Peggy Noonan (one of my long-time favorite columnists, and a devout Roman Catholic) has a column today on OpinionJournal in which she crafts a tale of a group of Cardinals discussing and thinking over the qualifications for the next man who would be pope. I think she manages to hit on some of the characteristics that really mark a great leader.
(Now let’s not let this get into a discussion on the theology of the RC church, or the relative merits of whether or not John Paul II was a believer… that’s not the point. He was a great man and leader regardless.)
In Noonan’s piece, a rather hardened and cynical old Cardinal is trying to understand why so many people felt so devoted to JPII, why this outpouring of devotion for an old sick man who was constantly telling people what they should/shouldn’t do in regard to moral issues… what was the appeal? And then comes a moment of realization. She writes:
Maybe–maybe . . . Maybe people, being imperfect and human, live whatever lives they live but deep in their hearts–way down deep and much more than they know–they actually notice when somebody stands for truth. And they actually honor it. Maybe that’s why in all the big modern democracies they’d burst into tears when John Paul came by, when he was visiting America and France and Germany. Maybe they knew they were not necessarily living right themselves but they were grateful–they were grateful on behalf of civilization!–that there was a man like him among us. They recognized him and honored him in their hearts. And then word came that he’s dead and suddenly their hearts told their heads: Get on the train and go honor him. Because he adorned us. Because he was right. And we can’t lose this from civilization, this beacon in the darkness.
I think she hits it here: “they actually notice when somebody stands for truth. As a believer, I have Christ in me and I am called to live his truth. And as a person, I respond similarly when I see it in others. The qualities of a life well-lived, lived to uphold the truth. People like JPII. People closer to home, like Bob Dye, who has led the local Youth for Christ chapter for 35 years and radiates Christ through the community every day. People… just normal people, but who live out Christ’s truth every day.
Near the end of Noonan’s story, the Cardinals are in discussion about the qualities that will be needed in the new pope. One argues that the need a holy, devout man. Another argues that they also need a “rock star” – someone with an image and personality that will appeal to the younger generation. Then the voice of wisdom kicks in from a third.
“It would seem our duty is to choose a great man who is not necessarily a dramatic or endearing figure. The Holy Spirit will give him voice. Our time will need greatness. ‘For nowadays the world is lit by lightning.'”
OK, so she’s quoting Tennessee Williams with that last line… but the point remains. The flashes of lightning that illuminate the world will be those that come from the hearts of the faithful. Thanks, Peggy, for the reminder.