Saturday, April 30, 2005

Today's chuckle

A hat-tip to Julie, at Happy Catholic, for posting this, which gave me a good laugh, and should do the same for you as well.

Friday evenings with Vanessa

Barney Madsen posted this story on Odd Bits a few days ago. My tale is not quite as good as that one, but I thought it worth sharing anyway.

Our daughter Vanessa is 11 years old, which puts her at that age when pretty much everything I do somehow manages to embarrass her. I don't take that personally, but it does sort of come with the territory when one has children around that age. Last night her friend Mikaila came for a sleepover, and we decided that I would take them over to Fazoli's for supper, then to Video Paradise to rent a movie (which, by the way, turned out to be a Hillary Duff flick). I like to listen to music on the car's CD player whenever I drive anywhere, and as we were preparing to leave, Vanessa spotted me moving toward the chest of drawers where I keep most of my compact disks. Knowing what this meant, she literally came running up to me, with her hands clasped in front of her in an attitude of supplication; and in a near-whisper, so that none might overhear the dark and terrible secret that underlay her fervent petition, she said, "Please, please, please don't bring your opera!" I wish I could have recorded the scene on video; it was priceless. I had planned on bringing my recording of Puccini arias sung by Angela Gheorghiu, and let me tell you, I was sure tempted to bring it along anyway, because Vanessa is so much fun to tease; but in the end, at her request, I chose a CD of Greek folk music, which Vanessa also happens to enjoy. As we ran our errands with that music playing in the car, the girls asked me if I could understand any of it; no, I replied, and for all I knew, the songs could all feature lyrics about what a nutcase I am.

Last Friday evening, the 22nd, I had an even better experience with her, one I should probably try to repeat from time to time. When I arrived home from work at the end of that day, Vanessa announced that she wanted to go out to dinner. I said we could perhaps manage McDonalds, and she recoiled at the idea, which of course made me want to talk about it even more. No, she said; she wanted to go to a real restaurant. Sheila wasn't feeling well, so the two of us set out alone, this time accompanied by Puccini, since there were no elementary-school-age third parties present for the occasion; and I kept talking about the "very special McDonald's" I was taking her to, where they specialized in a unique and particularly tasty variety of French fries. In fact, we ended up at Olive Garden, where we were attended by a lovely and very personable waitress named Hanna -- who, surprisingly enough, turned out to be Swedish, although she spoke the Queen's English perfectly, with no hint of an accent. (This after only having been in the United States for three years.)

I don't remember now what either of us ate, but we talked and talked for the next hour and a half, covering a variety of topics. She looked at the wine menu and asked questions about it, although being Mormons, we could do nothing more than just look at it, and perhaps drool a little. I told her that established and knowledgeable wine connoisseurs would drink particular varieties of wine with certain meals. To give her an idea of what I meant, I flagged down Hanna the next time she passed by, and asked her what kind of wine she would recommend with our meal if we were not in fact teetotalers. She stayed around and chatted with us for several minutes, and it was at this point that we learned she was Swedish; not only that, but that she would be returning to Sweden in a few days for a visit to her mother. This resulted in a sort of impromptu geography lesson when Vanessa asked where Sweden was, and Hanna lamented that most Americans were rather ignorant with regard to geography, and often confused Sweden with Switzerland.

We got into a rather lengthy conversation about the dress standards of the Church, and why they were important. We meandered around from one topic to another, which often happens during long conversations; and at one point she asked me what it would be like to attend school in Italy. Well, I said, for one thing, she'd probably have to take three years of Dante, and in addition, university exams would be difficult and challenging. Somehow we started talking about my experience in the Army, and she enjoyed my story about my senior drill sergeant at Ft. Leonard Wood, who still carried in his lung a bullet he took in Vietnam during a battle years earlier. I told her Drill Sgt. Wickett had a voice so loud and terrifying that when the Great Jehovah appears once again to announce the final doom of the wicked, he may want to delegate that particular task to his servant, who in this case could be none other than Drill Sgt. Wickett himself. I went on to tell her that on about the third night of basic training, I discovered that I could mimic Drill Sgt. Wickett almost perfectly; so I stepped out into the hallway of our barracks, bellowed something about what a disgrace the whole platoon was to the Army, and then watched with considerable amusement when dozens of terrified trainees peered, wide-eyed and trembling, into the hallway. Once they got over their fright, they actually enjoyed the prank, and soon everyone was asking me to do my impersonation of Drill Sgt. Wickett. They also learned quickly that if the booming voice was neither preceded by the aroma of pipe tobacco nor accompanied by profanity, it was only me, and they could simply laugh it off. (The senior drill sergeant, by the way, ended up being hugely popular with everyone, once we settled into the training regimen and he gradually let us see what was on the other side of that very gruff exterior.)

