This morning on the Laura Ingraham show Peggy Noonan was on to talk about her new book about our late Holy Father. I transribed it from my own recording of the show because I thought it was facinating some of the topics covered on national talk radio and how the suffering of our late Holy Father is still bearing fruit. The first part is on the war in Iraq but the second part was on John Paul II.
Laura Ingraham: … Joining us now her great new book, Peggy Noonan, her book John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father it’s up on Laura Ingraham.com and Peggy of course a speechwriter in the Reagan administration and author of many New York Times bestsellers including one of my favorites "When Character was King" and "What I Saw at the Revolution." Hey Peggy.
Peggy Noonan: Hi Laura, thank you so much for having me on.
Laura Ingraham: It is great to talk to you and first of all I don’t know how you possibly got this book done as – I know you have been working some time – but for me to try to chronicle the life of John Paul the Second as you did in the time that you did it. I simply don’t know how you do it and before I wanted to ask you the question I was talking about when we came in the Bush administration and the power of language with all of your experience in speechwriting and writing columns and books all these years. What do you think was done incorrectly as far as bringing the public along with this view on the war on terror.
Peggy Noonan: That is a big question and it’s key. It’s really at the heart of things. Let me limit it to maybe recently what could be improved. It seems to me there are two things. One Laura is that President Bush has a tendency, an understandable one, but I think at this point not a helpful one to like speaking in large abstractions about the struggle in Iraq.
Laura Ingraham: Hm Hm.
Peggy Noonan: They hate us because we’re free. This is the march of democracy, etc, etc. I think he should lower the heat on abstractions and up the heat on facts. Give us facts almost every day about what is happening on the ground. What has been achieved. What we’re trying to achieve in a very specific and immediate way. Where things are going now. So that’s one thing that I believe would be really helpful. Second thing: I think the American people are willing to believe we can proceed successfully in Iraq. Talk to them about it how you are going to do it if they understand. The plan they will support it while at the same time I think they need to be told right now again and again how succeeding in Iraq will help the world, help the mid east, make things more stable, be a real setback to the bad guys. Do you know what I mean?
Laura Ingraham: Yes.
Peggy Noonan: How will we make things better for the world, not worse. Somehow I think that has been lost and that it is a large unarticulated area of doubt among the American people. They know we’ve got the people. They know we’ve got the soldiers. They know we’ve got the equipment we’ve got the will, the tenacity, the best military in the world. So they will believe we can succeed in Iraq, but I think at this point they’ve to be told or we have to have a big discussion about how that success is actually a success for the world and for us.
Laura Ingraham: Of course right now Peggy the people of this country are turning away from this commitment in Iraq after all this months and I guess my concern is that can this be impression, this brand in the mind of the people be turned around.
Peggy Noonan: I don’t know. I think a lot of time has been wasted. When we look back at this history we will see that there was – from the time of the successful election one year ago this November – the President and his people took some odd turns with regard to changing the subject, Social Security, etc. With regard to to some ill luck with natural disasters like hurricanes which were not handled well. Time has been lost, but do I think a good case can always be made for a good endeavor – yea.
Laura Ingraham: Peggy how long did you work on your book about John Paul the Second.
Peggy Noonan: On and off for two and a half years and very hard in the past year. I was finishing it – I literally decided not to go over and witness his funeral so that I could watch it on many broadcasts and literally finish the last chapter of the book. So it was – I hoped the book would come out while he was still living and I had hoped to present it to him, but it didn’t work out that way.
Laura Ingraham: What did he mean to you as a Catholic?
Peggy Noonan: Oh Laura, you know I experienced something that you experienced. I think it is something that we have greatly in common, which is that I became very serious about the Catholic faith while John Paul was Pope and as I floundered around trying to figure out who to watch, who to learn from, who to listen to it suddenly occurred to me in a sort of duh way that there is a Pope in the Vatican. He does speak everyday, he is trying to lead us and John Paul loved media. So he was out there all the time. You know shortly before he died he was sending out a Vatican daily text message. Did you know that?
Laura Ingraham: No.
Peggy Noonan: So he had his own email. So he was trying to use the media actually to communicate with people like me even as he flew all over the world on Shepherd One to communicate with all of the people of the world and so I found him, he helped make me a Catholic and I am very grateful for that and as he was leaving Laura I was thinking that this guy has been a giant of history, a giant of theology, literally he is John Paul the Great. And he will Certainly he will be made a saint, but in the very small scale of things and very unimportantly he also had a real crucial importance in my life.
Laura Ingraham: I want to talk about he suffering of John Paul the Second and a lot of people at the time know that I had just become a Catholic, just a few years ago, had said to me well isn’t this awful to see this man being dragged around in public, going out in public and he is clearly suffering. It’s just terrible to see him out there like that and you had a different take in your book on what that was telling people.
