Sunday, February 19, 2006

In This House of Benedict

So now it can be told: I’ve made The New York Times....

Next stop? On the cover of the Rolling Stone, where else?

A warm welcome to everyone dropping in thanks to Ian Fisher’s piece "From the House of Benedict, Tradition as Chic," featured in the Week in Review section of today’s paper. (For those who haven't yet seen it, click here and you'll find the link down the right sidebar.) Grazie tante for dropping by; having been a devoted Times reader for more of my life than I haven’t been one, I must say that this is very, very sweet....

So I was putting around last night, cleaning up my office (which never gets cleaned), when something came to me and I had to smack myself in the head -- "Good God, I forgot about the mountains!"

Ergo, in keeping with this morning’s story -- and because I forgot to mention this million-Euro moment in the preparation of the piece -- the photo at left was taken on the papal summer vacation to the Italian Alps last July. (All thanks to our friends at Catholic Press Photo for allowing me to use this shot.)

As you can see, His Fluffiness is wearing a baseball cap and quilted jacket over his usual cassock. No ceremonial meaning here -- more than anything, it speaks to the influence of Benedict’s private secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein -- but it just goes to reinforce how the new pontiff has shown tastes both ancient and modern in his clothes.

And, just in case the "modern" part wasn’t clear enough, he held a press conference wearing this get-up.

As I told Ian, the Times’ Rome correspondent, when we spoke the other day -- the piece has been in the hopper for a couple weeks -- for all its flashiness and grandeur, the question of dress and style isn’t just an ephemeral matter. It bespeaks a wider reality, one which Fr. Andrew Greeley has called the "Catholic Imagination." This all looks very nice and makes for quite the spectacle, sure, but what’s more important is that it isn’t an end in itself, it all means something, and the lure of it only holds water if it makes its audience curious about why it’s there and what lies behind it, and therefore is able to make sense of its substance.

In light of this, the very charming aesthetic element of Vatican life isn’t something to be dismissed on its own grounds -- it’s a very concrete part of understanding (and, at times, even deciphering) its answers to the weighty questions which impact the world’s oldest institution, and the world beyond. This morning’s piece spoke well to that reality.

How ironic that, after spending the bulk of my time assailing the men known as "church queens" (yes, we have them... lots and lots of them) for their hyperbolic sartorial fanaticism, here I am before a mass audience filling that role.

Good Lord. You couldn't make it up if you wanted to.

Should you be curious, I’m more than just a fashion critic -- a cameo appearance in The World’s Greatest Paper is the fun part of my work, most of which is spent drowning in papers on things such as the due process rights of clerics, varying approaches to solving pastoral crises, and the trade-off between Catholicism’s internal cohesion and its mission in the wider world.

You’ll find all that (and much more) on these pages, in addition to the scoops from Rome and elsewhere for which Whispers has become famous -- or, to some, The Root of All Evil. And, of course, I’m also a contributor to the eminent London-based weekly The Tablet, writing on the affairs of the American church and other flights of fancy.

So to those popping in for the first time, benvenuti, feel free to peruse, and hopefully you’ll enjoy what you find.... And your timing’s impeccable: this might well be a busy week for Benedict XVI, so do stay tuned.

And to my darling Loggiaheads (as the regular readers of these pages are known), all thanks for your continued trust and loyalty. You know well that I love you.

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