Wednesday, May 11, 2005

the rushing of enemy wings

I'm reading a rockin' cool book, to coin a phrase that the stately prose of the book in question does not in any way resemble.

The book is One Shepherd, One Flock by Oliver Barres. It's the story of the journey of a Congregationalist minister, and his wife who was also an ordained Congregationalist minister, to the Catholic Church in the early 1950's. How I came by the book is a story in itself.

After my first "homestyle Catholic" quotes in the News Journal , I got a phone call from an elderly gentleman who expressed his appreciation for the article. He was not the first older person who had given me that feedback. (And when I say "older", I mean older than my own considerable 55 years). The article struck quite a chord with older Catholics, and I heard from more than one of my friends that their elderly mom or dad loved what I had to say. That made me happy. These folks lived through such a time of having their faith put down by those both within and without the Church, it's nice they can enjoy the renaissance of love for the Catholic table that's going on with far more people than just me. The gentleman finished up his phone conversation by asking for my address and telling me he wanted to send me a book. A few days later, One Shepherd, One Flock , first published in 1956 and now reprinted in a beautiful trade paperback edition by Catholic Answers, arrived. It was written
by the gentleman himself, Oliver Barres.

The book reminds me of how cradle Catholics like myself can go their whole lives without seriously exploring the truth claims of the Catholic Church. How different their experience of the Church is from those who slowly, inexorably, often painfully come to realize that they must for the sake of truth leave behind the religious communities that nourished them and with whom they may have close and binding ties. When I first "came home" to Catholicism after my period of atheism and nihilism in the late 60's and early 70's, I wasn't serious about the truth claims of the Church. I was a pretty typical cafeteria Catholic, picking some doctrines, leaving others sitting on a shelf, feeling entitled to believe or not believe what I wanted. It was what everybody around me was doing. It was what the Catholic columnists were promoting. It wasn't until I became friends with Jessica Weissman, whose father had cut off contact with her when she became Catholic and abandoned (as he thought) her Jewish identity, that it occurred to me that embracing a religious faith might involve sacrifice of one's own comfort to an objective standard claimed as truth by that religion.

A shocking thought, at the time. Still a shocking thought to many. But the beginning of joy for me. To realize that not only was I not capable of figuring out, by myself, all the truths of the moral and doctrinal universe, but that I didn't have to. That Christ had included that in his toolkit for journeying through space and time, and given the keys to his most impulsive disciple, Peter. What irony.

One shepherd, one flock. Thanks, Oliver Barres. I started out to just quote a little bit from his book and wrote, instead, one of my Long Posts. *snore?* Here's what I wanted to quote. He's talking about the "strong, united, certain communism" of 1954 when he wrote, but his prose sings to any age:
The certain demonic zeal of those who hate God can be conquered only by the certain divine zeal of those who love him truly... [F]alse doctrines... can be conquered by the reality-teachings of Jesus Christ, but only when these true teachings are brought into life earnestly, selflessly, heroically, by men and women who are all out for God, cost what it may. Ordinary milk-and-toast Christianity just won't do in this extraordinary time of troubles. The foundations are shaking under our feet. The very skies overhead may tomorrow morning, or this evening, be filled with enemy wings. We can no longer afford to give lip service to Christianity while our hearts follow the ways of a pagan world.

No comments: