In his posthumous novel, You Can’t Going Home Again author Thomas Wolfe tells the story of George Webber, a fledgling author, who writes a book about his hometown of Libya Hill. The book is a best seller but the town is unhappy with Webber’s critical depiction of them. He receives many menacing letters and death threats.
Wolfe took the title from a conversation with writer Ella Winter, who remarked to Wolfe: Don’t you know you can’t go home again! Wolfe had already addressed a similar theme in his autobiographical first novel Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life in 1929. It was Wolfe’s first novel, and is considered an autobiographical American Bildungsroman.
You Can’t’s title is reinforced in the denouement of the novel in which Webber realizes You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time…
Similarly the phrase you can’t go home again has entered American lexicon to mean that once you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis you cannot return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life. More generally any attempt to relive youthful memories will always fail.
For the last number of years I have tried to give lie to Wolfe’s theme by exploring the memories of my past life with the renewal of some old acquaintances, who have been most influential in my life. In throwing caution to wind, I was aware that I could suffer emotional rejection, withdrawal and the knowledge of some painful truths.
But as Socrates warned, the unexplored life is not worth living and at my age I needed to bathe in the sweetened waters of my memories in order to energize my present before cognizance fades from my mind. I am running, not from my life but for it.
Reunions are like microscopic homecomings. In the month of June my wife and I attended, not one but two of my 50-year reunions. The first one was more familiar to us since it was at Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts where we have attended all their five-year reunions since the 25th in 1990.
Consequently it was simple to trace the subtle changes of each half-decade so that seeing many of my friends from those years was no great shock to me. The big disappointment was the fact that many could not or did not attend. This was a lost opportunity that I regret a great deal. Sixty-eight had perished over the years, including my dear roommate, Peter L. Lawrence who has been gone for nine years now. I still grieve over his loss
The Class published its 50th Anniversary yearbook that had a special section eulogizing the deceased in truth and dignity. It was a fine addition to one’s memory bank. The biggest disappointment was many of the living had not submitted any record of their lives this past half century, cheating us of contexting their memories with theirs.
On the other side of the equation, at least half-dozen friends came back whom I had not seen since graduation. There were only four other members of my high school class there. Sixteen of us had motored up from New York’s Xavier High School.
One of them brought has wife whom I had known at a Summer Sodality that we had both joined at Chaminade high school on Long Island during our college years. There was one high school friend whom I did not remember seeing since Xavier. His wife laughed at that thought. But I countered if she had any proof that he actually attended. Perhaps Jesuits had sequestered him for those four years.
Like most reunions the pace was frenetic but well oiled and things moved very smoothly. I especially enjoyed the class Mass on Saturday, officiated by our Father Paul Sughrue. His acolyte was his twin brother, Peter. Seeing them on the same altar gave me a warm glow that I will always treasure.
The refrain from one of the hymns provided me with a new prayer: Day by Day: Lord let me know you more clearly…love you more dearly…and follow you more nearly…
I did not miss the last statement’s Jesuitical nuance. It is reminiscent of St. Augustine’s prayer: Lord make me chaste…just not now!
It was my membership in the Holy Cross Sodality that caused the second reunion. While at Holy Cross, an energetic priest from Chicago, Father John Sullivan, who later became the Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, spoke each and every year I was there. He was a representative of the Catholic Lay Extension over the years sent over 2000 laymen and women, mostly women to the mission dioceses in the country. I had been so impressed by Father Sullivan that I joined my senior year. It was arguably the most important decision in my life because as an ELV I was sent to Charleston, Missouri to teach at St. Henry’s High School and coach the basketball team. It was there I met my future wife.
I have been trying to let that reunion weekend in Deerfield, IL. sink in. Unlike Holy Cross it was a quick trip in and out. They had it so well-organized that we did not wear down. I was surprised that I did not know anyone there at all, save the women I had talked with over the phone. My wife knew more people than I did–one woman who had preceded me to Charleston. The two of them really hit it off so my shy little wife was fully occupied. I have no trouble meeting new people.
I was hoping to see the people from Missouri from our year—all women except for my roommate, Father Ernie Marquart, who has suffered from Rocky Mt. fever I believe. It totally wiped out his memories of our year. I saw him at a convent with a couple of the sisters we had worked with maybe 10-15 years ago and he did not remember me at all. I had even brought some photos from that year with me. I AM a hard person to forget. At Holy Cross I didn’t wear a nametag once!
The old pictures they displayed were fantastic! I found one of all the Missourians. Like the pictures of us in the newsletter they sent, we all looked so young, innocent and alive with the joys of the faith in 1965. I was hoping Barbara Berlsman would be there. She was a nurse, who had given me one of my favorite lines that I have used over the years–she had gone to a public school in Ohio that had nuns teaching there. I immediately quipped: so you went to a nun-Catholic school!
I had been unaware that they stopped the volunteer program in 1971–after just 10 years! Now they serve primarily as a conduit for funding that they use to support existing volunteer programs in 95 mission dioceses in the country.
During our 48 hours there I had occasion to think deeply as to why I had joined the organization. It dawned on me during one of the discussions that I had joined Extension because I was a Sodalist and they always stressed personal service. I also thought it would be a good way to get some teaching experience and serve the Church.
I also noticed that our group of about 150 had lost some of its internal spiritual and intellectual unity that was prevalent in 1965. I felt a bifurcation during some of the group’s general discussions that showed a wide variance of opinions on many different subjects.
This was to be expected since 50 years of life experiences had intervened, militating against the Ray Repp uplifting and emotive hymns we sang at Barat College during training, the emerging spirit of Vatican II, and the wonderful and joyful camaraderie, and the residual influence of Kennedy’s New Frontier. In 1965 we were a Catholic vanguard that was going to make the world a better place. Reality hit us all and hard—the Vietnam War, a fury of racial unrest, urban violence, political assassinations and just trying to find out where we belonged in this life—all took their toll.
During one of the public forums I stood up and said that because of Extension seven new people existed that would not be around had I not gone to Chicago in 1965. I am speaking of my three children and four grandchildren.
