I never thought I would see the day: The headline in my home town's December 23rd The Philadelphia Inquirer, with a colored photo above (perhaps as evidence) read, "Pope Rebukes Vatican." Above the photo was the following quote in bold: "The Curia is called on to always improve itself and grow in communion, holiness, and knowledge to fulfill its mission. But even it, as any human body, can suffer from ailment, dysfunctions, and illnesses." Wow!
I could not believe my eyes as I went on to read that senior governing cardinals, bishops and priests, referred to as the Vatican Curia, were rebuked at their yearly meeting with a description of fifteen "spiritual diseases" and told that 2015 would be better when they were eradicated. Vatican watchers say they have never heard "such a powerful, violent speech from a pope" (p. 8) who spoke of "spiritual Alzheimer's," "spiritual petrification," a feeling of being "immortal," and "satanic assassination," (p. 1), an apparent reference to the 2012 leaks of the papers of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
Perhaps the angels have had a hard year fighting madness, ruthlessness and beyond for decades and that the Pope, long before his official election, has known that they needed an enormous amount of help, which, as you know, he has been providing. However, this intense criticism and insistence on change is surely adrenalin for any angels who have understandably lost their pep. And there is more! The angels now have the magnificent Joe Crocker to sing "With a Little Help From My Friends" to them, as well as "Something," described by Frank Sinatra as the greatest love song ever written. No doubt, this will energize and give strength.
And there is still more assistance: In an interview in the December 7th The New York Times Magazine, Takashi Murakami, known for his pop-culture inspired work, and his primary devotion to commercial success, spoke of his post 2011 tsunami show, "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow." Describing his new understanding of the importance of faith, the powerful artist spoke of how essential it was for orphaned children to believe that their "parents went to the other side, but they are always watching out for (them)." (p.16).
Please allow me to digress: After my graduation from Goucher College, I worked at the DNC (pre Watergate years, offices were at Connecticut and K Streets) when John F. Kennedy was our President, a period when John XXIII was Pope. (Goucher was then a women's college, and many of us worked tirelessly for Kennedy's election.) It was President Kennedy who first spoke to me about my profession, social work, and encouraged me to apply to the National Catholic School of Social Service to begin graduate work in this field. As one who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Baltimore, there was culture shock as I began my studies. My professors were priests and others devoutly Catholic; many of my fellow students were priests and nuns. However, I was encouraged to speak openly of my opinions of all matters, including birth control. Admittedly, abortion was never discussed, but all of my opinions, even those differing from the Church, were treated with the deepest of respect.
Some of my professors knew of the brave work and spiritual teachings of my beloved childhood rabbi, Dr. Uri Miller, who had given the closing prayer during the historic March on Washington. I was so very at home. But then, as you well know, there were the assassinations of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, as well as the death of Pope John (whose important correspondence with President Kennedy can be found at the Kennedy Library). And following these grave losses, there have been decades of decent into cynicism, as hope and care for and about others has been replaced by a ruthless pursuit of wealth and power. In this pursuit, far too often religious leaders have been as devoid of character as the many elected politicians and public leaders, in all aspects of our lives, who in their damaging and dangerous decisions, have made life hell for so many who rely on them.
I cannot tell you that I believe in a divine power that has a plan for us all. Yet, I have tried, as the years have passed, to hold onto faith in something beyond all that can be seen, which was stressed by Rabbi Miller, as well as those at Catholic University whose teachings continue to mean so much to me.
At Catholic University I was told that there are miracles all around us all of the time, and that often what felt like a shivering coincidence was what one of my professors described as "God winking." We all know of loved ones finding each other after horrific loss and ordeals. The examples in my life are on a much smaller scale, but remain significant none-the-less. I have a feeling that many of you have shared similar experiences.
Many readers will not remember the pre-internet time when people found phone numbers through "information," and thousands of phone operators were employed to find the numbers. A former client who had gone through very difficult times was on my mind when I called "411" for a phone number of a friend, and it was this client who responded to my call, recognizing my voice, as I recognized hers. "Do you realize that this never happens," she told me incredulously, as she quickly filled me in on the very fine life she had made for herself. And then two years later, the same connection happened again. But this time, my client had been thinking of me, as her mother had recently died. "I cannot believe it is you!" she whispered, continuing that she was coping well with her loss, her family a constant support.
There have been other times when coincidence was perhaps this "wink": Recently I was in an elevator and my mind wandered to someone I cared a great deal about, but lost contact with following her kidney transplant two years before. My former colleague got into the elevator on the next floor. Then there was the pre-cell phone time I was to meet my husband at a hotel in DC, when my train broke down. The conductor made sure a message got to him, but when I finally arrived at the hotel very late at night, I was told that he was not registered and they could not help me. At that very moment my husband came from the elevator to the lobby. He had been frantic for hours but explained, "I just felt you had finally arrived and rushed downstairs."
Perhaps my professors at Catholic University were correct. Perhaps God has continued to wink at us in ways both small and larger ways through harsh decades, offering hope and promise, despite pervasive corruption and "spiritual diseases" and betrayals akin to what has been happening, but previously ignored, in Rome. If so, He/She now finally once again has the most powerful of allies. And the angels, joined of course by Joe Cocker, now have even more perfect music.
In this New Year, let's continue together to look and pray for more and more winks. I bet some very clever someone who send a holiday card or create a bumper sticker reading, "Francis for President, 2016," which says it all.