I can't remember much else that we discussed, but when the meal was over, we left a generous tip for Hanna and headed for home. My wife told me later that Vanessa had gone on and on to her about what a wonderful time she had had, and I knew this had been time and money well spent. She won't remember what she ate that night, and chances are she also won't remember my story about Drill Sgt. Wickett or the talk about wines and Sweden; but years from now, when she is grown up and out of the nest, with children of her own, I think she just might remember her dad spending time with her in an Italian restaurant on a Friday evening. So I think I might try to make this a regular occurrence.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Habemus papam!

I've mostly been away from my blog during the past few days, which is unfortunate because these few days have been so interesting and exciting. But I wanted to share some thoughts about the new Pope, before the news about him and his election becomes stale and later events inevitably take over the front page.

I am not a Catholic, but have always been fascinated by Catholicism, and its history and ancient traditions. In addition, it appeals to my love of pomp and ceremony. (An aside: Speaking of traditions, if I were a Catholic, I would still want to attend Latin Mass. I recently read with great interest a newspaper article about some parishes in the Phoenix area that have reverted to this ancient practice. But what if I couldn't understand Latin? Well, in that case, I'd simply march over to Border's, purchase a copy of Wheelock's Latin, and learn it on my own, just like I did with Italian.) I count several Popes and a few saints among my personal heroes, and have always taken a particular interest in the papacy. Thus, the elevation of a cardinal to the throne of Peter is an exciting event for me, because in a very real sense, the man thus chosen becomes my Pope, too. And perhaps this is as it should be. I know the late John Paul II, for one, would have appreciated hearing this sentiment expressed by a Mormon.

In addition, however, I believe deeply in a God who loves and cares about His children, and in the existence of immutable physical and moral laws that govern the universe in general, and human conduct in particular. I am past fifty now -- gia' discendendo l'arco di miei anni, in the words of Dante -- and I find myself reflecting more and more about the brevity of life, and of how often I, in the course of my imperfect journey, have come short of what is expected of me by my the rules, tenets, and strictures of my demanding faith. But notwithstanding my personal shortcomings and failures, I take comfort in the knowledge that the laws and principles I try however imperfectly to follow have existed from all eternity, and will continue to exist from this time henceforth and forever. There is a part of me that will always point true north, as Peggy Noonan would say. I have also learned that to become a disciple of Christ, a true follower, is not easy, nor is it often popular. Long before I was baptized, I understood intuitively what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he said that any religion that did not require major sacrifice from its adherents lacked the power to generate the faith necessary for salvation.

Which brings up my thoughts about Benedict XVI. My impressions of him thus far have all been favorable, at least in part because so many in the mainstream media are portraying him as a doctrinaire archconservative, out of step with the times, and an opponent of gay marriage, abortion, or whatever other cause du jour happens to be fixating the liberals at the moment. But I believe this is the very thing that will ultimately make Benedict a successful Pope, and perhaps even a great one. This man is solidly grounded, and unafraid to stand for truth as he sees it. I, for one, find that very reassuring. The fashion of this world passes away, but I believe all of us, deep down inside, recognize what is really good and true and important, and will respect those who are brave enough to stand up for it. In the words of Bunyan,

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither.
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.

With all of that in mind, herewith a few of my favorite articles and posts on this topic, all of them gleaned during my most recent visits to the blogosphere:

For Barney Madsen's comments on Odd Bits, click here and here.

