Habemus Papam!

     The tears I wept when Pope John Paul II died have 
all been wiped away by Benedict XVI. By the time you read 
this, you will know more than I do tonight about the Holy 
Father's plangent declaration of what we already knew, 
but so badly needed to hear reaffirmed: the primacy and 
authority of the True Church. The angels are singing! 
(The Protestants, of course, are protesting.)

     "What's new?" is the question journalists are 
obsessed by. This Pope tells us what's old or, more to 
the point, what's eternal. The restoration of the Latin 
Mass based on the 1962 Missal -- the healing of a 
terrible wound in Catholic life (over the objections of 
some Jewish groups, for whom Catholicism equals 
anti-Semitism) -- would be a great enough achievement for 
one papacy; but not content with that, Benedict has, only 
days later, served notice to the world that the Second 
Vatican Council was in no way what some have tried to 
make it, a reverse of the miracle of Cana -- the 
transformation of the wine of Catholicism into the water 
of liberalism.

     One is stunned, electrified, speechless with joy and 
gratitude, as if witnessing a miracle indeed. Can this 
really be happening?

     Yes, this is still the One, Holy, Catholic, and 
Apostolic Church into which I was joyfully received at my 
own Baptism on an August Sunday in 1961, at age 15. A few 
years later I was assured, to my inexpressible horror and 
sorrow, that the Old Church had been in effect abolished 
-- or, as the optimists liked to put it, suitably updated 
to adapt her to the modern world.

     Thank God I knew her as she was before Progress 
struck. Why would anyone think she needed "adapting"? The 
new liturgy seemed to me as vulgar, ridiculous, and 
superfluous as those renditions of Shakespeare into 
modern English for dopey college students. This was an 
improvement? Even now my lips yearn to make the old 
responses: "Et cum spiritu tuo" ... "Domine, non sum 
dignus." And I pity those who are too young to remember 
them. They have been cruelly disinherited.

     By a lovely coincidence, as I pondered these things, 
I happened to see Alfred Hitchcock's film, I CONFESS, a 
little-known masterpiece from 1953 about a priest 
(brilliantly played by the peerless Montgomery Clift) who 
is framed for a murder by the murderer himself, when the 
latter uses the seal of the confessional to silence him. 
Hitchcock's own Catholicism, with his genius, makes this 
a beautiful and moving film, in which suspense is fused 
with piety.

     Can the faith ever again become what it was in those 
days? I no longer doubt it.

The Party from Hell

     To turn from the divine to the sordid, the walls are 
finally closing in on the wretched Bush administration, 
which is in panic over collapsing support for its war. 
Republicans in Congress, while voicing reservations, 
still oppose an immediate withdrawal of American troops, 
but one more electoral thrashing ought to finish the job. 
The collapse of John McCain's presidential campaign is a 
hopeful symptom.

     Maybe it's all to the good that the GOP insists on 
learning so slowly, the hard way: Next year, please 
Heaven, may give us a new party to replace them. As Lenin 
used to say, the worse, the better. Let them nominate 
Rudy Giuliani and flame out forever. Who would miss them, 
besides the Zionists?

     By the way, if you want refreshing straight talk 
about the Middle East and Zionism, from a Jew, you may 
want to read Philip Weiss's excellent blog, mondoweiss 
( I've loved this 
man since I discovered him ten years ago.

Dr. Johnson's Cure

     Deprived of my library for the foreseeable future, 
I've at least managed to recover a beloved piece of it: 
James Boswell's classic, THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, one 
of the great treasures of the English language, given to 
me by a kind young friend. What an antidote to 
loneliness, among other things!

     It's not really a biography, but then, neither are 
the Gospels. It's the record of a long friendship and of 
one of the world's most brilliant conversationalists, a 
staunch Tory and Anglican with powerful "papist" leanings 
and a mortal enemy of cant and nonsense. I've read it 
many times, but never with more pleasure than now. 
Dr. Johnson's wit, warmth, piety, generosity, and depth 
of insight have made both him and his young friend vivid 
and immortal companions to millions of readers.

     We go to Dr. Johnson (1709-1784) first because he 
has amusing opinions on almost every subject under the 
sun. "Amusing" is not the first word one would use to 
describe Dr. Johnson's essays, which are serious, solemn, 
and Latinate to a degree; but his conversation is quite a 
different matter: colloquial, colorful, biting, playful. 
But in either key, he expresses himself with wondrous 

     Though he wrote poems, essays, criticism, biography, 
drama, and fiction (he dashed off a remarkably popular 
little novel in one week!), and also edited the plays of 
Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson's greatest literary work was his 
feat of learning and eloquence that has lost its utility 
as a reference book but remains a joy to read, stamped 
with the huge personality of its author.

     Space precludes dealing here with Dr. Johnson's deep 
spiritual wisdom, but I may mention that his fluency in 
conversation astounded noted scholars: I mean his fluency 
in conversing in =Latin.= It was extremely hard for an 
Englishman to convert to Catholicism in his day, but few 
men of his race did more to counteract heresy. He was, as 
it were, instinctively orthodox. What a great Catholic he 
would have made! He and Benedict were made for each 

     One word you won't find in his great dictionary is 
"nonjudgmental." Dr. Johnson is one of the most 
gloriously judgmental men who ever lived.

                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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