My exploration into my past is nearly complete. My journey serves as an elaborate metaphor of our pilgrimage on earth. Poets, dramatists, authors and essayists have written about this impulse for centuries. It is a universal urgency that cannot be denied, ignored or medicated out of one’s subconscious. It drives us, goads us and pursues us like British poet Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven.
Wolfe was metaphysically incorrect! We can go home, not to the environs of our early lives but to the place the Father has prepared for in Heaven.
The English language is rich in colorful and elaborate metaphors. New York City, “the Big Apple,” lends itself to such literary devices. For 30 years its “twin towers,” loomed powerfully over its financial district until symbolic acts of calculated destruction brought them crumbling down. Their 2014 replacement will never erase the horrible memory of that infamous sunny Tuesday morning in the heart of the financial district.
Most people don’t realize that New York has another pair of twin towers that are more notable as mirror images than they are for any generic similarities. Like two menacing cultural symbols at war with each other, they stand large and tall at opposite ends of New York’s historically fashionable 5th Avenue.
On 51th street is the newly refurbished St. Patrick’s Cathedral with its amazing Gothic spires that direct the eyes toward God in His heaven above. It stands erect and defiant in opposition to its traditional trinity of evils, the world, the flesh, and the devil. About five city blocks uptown is the eponymous “Trump Tower,” a gilded monument to the ego of one man, Donald Trump. While its tower reaches to the sky, its entire focus looks downward to the material accomplishments and possessions of its namesake.
The inside of St. Patrick’s is dark and mysterious, despite the thousands of picture-taking tourists who are too often indifferent to their presence in God’s House to notice. Despite the many distractions, one may still sit in silent adoration or just breathe in the aroma of the holy incense and expired candles.
In stark contrast, the Trump Tower is festooned in gold. Inside are thousand of picture-taking tourists, who walk aimlessly about its several kiosks and counters where they can buy Trump’s books on how to become enormously wealthy like “the Donald.” They can also dress for success with a rich assortment of Trump shirts, ties, belts, and watches. For their recreational hours, there are Trump games and tee shirts. Trump’s marbleized walls stare back with lavish pictures of him and his beautiful third wife. In the eatery on its lowest level, one can sip a latte, and listen to the cacophonous chatter of a diversity of unrecognizable languages and dialects, reminiscent of an older tower in Babel. The only thing missing is the golden calf.
Holocaust survivor and Catholic convert, Viktor Frankl anticipated this New York’s metaphoric standoff with his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. It is essentially a reflection on the universal fact of man’s existential vacuum. This is the basic fact of our human nature that drives us on an endless search for our personal fulfillment. It is a matter of our choice as to what fills that empty feeling we often have.
Not to be outdone by New York City architecture, the Bible is also rich in metaphoric allusions. In God’s book, the heart is the vital center of human architecture. Matthew’s Gospel (6:21) tells us that where your heart is, there will be your treasure. The late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen often pointed out that the actual physical human heart appears to have a missing chunk.
Bishop Sheen, who is interred behind the main altar in St. Patrick’s, often preached that this piece belongs to God and we can only be whole when we rest our weary hearts in His love. In sharp contrast, the Trump Tower or the house of mammon rests on man’s insatiable need to possess things. While Trump watches and apparel may satisfy for a moment, they will never fill Father Frankl’s vacuum or make Sheen’s heart whole again.
The twin towers of God and man also symbolize an American culture that has lost its traditional sense of integration. Material things and the love of God no longer work in tandem for our salvific needs. Now they stand poised like two gladiators in a public arena. When the battle is finally over, only one tower will remain standing. My money is on St. Pat’s.
During a Men’s Bible Study years ago, one of the men in my group said he was reading John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. His religious’ curiosity got me to thinking about my own journey as a cradle Catholic.
I was born into a faith that has existed for nearly 2000 years. It has survived devastating attacks from within and from without. It has endured a history of bloody persecution in which thousands of its faithful were ripped apart by wild beasts, crucified, burned alive and thrown off high cliffs, drawn and quartered–all because they believed in the Divinity of the Christ. It has launched crusades and burned a few thousand heretics at the stake in defense of the faith. It is a religion that is filled with mystery, ceremony, pomp and high circumstance.
The Catholic Church also has its unique smells that excite and calm, music that raises the spirit and comforts the soul. Theologically it soars like the eagle as it tries to touch the hand of God. It can cure disease, ease suffering and prepare for the final moments of life. It is a church of over one billion people with as many different strains of thinking as a university library.
However being a faith of deep and high-minded ideas and ideals sometimes it confuses. Sometimes it frightens. For all its attendant holiness, its leaders sometimes seem caught in a whirling vortex of charity and unadulterated power that idly dismisses reason and moral logic in favor of pragmatic goals. Some of its popes have been saintly! Others have done the work of the devil. Most have been ambitious while others mediocre.
The Church is a very human institution— a living contradiction. I once asked a priest during a parish Christmas Mission if he had any advice for someone who had been born into the pre-Vatican Church but came to his full religious maturity during the initial reforms of the Second Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII. I do not think he answered my question nor did anyone understand my dilemma.
I am caught twixt and tween the old and new Catholic Church. There are many things about the old church of my youth, which is vastly different from my adult church, that I still relish. As a child, the many rules, moral laws and order of the faith were deeply ingrained in me by habited nuns and humorless priests. Along with the Baltimore Catechism they laid the foundation for my adult faith.
We all learned the dogmas of the faith by rote memory with a diligence and certitude that armed us to face the three major enemies, who competed for our immortal souls–the world, the flesh and the devil. To paraphrase TV’s Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday in the 1950s, we knew the facts. I doubt if the same could be said today.
The Church’s teachings on sexual morality were complicated. We were taught our bodies were the temples of the Holy Ghost yet they were also the snares of the devil. We were warned about improper touches to ourselves and others. Girls were taught to dress modestly—no long pants, though I do remember a few occasions when they wore Bermuda shorts.