The Anchoress posted this. I recommend you follow her link to the full article by Jonah Goldberg. For that matter, check the other links as well. I have not looked at all of them, but The Anchoress is already well-established as one of my favorite blogs, and she always posts material that is informative and well worth reading.

For a glimpse of Benedict as a person, read this. (He and I apparently share a fondness for cats and cookies. I like to tell people that the Cookie Monster of "Sesame Street" fame was modeled after me.)

And Peggy Noonan had this to say, in a column I alluded to above.

Check this post again in a few days, because I may put in some additional links over the weekend.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Learning about other faiths

Last night, at our Enrichment meeting (our Church's meeting for the women of our faith), we hosted an event about getting to know others' faith in our area. There was a woman of the Muslim faith and a woman of the Jewish faith there to share with us. It was an incredibly interesting evening - I learned alot about their beliefs and their culture surrounding their religion. There was time alotted to each for explanation, and then a question and answer session and it was a really good experience. There was also time during the refreshments where we could ask more questions and see the displays they had each brought. The Jewish woman brought a Torah scroll (hope I spelled that right). As I said, both women were very informative and it was nice to help each other feel that their own belief is acceptable (which it IS!) and we could learn to understand one another thru this kind of venue. The title of the whole evening was "We are all children of God" and I felt it was a wonderful success. I was glad to be able to have the opportunity to learn from them and develop a greater feeling of unity in the surrounding community. Perhaps others will think this idea is worth pursuing in their own community. Enjoy the day. Sylvia

Monday, April 18, 2005

What's your inner European?

Yet another hat-tip to The Anchoress is in order here. She posted this quiz designed to help one discover his or her "inner European." I took it, and not at all surprisingly, my own "inner European" is Italian, even though my name and ancestry are both about as thoroughly English as they could be. (The result said I was "passionate and colorful" and "willing to tell the world a thing or two about culture," or words to that effect.) I did see one small problem with the result, however. One of the questions asked what my ideal all-night activity would be, and among the choices was "wine and opera." I marked it, even though I am a teetotaler, because it still fit me better than any of the other choices. (Ah, to spend a whole night with Puccini -- how would it be?)

So check this out, and let me know what your "inner European" is.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Which Christian theologian are you?

I found this quiz this morning on The Anchoress. It actually appears on a link to another blog called Worship Naked. (Don't be intimidated or put off by that name, as the site is in fact religiously-oriented and clean as a whistle, and contains nothing that would make someone like Hugh Hefner feel comfortable there. I discovered WN some time ago, because Rachel Robinson has a permanent link to it on Classical Education, and I have long since figured out that I can safely trust Rachel. The Anchoress, by the way, also features a permanent link to the same blog.) Anyway, the quiz is very brief -- about a half-dozen questions -- and its purpose is to let you know which Christian theologian you are. (All of the theologians in question are deceased, but that really isn't important.) I'd be curious to hear the results, if you take the quiz. I did, and it said I was Desiderius Erasmus, which I took as a compliment. In my estimation, at least, Erasmus was one of the most interesting people who ever lived.

Friday, April 15, 2005

"A Christ for Conservatives"

A hat-tip to The Anchoress for this interesting and thoughtful post, which I came across when I visited her blog this morning. I happen to like Rembrandt, even though I do not picture Christ looking like this. (The actor who portrayed him in "The Testaments" comes much closer to the reality, in my view at least.) But this is a fine painting nonetheless, and her commentary is well worth reading and pondering. Shortly after reading her post, I found this article in today's National Review, which obviously is the one she quotes from.

As an aside, I discovered The Anchoress only last Saturday, and immediately added a permanent link to her on this site. I learned about her blog through a link on the National Review webpage, and figured that if she was good enough to be quoted approvingly by the NR folks, she was good enough for me, too. So I highly recommend The Anchoress to one and all. (She and Rachel Robinson appear to be cut from the same piece of cloth.)

