reasonably handle. Yet that turned out far better than I deserved due to the relative apathy of many of my classmates. When student involvement is low, the 50 percent or less I invested in each commitment seemed tolerable to student advisers.
The reward was well worth it all: my smiling face sprinkled generously in the club section of the yearbook each spring. Puff puff, little ego, puff!
Besides my excessive clubbing, I pushed myself to grow by competing in public speaking (aka Forensics) for all four years. Since it didn't fit into my class schedule, I never actually took a class in the art of rhetoric. But I learned from lunchtime coaching, exposure to the talents of others, and perseverance. As a result I... umm... qualified for varsity competition in my senior year, a feat normally achieved by freshmen.
Yes, clearly the world lay at my mildly ambitious and talented feet.
As could be expected with the prejudice of hindsight, I wrote, edited, and doodled for the school newspaper amid all this. I even had a column entitled "Straight Talk" and regular editorial cartoons. Someday, I knew, I would be a published novelist and poet, but in the meanwhile I had my heart set on the lofty goal of working for The Madera Tribune, to strengthen my writing while avoiding starvation and destitution.
Yes, fair reader, some dreams do come true. (Go, ego, go!)
I graduated and, bereft of my prized metal kazoo that a classmate "borrowed" before the pompous circumstance of the commencement ceremony itself, moved on to the far bigger pond of Drake University in Iowa.
There the somewhat large fish in a small pond became like an asthmatic minnow in Hensley Lake.
But jump ahead, gentle folk, and thanks to the wonderful tubes of cyberspace (aka the Internet) I have advanced to mud puddle status. Risibly visible I am. Yet beyond my local area this is not for my writings for the Tribune from the '90s onward nor for this oddly "meandering" column (forgive me, Mo).
I have become a microscopically significant "guru" on personality types at the website Facebook or so I'm told, and most of the traffic to my personal website is for my essays on the topic.
Theories of personality are nothing new of course. Ancient Greco-Roman physicians, such as Hipocrates (c. 460-377 B.C.) and Galen (c. A.D. 129-216), proposed categorizing humans by their dominant bodily fluids, which were believed to influence behavior. Hence these four temperament types were named after them: choleric (yellow bile), sanguine (blood), melancholic (black bile) or phlegmatic (phlegm).
The choleric could be imperfectly described as an outgoing, visionary leader, who may be swiftly angered by incompetence or laziness. The sanguine would be the socially skilled butterfly, quick to forgive and initially eager to tackle new challenges and brave new dangers. The melancholic could be the idealistic introvert with a painful hunger and zeal for perfection. The phlegmatic might be the introverted philosopher, wise and kindly yet often detached from it all.
This quartet would dominate Western, Christian, and Islamic thought through the middle ages and would not be fully overthrown until the 19th century, although 20th century psychology affirms a bit of it, such as the implied notion of introverts (primarily introspective persons) and extroverts (mainly outgoing persons).
However long before then it would be Christianity that would create the basic idea of a "person."
Early Christians had a problem. They believed in one God, and yet that God consisted of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The struggle wasn't explaining how this could be so, because it was accepted as a divinely revealed mystery that could not be understood. The issue was describing it. The necessary words for speaking of a distinct individual did not yet exist.
So Christian theologians borrowed a word from theater, persona. The Latin word originally referred to a mask worn by actors, but persona had come to mean the character an actor portrayed. Now Christians put it to a new task, and the idea of the person finally could be spoken.
For that, we fishy folk should be thankful.
In our activities and learning, we work so hard to define and understand ourselves and others. But we shouldn’t forget that pondering God helps with that too.