Most dirty magazines of the day were, not what anyone would call pornographic, but more of the naturalist pulp magazines of nude sunbathers. It was over such a stack of weather-beaten magazines in the bushes of a local high school that a friend instructed me and another friend in the “facts of life.” Another time, a priest threatened me with eternal damnation for beating around the bush in the Confessional. I was 11 years old.
The rules did work. I have kept the faith all these years. I have avoided most of the near occasions of sins. After studying in Jesuit institutions for 11 year, I was able to rationalize those I couldn’t avoid. I have been faithfully married to the same woman for nearly 50 years and still look at women in the same positive way that I adopted in the weeds at Forest Hills high school. However the Church’s abject legalism did take a toll on my understanding of God’s divine mercy and the Agape reflection of His unlimited personality.
For most of my life I have been a habitual worrier who is relieved when things are over, instead of enjoying the joyful moments of my life. But the new church is much different. The church of love and forgiveness has replaced the church of law and order. In the Church of divine rules, I had tried to micromanage everything and had left nothing up to God.
But the freedoms of the modern church is the worst nightmare of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, in his classic The Brothers Karamazov who cursed God for making men with a free will. During Holy Hour I have learned to open my heart and soul so that my life is more open to His grace. I find this happens best when I listen to God in the silence of His presence.
I have learned to accept my body as it is and realize that it was made in the image and likeness of God and was not something dirty and offensive. However people still need honest and realistic rules—like the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ emphasis on loving all other human beings.
The modern ideas of relativism and secularism permeate our culture. These dangerous ideas have infiltrated church thinking on many levels. The modern church has in some respects thrown the Christ child out with the bath water. Scandal, indifference and moral confusion abound. I see many others who do not have the double grounding in the faith that I have. While the journey never gets easier, God’s presence in my life helps me stay on the right path more nearly.
The May issue years of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Game Day Magazine featured a nostalgic look at the old stadia in Brooklyn and New York I used to attend as a young fan. Every time I see a photo of the Dodgers’ Ebbets Field I am reminded of an incident that happened the team’s final season in Flatbush. Our grade school had provided tickets for several “patrol boys” for a game with the Cardinals. I sat in the upper deck with boyhood friend Eddie Smith.
Eddie was a mischievous lad who constantly pushed the envelope of civility. This chilly May afternoon he started throwing peanuts at the fans below us. To our horror a seedy looking usher with a clip bowtie, dangling from his open collar and a pencil thin mustache, emerged undetected out of the rafters and yanked poor Eddie by his coat collar. My last sight of Eddie was his pleading eyes as he was dragged backwards down the steep flight of bleacher steps.
Several years ago, while visiting him in his Long Island home, I reminded him of the incident. Little did I realize that his six-year old daughter was absorbing every detail of my story! I will never forget the tearful look on her face when she said, Daddy you threw peanuts?
These many years it has been hard for me to get her sad and puzzled face out of my mind. I had unintentionally crumbled her image of her dad as a model of sober perfection. By exposing his adolescent prank, I might have had stripped his poor little girl of her innocence way before her time.
It’s a different world today. The peanuts story is mild by comparison with what we are doing to our children today, especially our little girls. Thousands of parents cannot wait to shed their daughters’ innocence and usher them into a world, filled with the corrupt environs of a troop of seedy ushers, just waiting to drag their daughters down the winding stairs of despair.
We live in a culture that is hot-wired against purity and self-restraint. Many of our schools teach our kids the basic mechanics of reproduction without any concern for its moral, emotional and sociological aspects. Catholic girls seem no better than the rest of their peers. All this makes me wonder just has happened the past 60 years. Some will suggest the usual suspects, namely Vatican II or the failure of Catholic couples to heed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vita. My thoughts conjure up something much more sinister.
In the 1920s Antonio Gramsci, one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party, remarked that Communism as an economic force was doomed to failure. He said too many Italians were tied to their culture, especially their Catholic faith. The way to defeat the West was by a long march through its Christian culture.
The best way to do this was through its women, the custodians of the culture. Since the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world is still a reliable truism, his plan was designed to lure future generations of young women away from their morality and religious faith by whatever means necessary.
While Gramsci died in prison, his ideas were embodied in the Frankfurt School, a Marxist research institute in Germany. Herbert Marcuse, its leading advocate and his associates eventually transplanted Gramsci’s ideas to American culture through its university system. One of his disciples, Betty Friedan, convinced millions of suburban housewives that they were wasting their lives. Her Feminist Mystique launched the feminist movement with its legacy of working mothers, feminist empowerment, abortion rights, and a hatred of patriarchy.
For three generations millions of American mothers, even many Catholic mothers, have weaned their daughters on a steady diet of prepubescent sexual freedom and distaste for the country’s religious and moral traditions. As a result fatherhood has lost its luster and has been relegated to the dusty archives with reruns of Leave it to Beaver and his sage dad, Ward Cleaver. The apocalypse may not yet be here, but one thing I can say with certainty, things are far worse than when Eddie Smith was tossing peanuts in Ebbets Field.
It won’t take a rocket scientist to guess that I have adapted my title from an 18th century English nursery rhyme. My first thought was about the long-time bandleader. Bob Kuban who played at one of our family’s weddings in the early 1990s. His one big hit was a tune from the late sixties that even to this day gets people to tap their toes and sing along. It was called The Cheater and it warned of a Lothario—-a veritable fool-hearted clown who would take your girl and lie and then hurt her!
Does this sound anything like Tom Brady?
My wife does have or had a crush on him but now that he has been publicly vilified as the world’s most despicable professional athletic cheater, he has lost favor with millions of sports fans, of sports fans outside of New England.
I suggest these millions, especially the sanctimonious hack journalists who have pontificated their elite moral values to the rest of us dummies, get a life!
The history of sports is rampant with all kinds of cheating! That’s why they have umpires, referees and field judges because it is endemic to human nature to take advantage of situations that advance their teams’ change for victory.
Sports, games and competitions are only a reflection of what a culture, a people or a country’s attitudes are.
This should come as no surprise to thinking adults that even America’s athletic heroes can and would cheat because cheating is endemic to our fallen human nature.
