Love in the Ruins
The monsignor of whom the dying cardinal spoke, speaks. And, a love story…
By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome
“What needs to be discharged is the intolerable tenderness of the past, the past gone and grieved over and never made sense of. Music ransoms us from the past… Start a new life, get a girl, look into her shadowy eyes, smile… You play a tune and we’ll watch evening fall and lightning bugs wink in the purple meadow…” —Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, 1971
I studied the works of Walker Percy, the American Catholic novelist, when I was in college, at Harvard. I went to meet Percy in 1977. His most important book is a collection of philosophical essays entitled The Message in the Bottle.
The entire goal of his writing was to show how the historical events of Christian history constituted a “message” which brought life to people who were in the position of “castaways” on a desert island, waiting for a message that could help them in their plight to wash up on the beach…
And he did not write didactically, as if to say, “this is the message, here is part one, here is part two, you must believe this point, and this point, and also this other point…”
Rather, he described men and women finding the message, right in the middle of their loneliness — all of us are shipwrecked; that is why we should be kind to one another — and in finding the message, finding true life.
The Pope Seems Fine
Before continuing, I should note that Pope Benedict XVI seems fine, though he broke his write in a fall the night before last.
He fell after getting up from his bed about 1 am, but did not tell anyone until the next morning. “He slipped in his bath this morning. He was taken to hospital for check-ups. It’s nothing serious,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., said.
The injury was so minor that the Pope ate breakfast and celebrated Mass before he went to hospital. At hospital he had minor surgery to treat a slight fracture of his wrist. The Pope was lightly sedated for the procedure.
Benedict is at the resort of Val d’Aosta for a two-week holiday. While on holiday, the Pope, an avid pianist, planned on enjoying the use of a piano that had been sent to the chalet.
This morning’s accident is the first health concern for Pope Benedict since he took the position in April 2005.
I do think, however, that this is a valuable “sign.” What do I mean?
I mean that the Pope, despite the care of his staff, is still working a very busy schedule for a man of 82. I get tired just trying to follow all the meetings he has.
Perhaps he and his staff should consider cutting back even further on his schedule of meetings, and the number of discourses he reads.
After all, he is still writing his second book on Jesus — an important task he should bring to completion.
A Love Story
“If all else perished, and she remained, I should still continue to be, and if all else remained, and she were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.” —paraphrasing Cathy, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
We become what we love.
So we have to decide who we love — who we want to become.
We are free.
An Interesting Conversation
Some years ago, a Vatican monsignor said to me: “What is your goal?”
We were sitting in a Vatican office, in rooms where other men had sat and talked in other centuries, and, God willing, will sit and talk in times to come.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“What is the goal of your writing?” he asked.
I sensed that he wanted to know, not just for himself, but for others as well, for the Vatican, let us say…
“The truth,” I replied.
“Ah!” he said. “The truth! Well, you had better be careful…”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“First of all, truth is hard to find,” he said.
I nodded, thinking, well, he’s right…
“You may only catch a glimpse of it, only fragments of truth,” he continued. “What will you do then?”
“Well, I’ll write the part that I see,” I said.
“But what of that which you don’t see?”
“I can’t write what I don’t see,” I said.
“Ah!” he said. “And what if the part that you do see could be harmful to the Church?”
I was silent for a moment. “Why is he asking me this?” I wondered.
“Well,” I said, trying to choose my words carefully, but also persuaded of my own courage and commitment to the complete truth, “the truth can never hurt the Church. I would still write the truth, knowing that ‘the truth shall set you free’… As Jesus himself said…”
“Ah,” said the monsignor. “Well, do what you think is right, but remember, there are souls in the balance, the souls of the simple faithful. And remember, the Church is the Bride of Christ — we must protect her from those who would do her harm…”
“How could a truth be used against the Church, if it is true?” I asked, puzzled. “A lie one could fear, as it might cause harm unjustly. But… the truth?”
The monsignor was silent.
“Sometimes, if it is partial, it can hurt,” he said.
“Well, if I understand you correctly,” I said, “perhaps I will have to find a way to tell the truth, without causing harm…”
“Be prudent,” he said. “And always love the Church above everything.”
