Posts Tagged ‘Catholic’

The Measure of the Man, II

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

The first editorial I wrote for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., appeared on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I wrote the headline, too: “The measure of the man.”

Trying to “measure” the meaning of the life of a man who was literally loved and idolized by millions of people is no easy task, especially for a rookie editorial writer’s debut effort. But that’s what newspapers do and, in truth, I took it as a good omen that remembering JFK was my first assignment. He was a hero to me as to many young men my age when he was elected president. It was a combination of things: his youth, his wit, his easy-going style, his intelligence, his words, his sense of justice. Plus, we shared the same birthdate: May 29.

As fate would have it, JFK would come to be remembered, not on his birthday, but on the anniversary of his death. And not so much for what Americans received for having him as president for 1,000 days, but rather for what we lost by not having him much longer.

That first editorial said, in essence, that it would take more than 20 years to measure the meaning of the man. It acknowledged the things we had learned about JFK in the years since the shooting in Dallas — the flaws that made him human — as well as what I felt were his positive contributions.

Thirty years later, no longer a rookie editorial writer — indeed, retired after 23 years of writing editorials — with Nov. 22 approaching, I realized I had to write about JFK 50 years after his death (because that’s what old newspaper guys do). Before I started, I asked one of my reliable sounding boards, my son, Zack, what he knew about JFK. Zack is 19 and better informed than a lot of young people his age, so I figured his answer would provide me with a fair sense of what our education system had been telling kids about Kennedy.

“He was the first Catholic president,” Zack said. Correct. “He had an affair with Marilyn Monroe.” Uh, correct. ‘There’s still some theories that there was more than one shooter.” Right. “Do you think the Kevin Costner movie (“JFK,” directed by Oliver Stone) was true?” Well, the people portrayed were real. “The Bay of Pigs didn’t go too well.” No, it didn’t.

I took the opportunity to point out that Cuba was the site, not only of Kennedy’s biggest failure in global affairs, but also his biggest success. I was a little older than Zack is now when the world stood at the brink of a nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missile-launching sites in Cuba, aimed at the United States. I was a senior in college and knew full well, as did all my classmates, than no 2-S deferment was going to exempt me from what might happen if the Soviets did not — as Kennedy demanded — remove their missiles.

Kennedy ordered the U.S. Navy to blockade Cuba to prevent the shipment of Soviet missiles and equipment. Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet president, who had initially denied the existence of the missile sites, sent a naval fleet to Cuba, loaded with supplies and armed for battle. As the world watched and waited and prayed, Kennedy and Khrushchev exchanged messages. Kennedy prevailed. The Soviet fleet stopped short of Cuba and turned around. I lived to write this remembrance. Kennedy was dead not long after.

So here I am 50 years later, still looking to take the measure of the man and still wondering how that is possible. Kennedy had the gift of engagement. He appeared to be comfortable with whomever he was speaking. He had tremendous appeal to young people, being so different from the older, stodgier presidents who preceded him. He created the Peace Corps — a legacy that continues to this day with not enough fanfare. He made many Americans — and this is not a small thing — truly proud to be Americans. Not in an arrogant, flag-waving, we-know-better-than-you way. Just proud.

And he cheated on his wife and kept his serious health problems a secret from us and sometimes needed to be prodded by his brother, Bobby (another tragic loss) to take the proper (courageous) stand on issues. So the question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer? What did we lose at Dealey Plaza?

Certainly, whatever innocence we still possessed. The wind was sucked from our sails as a nation and our domestic politics have slowly and steadily deteriorated into such partisanship that is virtually impossible for any president to speak to the minds and hearts of a majority of Americans the way Kennedy did. Maybe it would have happened even if Kennedy had lived a longer life and gone on to be an ambassador to the world of what America stands for. Or maybe not.

It dawns on me in writing this that it is an ultimately frustrating task to try to take the measure of another man or woman. I know what JFK meant to me personally. I know a lot of others feel similarly and others do not. I know what history has recorded (he was also the youngest man to be elected president) and what the tabloids have told us. I have a sense of what I would like to think Kennedy would ultimately have meant had he not died so young. But it’s only speculation.

