‘An Exquisite Sense Of Proportion’
April 24, 2008
Yesterday, The Anchoress wrote The Shepherd Who Is Led, at Pajamas Media.
Her piece is a rich, satisfying and meaningful look at the life of Benedict XVI and the world in which he and his flock live. She examines the the impact this pontiff has made and she sees with great clarity the direction in which this papacy is headed.
The Anchoress speaks of what is greatness:
Many times this past week Benedict revealed himself to have an exquisite sense of proportion, of knowing what is appropriate to the moment…
There was nothing dramatic in his expression. He did not mug for the camera or demonstrate his prayer beyond his posture and closed eyes; he allowed us our dignity while keeping his own…
America has been spiritually and politically reeling since 9/11, struggling to find balance in a world full of new challenges and ugly realities. It has been a bloody and divisive effort and Americans are weary. In a tumultuous election year, we are trying to regroup and find our way. And we still mourn; we mourn our dead and the loss of our youthful, trusting innocence. Benedict came into all of that. He prayed; he met; he listened; he entered into the pain.
And he does so, as the Anchoress notes, with ‘an exquisite sense of proportion.’
As every artist will tell you, to understand what is proportion is to have a clear understanding of what is perception. To understand what is perception is to have a clear understanding of reality.
Benedict XVI see the world and understands the lessons that must be learned and taught with a clear moral vision. His words on the potential catastrophe posed by moral relativism could not be more clear or instructive.
One cannot claim to be an inheritor of Gandhi and at the same time, make room for and embrace the viciousness and violence that defined Che Guevara and Castro. One cannot claim to respect freedom and at the same time admire Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales even as they strip rights away from their own citizens. The message of Martin Luther King, Jr cannot be reconciled with the messages of Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. Social justice has no room for hate or bomb throwers or terrorists. None.
To support the rights of some women and at the same time, choose to ignore the women of Darfur or other nations, societies or cultures that oppress women, is not to be a supporter of womens rights or even human rights.
Benedict XVI addresses and confronts radical Islam with the same moral clarity. After almost 750 years, nearly three quarters of a millennium after the last Crusade and the enormous amount of good done by the church, this latest papal shepherd has every right to note that killing God’s name is very different than saving lives in God’s name. There is no moral relativism between the Christianity today and radical Islam and there is no equality between those who abhor and reject violence versus those who celebrate and support violence.
The Church, while not perfect, has educated hundreds of millions of children over generations Day in and day out and without much in the way of thanks, the Church perseveres. Wherever the Church has gone to build schools and teach, the results are become evident very quickly. Lives improve and hope becomes more than an empty word. Wherever the Church is banned or persecuted, populations are abandoned and left without hope.
The same Church feeds, clothes and tends to the needs of hundreds of millions of the poor and most disenfranchised of God’s children and does so without fanfare or demand for recognition. These efforts, made possible by armies of anonymous individuals that often span lifetimes and generations, are the legacies that are achieved only by way of understanding the magnitude or proportion of the work that must be done.
The tragedy of the child abuse scandals and subsequent behavior of some in positions of authority cannot be swept away. This pope has addressed the issue head on and has made clear that the Church will not tolerate those who might abuse her position in the community. Most importantly, the buck has stopped on Benedict XVI desk. He met with victims of the abuse, without cameras and or ulterior motives. Meeting with the victims of abuse offered no upside or positive spin for him or the Church. The encounter only brought back bitter and painful memories. The pontiff met with those victims because he understood that only his involvement and participation in the healing process could undo the imbalance imposed by the tragedy. His message was clear. The prayers and hopes for the victims weren’t local issues- they pain suffered was felt in Rome. The pope subtlety reminded the world that pain and suffering are never only local matters. His lesson was simple: I am my brother’s keeper, whatever it takes.
There is another lesson to be learned, even more sublime. The issue of child abuse is not limited to Catholic schools. While we may take comfort in a certain amount of self flagellation, there is much work to done on behalf of children. The abuse of children in public schools has reached epidemic proportions and shows no signs of abating. Notwithstanding media silence on the matter, for all who claim to care about the welfare of children, the time has come to act.
Benedict XVI papacy is directly proportional to the papacy of John Paul II, in equal measure.
John Paul II ministered to the hearts and souls of millions who were lost and forgotten, shackled by generations of tyranny. That ministry touched all of us, as we watched those shackles disintegrate. Most of us do not recognize the magnitude of what we saw in those heady days that led up to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Millions followed John Paul II as he led millions from slavery to freedom, a not so subtle repeat of an earlier event and lesson in the history of mankind.
With the hearts and souls unbound, Benedict XVI is ministering to minds, now free. This is testament to a certain truth. You cannot minister to a mind if hearts and souls are enslaved. A mind set free is a mind that can learn and grow. A mind mired in oppressive tyranny will atrophy. Benedict’s mission is not simply academic or intellectual. Love sets the stage and always precedes learning- and that lesson is ever present. One cannot teach if there is no real bond between teacher and student. Benedict XVI understanding of proportion, perception and reality serve to highlight and define the real meaning of ‘calling.’
Faith is ‘ever new,’ requiring great effort, Benedict has noted. We wrote:in Mother Teresa’s Blessing Of Struggle that
Doubt is indeed a blessing, perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts to His Creation, because every time we overcome that doubt and behave in a way that honors God, we have chosen to honor both Him and us. Only those that have experienced darkness can experience and appreciate light and the ability to see both the beauty and the dangers of our surroundings. In fact, if we do not acknowledge that darkness even exists, we can never see and appreciate the light.
We are supposed to struggle with faith and even tire of the struggle. It is the burden of that struggle that makes us whole and makes us complete. When we experience the doubt, the pain, and the despair of our search for God and meaning, we are not in violation of spirituality- just the opposite, really. When we are dealing with our doubts and pains, we begin to approach the final spirituality of acceptance.
The acceptance of ourselves, our limitations and insights, often comes after great pain and weeping. In a way, that weeping is a kind of window into wisdom- we are able to see ourselves for who we are and where we belong. These are cathartic moments, rare in life.
Our struggle with faith also defines our own ministry. From Mother Teresa we learn the how to minister in the physical sense. From John Paul II, we see the importance of a ministry that soothes the soul and from Benedict, we see how an intellectual ministry elevates our efforts and understanding of God, the universe and our place in that universe.
We are all different, but when it is all said and done, we are complex and individual entities. While the proportions of the spiritual ingredients that we each have may differ, we all have the same ingredients. This is Benedict’s lesson. Our expression of faith is our own but we have within us the capacity to express that faith in a physical, spiritual and intellectual manner. Great things are expected of us and with the right proportions of our ‘humanness,’great things are possible.
Read the The Shepherd Who Is Led.