One of the Benedictine virtues is humility. You don't hear much about that these days because it's in such short supply.
But the other day at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama raised up that virtue, noting that many people are driven toward humility when they recognize that they are in the midst of crisis and doubt and that their reservoirs of resources to overcome them are running dry.
He said that when he was giving his recent inaugural address on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he thought about King and his successes, "But I also thought of his doubts and his fears, for those moments came as well -- the lonely moments when he was left to confront the presence of long-festering injustice and undisguised hate; imagined the darkness and the doubt that must have surrounded him when he was in that Birmingham jail, and the anger that surely rose up in him the night his house was bombed with his wife and child inside, and the grief that shook him as he eulogized those four precious girls taken from this Earth as they gathered in a house of God."
Besides King, Obama mentioned Abraham Lincoln and his by-now well-documented troubles and doubts:
"We know Lincoln had such moments as well. To see this country torn apart, to see his fellow citizens waging a ferocious war that pitted brother against brother, family against family -- that was as heavy a burden as any president will ever have to bear. We know Lincoln constantly met with troops and visited the wounded and honored the dead. And the toll mounted day after day, week after week. And you can see in the lines of his face the toll that the war cost him. But he did not break."
Then the president connected the struggles of King and Lincoln to humility:
"In Lincoln’s eyes, the power of faith was humbling, allowing us to embrace our limits in knowing God’s will. And as a consequence, he was able to see God in those who vehemently opposed him.
"Today, the divisions in this country are, thankfully, not as deep or destructive as when Lincoln led, but they are real. The differences in how we hope to move our nation forward are less pronounced than when King marched, but they do exist. And as we debate what is right and what is just, what is the surest way to create a more hopeful -- for our children -- how we're going to reduce our deficit, what kind of tax plans we're going to have, how we're going to make sure that every child is getting a great education. . . in the midst of all these debates, we must keep that same humility that Dr. King and Lincoln and Washington and all our great leaders understood is at the core of true leadership."
Do you suppose that Jesus was right about true leaders being the servants of all? I think that dog will hunt.
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REDEEMING PIUS XII?
Several years ago I read The Pope's Jews, a 1970s book by Sam Waagenaar. It traced the history of Jews in Rome who lived in a subservient role to whoever was pope over the years. Fascinating and disturbing read. Now a new book with that same name is about to be published. Using previously secret documents and new interviews, it focuses on what the controverial World War II-era pope, Pius XII, did or didn't do to stand against the Nazis and protect the Jews whom Hitler wanted dead. The Vatican is expressing the hope that this will redeem this pope's tarnished reputation. We'll see.
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THIS JUST IN: Pope Benedict XVI says he will resign effective Feb. 28 because he lacks the strength to continue. I'll have some thoughts about this tomorrow here.