Peggy Noonan: Absolutely, I thought it had real meaning and it was deliberate. People use to ask John Paul why don’t you retire and this is a guy Laura who had Parkinson’s, he had a hip replacement, he had arthritis, he frequently had bad headaches, he had colon cancer. This was a man who had every physical disability going against him and he was aging as we all do if we’re lucky. And he had been a man who had loved physicality as part of his life. You know he’s a sportsman and all that such for it had been very painful for him. It had real meaning this pain and this very public suffering. In one way I think each day as he dragged himself into the world he was showing us life itself has meaning and is precious and if you are older and infirmed and ill you still have a right, you have a place, you are part of humanity, do not hide.
Laura Ingraham: Yes that’s the point I love that do not hide point and while he was taking his last breath, you know, still do not be afraid, do not be afraid to look different and I had the same sense when I was going through this chemotherapy. I started to looking different and I felt self-conscious. Then I thought about him. This guy was out there everyday suffering and struggling and so many other do to and they shouldn’t hide away. You’re still a person and you still deserve to be out there as much as you can…
Laura Ingraham …You were in Rome, you saw the Pope speak and when you did you saw the tremor in his left arm and we had already talked about the suffering and the redemptive power of suffering. I think that is the most difficult thing to explain to people who aren’t very religious or maybe aren’t Christians is why people suffer like that and I know that you tackled that issue in the book.
Peggy Noonan: Yea, you know one thing that I want to say Laura is that the very fragility of the Pope of John Paul at the end made me think of and I suspect a number of people think of, almost in a flashing sort of way, the fragility of life and when you think about that you have a sharper sense of its beauty. Do you know what I mean? You think about the fragility of things, you have a sharper sense that you are lucky to be here. This is a wonderful world and a wonderful life and we are all called to do our best. This is a good place today. So his very illness [???] I found was actually inspiriting. There is also a theological understanding to his illness, not to throw around words like that that always make you lower your lids a little bit, but the Pope believed it is part of Catholic belief that suffering you have is suffering that God has allowed you to have. You take it inside and offer it up to be applied and used by Christ in the health of others. Saint Teresa of Lisieux through all of her physical suffering she would offer it up in her daily prayers and ask that it be given to people who were helping the poor or given to people who were working to bring people to the faith. John Paul was always praying, this was a guy who was prayed eight, ten hours a day. I asked somebody who worked with him and said what does he look like when he’s praying? And he said "oh you’ve seen it", and I said gee I don’t think I ever had and he said "sure when is in public at those big Masses. You know how he would hold on to his standard his staff and sort of close his eyes sometimes and be nodding?" Well I just though he was closing his eyes and thinking. he said "Oh no, he’s praying. He’s giving God this moment. He’s talking to God about the meaning of this moment and he’s asking specifically for things." John Paul use to say when he was asked about his prayer life he said you know when I was young I use to pray to God and to simply thank him for everything and I though asking him for anything for me or for others was a little bit low and not worthy of prayer. Said but now I am older and I ask for a great deal. So he would take his suffering and lift it up and give it to God. Suffering itself in life has meaning.
Laura Ingraham: I think in one of our conversations over the last five or six months Peggy you reminded me of Saint Teresa of Lisieux in one of your emails to me when I was having a tough moment and you reminded me of that and that was very helpful to me and I know so many people throughout the country have a family members who are suffering or children who are suffering and it’s hard even when you fell that you are committed to your faith – it is hard to take it on.
Peggy Noonan: Yeah it is we’re just human. To get though what you just been through requires a miracle and yet you ask for the miracle you know. An Evangelical friend of mine says "Man’s trouble is God’s opportunity." When you’re having trouble just talk to God, keep it going. Ask that what should happen – happens. And you of all people -what kind of proof of you of the powers of prayer.
Laura Ingraham: Well the power of all the people reminding me to keep praying and holding friendships and families in such height during that time.
Peggy Noonan: You know what John Paul use to do he use to say – he was always in his chapel, he had a private chapel in the Vatican. He use to keep, he prayed on a kneeler in front of the altar and at the top of the kneeler he use to keep pieces of paper that he had collected during the day in which people would say ‘please help my son Johnny whose looking for a vocation’, ‘please help my cousin Susie whose looking for a job in publishing.’ He would take those papers and as he kneeled there on the kneeler he would pick them up one after another and concentrate on them and talk to God about them. He believed in the literal power of prayer to change reality.
The rest of the interview consisted of questions from listeners. You can actually listen to the whole thing here and see how I butchered the transcription. One interesting note in that part of the interview is that Peggy Noonan talked about watching the Pope one time held up a set of Rosary bead and said "This is the answer" and she thought "Oh my gosh I have to look into that" and went to the internet to learn how to pray the Rosary.