It is the 17th of June 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1999. It was the year we panicked about the so-called Y2K bug. This bug was the belief that our computers wouldn’t recognize the date 2000, and our entire digital infrastructure would collapse. The world’s population topped 6 billion as we got ready for the 3rd millennium, although technically, it started in 2001. New words added to the dictionary this year included: blog, texting, and vape. Blackberry released its first phone. Bluetooth technology was first introduced. And amidst so many bad dot com startups, PayPal was named by Time Magazine as one of the worst startups of the year.
The top-selling album of the year was Britney Spears’s debut album. The best album of the year was the Flaming Lips “The Soft Bulletin.” It’s not scientific, but it’s undoubtedly true. “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” was both the highest-grossing film of the year and the most disappointing. Several films released in this year seemed edgy and groundbreaking, only to be revealed in later years as pretentious, these included “Being John Malkovich,” “Fight Club,” and “The Matrix.” 1999 also saw the debuts of The Sopranos, the West Wing, and Sponge Bob Squarepants.
We said goodbye to many people in 99: Dusty Springfield died, as did Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. Stanley Kubrick died in 99 the year his last film, “Eyes Wide Shut” was released. Sports legends Joe Dimaggio and Wilt Chamberlain also died in 1999.
And it was on this, the 17th of June in 1999, that Cardinal George Basil Hume died. The Benedictine bishop was named archbishop of Westminster in 1976, the highest Catholic position in England. He would become one of the most admired public figures in Britain. However, posthumously, his story might teach us something about making saints too quickly or erecting statues of flawed men.
Hume was born to a Scottish Presbyterian father and a French Roman Catholic mother. He studied at Ampleforth College, where he was later called back as a surprise choice to become abbot of the monastery and head of the school. His ascendancy to the top position in the Catholic Church coincided with both a continued decrease in church attendance as well as the monumental changes in the Catholic Church enacted by the 2nd Vatican council.
In 1992, when the Anglican Church began ordaining women, many Anglicans, including clergy, flocked to the Catholic Church. This situation would cause Hume to struggle with both Anglican/Catholic relations as well as increasingly louder calls in the Catholic church to either modernize with the Anglicans or to reject an inappropriate encroachment of modernity. Hume remarked, “My head is progressive, but my heart is conservative.” He welcomed Queen Elizabeth to a Vespers service. The first time a monarch, as head of the Anglican Church, attended a Catholic service at Westminster. Hume also was praised for his role in the service for Princess Diana.
When he died, he was lauded for navigating difficult political and theological terrain and for being a reasonably ecumenical public figure. In 2002 Queen Elizabeth unveiled a statue of the Cardinal in his hometown of Newcastle, and several institutions were named in his honor. However, it was revealed that during his time as head of school at Ampleforth, he failed to disclose serious misconduct by a priest at the school who went on to molest at least 20 more students. He has been charged with keeping quiet a pattern of abuse at the school.
In all seriousness, here at the Almanac, we do not condone hero-worship or idolatry. We believe in the idea that we are simultaneously saints and sinners. Whether it’s silly characters like Dr. Gene Scott or men and women who harmed others in the name of Christianity, we recognize only one sinless person, the one by whom and through whom, the sins of the world have been forgiven. And it was on this day that this reality was fully grasped by Cardinal George Basil Hume, who was translated to glory on the 17th of June in 1999.
The reading for today, a reminder of the sufficiency of grace, comes from one of our favorites, Robert Farrar Capon. This from his “Between Noon and Three.”
“But all the while, there was one thing we most needed even from the start, and certainly will need from here on out into the New Jerusalem: the ability to take our freedom seriously and act on it, to live not in fear of mistakes but in the knowledge that no mistake can hold a candle to the love that draws us home. My repentance, accordingly, is not so much for my failings but for the two-bit attitude toward them by which I made them more sovereign than grace. Grace. The imperative to hear the music, not just listen for errors. makes all infirmities occasions of glory.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of June 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the Patrick to my Squidward, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.