How To Say Goodbye: The Wisdom of St. JP2, Pope Benedict, and George Washington

Washington_1772

What the heck does the father of our country have in common with a saint and a pope emeritus? You’d be surprised.

I still remember how I felt when I woke up a few years ago on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and heard the news of Pope Benedict choosing to step down as Pope. As someone who grew up in the JP2 Generation, watching a pope choose to step down instead of waiting until God calls him home was unheard of. I was already in an unstable emotional state at the time and Pope Benedict’s announcement was another rug that got pulled out from under my feet.

When I saw Pope Benedict walk through the Doors of Mercy recently, however, I realized that the decision he made three years ago was not an easy one.

There’s a song from Hamilton called “One Last Time,” which recounts George Washington’s decision to step down after two terms of being president. One particular part of the song stood out to me:

[HAMILTON]
Mr. President, they will say you’re weak

[WASHINGTON]
No, they will see we’re strong

[HAMILTON]
Your position is so unique

[WASHINGTON]
So I’ll use it to move them along

[HAMILTON]
Why do you have to say goodbye?

[WASHINGTON]
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone

Back in my college days, I had a history professor who joked that the Vatican is one of the last remaining true monarchies in existence. Benedict’s decision to step down made me realize that the papacy is not a monarchy. Like the pope’s Twitter handle @Pontifex, Benedict became a bridge builder, becoming the bridge between the great saint who changed an entire generation and the pope we now have who is spreading God’s love and mercy throughout the world.

Which brings up the question: Why didn’t Pope John Paul II abdicate?

I might be biased because I was born in the 90s, but whenever I see videos or photos of JP2 as he was suffering with Parkinson’s, I don’t see weakness, but strength and courage. To Saint John Paul the Great, the Church was his family. Showing his Parkinson’s to the world opened up opportunities for compassion towards those who were suffering the way he did. I didn’t see weakness in JP2’s last days. I saw a love for the Church and for the world that was stronger than Parkinson’s.

In contrast, seeing Benedict walk through the Doors of Mercy with a cane and an aid broke my heart almost as much as he did three years ago. He wasn’t sick the way that Pope John Paul II was, but he still looked so fragile, it hurt. This is just a guess, but if the world saw this man growing old and frail, it may have validated the secular belief that the church is getting as old and weak as he is right now. Not that Pope Francis is a younger, better model. But Pope Francis is at least young in heart and has a lively spirit that the Church seriously needs.

A Bible verse that George Washington keeps using in his correspondence is from Micah 4:4: “They shall all sit under their own vines, under their own fig trees, undisturbed; for the Lord of hosts has spoken.” This Bible verse gets mentioned in “One Last Time” as George Washington’s motivation for stepping down. I can’t help but think that maybe Benedict wanted the same.

But again, I don’t know for certain why Pope Benedict chose to abdicate. For now, though, I can respect his decision. It takes just as much wisdom to know when to say goodbye as it does to just hold on until the end. 

I still miss ya, Papa B.

Historical Fact vs. Historical Fiction: Sons of Liberty, Part 3

The last episode of the Sons of Liberty mini-series begins where the last one left off: at the battle of Lexington and Concord. The militia were able to fend off the soldiers. William Dawes visits James Barrett, who has been helping Paul, John, and Sam, and hides the weapons with the help of the minutemen. Major John Pitcairn, played by Kevin Ryan (Laredo, Copper) raids the farm and turns it inside-out in search of weapons, only to find a musket ball that Barrett claims is a nostalgic token. Revere and the minutemen make their move and send the British running to Boston.

The episode follows two storylines: The Battle of Bunker Hill and the meetings in the Second Continental Congress. At a loss for gaining help from the other colonies, Hancock and the Adams cousins turn to Ben Franklin for help. The four of them realize that they are on the verge of creating a new nation. John Adams, Ben Franklin, and John Hancock talk politics and make deals with the other members of Congress. Sam Adams, however, is restless and impatient.

I was kind of disappointed that they didn’t feature Colonel Prescott in the scene at Bunker Hill. He wasn’t established as a character in the previous episodes, but even the kids shows were quick to point out the real meaning of the battle: that even though the battle was a loss for the colonials, they were able to stand their ground against seemingly impossible odds. And even if Colonel Prescott wasn’t there, couldn’t one of the characters say “Hold your fire til you see the whites of their eyes”?

But like the scene with the First Continental Congress, the scene was more focused on the drama, particularly the death of Dr. Joseph Warren. It’s never stated how Dr. Warren died except that it happened as the British troops were gaining in. Because they included the storyline of the affair between Dr. Warren and Mrs. Gage, General Thomas Gage (played by Marton Csokas aka Lord Celeborn from Lord of the Rings). took it upon himself to kill Dr. Warren and rub the death in his wife’s face, punishing her for her adultery by sending her on the first boat to England. It kind of sucks, in my opinion, that the only prominent female character in this show ends up being a victim in the end. It may be historical fiction, but as long as they’re pushing things, I would’ve liked to have seen Mrs. Gage run away from her husband.

The news of Bunker Hill gets to the Congress. Washington volunteers to lead what will eventually become the Continental Army. Sam Adams, still restless and impatient, walks out about the same time. Hancock begs Sam to stay, but Sam is tired of politics. He rides out, but changes his mind. He also shows that he cleans up very nicely and is able to hold his own politically.

General Gage meets with Washington and politely asks him to let him and his soldiers leave Boston. Washington complies, but plans to follow Gage and his troops to New York City. Even as Boston parties, Revere and Washington know that things aren’t over.

The scenes that follow the Second Continental Congress go by quickly, with Jefferson being nothing more than a quick cameo. Instead, it focuses on John Hancock completing his character arc by taking Ben’s advice to reside over the Congress and Sam Adams completing his story arc by giving an epic speech about the necessity of independence when the idea of declaring independence from England gets put into motion. I understand that the story has been following Sam Adams and John Hancock, but Jefferson was kind of important. Then again, there’s already 1776, which captured the drama of the creation of the Declaration in a poignant, moving way. I would’ve liked to have seen John Dickinson enlisting in Washington’s Army or at least telling Congress of his intent to enlist. They also had the opportunity to have Ben Franklin give his quote of “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

I always wondered why, if the finished document of the Declaration was finished and the motion to declare independence from Britain was adopted on July 2nd, we celebrate on July 4th. I found the answer on the History Channel website. It turns out that there is something written on the back of the Declaration, but it’s not a treasure map as National Treasure indicated. Instead, there is just this: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.”

Once the Declaration was finished and signed, Washington reads the most well-known portion to his army. The Continental Army prepares to take on the British in New York City and the episode ends with Paul Revere carrying the Continental Flag as the battle begins. The scene is so epic, it almost makes me forget how the battle actually turns out.

Overall, I honestly wish that the Sons of Liberty series could’ve been longer. I liked how the story started with Sam Adams, but the events that follow the uprisings in Boston call for more of an ensemble cast. It was clear that the series was more focused on drama than historical accuracy, but the story is enough to intrigue people to look more into it.