Cheaters are celebrated in song and in our movies and TV show. Since our progressive society has virtually erased traditional morality from human consciousness, people have been celebrated in their license to break all of the 10 Commandments at will as a sign of personal enlightenment and liberation, including cheating on one’s spouse.
Why then should we be surprised then that athletes will in a culture that stresses and rewards winning immediately that players and coaches will stretch the rules till they break in order to secure the slightest edge that may translate into victories and dollar signs? All sports suffer from the temptation to cheat, to find that subterranean edge. Greed and vanity not only go before a fall but also ensure that one will fall far and deep. Is that what will happen to Tom Brady?
One reason baseball garners the most print and media coverage is because there are so many ways to cheat. There is a veritable shelf of well-researched books on the history of cheating in baseball. Authors Martin Quigley in his 1984 book, Crooked Pitches and Eldon Ham, in his 2005 book, Larceny and Old Leather demonstrated that cheating was endemic to a sport with so many rules.
One of the first great scandals was gambling. Eliot Asimov’s marvelous 1963 book, Eight Men Out, later made into a movie, detailed the betting scandal that nearly destroyed the game before its Ruthian prime.
It detailed the story of eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox and their attempt to alter the outcome of the World Series with Cincinnati that year.
Eight Men Out details the pinnacle of cheating as eight members of the 1919 Black Sox as they were called. They conspired with gamblers to fix the most pristine of all sporting events in its day–the World Series. All eight were banished for life and most went to their graves with deep regret.
The spitball was another serious problem that grew legs over the decades as the juiced balls flew over the fences with extreme frequency. In baseball’s two decades doctoring a ball was completely legal. (Maybe they should adopt that practice in football.) It was not until Yankee sidewinder, Carl Mays killed Cleveland shortstop, Ray Chapman in 1920 with an underhand fastball that he failed to see that the leagues decided to do something about crooked pitches. What killed Chapman was not the spit or the break of the ball. It was the mud, dirt, grime and even coffee that had been legally applied to alter the flight of the ball that prevented him from judging the pitch’s proximity to his head..
While 17 pitchers were grandfathered, years later many others including Brooklyn’s Preacher Roe, and Gaylord Perry to name just a few, were notorious for fooling the umpires with doctored balls.
A scandal of comparable magnitude that just surface a few years ago was when the Miracle Giants of 1951, which produced the shot heard round the world, the ninth inning home run that catapulted the New York Giants into the world series, which they promptly lost in six games.
During the waning months of the season they stood 13.5 games behind the Boys of Summer, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers of Jackie Robinson. The Giants coaches had rigged a sophisticated electronic relay system that informed the batters of the coming pitches.
Teams have been stealing each other’s signs for centuries. The Patriots over-blown Spygate was amateurish by comparison with the Giants.
In the 1980’s corked bats became the cause du jour. When the Cardinals confiscated some of Mets’ slugger Howard Johnson’s bats, I used to quip that he corked his arms, not his bats.
Little did I know that the next generation of players would do exactly that with PEDs and create a scandal, not quite on a par with the Black Sox or the High Jinxes of 1951 but enough to taint the blood supply— the statistics of the game.
Lance Armstrong betrayed an adoring crowd and forfeited seven Tour de France titles. His successful battle back from testicular cancer would have brought him the same hero status as his titles did and yet he threw all that away. Now he is paying the price.
For my opinion on Deflationgate on this issue of seemingly great importance, I will have to surrender to the Bard who wrote a comedy centuries ago, entitled Much to do about Nothing. The deflation of footballs is the proverbial tempest in a teapot, which quite possible traces its origins back to Cicero, long before they even had inflatable hog bladders.
The real gravity of this situation is that sports are no more important to final realm of things than were the bread and circuses of the Roman Empire. While games originally serves as legitimate exercise and recreational functions, big time sports have served both the capitalist instinct and the government propensity for keeping its electorate amused and disinterested in what they do behind our backs or now even in front of our passive faces.
One knows that this is true when people get more upset over Brady’s deflated footballs than they do about erstwhile Secretary of State and quite possibly our next POTUS’ financial shenanigans so deftly portrayed in journalist Peter Schweizer’s blockbuster book, Clinton Cash.
I just finished reading it and while there is no smoking gun, the author has pieced together a boatload of evidence that documents the global reach of the Clinton’s growing financial empire.
Schweizer conclusively showed how adroit America’s most megalomaniacal couple have worked the corridors of power around the globe. It is a sordid tale of financial chicanery, money laundering, bribery, influence peddling and crony capitalism.
In the past 17 months alone the couple have amassed millions in speaking fees that can only be justified in access to power and favorable legislation around the world, especially in natural resource exploitation.
It should worry the American people who if Hill is our next president, the Republicans may never see the White House from inside again.
Brady is irrelevant to me but the Clintons may hold my life—all our lives in their scandal-stained hands. Remember HillaryCare in 1993? It was far more intrusive than ObamaCare has been in 2015.
God only knows if Tom will break his crown. Of greater importance is whether Hill comes tumbling after!
When I was just a small boy, I remember the time my family returned late from an outing, only to find police cars in front of our home. A burglar was reported entering through the second story. After the situation seemed clear, my parents left me alone in their darkened bedroom. Still in the house, the thief made his final forage through the top drawer of my mother’s dresser. The Bible warns us to be vigilant because death can come when you least expect it, like “a thief in the night.” Fortunately he was only interested in money and ignored the dozing boy on the bed.
As an adult receiving mail was something I had grown to joyfully expect. I eagerly awaited its delivery because it brought me business reports, news periodicals, kind words from old friends, and an occasional check. Sometimes I would receive a postcard from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts where I matriculated over five decades ago. The school provides its alumni this unique way of informing us of the recent death of a classmate.
Over the years I have received over 60 such cards, out of a freshman class of 512. These postcards force me to search for any memories I might have had of the decedent. Sometimes the lack of any recollection saddens me for that missed opportunity for a personal connection.