Be patient when you click on this link, by the way. The blog apparently is quite large, and it may take as long as 30 seconds for you to bring up the actual post.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A few more thoughts on Pope John Paul

During a lengthy visit to the blogosphere this morning, I have found some more articles about the late Pope, whose funeral, of course, was yesterday. (I was unable to watch it live, but did manage to see part of it on tape delay on CNN Friday evening.) Anyway, here are the articles:

Peggy Noonan writes about John Paul's triumphal visit to Poland in June of 1979, the same one I mentioned at length in one of my previous posts.

The online edition of National Review has this symposium, wherein a number of dignitaries, members of the clergy, and more or less ordinary people share their impressions of this Pope. Although it is rather lengthy, I encourage one and all to read the entire article. I did, and it was time well-spent.

Jerry Johnston wrote this column in today's Deseret Morning News. He, like me, is a Latter-day Saint who deeply admired John Paul and what he stood for.

Greg Crosby weighs in with this comparison of Pope John Paul and Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile, in the same edition of Jewish World Review, Jeff Jacoby praises the late Pope for his vigorous and principled stand against anti-Semitism -- one of the truly monstrous crimes of the ages -- and includes a story which, taken alone, would have provided abundant reason for one to admire this man. (An aside: In this column, Mr. Jacoby briefly mentions Pope John XXIII, which reminds me of one of my favorite anecdotes about him. Pope John, whose name originally had been Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was once introduced to a delegation of rabbis who had come to the Vatican to meet him. He greeted them by opening his arms and announcing, "Io sono Giuseppe, vostro fratello" -- that is, "I am Joseph your brother." For the benefit of my readers who may not be intimately familiar with the Old Testament, these were the words used by Joseph in making himself known to his brethren, who had sold him into Egypt many years previously, and who were now come into Egypt to seek relief from an ongoing famine. Joseph, by this time, had risen to become in effect Pharaoh's right-hand man, his prime minister, as it were. I would imagine that the rabbis were quite touched to be greeted in this manner by the Pope.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Odds and ends from Conference weekend

As some of you are aware, I am visiting Utah for a few days, mainly for the benefit of my son Colin, but also because of the General Conference of my church. "Conference," as we refer to it -- we don't always add the "General" when we talk about it among ourselves -- is a central part of the calendar of every practicing Mormon, as it is held twice annually, during the first weekends of April and October, and always involves thousands of people descending upon Salt Lake City from every corner of the world. I did not actually attend any sessions, however (except for the priesthood session, which was broadcast on closed-circuit television at the BYU Marriott Center); instead, Colin and I spent the weekend with the Madsens in Provo and watched the general sessions on television, thus having the benefit of hearing and seeing them while allowing a few more out-of-town visitors to have physical access to the Conference Center.

Of Conference itself I will say little here, since not all of my readers are LDS, and because I said most of what I wanted to say about it last night, during the Madsen family's traditional post-Conference wrapup. I told the group -- which as always was presided over by Dr. Truman Madsen, patriarch of that noble clan -- that for the second General Conference in a row, my favorite talk was given by President Boyd K. Packer. He spoke this time of the importance of the Book of Mormon. Although this is old news at this point, I noted that the previous Conference had taken place shortly after I had reread the Doctrine and Covenants, and for some reason Section 117 had just sort of leaped out at me at that time, in a way it never had before. So a few weeks later, President Packer got my rapt attention when he based his talk on that very text, and I have read the discourse several times since then. (To read this particular talk, click here.)

