Recently I attended an Institute on contemplative awareness at which James Finley was the keynote-speaker. He brings some pedigree to the task. He has nearly forty years of experience as a therapist, is a much sought-after lecturer, has written extensively and deeply on the subject of contemplation, and, as a young man, for several years, had Thomas Merton as his spiritual director and mentor. He knows of what he speaks.
In the course of preparing The End and the Beginning, the second volume of my biography of John Paul II, I was struck by a historical coincidence that isn’t much remarked these days: the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962 coincided almost precisely with the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Despite his humble origins as a baker’s son from Trastevere, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, longtime curial head of the Holy Office (“successor to the Inquisition,” in journalese) and scourge of the Nouvelle Theologie of the 1950s, was a formidable figure in pre-conciliar Catholicism. Ottaviani’s approach to theology was neatly summarized in the Latin motto of his cardinalatial coat of arms, Semper Idem [Always the Same], and his fierce defense of what he understood to be orthodoxy made him a not-implausible model for the character of Cardinal Leone in Morris West’s novel, The Shoes of the Fisherman.
Haste is our enemy. It puts us under stress, raises our blood pressure, makes us impatient, renders us more vulnerable to accidents and, most seriously of all, blinds us to the needs of others. Haste is normally not a virtue, irrespective of the goodness of the thing towards which we are hurrying.
Suffering and humiliation find us all, and in full measure, but how we respond to them will determine both the level of our maturity and what kind of person we are. Suffering and humiliation will either soften our hearts or harden our souls.