Pope Benedict XVI Resigns
As a Catholic of passable standing, I didn’t
even know a pope could resign. Like most, I figured
that death was the only way out. Pope Benedict XVI’s
surprise announcement on the eleventh of last month, left
even Cardinal Dolan speechless at first— a hard thing
to do for this gregarious, media savvy, converted-New Yorker
prelate (and even considered by some as a long shot candidate
to be the next pope himself).
It bordered on hearing that the earth revolves
around the sun. Which was first theorized by Copernicus in
1543, and supported by Galileo some 75 years later. (For which
he was put under house arrest for the rest of his life for
being “vehemently suspect of heresy”— a
story for another day).
I mention these ancient moments in history,
when human intelligence on scientific matters was still in
diapers, to illustrate how they still pale in comparison,
as to how far back you have to go to the last time a pope
resigned. That would be 1415 when Gregory XII called it quits.
And that was for political, not health reasons.
You have to go back even further to 1294,
to Celestine V, to find a pope citing poor health for stepping
down. Though poor health has been questioned in some quarters,
as to being the real or only reason for Pope Benedict’s
Coming to the forefront now, concerns a bombshell
dropped late last month by La Repubblica, Italy’s
largest daily newspaper. It claims that a 300-page dossier
involving sex, money and gay priests, was given to the pope
on the day in December when he decided to resign. The Vatican
has denied any such allegations, and it will be interesting
to see how that story plays out, especially as it will be
laid in the lap of a new pope to deal with.
Given that this pope certainly looks frail
and moves tentatively, my tendency is to give him the “Benedict
of the doubt.” (May God forgive me for that one). This
is not a case of a healthy sixty-one year old Nixon, resigning
in the face of Watergate.
Yet while Benedict is being applauded by many
for his act of humility in stepping down in the face of infirmities,
it does raise a question as to how many other popes over the
past 700+ years, might have, should have, made the
same choice? Or had it made for them?
It was a discomforting sight to see Benedict’s
predecessor John Paul II, so vibrant and charismatic at the
beginning of his reign…so feeble at the end to the point
where he could no longer even speak.
Imagine a member of the Supreme Court with
an “incapacity to adequately fulfill the duty entrusted
to me” (to virtually use Benedict’s own words),
making judgments on critical human issues, that can impact
the lives of so many for so long.
This is not simply about advanced age either.
Benedict is 85. I have an uncle who at age
94, is still driving, still drinking vodka (though thankfully
not at the same time), still playing his guitar, still going
to gambling casinos and still getting together with the “boys”
each week for dinner. It’s his lifestyle and not his
age that would remove him from papal consideration.
The hope would be that Benedict has reset
a precedent, so that similar action will be taken by his successors
when their time comes. That it be recalled:
For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to seek and a time to
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to be pope, and a time not to be pope.
Though the influence of the papacy has greatly
diminished over time, it still holds sway in various direct
and indirect ways throughout the world. And given the pageantry,
mystique and sense of theater surrounding it—especially
at election times— it has always been a source of fascination
for followers and detractors alike.
Given the phenomenon (no other way to describe
it) of a resignation, and now with a potential morality play
perhaps waiting in the wings in the form of serious wrong-doing
in high places, no doubt the color of the smoke coming out
of the chimney this month, will be closely watched. And not
just by Catholics.
Bones Under a Parking Lot Belonged
to Richard III
I suppose there are worse places to have your
bones found than under a parking lot. A 7-Eleven comes
readily to mind. As if meeting a violent death in battle,
with a mistreatment afterwards— as evidenced by several
“humiliation injuries” according to a bioarchaeologist—
and being stuffed into a “rough hewn” small grave
were not enough, Richard III winds up several hundred years
later in a place far beneath his monarchal stature. (My
kingdom for a car!)
While this story seemed to come from out of
nowhere last month, it wasn’t as if some lunch-pail
laborer in Leicester, England had stumbled upon this find
and thought: hmmm… I wonder if these are the bones
of Richard III who died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in
1485? And then called over his co-workers for some sort
of confirmation. “Sure looks like ‘im, what with
the curvature of the spine ‘n all.”
Being so pedestrian when it comes to the field
of archeology, that wasn’t too far from my initial reaction
as to how all this might have come about. But it turns out
to have been the culmination of an ambitious project that
was championed for years by many learned institutions. Finally,
upon making this discovery last August, confirmation of identity
only came after extensive testing over a four month period.
