Arne Panula, RIP

Father Arne Panula breathed his last this past Wednesday, at the all-too-young age of 71. May the Good Lord protect him.

Father Arne directed the Catholic Information Center in Washington. He was my spiritual advisor, and lots of much better people sought and benefitted from his counsel. (One day I showed up for my monthly consultation… and who should waltz out of Father Arne’s office, but one of my priests from St. Mary’s in Alexandria.) With no visible effort, he turned the CIC into a spiritual, intellectual, and social haven for a ton of folks, many of us in politics and law and related professions (most Catholic, some not; mostly conservatives; many of us converts), who struggled to make sense of their lives.

The Dana Milbank column about this Opus Dei/right-wing conspiracy could write itself; but in truth there’s no politicizing this singular Washington story. While Father Arne was keenly attuned to political affairs and debates, he never pushed. His riff on the Faith had a parsimonious, unsentimental, no-nonsense elegance: that guy on the cross wants desperately to be your friend. That’s basically it.  Are you ready?

That’s hardly an opening line aimed at collecting ammunition for some political agenda. Nor would it help fake-spiritualize a life you want to live in any event. It’s bone-rattling stuff — and a very good way to put your life in order, and to keep political concerns and distractions in perspective. That, in any event, is what I hope to have learned, and what I think drew so many of us to Father Arne. He kept us grounded, and kept us from going nuts.

Don’t glorify the dead, Father Arne liked to exhort: the souls in Purgatory need your prayers. Done that, Father; but I probably missed the two or three minutes you spent there. Instead, would you kindly intercede for the many friends who remember you so fondly? Ora pro nobis.