Most of these reflections, then, will center around the other aspects of the trip that are extraneous to Conference. I'll be jumping around a bit, but I suppose I should begin with the confession that there is another woman in my life now. I asked Barney and Cindy not to disclose this scandalous news to my wife, and they said they would not, although I was left with the distinct impression that I might not really be able to trust them to keep the secret. I suppose it doesn't matter now, though, because I talked to Sheila myself on the phone last night and 'fessed up, and she was in good spirits during the conversation, and really does not seem all that concerned about her "competition." The "other woman" referred to here is the Madsens' daughter Caroline, who is 11 years old. This is actually the second time Caroline has smitten me, the first being on Thanksgiving Day, 1994, when we were living in Ohio and the Madsens in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. Sheila and Colin were on a three-week trip to Utah at the time -- we couldn't afford airfare for three, so I stayed home -- so I drove over to Washington to spend Thanksgiving with Barney, Cindy, and their kids. I ended up spending almost all of Thanksgiving Day babysitting Caroline while her parents prepared the traditional feast, and for this I received profuse thanks afterward. Cindy said they could not have accomplished their task without having someone there to take care of Caroline, and in the process of helping them out, I had oodles of fun. (If they had hired me for the day to serve in that capacity, I think I might actually have ended up paying them for the privilege.)

Fast-forward to the present. I love opera with a passion, and tend to favor sopranos and mezzos in particular. During this trip, I learned that Caroline is a truly gifted soprano, and Cindy played for me a CD recording of a voice recital given by her daughter last November, a few days after she turned 11. It was simply breathtaking, and she reminded me instantly of Charlotte Church. I could easily imagine this little girl performing one day at the Met or La Scala, given enough additional training and seasoning, and apparently her voice teacher agrees with me on this. I asked for a copy of the CD, and Barney burned one on his computer and gave it to me. Later in the day, I did something that seems to have surprised and delighted Caroline, and you can see it yourself if you click on my name on the list of contributors and read my personal profile. On the list of my favorite music and musicians, I have added Caroline's name, which is deliberately placed amidst the likes of Cecilia Bartoli, Angela Gheorghiu, and Maria Callas. And as I told her, it is staying there, even though at the moment I am the only person in all of Bloggerdom who includes Caroline Madsen in his list of interests, but I am confident that this will change during the next 15 years or so. It was my way of honoring her efforts and encouraging her to keep at it.

Later, I had the opportunity of introducing this bright and exceptionally talented child to Italian crossword puzzles, using the permanent link in this blog. (One can do the crucintarsi and some of the other games on the puzzle site without knowing any Italian, and Caroline took to it quickly, doing two or three of the puzzles pretty much on her own, and with considerable gusto.) And shortly before Colin and I left last night, I got online with her again and logged on to the Princeton Dante Project, which features, among other things, audio recordings of the full Divine Comedy in Italian. I played Canto II of Inferno for her, after reciting the first few lines myself:

Lo giorno se n'andava, e l'aere bruno
toglieva li animai che sono in terra
da le fatiche loro . . .

Then I told her about how the Comedy was written, explaining as well as I could in so short a time the terza rima rhyme scheme, the roles of Virgil and Beatrice, and the journey through Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. I don't know if she will take to Dante in the same way as someone like Erika -- who, incidentally, I wish could have been there with me when I was talking to Caroline, both to share the experience and enhance it -- but Cindy thanked me afterward for what I had done. The Madsens home-school their children, and have been hugely successful at it; not only that, but as I learned only after the impromptu Dante lesson, Caroline's voice teacher wants her to learn Italian, and what better way to introduce her to the language than by having her listen to Dante? Regardless of whether Caroline takes to Dante the way Erika and I and some others have done, it was a sweet and almost sacred privilege to introduce her to him, and I will always cherish my memories of this experience. (Unfortunately, with respect to Dante, I have not found nearly as receptive an audience in my own 11-year-old daughter Vanessa, who likes to poke fun at him.)

The weekend visit to the Madsens was good for Colin as well -- very much so, in fact. Saturday morning, bright and early, Sheila's sister Joyce took us to the light-rail station near Temple Square in Salt Lake City, where we got on the train that took us to Sandy, where in turn we boarded a bus that took us the rest of the way to Provo. Barney picked us up there, and took us on a tour of his firm's new office building, which they purchased after we had moved to Arizona. It features a mahogany-lined conference room, which immediately reminded me of the boardroom on "The Apprentice" -- a show to which I, by the way, am addicted. I had Colin sit at the table, whereupon I sat down opposite him, and in my best Donald Trump impersonation told him he was fired. (He took the firing quite good-naturedly, I might add.)

