I’m not a linear thinker, and have never been. I’m as undisciplined as a small child in a big garden, a little stream on a slight slope, stopped briefly and re-directed to a place I never thought of going. I am a meander, a ramble. Hence this longish thing. Follow me, if you will. Or not.
I’ve never read it, but in “Finnegan’s Wake” there are many references to a character, variously named..one of which is something like Humphrey Chimpden Earwick.. who goes by the initials HCE. Some have told me that James Joyce meant HCE to mean, also, “Here Comes Everybody”, and to stand, somehow, for the Catholic Church, which is open to all; nothing required up front but Faith.
It has been said for as long as I can remember that Faith is a gift, and gifts need unwrapping. I was born into a family of Catholics who came from a long line of Catholics. So you could say I never had a choice about being a Catholic.
But, I do have a choice about staying a Catholic, a choice about un-wrapping, about using the gift. So have we all the same choice.
My grandmothers were Catholics, one from Leighlinbridge, a small village in County Clare, then still a part of The British Empire, whom many probably thought at the time would last a thousand years; and the other, a child of the great Irish diasporsa, the long “bleeding out” of Ireland’s life under England’s “loving” care, was born in Five Points; that neighborhood of some notoriety in NYC. Her father, an immigrant from Dublin, was a fireman. From them both through my own mother and father I draw my faith, and was born into what we Catholics sometimes call “The Family of Faith”.
Ella Mc Gowan, the New York Irish girl, was born in 1880. Catherine Fanning was born shortly after, in 1881. Nanny was a toddler and Grandma just barely 6 months old when Angelo Roncalli entered the “family” in a little town in Italy. They have a much younger brother, Karol Wojtyla, who was born in 1920. It’s a big family; the biggest in the history of the world!
I’ve been reading a book written by G.K. Chesterton called “Heretics”. Chesterton joined my family when he had grown up. I like reading the things he’s written. Besides being very, very smart, he doesn’t allow his smartness to get in the way of his wit, nor pitch his message too high above anyone inclined to listen to what he’s saying. This book “Heretics” is where Chesterton argues against a lot of the attitudes and ideas which people at the beginning of the last century found very attractive, bright, shiny and new. They are attitudes and ideas that seemed to me as he shined a bright light on and took an amusing glance at their advocates and the ideas themselves to be a bit like crib toys dangled above infants to amuse and distract them, but of no real or lasting value. Funnily enough, considering their very obvious lunacy and uselessness, a lot of them are still pretty popular today.
The chapter I’m reading in the book right now is called On Certain Modern Writers and The Institution of The Family . It’s a wonderful little essay about what we all think may be a good thing but which on closer examination turns out to be not so good at all; the idea that big globs of us all gathered together in one place..in big cities, or metropolitan areas, say…are better for a number of reasons than little towns. In the main, he says, big places allow us to be alone, to get away from the “maddening” crowd, to pick and choose our own associates, friends, interests. GK thinks this stinks, attitude and fact, and proposes the ancient institution of the family as the best place to be (and small places, hamlets, villages, towns along with them) simply for the fact that they do not afford us the luxury of anonymity. One of the points he makes is this one:
“The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born.
This is, indeed, the sublime and special romance of the family. It is romantic because it is a toss-up. It is romantic because it is everything that its enemies call it. It is romantic because it is arbitrary. It is romantic because it is there. So long as you have groups of men chosen rationally, you have some special or sectarian atmosphere. It is when you have groups of men chosen irrationally that you have men. The element of adventure begins to exist; for an adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.”
My sister, Stephanie Ann Teresa Gallaher-Morse, and I have often referred to our family, the people we lived among, including my grandmothers, as we grew up, and the things which occurred there, as a long day’s journey. Anyone who has graduated high school will know what we are speaking about; the surface storms, sometimes violent and long lasting, the treacherous currents to be learned, the open waters and pleasant climates, and the deep undercurrent of love. It would have served as well to refer to our growing up as a streetcar ride; one that still continues in the strong light of day. It was certainly an education. It was from time to time as well a crucible, a refining fire.
Another book that I am wandering slowly through is John Henry Cardinal Newman’s “Essay On The Development of Doctrine”. I’d offer you a quote from his book, but there isn’t really anything short enough to take from it unless I was writing at least a thousand word introduction and another 2 or 3 thousand words after the quote as an explanation. I love his writing, but, Lord, he knows how to fill a page. I’ve never been there, but I find myself imagining that reading Newman is closest to taking a walk in Shanghai, with little or no knowledge of Chinese and no road map; an exhilarating and at times fearful experience where you wonder why you ever started, and where that was, but enjoy the magnificent structures along the way while looking forward to finishing, hopefully before Christmas. He spends a lot of time on heresies, too, and heretics.
He reminds me of something I once told an attorney who was the “mouthpiece” for a fellow I was interested in putting away for a long while. During the course of a very long afternoon of steadily applied pressure on my part to his client’s ability to withstand it, he interrupted me to ask what was my intention. I replied that my intention was to sail the battleship Missouri into his harbor and blow him and his client out of the water. Four years and a lot of work later I did just that. The client went to jail, bankrupt and penniless. His lawyer went into therapy after suffering some kind of mental crisis. Newman’s “little” essay does just that, like snow on Mount Zalman; glistening in the distance, but also tearing down grain by grain by grain, the heap of stone it covers.
And, then there’s a short piece, an editorial I’ve recently read in “Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity“. At least that’s what I think it calls itself. The short piece is by a fellow whose writing I like to read because what he writes is true; true the way granite is true; true the way an oak is true; true the way, sometimes, a mighty wind is true; hard, and beautiful and occasionally very frightening. In this article, Anthony Esolen, blows a trumpet, a horn like Gideon’s, against the heretics, and says to the “family”, “Gather and stand against our newest, our latest enemy.” Read the article and find out who that is and what the fight is about. I couldn’t help thinking that, as usual, like Gideon we’re up against tough odds. I also couldn’t help thinking, as I read it, of Henry V’s little talk to his Band of Brothers, the other members of The Family, the ones still at or near to, Home.
Bl. Cardinal Newman’s long essay about the development of doctrine is at once a defense of and an attack against everyone in the long history of the Catholic Church who thought they had a better idea. If my guess is anywhere near correct “better ideas” started popping up almost as soon as they could. As he says in more ways than one, and Chesterton too, they soon splinter, mutate into thousands of variations. It’s a lucky thing St. Thomas still had Jesus around, you know, or all those Synods and Councils wouldn’t have had much to do back in the day; and maybe Rome would be a small town with barely a memory of what it used to be. One of the best things Christ did, after saving the world, was tell St. Peter what he had to do.
The point about families is that they need heads, someone in charge, or the kids fight in the back of the car for the window seat, Mom wants to go “this way”, and Billy would rather play ball than mow the lawn. And, no one wants to wash the dishes. Pretty soon, the place looks like Dogpatch. Unless….
Sometimes, you have to send one of the older guys out to get some of the younger kids in from play, or from having wandered to far. They never really want to go, so you tell them, “I’m sending you. You tell them I said ‘Come home, or else’ “. And, every once in a while you’ve go to “go to Law”, as they say in Blighty, and make sure Jones behind you stops letting his kids take your apples; or worse, “war” for want of a better word, just to keep the family and what it stands for together and safe.
Grandma and Nanny would understand that, break out the beads and fight their way, too. Then, watch out! Because here comes Everybody.