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Thursday, February 28, 2013

From Popes to Puppies at Play

What is it about possession of a bone that makes human beings different, but not necessarily better, than man’s best friend?

It is intriguing and sometimes fun to consider the possibilities of tomorrow. For example, will the Arab Spring, so called, achieve the potential objective of many hopeful observers? Commenting on the path to peace, Shimon Peres, the 89-year-old president of Israel, was recently quoted:

The great and intriguing debate in Egypt today is about ... whether to give women freedom or not. It is here that the Arab Spring will be judged. President Obama asked me who I think is preventing democracy in the Middle East. I told him, 'The husbands.' The husband does not want his wife to have equal rights. Without equal rights, it will be impossible to save Egypt, because if women are not educated, the children are not educated. People who cannot read and write can’t make a living. They are finished.

Can we detect a comparable theme unfolding in Christianity's Roman Catholic Church? Will the church experience a Vatican Spring? Or slip further into an ice age of irrelevance? After all, its mistreatment of women over the centuries has been the stuff of legend, its problems stemming largely from this unnatural phenomenon. The first papal resignation in nearly 600 years is concentrating new light on a fundamental crisis which many feel may be nearing a head.

As the cardinals gather at the Vatican enclave to select the new pope, the ordinary citizen is not misled by what one church scholar refers to as “the media hype of grandly staged papal mass events or by the wild applause of conservative Catholic youth groups.” As was the case with the Wizard of Oz character villain, the infamous man behind the curtain, “behind the facade the whole house is crumbling. In this dramatic situation the church needs a pope who’s ... open to the concerns of the Reformation, to modernity.”

Relevant to the possibilities of tomorrow, the ordinary citizen would be well served to consider an interlude. Watching the simple behavior of puppies at play can be an interesting form of entertainment. Acknowledging the object of their behavior in a larger context can be enlightening. Are we able to learn anything from these creatures, who have never read a book? Give them a bone to play with, and they’ll squabble over it. But, it is usually more playful than serious. In a short while, the two former combatants can be found sound asleep, snuggling close with one another. They seem secure in the knowledge that their treasure will keep, that warmth and closeness mean so much more to them.

By contrast, when two humans decide they want the same thing, whatever the object, they will both cling, rigidly determined that each is right, and has a greater entitlement. But has either of the puppies asleep at our feet lost the treasure he tried so hard to keep? No, it lays but a few feet away, not a treasure, but an object of play. What is their contentment? Perhaps, it is the friend who plays this game with them, yet is still willing to snuggle, over and over again. And why cannot humans be the same way? Why can we not learn the great lesson here: that things are not precious, it is the friendships that are dear. For what good will this thing do, this precious bone, if in the end we find ourselves left completely alone?

Human beings have intellectual capacity, the ability to reason; communicate verbally, some on a high level. Scientists say this distinguishes and elevates humans from domesticated animals, like dogs and cats. That being the case, what is it about possession of a bone that makes human beings different, but not necessarily better, than man’s best friend?

-Michael D’Angelo

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