If you want to get to heaven
Over on the other shore
Stay out of the way of the blood-stained bandit
Oh good shepherd
Feed my sheep… From the song “Good shepherd” by Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane)
As the world awaits that rising plume of white smoke signaling the selection of a new pontiff, one might wonder why a species so dominated by secularism is still so enthralled by the somewhat byzantine rituals and vagaries of the Vatican. By now you would think that we would not be looking to an institution so rife with scandal and controversy to reset the moral compass. And yet there is that aspect of the human spirit that causes us to hope that those foundational organizations that are central to the well-being of society, whether they be governmental, educational or religious, will at some point rise above those inherent corrupting forces that challenge all of mankind.
As to my own personal search for the “good shepherd”, I chose a path that would not lead to Rome, but instead to the small village of Warwick, New York. My place of spiritual reflection would not be a marble covered cathedral, but rather the restored ruins of an old stone mill. It was here that the late author, painter and sculptor Frederick Franck would construct and create Pacem in Terris–a trans-religious retreat and sculpture garden honoring the work and humanity of both Albert Schweitzer and Pope John the XXIII. Although himself an agnostic, Franck had developed an affinity and a deep respect for the Pope while sketching the sessions of the Second Vatican Council.
Just two months before his death from cancer, on April 11, 1963 , John the XXIII issued his final papal encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). The same man who had saved so many Jewish lives during the Holocaust while serving as the Apostolic Nuncio to France during the Second World War, and who as Pope had worked tirelessly to bridge the divide between the faiths, would now call upon his fellow Catholics and all of human kind to strive to achieve global peace, economic security and international justice. In the midst of the nuclear arms race, Communist aggression, racial inequality and worldwide poverty a truly good shepherd had come to pass–giving us some reason for hope concerning the outcome of the current conclave.
It was during some of my more contemplative wanderings and moments of meditative seclusion at Pacem in Terris that I would find myself leaning toward the notion that there are those among us who might just have a more direct line of communication with the divine. But then my own personal struggle between the secular and the sacred would take hold, and I would find my doubting self in need of some additional solace and inspiration. Thankfully, the village of Warwick is also home to Yesterdays Restaurant and Pub–the perfect place to renew ones spirit while partaking of the holy water.
Posted by: Chris Poh