Those tests included most importantly, something
called mitrochondrial DNA which was extracted from the bones,
and then amazingly enough…
“…was matched to Michael Ibsen,
a Canadian cabinetmaker and direct descendant of Richard
III's sister, Anne of York, and a second distant relative,
who wishes to remain anonymous.” (CNN.com)
Talk about six degrees of separation. DNA
and genetic encoding have long since become fathomable to
me. But finding that Canadian cabinetmaker?
So who was this king who reigned for only two years, and yet
was so captivating a figure?
Shakespeare in his eponymous play, paints
Richard III in murderous colors; a portrait of evil. In the
opening, Now is the winter of our discontent monologue,
Richard confesses to just how disfigured he is of body and
how deranged of soul.
In modern everyday English, taken from a series of books entitled
No Fear Shakespeare (SparkNotes Publishing), it translates
was badly made and don’t have the looks to strut
my stuff in front of pretty sluts. I’ve been cheated
of a nice body and face, or even normal proportions. I
am deformed, spit out from my mother’s womb prematurely
and so badly deformed that dogs bark at me as I limp by
Not exactly the sort of stuff you want to
post on Facebook. He goes on:
I can’t amuse myself by being a lover, I’ve
decided to become a villain. I’ve set dangerous
plans in motion, using lies, drunken prophesies…I
am deceitful and cruel…
Not so! Foul! Cry the members of the Richard
III Society who hope that this discovery will force a
reexamination of a man they claim, has been a victim of misrepresentation
and tainted by unfair exaggeration. Sort of like Jessica Rabbit
defending her character with, “I’m not bad. I’m
just drawn that way.”
Some have now gone on to pose this rather
questionable question: Does this computer scanned reconstruction
from Richard’s skull, turned into a three-dimensional
plastic model face, look like the face of a tyrant?
No, I suppose not. Not any more than this one does.
For the record, Richard will be shortly reinterred
in Leicester Cathedral, which was the closest Christian church
to the original grave site. Yes, he was a Christian. A memorial
service is to be scheduled at a later date. All’s well
that ends well, I guess.
And finally, it now seems plausible that the
bones of Jimmy Hoffa will one day be found. Using the improbable
story of Richard III as a guide, that day would come in the
summer of 2503. Wonder from under what venue he will be dug
Quote(s) of the Month
I came across this sentiment, which is not
only politically incorrect given its gender jab, but suggestive
of a variation on something that might have been uttered by
a Borsch Belt comic. Call it, The Bible as “stand-up.”
A continual dripping on a rainy day
and a contentious wife are alike;
of Proverbs 27.15
and Nones and Ides Oh My!
This has turned out to be an
ancient history issue it seems, because now I’m harkening
back even further, to an event that occurred in 44 BC. (Can
The Big Bang be far behind?).
I had always been befuddled by the phrase “the Ides
of March.” Yes, it refers to the fifteenth of the month
when Julius Caesar got whacked—and therefore the watchword
is “beware” —but it still begged the question:
what are Ides exactly anyway?
In an edited reprise of a piece I wrote for the March MMV
Muse-Letter, the answer (and then some), is offered for those
who wouldn’t be afraid to ask, if they were curious
in the first place.
Ides is a term that comes from the Roman calendar which was
devised by someone(s) who apparently had a love for complexity.
According to a piece by the editor of Time Almanac books:
“The Roman calendar organized
its months around three days, each of which served as
a reference point for counting the other days:
(1st day of the month)
• Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July and October;
the 5th in the other months)
• Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July and October;
the 13th in the other months)
The remaining, unnamed days of the month were identified
by counting backwards from the Kalends, Nones, or Ides.
For example March 3 would be V Nones— 5 days before
Nones (the Roman method of counting days was inclusive;
in other words, the Nones would be counted as one of
Insane as it all sounds, I couldn’t
resist “decoding,” for want of a better word,
my own August 20th birthday as it would have been stated in
Roman times. In the form of a question, ala Jeopardy:
what is XIII Kalends? Correct! (The 1st of September minus
13 days, with September 1st inclusive).
This convoluted method of date keeping, also suggests still
one more reason, for the fall of the Roman Empire.
Haiku and Counting
The ant works harder
than seventeen syllables
winter, spring, summer