The cause of death for my classmates has been varied. Two perished in helicopters in Vietnam. Several died of cancer or heart ailments and there was at least one suicide, a diminutive fellow who played Mickey Mouse at the 1965 World’s Fair. Of the number of classmates who entered the priesthood, one of the few who stayed was murdered, ironically by “a thief in the night” who had come to rob his rectory on the island of Jamaica a quarter century ago. I have grown to dread these postcards, not only because a forgotten friend may be on one, but because of their unspoken truth that there is one with my name on it waiting to be mailed.
The one card that upset me the most was the one I didn’t get. My roommate for three years at the Cross was a tall, blond fellow, named Peter T. Lawrence. While we were not bosom buddies he was like the brother I never had. He was a brilliant young man with a deep intellect that took me most of my life to approach. Yet he was troubled by some unseen drive or feeling that made him appear inward and even introverted.
We lost contact over the years. The last time I had seen him he had a wife and two beautifully blonde children. It was 1980. Years later I decided to write him and explain to him how much he had meant to me as a friend and how much he had inspired my intellectual drive before one of us ended up on a postcard. I also mentioned that if he chose not to answer I would understand.
Well nothing happened for six months. At Christmas I got a card with his name on it and his last known address. However it was not from Peter but from his widow. The last number of years had not been kind to him. He had been separated from his family and had suffered a series of strokes that virtually incapacitated him. On the prior New Years’ Eve, a massive stroke had ended his life.
I immediately contacted his two best friends from grade school and high school respectfully. The college finally got a notice of his passing and while it was mentioned in the Quarterly Alumni publication there never was any postcard. Peter did not get his postcard! There seemed to be some sort of cosmic injustice in that.
The undeniable truth is death comes to us all in many different shapes and forms. It is more inevitable than taxes. At birth each one of us is guaranteed two dates: the one on which we are born and the date that closes the brackets on our personal history. Better than any other line in literature, John Donne’s quote from his Meditations XVII, No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main captured the shared universality of our demise. Every time someone dies it diminishes our earthly existence and reminds us just how mortal we are.
Life is not only precious but also sacred. I am dismayed that so many people waste or carelessly throw theirs away. Sure life can be hard but too many people seem to have forgotten this life is but a preparation for the one to come. I am also amazed that so many make elaborate plans for “retirement,” only to die shortly after ending their careers. I often wonder if they planned as well on how they would spend eternity.
The daily obituary pages now offer us the smiling faces of countless strangers, friends, and family. Like my Holy Cross postcards, they serve as constant reminders that we should live each day with grace, good cheer and love as if it were our last, just in case that “thief in the night” might decide to take our most valuable possession.
camFor the last 30 years we have heard or read millions of words on the wars on poverty, terrorism and women. One war that most people have not even noticed is the war on words…an insidious attempt to control the language and with it the thoughts, minds and lives of the American people.
Many age-old aphorisms have warned of the importance of a nation’s loss of its language and the true meaning of its words. Novelist Robert L. Stevenson (Kidnapped) proclaimed that words are power. Orwell said that controlling language makes humans easy to control. Orwell’s corollary of this appeared in his dystopian novel, 1984: Those who control the past control the future.
Of Orwellian proportions the current war on words has won battles on many fronts in this country. Minority groups, such as Jews, blacks, gays, females and now Muslims all have protective words that have hermetically sealed them from any sanctioned verbal or intellectual challenge or assault.
Contrived words with little substance or literary value abound in our politically correct world. These shields of verbal armor include Anti-Semitism, Racism, Homophobia, Sexism and now Islamophobia.
Unlike the old adage I learned as a child about sticks and stones, like a hilarious Geico Insurance commercial with the ill-fated lonely cowboy, these words can not only hurt you but destroy your careers, marriages and stain you with a secular guilt that no water or absolution will ever wash away.
In general they all mean irrational attacks on the integrity, history or culture of an ethnic group, race, lifestyle or a non-Christian religion. Their very invocation end any sort of fair and honest debate as to the merits of their programs, ideas, policies and moral vision.
They are by their very nature collectively reminiscent of the anti-intellectualism that has flared up among the left for several generations.
These contrived words with little substance have a power of their own. They have become the vanguard of the politics of personal destruction and their power grows by the minute in our schools, universities, businesses and even many of our churches.
My Catholic Church appears in the crosshairs of many of these groups for its attempts to support and buttress the remnants of the Western Civilization they contributed largely to over the last 1500 years.
Jewish people don’t like our Gospel according to St. John because he warns of the fear of the Jews. Gays feel uncomfortable in our churches because of our designation of their sexual proclivities as deviant and sinful. Women think they should be running the Church and ordained to our male priesthood. The Muslims blame us for the Crusades, which to them were nothing more than Roman imperialism, quickly forgetting that in the second century of their existence they had brought Jihad to the gates of Paris.
I see the day, already here in Canada, when a priest will be arrested for preaching against homosexual behaviors. I see the day when any letter to the editor that does not laud these groups will never see the light of day. No religious person will be welcome on a college campus anywhere in America. They will have to shed their religious beliefs like offensive garments at the doors of elected office.
That day has already ascended on many of our schools. In reality these anti-American ideas create confusion and a fear among its people who will cower millions into silent cooperation.
In some cases there is even confusion among its participants. Many years ago I was at Holy Cross for a football game. At a meeting for class agents, a young black school administrator was pontificating on the importance of people of color. Now I don’t mind any sort of reasonable change in nomenclature but with black people change seems to be endemic to their race.
In my lifetime a black person has been politely called a colored person, a Negro, black, African-American and now some wished to be called people of color. No wonder so many black people tend to be confused about their racial identity. I raised my hand and asked the young POC a rhetorical question: Isn’t calling a person, ‘someone of color’, very close to calling him or her a colored person? In other words in the wild and crazy word of identity politics, have we not come full circle?
Another area that roils my blood, though not as important as any of the above is heated battle over the mascot names of dozens of American sports franchises on the professional and the campus level.
