Recent events have prompted the following personal reflections of a non-musical character.
A bad advisor is one of the worst things that can happen to a leader. Some people with an agenda get close to him or her and help him strategize, not according to what will benefit the organization or even the leader, but according to the needs of the hidden agenda.
In a complex world that is almost unnavigable, advisors are definitely necessary. But when they are “yes men” with hidden agendas, they must be excluded, no matter how comforting they are. This is a mental and emotional asceticism required of leaders.
On the other hand, there is no need to give these yes men any legitimate cause for complaint. Some would say that the news outlets most responsible for inquiring into the Holy Father’s response to sexual abuse are partisan or ideological. To the extent that this is true, it seems to me that this element should be excluded as well. This is an ascesis too: focus on the truth. Focus on the faith.
Regarding partisanship, the U.S. situation is unusual in the world, because of its perpetual division into exactly two major political parties. This admittedly has the effect of demonization of the “other.” It also lends itself to an unconscious responsiveness to the other. If the left goes farther left, the right goes farther right, and vice-versa. We’ve been this polarized before, in 1800 for example. But what makes the national-ecclesial situation particularly tense now is the decision of one of the parties to insist on cooperation with evil on non-prudential, non-negotiable matters such as abortion.
Catholics actually can have a say in this aspect of the polarization. Once in a Q and A, I heard EJ Dionne say that there were districts in Pennsylvania–Pennsylvania–in which the Democrats were forced to promote pro-life candidates, opposed to abortion, because Catholics in Pennsylvania would not vote for a pro-abortion candidate. In order to win elections, the party eased its usual obligatory policy of 100% abortion support.
What I have found most heartening over the last week is the number of times I have heard people say they are praying and fasting. What a beautiful and biblical response to a situation that is in many ways frightening.