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Wedding in Abuja PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, February 24 2010 10:09

A longtime Jesuit friend, Pat, shares a story about a wedding. It took place in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria where my friend used to serve as president of Loyola Jesuit College.

The bridegroom, Nicholas, is a friend of Pat; my Jesuit friend knows the bride, Amaka, less well.

Pat concelebrated the two-hour wedding Mass with another Jesuit who took the lead as celebrant. In his homily, the latter made a great deal of a passage in the Epistle to the Ephesians. “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.”

The celebrant then had the wife act it out. She gathered her wedding dress around her and knelt before her seated husband, placing her hands between his and promising due submission.

At this point my friend Pat was feeling uncomfortable, given the graphically   subordinate role being taken by the woman. But, to Pat’s surprise, the presiding priest soon reversed the situation.

He read the next verse: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water and the word.” Then the priest seated Amaka and had Nicholas kneel before her and  remove one of her shoes so he could wash her foot as Christ did at the Last Supper.

 My friend Pat adds his commentary on the event: “Somehow it transformed my understanding of that scriptural passage. I thought particularly of a good friend in America who has recently lost his wife to cancer, and how he cared for her so tenderly to the end. Marriage, as the same Epistle says, is a great mystery.”

 
Only in Cambridge? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Tuesday, February 23 2010 11:00

David Elliot of WHRB last week announced that old-time classic opera singer Maria Jeritza, appearing in Tosca,

at one point had been “supine” rather than “prone.” After hearing from a listener who corrected him by asserting

she was prone, Elliot took it upon himself to apologize promptly.

 
Song PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, February 15 2010 17:21

Watching Renée Fleming conduct a master class proved one of the great pleasures of last week. This renowned opera singer came to Harvard on a Tuesday afternoon to help four undergrads with their singing and to answer questions from the audience.  She was in the area to prepare for three Boston Symphony concerts later in the week. 

 Along with 400 other fans of this diva I came to hear and see her perform in a different setting from the opera or concert stage.  The experience turned out to be satisfying because Fleming showed herself such a superb teacher as well as a master of music.

 She treated each of the students with obvious appreciation of what they have accomplished thus far. At the same time, she gently suggested to them how they can improve. What could have been an intimidating experience for the three young women and one young man instead proved rewarding for each.

 Fleming placed much emphasis on proper breathing. As she told one: “This is opening up very nicely -  you’re getting more substance to your voice – once you get this whole breath opened up you’ll be surprised.” To another she said: “Muscle memory is everything – that’s why this training is so vital.” She advised another: “You have to pretend you’re the greatest singer.”

 Among the frank responses Fleming made in the question period was this confession: “I’ve had periods of horrible stage fright.” Her remedy for this fix is: “Preparation – to be so secure that you will sing it in spite of yourself.”

 Fleming seemed far removed from fright on the following Friday evening when she appeared on the stage at Symphony Hall. There, wearing a handsome green gown, she first sang the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss, songs that I consider the most beautiful of the twentieth century. Then, with a change to a black dress after the intermission, she sang the soprano part in the last movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

 The double exposure of last week to the person and the singing of one of America’s finest musical artists has left me with memorable pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Courageous Journalist PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, February 08 2010 16:17

Along with students and others, I had the pleasure of gazing on a journalistic hero last week. David Rhode is the courageous New Times reporter who escaped from captivity after being held for seven months by Taliban militants in Pakistan. He did so by climbing down a 20-foot wall with another captive, an Afghan colleague.

 This feat involved tricking their guards into staying up late playing a game with them so that they would become sleepy.  They also took advantage of the noise from an electric generator to drown out sounds of their escaping. When they arrived at a Pakistan army outpost, it took them fifteen minutes to convince the guards there of their identity.

 Rhode, in his early 40s, is slight in build and does not look the part of a gymnast who could navigate down that high wall.  He also has a mild manner and, in his remarks, shows himself deeply respectful of Afghani and Pakistani people.

 As to progress by the Pakistani army in subduing the militants, he believes it has made some but he thinks they will not go all the way so long the army keeps so many more units on its border with India. But, partly because of this continuing tension with their huge neighbor, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal remains safe.

 About the aspirations of young militants, Rhode has discovered that the only thing that matters to them is their relationship to God.  That outranks family and everything else. “I want to be a suicide bomber,” youngsters tell him when he asks what they want to become when older. Pressed further, they will say: “I want to be a Muslim.”