Native Americans have become very influential in American culture. They have traded the stupor of the reservation for the luxury and power of the gambling casino. A small number of advocates have made it their main purpose to rid our sports culture of any mention of their warlike background. In others words this is a vain attempt at rewriting Indian history, including the cultural tributes bestowed on them by naming sports teams after their heritage.
Personally, I still call them Indians, even though that was it was a Columbian misnomer…but then so is their contrived substitute Native American. The American Indian migrated across the Bering Straits eons ago. They were just early immigrants to the area that became the Americas.
Literally dozens of professional, college and high school teams had lionized Indians by calling their teams, Indians, Warriors, Braves and so on. Can anyone think of one team that has chosen a name to denigrate its sports franchise?
Even the Whittier College Poets, where Richard Nixon sat on the football team bench, revered its namesake, James Greenleaf Whittier.
The only ones I can think of that may be even considered were the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro League team that Henry Aaron once played for. Of course there was the short-lived substitute for the Stanford Indians, who for one season were called the Thunder Chickens. That sounds like a self-parody! Now they are named after a color, just like most of major league baseball’s pioneer teams, who chose their names from the color of their socks. And Stanford now has a tree as a mascot. How green of them!
To date virtually all derivations of Indian heritage have banished from the face and real estate of life in America.
I got my MA from St. John’s University when they were called the Redmen. I didn’t see anything offensive about that and their cheerleaders, two of whom I had dated in high school, were nothing but respectful. I will admit that their new name The Red Storm is an attractive and reasonable substitution but the very fact that they had to be coerced into change still annoys me.
The last Indian mascot standing was the ill-fated North Dakota University Fighting Sioux. In use for over 70 years the name first came under fire in 1999 when the UND athletics program’s use of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo was the subject of controversy and conflict with the NCAA, resulting in the unpopular decision to retire the Sioux nickname and Indian head logo in 2012.
While The Sioux had a brief respite in 2012 it has now been completely legislated and coerced out of existence by the state and the race-conscious (fearful) NCAA, which threatened them with expulsion from its ranks should they stubbornly resist this coercive sociological change. To date no mascot name has replaced the still locally popular Fighting Sioux. As an aside is the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame University next on the politically correct hit list? Or my own Holy Cross Crusaders!
I was intrigued by Simon Schama 1992 book, Dead Certainties. His title reminded me of my posts Uncertain Truths I & II. Schama surmised that even historical facts are not a 100% reliable. Historians constantly argue over the meaning of the “facts.”
Since historians are to history what theologians are to theology. can the same unreliability be also as true of theology?
Theologians, who are the gatekeepers of faith and tradition, often contradict each other. It falls to the Church magisterium, primarily the Pope to keep Church teachings on a steady and reliable course.
Since the magisterium is composed of human and not divine beings error, politics and guile often come into play. While the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, its ways may not be that obvious or even understandable to the human intellect. God may have some more mysterious purposes for even the turmoil and dissention that periodically afflicts His Church.
In modern times, supernatural issues do not offer any cause for concern.
But the mundane affairs of public and private morality, which ebb and flow with changes in the culture that supports them, can seriously divide the faithful.
I am not saying that there are no absolutes in the 10 Commandments but that each one elicits discussion and can change with further and deeper understanding.
The most overt of these is Thou shalt kill. According to my 1963 college ethics book, which had the official seal of the Church—the Imprimatur–there were three exceptions to the rule–a just war, self-defense and the death penalty.
Most moral laws and arguments are founded on what might be analogized to a geometric theorem. In Geometry you have to start with a given in order to built a logical formula that makes what follows true and unassailable. Overturn the theorem and the formula collapses like a House of Cards.
The death penalty serves as the best example of the nature of a changing and even an evolving faith. Saint John Paul II cast serious doubt on the efficacious use of the death penalty as a mode of self-defense in his 1995 Encyclical Evangelium Vitae. He said that the situation did not exist where a state needed the death penalty to protect itself.
During a discussion in Bible study on another papal encyclical, one man stated emphatically that the pope’s encyclicals had to be taken seriously because they were not opinions but the teachings of the Church.
Many in the Church go so far as to assume that encyclicals are protected under the mantle of infallibility.
John Paul II did not offer any concrete evidence or rationale, scientific, moral or otherwise to support his change in the traditional understanding of a valid Church teaching on the death penalty.
Catholic writer and attorney, Helen Alvarre provided an insight to the future saint’s thinking during a talk I attended at St. Louis University on the eve of the pope’s visit to St. Louis in 1998. She said, He just didn’t like to see anyone die. This sounded like a personal opinion to me.
Since traditionalists are still free to believe in the death penalty, I guess we are all Cafeteria Catholics now!
The empirical data generally supports the death penalty as a deterrent. In the dozen years the death penalty was federally outlawed in all 50 states, the murder rate skyrocketed. Thousands of innocent victims died because of its absence.
Another teaching that has been under fire for over a half century has been the Church’s ban on artificial contraception. Paul VI’s 1968 Encyclical Humanae Vitae inspired a widespread protest among millions of Catholic married couples that hurt the Church in many ways.
The background history that led to the pope’s unpopular decision is as compelling as it is sad. The Church has been extremely consistent in this teaching, dating back to early Church history. However John T. Noonan’s 1965 book, Contraception, proved that most of its Biblical roots, such as the reliance on Onan, who had wasted his seed was a distortion of its Biblical meaning.
The Church has also relied on some of the teachings of the Stoics, who believed intercourse unlawful except for the purpose of creating children. The Stoics also condemned intercourse for pleasure because of an erroneous belief that during intercourse, but not otherwise, the female emitted a seed containing a soul.
This is the same kind of Manichean thinking that fueled the twisted thought of Augustine on sex and marriage.
The contraception ban has also relied on the natural law. According to another source I consulted, the Natural Law Theory of the Stoics, focused strictly on the sexual appetites and instincts of animals who mindlessly copulated singularly for procreation without any moral component.
Marital relations are far more complicated and run on a different plane than that of the mostly promiscuous animal kingdom.