The only man I can truly take the measure of is myself. It is 50 years since that morning when I was waiting at home to go to Fort Dix, N.J., to begin six months of active duty training. How do I measure up today? That’s a question I work on every day. It wasn’t always thus, but the years have a way of insisting on perspective. Maybe the answer will appear in some other writing. I have neither the space nor the inclination to do so here. I will say that, on balance, I’ll probably give myself a passing grade, but there’s still some stuff I’m learning.

For now, I’m through trying to take the measure of JFK, as man or president. Let the historians have at it. I’m going to try to take his advice and ask not what life can do for me, but what I can contribute to life. And I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.

bob@zestoforange.com

The Pope Resigns! Uh, No Big Deal

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI .. stepping down

By Bob Gaydos

Kings and popes don’t resign.

Except when they do.

In the case of popes, that’s every 600 years or so, it turns out. Pope Benedict XVI proved to be the exception to the socially accepted truism about kings and popes when he announced his retirement Monday, stunning a billion-plus Catholics worldwide.

Benedict, who is 85, is one of but a handful of the 265 recognized popes to resign and the first pope since Gregory XII in 1615 to do so.

Gregory faced a serious challenge to his power, since three other popes had also been elected by different factions of the church. Benedict faces no such challenge. Indeed, if anything, in his eight years in the papal chair he has created a collegiality of doctrinaire conservatism among the cardinals he has appointed and who will select a successor from their midst.

The point being, if the accepted wisdom proves to be correct and a conservative European cardinal is elected pope, nothing will change in the Roman Catholic Church. That could be a serious problem for an institution that has adamantly resisted adapting to the modern world and which is losing parishioners and financial support at a troublesome rate and is seeing ever-declining numbers of men entering the priesthood.

Benedict cited his declining health as the reason for his resignation, saying he felt he could no longer properly handle the demands of the position. He wasn’t talking about saying Mass or issuing decrees. The Church has been rocked by a series of scandals and challenges from within and Benedict himself has been central in some of them. That might lead a skeptic to wonder if his leaving for health reasons is the equivalent of an American politician stepping down to “spend more time with my family.”

Pass the grain of salt, please.

Next month, all cardinals under the age of 80 will meet to select their new leader. Whoever it turns out to be will have to deal with these major issues Benedict leaves behind:

  • The sex scandal. Most of the sexual abuse of young boys by priests apparently happened on his predecessor’s watch, but Benedict has been implicitly connected with the church-wide coverup of the abuses. To this day, revelations and lawsuits plague the Church and some leaders still try to avoid taking responsibility for their part in the scandal. No whitewash will cover the stain. Only full revelation and penance.
  • No place for women. This is beyond comprehension. That a bunch of old men don’t want to relinquish any power at all to women, refuse to accept women priests, to allow altar girls, to, in fact, deny women of any meaningful say in the celebration of their religion or how it is interpreted is, in my view, sinful. American nuns have tried to force the Vatican’s hand in this regard, so far to no success other than not having been punished for their uppitiness. The new pope will have some very curious nuns — and women parishioners — to deal with.
  • Contraception. The Church refuses to accept it even though 90 percent (or more) of Catholics practice it. Benedict himself infamously worsened the situation by going to Africa and urging residents of AIDS-plaqued countries to shun condoms. Doctrine over common sense and, some might say, humanity. Surely, none of the original fathers of the church could have foreseen such a situation in writing the Gospels. The fact that acceptance of contraception in general would significantly reduce the need for abortions, an outcome people of all faiths desire, has not persuaded the Vatican either.
  • Homosexuality/gay marriage. If the church chose to ignore the pedophiles in its midst, it has not been silent on homosexuals — who represent no threat at all to it. They are unacceptable.
  • Divorce, married priests. The one would make life for thousands of Catholics more livable, the other would swell the ranks of new priests immediately. Don‘t bet on either.

There are other issues, such as how to meet the needs of a church whose members are increasingly from the southern hemisphere when the majority of the cardinals are still from Europe and endorse Benedict‘s conservative philosophy, and when much of the non-Catholic world views the Church as hopelessly behind the times. It all points to the likelihood that, while the resignation of a pope might seem like a momentous decision historically, in the real scheme of things this one might be no big deal. That could be the saddest outcome of all.

bob@zestoforange.com