Running from Appearance

A reflection on Princess Grace of Monaco. Also, today is the 31st anniversary of the election of Pope John Paul II to the papal throne, on October 16, 1978

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

The world of the theater, of acting, of Hollywood, is a world of appearance.

In these worlds, appearance, not substance, is what one strives for, what one embraces, what one treasures.

What counts is what seems to be, not what is.

The surface of things, not their profound depths…

And, in so far as these worlds have been held up as models for all of us, even when we are far from Hollywood, our entire modern society has been tempted by, and succumbed to, an infatuation with the seeming, with the superficial and ultimately false world of appearance.

This is against the perennial teaching of Christianity.

In the mystical tradition of Christianity, all appearance is to be distrusted, for even the devil can clothe himself as an “angel of light” so as to deceive, on occasion, even the elect, and one must hold fast the deep things of the faith, even when they are no longer visible to the eyes — especially when they are no longer visible to the eyes…

And so we have two ways set before us: the way of appearance, and the way of flight from appearance in order to embrace the true and the real beneath the deceptive surface.

I had a meeting inside the Vatican the morning, and as I was walking across the Cortile San Damaso under a perfect October sky, the air cool and fresh, I noticed that a red carpet was being rolled out over the cobblestones.

It wasn’t for me.

“Who is coming to see the Pope?” I asked one of ther Swiss Guards.

“The Prince of Monaco, and the Prime Minister of Ukraine,” he told me. “But you’ve got time. They won’t be here for an hour or more.”

I will have occasion soon to write about Yulia Vlaimirovna Timoshenko, the lovely and intelligent Prime Minister of Ukraine who made a fortune as a successful businesswoman in the gas industry before entering politics, and also more to say about Ukraine and its relations with Europe and its larger neighbor, Russia.

But now I would like to say something about Princess Grace of Monaco, who died in a car crash in 1982.

The Prince of Monaco is in Rome because a major exhibition on the life of Princess Grace opened here today (entitled “The Grace Kelly Years, Princess of Monaco,” the exhibit will be Rome from October 16th 2009 until February 28th 2010).

Princess Grace was born Grace Patrica Kelly on November 12, 1929, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA).

When she died on September 14, 1982, she was still just 52.

From simple origins, she became was one of the top 10 or 15 Hollywood actresses of all time.

In the 1950s, in her early 20s, she starred in such films as Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, High Society, and The Country Girl, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Then, in 1956, she abruptly left Hollywood to marry Rainier III, the Prince of Monaco. She was 26.

She became Princess Grace of Monaco — the second smallest in the world after the Vatican itself.

Princess Grace’s life, then, was divided precisely into two periods: one half before her marriage at the age of 26, the other half from her marriage to her death at the age of 52.

During the first half of her life, she became a Hollywood “star,” an icon of external feminine beauty.

During the second half of her life, she was a wife and mother. (She had three children: Caroline, Albert, and Stéphanie.

The trajectory of her life is, in a certain sense, a trajectory from the superficial toward the more profound.

(I am not canonizing Princess Grace; neither am I the devil’s advocate; I am simply reflecting on a general pattern in her life which seems to me to contain a positive meaning.)

In his eulogy at her funeral Mass, the American actor James Stewart said: “You know, I just love Grace Kelly. Not because she was a princess, not because she was an actress, not because she was my friend, but because she was just about the nicest lady I ever met. Grace brought into my life as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her, and every time I saw her was a holiday of its own. No question, I’ll miss her, we’ll all miss her, God bless you, Princess Grace. ”

The traditional wisdom of the Church taught us to disdain and despise all that is superficial, shallow, false, and artificial, and to embrace and defend all that is profound, deep, true and genuine.

We should return to that wisdom.

Our lives would be richer were we to embark on this journey

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