Accompanied by Barney, his father Dr. Madsen, and some others, we attended the priesthood session of Conference at the Marriott Center Saturday evening. (Truman Madsen greeted Colin and me by putting one arm around each of us and saying, as nearly as I can recall, that we were "distinguished members of the posterity of the modern house of Israel." Colin seemed very touched by the comment, which he wrote down in his journal. I was on Dr. Madsen's right, and Colin on his left, when this remark was made. Later, during dinner, each of us flanked Dr. Madsen again, this time with Colin seated on the right and me on the left, a circumstance which immediately reminded me of the story in Genesis about the blessing Jacob gave to Manasseh and Ephraim, at the request of his son Joseph.) Everyone gathered at the senior Madsens' afterward for banana splits and edifying conversation, this being a tradition I was participating in with them for the first time. (Up until now, I have only attended their Sunday-evening wrapup, and did not realize their Conference tradition included this, too.) Afterward, I asked Barney if we could stop at Border's for a few minutes, and while there, I purchased three CDs, one each for myself, Barney, and Colin. Mine was a collection of Puccini arias sung by Angela Gheorghiu; Barney's was a Ronan Tynan CD that featured "Mansions of the Lord," a song he seems to love nearly as much as I do "O mio babbino caro;" and Colin's was a jazz-and-blues recording, titled simply "New Orleans." So I am happy as a clam today, now that I have brand-new CDs of Angela Gheorghiu and Caroline Madsen. (I took Colin to school this morning, driving Joyce's car. I took my sweet time about coming back home, however; instead, I drove around Centerville listening to Angela sing Puccini on the car's CD player. Man, this is a wonderful recording!)

For the Sunday night get-together, I did some of the cooking, preparing a large batch of the Tuscan bean and rice soup everyone seems to enjoy so much. I gave the recipe to Cindy afterward; I had withheld it from her until now because I wanted to be the first to serve it at one of their Conference gatherings. This ambition of mine has now been fulfilled, and it appears to have been a huge hit with the group. I will be preparing another batch of it later today, for a gathering of Sheila's family during which I apparently am slated to be the guest of honor. (This is my first visit to Utah since we moved to Arizona 2-1/2 years ago.) Sometime in the near future, I will probably be posting the recipe on this site, after I first look up the metric equivalents for the ingredients. (This would be for Erika's benefit, as I imagine she might find our English system confusing and bewildering).

My last item for this rather lengthy post concerns some other members of my "family," with whom I got to rub shoulders for about an hour Friday evening, and whom I will see again tomorrow. Court interpreters tend overwhelmingly to be female, and when I worked here, I developed a close and unusual friendship with the Third District Court interpreters, who treated me like a king and gave me one of the best experiences I have ever had with any group of people. (As an aside, they threw a going-away party for me just before I moved to Arizona, and during the party I wondered aloud if Dante had been feted in this manner when he was exiled from Florence in 1302. There were chuckles around the room, and someone said yes, but that Dante had been given pizza at his party.) Anyway, Friday night some of the interpreters had a party in Bountiful and invited me to drop by. I did so, and was treated pretty much like a conquering hero. Tomorrow the whole gang is meeting for lunch at a Greek restaurant we always used to go to, and I look forward to the camaraderie and good conversation, along with the mezadakia around which our old tradition centered. I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life where friendships are concerned, and have been uniquely blessed by this group of women, whom I affectionately refer to as my seraglio, or harem. (My association with them led me to muse that I have become a sort of middle-aged Dobie Gillis, in that I have many women in my life and love them all, but my relationship with all and sundry is entirely chaste, wholesome, and decent. They, like so many others, have consistently managed to bring out the best in me.)

Well, I suppose that wraps it up for the moment. I hope you have enjoyed this post, which is more in the nature of a journal entry than some of the other stuff I write.