Falling in love forever
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”—First Corinthians 13:7-8
I do not now remember clearly how I fell in love with her, or why.
All I know is that, when I was a boy, the life I experienced with her, the festivals, the prayers, the music, the silences, seemed tinged with eternity, as if this would never end, as if time and the evils of this world could never touch or harm the reality we shared.
And this was a great joy — indescribable.
The Joy of My Youth
“Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.” (“I will go up to the altar of God, to the God who gives joy to my youth.”) —The opening words of the old Mass; the first phrase was spoken by the priest, and the second phrase by the altar boy
It was a joy.
In my youth.
A joy that lingers in the memory.
A joy that is the beating heart of the “intolerable tenderness” of the past.
And the heart of hearts, the heart of the joy, was holiness.
“Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus…”
Not that I was holy, but that holiness was, that it existed, that it was in the world… that the source of holiness, hidden in eternity, could spill out its glory into time, through her, this beautiful lady, who seemed so ancient, yet so young, so beautifully adorned, so solemn yet so cheerful… like the nuns with their wrinkle-framed eyes twinkling as they moved my hand to form the letters which I still use to express the inner meditations of my heart…
Unam, Sanctam, Apostilicam, Catholicam.
And the center of it all was the Mass.
And the center of the Mass was the Eucharist.
In recent days, I have received a number of letters. Here are three:
Dear Dr. Robert,
As a former Seminarian (I never got ordained — a long story behind) you cannot imagine how much I enjoy your daily letters from Rome. Particularly this one of the dying Cardinal.
God bless you and your work.
Kind regards from Buenos Aires, Argentina
Historically, your “Letter from Rome #20” is the most important of your “Newsflashes” to-date! Thanks, Robert!
The fact that Cardinal Gagnon gave you, before dying, the full name of the monsignor who is possibly the last surviving working witness of Gagnon’s Report on the Roman Curia, ordered by Paul VI, unpublished, sequestered under lock-and-key by the Congregation of the Clergy, but destroyed by someone the very next day…. which caused the untimely retirement of its author, Cardinal Gagnon… all this appears to ask that you make the matter public, as you have done so well with this Newsflash, except that you appear bound to protect the identity of the only person with some knowledge of the Report’s contents! Why?
Whatever Church scandal this silence may be attempting to cover, cannot be worse than the scandal that accompanied its destruction.
I believe you owe it to protect the good name of Cardinal Gagnon to investigate and declare publicly the Roman Curial facts the Church has been trying to hide.
What good will it do for you to eventually whisper to someone else before you die the name of the only person who has some knowledge of the contents of the destroyed Report? Like Gagnon did not hesitate to tell you, the monsignor in question should be ready to help the Church clear herself of all his fear and secrecy…
I must admit, your first few letters from Rome did not interest me much. However, as each letter came in and you covered a variety of issues, your letters started to read like a novel. (The one that comes to mind is written by Michael O’Brien, “Plague Journal” I think is the name.)
In March of this year, visionary Christina Gallagher released information from an apparition of Our Lady (Google Christina Gallagher) which ties in with your letter #20 regarding the suffering of the Pope. Freemasonry historically has never been a friend of the Catholic Church, and I don’t think there is a coincidence that the lodge in Italy is so active and that a sect of Islamists are directly connected to it. (Christina Gallagher refers to them as “nests”).
The information contained in your letters appears to connect directly with much of what many visionaries around the world are saying. I never thought I would live long enough to witness these times, and how quickly events are taking place.
Thank you for your letters. I find myself looking forward to each one. (name)
P.S. Perhaps you should rewrite the letters in a book format just in case you may decide to print it. I would certainly purchase a copy or two.
The Briefcase Left Behind
My heart is sore pained within me,
And the terrors of death are fallen upon me.
Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me,
And horror hath overwhelmed me.
And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove!
For then would I fly away, and be at rest…
—King David, Psalm 55
When I got back to Rome after my brief July 22 meeting with Cardinal Gagnon not long before his death in August 2007, I called the monsignor whose name Gagnon had given me.
He agreed to meet with me, and we sat down at a cafe at the bottom of via delle Fornaci.
And we began to talk.
(More to come soon…)