With the appearance of the first oral contraceptives in 1960, many in the Church argued for a reconsideration of the Church’s historical positions. Neither John XXIII nor his successor Paul VI wanted the almost three thousand bishops and other clerics in Rome for Vatican II to address the birth control issue even though many of these bishops expressed their desire to bring this pressing pastoral issue before the Council. Why?
In 1963 Pope John XXIII established a commission of six European non-theologians to study questions of birth control and population. After John’s death in 1963, Pope Paul VI added theologians to the commission and over three years expanded it to 72 members from five continents. The make-up included 16 theologians, 13 physicians and five women without medical credentials and an executive committee of 16 bishops, including seven cardinals.
Over several years the original members of the commission had considered and weighed carefully the relevant theological, sociological and psychological evidence.
A preliminary vote of the inclusive body showed an unofficial tally showed 52 to 4 in favor of reform with two abstentions. Despite the fact that the pope stacked the commission with 15 cardinals, archbishops and bishops as official members for the final week of discussion, the high-level prelates reportedly voted 9 to 3 with three abstentions that the use of contraceptives was not intrinsically evil.
The Commission’s 1966 Majority Report proposed that artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed. According to this report, use of contraceptives should be regarded as an extension of the already accepted rhythm method.
Especially important in changing commission members’ minds was an important survey Patty and Patrick Crowley did of the members of their Catholic Family Movement. The CFM members reported movingly how the rhythm method did not work for them and how it was inhibiting intimacy and hurting their marriages.
It is my belief, despite of the revolutionary nature of St. John Paul’s The Theology of the Body that the Church leadership does not understand the importance of marital intimacy and comfort in helping couples weather the many storms that flow naturally from such a relationship. Sexual relations are often the metaphysical glue that holds marriages together.
The Commission also produced a minority report which argued If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930.
It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half a century the Spirit failed to protect… the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error… had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. (Pius XI— Castii Canubii)
The commission’s majority report, which was intended to be kept secret, was leaked to and published in the National Catholic Reporter in 1967. A year later, amidst widespread expectations, Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, reaffirming the church’s official ban on all forms of artificial contraception.
It is arguable that the die had already been cast just by the very fact of the Pope’s calling for a special commission, which created a reasonable doubt in the minds of millions of married couples. This should have relegated the issue to the private consciences of the faithful.
To hide behind the rubric of Infallibility is troubling because it ignores the facsimile of doubt it created from the very beginning. To date only a handful of papal statements have publicly been declared to be infallible… and only two of them after 1870 when Infallibility became part of Church dogma.
The Vatican also contributed to this situation by failing to fully inform the faithful which issues had been infallibly settled and which ones still bore the possibility of fallibility and change.
In 2013 Catholic writer Frank Maurovich, founding editor of The Catholic Voice relates his personal story of a 1964 interview with Dr. Thomas Hayes, a biophysicist working for the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Hayes believed he had a viable solution for the Church’s birth control dilemma.
Hayes underscored the biological fact that randomness in human intercourse differs radically from animal behavior whose biological drive occurs during specific times to perpetuate the species. Quite bluntly humans, especially men, are always in heat!
Marital relations serve another purpose beyond procreation, namely as expressions of love, joy, healing and mutual support. The conjugal act is not the act of one, but of two. And so, we cannot say that every conjugal act is open to generation. Once we learned that the breach was made…he concluded!
In Hayes’ understanding the probabilistic nature (of procreation) is due to the random spacing of the individual acts of intercourse rather than any probability within each act of sexual intercourse itself. As a result he concludes it does not then depend on the direct fecundity of each and every particular act.
This answers the question many young married pose: Why does every marital act have to be open to pregnancy?
Logic, according to Hayes, dictates that if a married couple purposely interferes with the randomness of sexual acts, even in the rhythm method or what is called today, Natural Family Planning, they have transformed by an act of will what was a random natural act to a human act at a specific time in order to avoid conception. Thus he concludes that all forms of contraception should be permissible.
Hayes’ arguments do not support nor lead to the philosophy of Planned Parenthood. His article comes to the same conclusion as the commission’s final report that the church’s constant teaching holds that each marriage should be fruitful and couples should avoid a contraceptive mentality that is, avoiding childbirth for selfishness, convenience or material gain.
Hayes also pointed out that the church had already approved the use of the rhythm method. If this approval has relied upon biological naturalness to distinguish rhythm from other contraceptive methods, it would now seem possible for the church to extend its approval to all contraceptive methods of birth control (provided, of course, husband and wife have serious reasons for limiting births in their family).
The possibility of acceptance by the church of all contraceptive methods of birth control has come about not by any change in moral principles but by the application of a more accurate picture of human reproduction as reported by current biological concepts.
It should go without saying that this principle does not include abortifacients, which are not contraceptives but work after a conception.
Could Hayes’ randomness when coupled with Onan and the Stoics view of animal biology lead to the dissolution of the historical theorem that created the ban on artificial contraception?
In my opinion it seems that more evidence exists for a modification in this teaching than Saint John Paul II offered for in virtually eliminating the death penalty.
With regard to the Church’s loss of face on infallibility since most people do not even understand a doctrine that the Church has done little to fully explain and has virtual kept locked up in the Vatican vault, I think that loss would be minimal. Widespread dissent and disobedience to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical has already done its damage to the Papacy.
I also think that any blowback would pale by comparison as to how the Church has bungled the Pederasty Scandal. To me this is far a more serious challenge to the Church’s integrity than any pill.
If Pope Francis truly wants to be the pope of hope and healing this would be an excellent issue for him to fully address.
My original rendition of Uncertain Truths created some interesting feedback! It was my treatment of salvation that caused the greatest concern. My main critic erroneously thought that I had stated that one could be saved even after death. I never said or wrote that anywhere, not have I ever believed that!
I think I said that I hoped everybody went to Heaven eventually…even Adolph Hitler. I can easily make a case for that based on the complicity of the human mind and all the factors, genetic and cultural that go into the formation of the individual conscience. According to the Catholic Church to think otherwise is to be guilty of the negative sin of presumption.