Giovanni Paolo II, il Grande

In my previous post, which consisted mainly of quotes from scriptures ancient and modern, I promised that in coming days I would have more to say about Pope John Paul; and in between General Conference sessions, as I read the latest news updates on the Internet, I pondered what I should add to my earlier remarks. My thoughts and reflections have centered primarily around a tremendously moving, and ultimately earth-shaking, event that took place early in his reign. No one by himself will ever be able to say all that needs to be said about this great and good man, who clearly ranks among the towering figures of 20th-century history; but herewith, I add my own thoughts to the mosaic of words and commentary about him that are appearing on the Internet and elsewhere.

The history of the papacy has always fascinated me, and I have followed John Paul's reign with great interest ever since his selection as Pope in October of 1978. At the time, much was made of the fact that he was Polish, and as such, the first non-Italian Pope in more than 400 years. Poland, of course, was at that time in the heart of the Soviet empire, which seemed to be a permanent and impregnable fixture on the world's geopolitical landscape.

Then, in June of 1979, the new Pope made a triumphal return to his homeland; and as I and others around the world followed the trip with fascinated attention, he traveled from one city to another in the officially atheistic country, greeted at each stop by hundreds of thousands of cheering Poles, who gloried in this new pontiff who was one of their own. The climax of the trip came during his visit to Czestochowa, where the new Pope celebrated Mass in front of a crowd estimated at one million. At this point, as I watched the news one evening, the thought occurred to me that perhaps this was the definitive answer to Joseph Stalin's contemptuous question, voiced during the Second World War, as to how many divisions the Pope had. Little did I nor anyone else realize, however, that a sledgehammer blow had just been struck against the very foundations of the Iron Curtain. A year later, inspired in large part by the impetus provided by the Pope's visit, a group of shipyard workers at Gdansk founded the Solidarity movement; and within 2-1/2 years of John Paul's elevation to the papal throne, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Great Britain, and Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States. No one could realize it at the time, but with the arrival of these three on the stage of history, the doom of Communism had just been sealed. (Charles Krauthammer has more to say about this in his column today. On one important point, however, my views diverge from his. Mr. Krauthammer affirms that he is not much of a believer, whereas I believe in a God who can and does intervene in the affairs of the world, often by raising up men and women at pivotal moments to perform some special mission. And such, in my view, was the case with the Pope, Prime Minister Thatcher, and President Reagan. That they all arrived at their respective destinies at nearly the same time is surely no coincidence. For his part, George Weigel expresses views a bit closer to my own.)

My other thought centers around a humorous, but nevertheless profound, observation made by an unknown individual, which I incorporated into my end-of-year reflections in my journal entry of December 31, 1979. Until his illnesses and old age gradually wore him down, John Paul was vigorously active -- in fact, he was an avid skier until about a dozen years ago. He was also personable, outgoing, and charismatic, in addition to which he was the most widely-traveled Pope in history, and wildly popular among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It was with all of this in mind that the unknown individual remarked that this was "a Pope who really knows how to pope."

I am sure that our collective grieving during this sad and solemn weekend has been counterbalanced by widespread rejoicing in the world of spirits, the paradise of God, where John Paul was welcomed on Saturday, doubtless by crowds that dwarfed those throngs at Czestochowa during that pivotal summer of 1979. And special greetings would be in order from a few specific individuals, including his predecessor Pope John XXIII, who was a jewel of a man if ever there was one -- and, of course, Ronald Reagan. Two members of the remarkable triumvirate have now gone to the paradise of God; and sometime in the near future, its third member, Lady Thatcher, will likewise arrive to join them there.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Pope of Popes

WELL DONE, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.
-- Matthew 25:21.

There were giants in the earth in those days.
-- Genesis 6:4.

Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?
-- 2 Samuel 3:38.

Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch as thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die . . . And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them.
-- Doctrine and Covenants 42:45-46.

All'umanità, che talora sembra smarrita e dominata dal potere del male, dell'egoismo e della paura, il Signore risorto offre in dono il suo amore che perdona, riconcilia e riapre l'animo alla speranza. È amore che converte i cuori e dona la pace. Quanto bisogno ha il mondo di comprendere e di accogliere la Divina Misericordia!
-- Pope John Paul II.

I will have more to say later, but on this sad day, which all of us knew must inevitably come, we are all Catholics.