Monday, April 21, 2008

At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast - Friday, 4/18

For me, my 'involvement' with the Pope in DC ended with the televised Mass yesterday. Not that my crazy week was finished. The Missionaries of Charity had been given tickets to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in DC. They couldn't go, according to their Rule about only eating in their own community, so they handed the tickets over to the volunteers, including Juli and I. It was a wonderful cap to the Papal visit – it truly was. Benedict was the official theme of the breakfast, and the only topic of table conversation and of the talks; the program in fact ended with the broadcast of his speech to the UN.

President Bush was, as he was every year apparently, the “special political speaker”. (Given that he was there, along with the Chief Justice and the Republican nominee, security seemed to me to be unbelievably light. No ID check, just blind trust that you are in fact the person named on the ticket you're claiming; one metal detector; and a cursory sweep with a handheld?) His best line was joking about how he'd be brief, since we were all waiting for another speech; “it's not every day that you get to be a warm-up act to the Pope.” It was awesome to see the President and hear his speech. To be sure, I have significant differences with him – but he is a man of sincere faith, and of deep respect for the Pope.

He's also a president in his last year of office and interested in handing on the presidency within his party – McCain was at the breakfast as well. (Along with Brownback; Roberts; Fr. Scalia, son of that Scalia and also Juli's pastor; another Scalia...) So, to that extent, it was a play for the Catholic vote on McCain's behalf – but still well worth the hearing. I took no notes on it, wanting just to listen; for the curious, the text can be found here: The curious include me – my memory of specifics of the speech fell victim to my general state of happy exhaustion.

There were protestors outside claiming that this was not a Catholic event; it was a Republican event. Austin Ruse, the MC, mentioned it jokingly and added that there were Democrats there as well. All well and good, till he in the course of introductions got to McCain – and oh, the cheers and standing ovation! I leaned over and muttered to Juli; Ruse echoed me a moment later, “I just got done saying this wasn't a Republican event!”

He was right in part, that it wasn't a Catholic event. Not purely. The opening prayer/invocation was given by an Orthodox archpriest (I don't know what that corresponds to for us? Monsignor...?), and later there was a prayer/meditation given by a rabbi. It was fascinating to hear his perspective on Christians – from what he said, to his mind we are linked in some way to their covenant. Which of course we are – but that's a natural Christian interpretation (as far as I'm concerned, it's natural); not Jewish. I'd like to know more about his basis for saying that.

Side note: In Judaism, Jewish blood comes from the mother, as I recall? Yet the actual physical sign of their covenant can only apply to males – so how do those two correspond?

Joseph Kassab, an Iraqi Catholic involved with aiding the refugees from there, offered a prayer for the Church in Iraq, ending with the Our Father and Hail Mary in Aramaic – where one ended and the other began, I could not tell you. He broke down at one point in the Aramaic prayers, taking a few seconds to go on.

After the conclusion of the breakfast half of the program, there was a break for milling around, rubbing elbows, and stopping by exhibit tables. Juli and I ran into Fr. Terry, the Franciscan U. president, and asked him about the educators' meeting; seems that ahead of the Pope's arrival, there were huddles of some academics wondering if the Pope was about to somehow punish them. He didn't – but he did lay down the law on what academic freedom was and wasn't: you cannot have freedom without truth. I've yet to read the text, but can't wait. A man from Belmont Abbey College was saying that they needed to put the entire speech on their website – it was that good.

Then it was back for a final pre-papal speaker; Michael Novak on 'Relativism and Reason'. His opening point was that right after 9-11, just try walking up to a New Yorker and saying “Well, you only think that it was evil. That's just your truth.” Just his truth; just your jaw. Moral relativism had no place – good and evil stood out far too starkly. In it's end effect – a later point – relativism is an undermining of civilization itself: you cannot have civilization without discussion of differences/an exchange of ideas; and you cannot have that discussion if all ideas are held to be of equal validity. As we've seen increasingly often, it rapidly becomes intolerance – good and evil are dangerous ideas and those expressing them must be punished. Another point: Freedom is integral to Christianity and to friendship with God; else, we're merely slaves. Again and again in Scripture, it's shown that the axis of history is the human mind/will – our freedom to say yes or no to God. There was more...but. Enough regurgitation.

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