I will admit that there was one ambiguity that I need to address. My Jesuit friend told me the story just after his ordination in 1969 as Catholics we had to only believe that there was a Hell but did not have to believe that anyone was there except the Fallen Angels. It’s a plausible statement but it did not clarify things well enough. What he should have said was that while we can hope that all men are saved, we have to allow for the distinct possibility that some or even many souls will not be saved.
My understanding of salvation was seriously expanded while reading Fr. Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s marvelous book, DARE WE HOPE THAT ALL MEN BE SAVED. The book jacket contends that his was one of the most misunderstood works of Catholic theology in our times.
His critics falsely accuse him of universalism, which holds with certainly that all men will be saved. However he does not actually say that.
He allows for the possibility that some or even many men will not be saved. But he adds that as Christians we may hope and I would add but also pray that all men may be saved. This is the full extent of loving one’s neighbor.
In 1 Timothy 2:4 God wills that all men be saved. Can even sinful man thwart the will of God and contradict divine providence? Isn’t it reasonable to think that this just may be the case?
In the DARE WE‘s Preface Father Robert Barron quotes a vision of St. Catherine of Siena where she suffered in her soul to even think that one of God’s creatures would be damned for all eternity. She said she did not know how to reconcile even one of your creatures made in his image and likeness should be lost and slip from your hands.
The bottom line is that we can never know exactly what happened at that precise moment just BEFORE death. That is not ours to know with certitude but allows for the hope that God’s Mercy will win over His justice.
There was an article in the Wanderer many years ago that I think quoted where a 13th or 14th friar was so concerned with the salvation of all his fellow men that he reasoned that it was possible that on the precise second before the rope tied on the bridge snapped his neck God intervened and worked his divine mercy and saved the man.
He did not say it was certain only that we can never know that it didn’t happen… especially if God is not just a judge but also one of infinite and unconditional mercy. That’s the God I have to believe in. THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE…an underrated virtue if ever there was one.
At the focal point of this disagreement is that my friend has both feet deeply implanted in the Church before Vatican II and I have only one foot planted there as I try to straddle the distance between the two different approaches to the Catholic Church. I think I am more of a reformed traditionalist because I like some things of the old way of thinking but have accepted some of the new way of thinking since 1963.
There are some things that we were taught then that perverted the old Orthodoxy. It had become a church based on laws…dos and don’ts that had sacrificed some of the true virtues necessary for loving our neighbor.
With regard to morality it was still beholden to an Augustinian stoicism that jaded its perception of sex and marriage. This Augustinian aura wounded millions of Catholics. I can hear it in most of my fellow Bible study men–subtlety but it is there— I had a priest threaten me with eternal damnation in the Confessional because I could not explain something I had done.
I was 10 years old!
This particular priest was turned on by Almighty God and would shout those words from the pulpit every Sunday. Cotton Mather could not have done a better job of scaring a congregation to death.
Had I been proud like my paternal grandfather, I would have walked out of the Catholic Church forever…but thanks to the grace of God, pride is not one of my major failings.
Today I see dozens of other Catholics from that era…daily communicants that seem to have no joy or internal happiness (peace) that their religious devotion and abundance of grace is supposed to instill. They summarily judge other people and can be rude and even nasty to the small people around them.
At a meeting a while back one them snapped at me when I did not clearly hear what she had said to me. She said loudly what are you deaf? I said…Yeeeaaah! Her late husband once yelled at me in a Parish Council meeting because I questioned something about the Serra Society he ran.
To me their religious faith seems more akin to pride and arrogance than it does holiness. That’s what the Orthodoxy of the old Church has done to many. It seems devoid of charity and compassion for their fellow man.
While the new Church has its serious faults, with its remote emphasis on sin and salvation and large emphasis on the horizontal love of neighbor, I have been trying my level best to eliminate the negative from both churches and stress the positive of both.
The old church was a virtual dictatorship while the new one seems almost anarchistic at times. The first provided necessary structure and moral order while the other has added love, charity and hope.
My religious belief is in there some place. While I laugh a lot and feel, not warm and fuzzy but the warmth of having something special inside my soul…and I try to pass it on through my humor, stories and genuine friendliness, I still have a dark dread of the judgment to come.
One of my new acquaintances is a young waitress at Lester’s. She made my day a few months ago when she told me I was the coolest guy she had met in her nine months on the job. That can do wonders for a 71-year old man.
One time we started talking about Philosophy and Faith and she told me she was still searching—aren’t most people just trying to get along–the basis of the very first Vitae Foundation ad 20 years ago.
I recommended Fulton J. Sheen’s Life is Worth Living to her. I said it was a better tip than the money I left her. As I was leaving I also told her I would put her on my nice list The people on this list are special people–mostly all female for whom I pray. One candle at a time—.that’s all any of us can hope for.
I think we are all called to be messengers of grace and in today’s world that will not happen by preaching the Orthodoxy of the old Church— but by extending the warm hand of friendship and hope so they can see the glow in our souls that points to an all-loving, an all-forgiving God.
If we are all good beacons of these virtues legions will make that connection and follow Him in an instant! Weren’t people attracted to the early Christians by the way that they love each other?
The Catholic Church is not one of just laws and judgments. It is the Church of love and mercy. But it is one pregnant with paradoxes and deep esoteric truths that most cannot fathom. God’s infinite mercy is irreconcilable with His absolute justice. It is the ultimate squared circle. We can’t understand it because it contradicts our human logic.
It is akin to the story I was told as a child about St. Augustine’s attempt to fully understand and explain the Triune God. He was wandering one of the beaches in North Africa when he encountered a young boy who was digging a hole and putting seawater in it. When asked what he was doing the lad responded that he was trying to put the sea into his hole. Augustine understood immediately the futility of his own search.
I also read a story about a priest who quipped while I am alive, I am all for God’s Justice but when I die, I am all for His mercy! A resounding Rush Limbaughesque Dittos to him!!
Look for another similar post I will call Dead Certainties and follow me on Twitter @Savant28.