 

 

 
Googler PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Friday, February 05 2010 09:44

“The Jesus tablet,” is what the wags are calling the iTab just unveiled by Steve Jobs. Other wits have dubbed it “an iPhone on steroids.”

 New Yorker writer on media, Ken Auletta, shared these descriptions during a discussion at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center this week. His book, “Googled: the End of the World As We Know It,” appeared last fall.

 For Auletta, it’s not yet clear whether the iPad will be a game changer. But Job’s introduction of it shows once again what a superb marketer the founder of Apple remains.

 As to Google, its huge workforce is one-half engineers. And they are the kings of the industry.  They are the people who are always asking “why not” However, they also lack emotional intelligence astoundingly. In Autletta’s experience, “they are blind to what they cannot measure.”

 Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page do value good information. That is why they welcome a connection with the New York Times. They also feel concern about privacy and copyrights.

 For simplicity, how about this Google motto?  -  “DON’T BE EVIL.”

 

 
Headline PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, January 30 2010 11:07

The headline “Many Catholics react favorably to Brown’s election” occupied a front-page slot in the Boston Pilot of January 22, 2010.

I nominate it as among the most biased newspaper leads in recent history and one of the most banal.  Were a respectable secular newspaper to have published such a one-sided head, surely it would become the target of outraged protest. This official house organ for the Archdiocese of Boston, however, can expect to get away with pro-Republican propaganda.

The story could just as well have run “Many Catholics react unfavorably to Brown’s election,” an equally banal lead story. But that would have betrayed Democratic rather than Republican bias.

Has the Pilot not yet discovered how Scott Brown holds the same position on abortion as does Martha Coakley, his defeated Democratic candidate for U.S. senator?

Would not the Catholics of the Boston archdiocese be better served by an independent newspaper published by laypeople? That’s the way it was before the then archbishop of Boston, Cardinal O’Connell, bought the paper in 1908. Perhaps this journal would then avoid such clearly one-sided approaches to political life.

 

 

 
Remembering PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, January 23 2010 08:57

At the History Table yesterday, we commemorated the crime writer Robert Parker who died this week. This Cambridge author was found at his desk where he wrote, six days a week, his widely admired detective fiction.

Talking about Parker stirred mention of other writers in this genre. No one of us could remember the name of a Bostonian who had a reputation for similar work. I could recall the title of one book, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, but not the author. However, I promised to come up with his name by later in the afternoon.

In fact, I did better than that. Within the next five or ten minutes the name George Higgins printed itself on my inner brain screen. We all agreed that was he was the writer who, just a short time before, had eluded the memory of us all.

This recovery of memory is what I like to call a true “senior moment.” Why not emphasize the astounding power of memory, even when it may have slowed down, rather than focusing on the negative inability to produce a name, or other answer, immediately?

 
Thinking About Your Own Death PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, December 30 2009 09:45

Thinking about your own death does not make you morbid. It may even be one of the best ways of appreciating one’s life, of getting more value out of every day.

The novelist Chaim Potok recounts a father answering his six-year-old son Asher’s question about why every living thing must die: “Why? So life would be precious, Asher. Something that is yours forever is never precious.”

 
Questions from Carlos PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, November 16 2009 11:02

My college classmate and longtime dear friend Carlos, writing from Monterrey, Mexico, knows how to pose difficult questions. Speaking of the murderer at Fort Hood, he asks:

The guy was a citizen, so what does "citizenship" mean ?  What should the core values of citizens be ? Can  a religion like Islam, many of whose members  hold "anti-American" views on the structure of society, be free like other religions are ?  What should be the values/beliefs of people joining the military ?
 
The freedom of one person´s belief  vs the well being of  society. What should  society´s attitude be towards newcomers  who don´t share some of the core values, or may implicitly threaten them ?

He wants me to respond but, as of now, the questions go beyond my knowledge and wisdom.
 

 
What Is A Columnist? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Thursday, October 29 2009 10:09
In an unexpected meeting last week with New York Times columnist David Brooks, I introduced myself as a fellow columnist. He then turned to me and muttered with a wry smile: "poor bastard."
 
Mystery of the Years PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Thursday, October 15 2009 09:45

We live in a new era of history, one in which living to be old has become routine, at least for most of us. In the 20th century Americans gained 30 years in life expectency, more than had been reached in the preceding 5,000 years of human history.

What a mystery! Too much reality for us to grasp.

 
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