Saturday, February 9, 2008

Soul strumming

Years ago I was employed by our diocese at the Paraclete bookstore/Catholic Center in downtown Salt Lake City. I was the director who was given the sad task of closing the Center down, a wise but difficult decision taken by our diocese in light of the fact that building we were in was slated for demolition and the impossible cost of setting up somewhere else. While employed there I had the privilege of meeting many people who worked in the downtown area. One such person was Deseret News columnist Jerry Johnston, who was always a pleasure to speak with. I always learned something from him and enjoyed our encounters. I remember upon my leaving the Catholic Center Jerry giving me a copy of his book, Spirits in the Leaves, which was published by Signature Books here in Salt Lake City.

I have read Jerry's book and found that his writings and reflections have struck many chords in me. Even though we have lost touch, I always read his columns in the Deseret Morning News. I especially liked his latest column, which appeared in the paper last Thursday. It is entitled Personal ministries have made Pres. Monson 'pastoral' leader. This struck a couple of chords.

My reading of this column came on the heels of a conversation about President Monson with the rector of the Cathedral Church at which I serve. In this conversation, I was told about the personal interest President Monson takes in the more than $45,000 of help the LDS Church provides each year to our parish outreach, known as the Good Samaritan Program. This interest took the form of Monson singling out this good priest and telling him he was happy to cooperate in our parish endeavor, telling him "there's plenty more where that came from."

In his column, Jerry favorably compares President Monson to the wonderful Albino Luciani, known to the world as Pope John Paul I. Here is what he has to say:

"When Albino Luciani of Italy became Pope John Paul I, he — too — was known for his large 'personal ministry.' He was democratic by nature. And in Catholic circles, where there's a distinct split between 'high' and 'low' church, the more brainy fretters feared his "personal touch" would hamper his ability to govern on a global scale." Jerry continues, "It was hogwash, of course — the hand-wringing of skeptics with too much time on their hands. Luciani was a breath of fresh air. And I felt sad the world never got to fully appreciate the sweetness a shepherd can bring to mighty tasks."

As for me, I always think of the observation about the 33 day papacy of Papa Luciani Of his all too brief papacy it was said: "God knew we needed a smile".

I disagree with Jerry's conclusion about Monson eschewing "The Shoes of the Fisherman". After all, he did not seem hesitant about becoming the head of the LDS Church. Nonetheless, here's to friendship, to reaching across divides to serve others, to encourage and strengthen each other. As Michael Card, who is a Protestant, has written:

"Every time a faithful servant serves
A brother that's in need
What happens at that moment is a miracle indeed
As they look to one another in an instant it is clear
Only Jesus is visible for they've both disappeared"

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