In this account, the author explores the role of Catholicism in Catholic institutions, presenting three Catholic universities and discussing their lack of religious conviction, arguing for more Catholic theological education and less secularism.
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My Dad the Catholic
My father had been dead for several months before it dawned on me that he'd been a Catholic.
It should have been easy to figure out that Dad was Catholic. He went to Catholic Mass every Sunday. He owned a St. Joseph's daily missal book, the same one he had had since he was a kid. He could read Latin, and even though he wrote for a scientific magazine, National Geographic, his journalism was garnished with Christian references. He had gone to three Catholic schools in Washington, where he lived: Blessed Sacrament, the Jesuit all-boys school Gonzaga, and the Catholic University of America. His favorite book was one with heavy Catholic overtones, The Lord of the Rings.
And yet, in the summer of 1996, I found myself surprised to finally realize that my dad had been deeply, seriously, and mystically Catholic. He believed in the supernatural world and believed that we could catch glimpses of it in this world. He saw in nature not only beauty but the face of Christ.
In all my years of Catholic schooling I had never heard or read anything that brought these worlds together — that explained Catholicism as a religion about both faith and reason, about the reality of this world and of the next. I always considered my father's mysticism, his love of nature and poetry and beauty, to be the sign of a brilliant man who occasionally had his head in the clouds. No one ever explained that his mysticism may have been the sign of someone whose feet were planted firmly in reality.
Then I started going through Dad's old stuff in the basement, and I came across some books: G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain and No Man Is an Island, prayer and meditation books from the 1940s, a biography of Cardinal Newman.
I picked up Chesterton's Orthodoxy and for the first time began to understand Dad's Catholicism. I was stunned by one passage in particular:
Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. ... He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. ... The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid. ... As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may take the cross as a symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. ... The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.
I was thunderstruck — not only by the brilliance of the prose, which in a flash made me understand more about Christianity than almost twenty years of Catholic schooling had, but by the realization that this passage beautifully summed up my father. In my mind Dad was many things: an intellectual and scholar, an explorer, a hilarious — and occasionally bawdy — Irish storyteller who could keep a room rapt with attention for an hour, and someone who loved rock and roll. In my mind, none of those things were Catholic. Being Catholic was going to Mass and to confession. It was old priests and strict nuns. It had nothing to do with philosophy, science, love, or anything else worthwhile in the world. It was the religion I had left behind in high school.
Yet here, in Chesterton's great masterpiece about Christianity, was the spirit, and the brilliance, of my father. As I pored through his things, I began to reflect on his life, trying to pinpoint exactly where, besides Chesterton, his Catholicism had come from. The son of a professional baseball player for the Washington Senators, Dad had been a "whiz kid" on the radio in the 1930s and at a young age had fallen in love with literature, devouring everything from classics such as the Iliad to what were then-new books such as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. He had a book of poems published when he was sixteen. Dad went to Catholic University in Washington, where he was editor of the Tower, the school newspaper. There he met a fellow student, Fred Maroon, a photographer. The two men became colleagues and close friends, working together in 1950 as coeditors of the Cardinal, the school yearbook. The book won a national competition, and my dad and Maroon were hired by Life magazine, whose staff referred to Judge and Maroon as "the gold dust twins" because of their flair for financially successful ventures. The two men loved Washington, however, and soon moved back from New York. "I remember the first time I saw Joe's bedroom," Maroon wrote in the CUA magazine after my father died. "Every one of his four walls was lined with books, which prompted me to ask cynically how many he had actually read. 'All of them,' he answered. And knowing Joe, I believe he remembered everything in them. He was a walking encyclopedia, and his curiosity and interests were universal."
After a few years in Washington working for a local television station and then the Department of Labor, my father landed a job with National Geographic in 1962, two years before I was born. He would be there for the rest of his life. He wrote about places all over the world — Boston, Jerusalem, Ireland, Disney World. In the 1980s, after years of research, he discovered the landing site where Columbus touched down in the New World. His press conference in 1986 announcing the discovery garnered the most coverage of any in the storied history of the magazine. In his work at the magazine — he rose to associate editor — he could on one day talk to his friend Stephen Jay Gould about evolution, then a day later take me to Emmitsburg, Maryland, to visit a woman who claimed to be in communication with the Virgin Mary.
Dad loved nature, which, as I imagined, was not a really Catholic philosophy. He could name every flower in the garden and every constellation in the night sky above our house in Potomac, Maryland. He knew every type of bird and would spend mornings on the C&O Canal that runs by the Potomac River, softly padding along the path and bird-watching through his binoculars. As kids we would make fun of him, imitating his incredible knowledge. "That's a mockingbird," I would say, pointing to a random bird in the front yard of our suburban house. I had no idea what kind of bird it was, but I knew I would soon find out. "That's no mockingbird," Dad would say. "That's a junco."
Another clue to Dad's faith came when I found his old high school yearbook from Gonzaga, the Jesuit boys' school in Washington he had attended. The 1944 edition of the Aetonian offers this foreword from the students:
With Christ as our ideal, we the class of forty-four are about to plunge into a world of chaos and war. We now begin the task of accomplishing our mission as educated Christian citizens; no longer the hesitating boys of our freshman days, but approved products of a Catholic, Christian education.
The proper and intimate meaning of the words "Christian Education" is too often lost in technicalities. The big thing to remember is that a Christian education strives primarily at fashioning a man after the fascinating stature of Christ. An education so founded on Christ, far from diminishing human life and its beauty, rather enriches it and elevates by drawing it gradually to the ideal of Christian and human perfection. Its finished product should be a second Christ in his spiritual and temporal strivings, a devout, intelligent and practical man. To form, then, a man of harmoniously developed Christlike personality was the ultimate aim of our education. In Christ Jesus, and in Him alone, we discover all the qualities of the ideal personality. Being God, He is all-just, all-holy, all-knowing, and particularly, all-merciful; being man he is the delightful human expression of all these qualities.
In a couple of paragraphs, the teenage authors of the 1944 Aetonian had done what most teachers in my twenty years of Catholic education had not: wedded Catholicism and humanism. The authors pinpoint a central truth of Catholicism, one that would be emphasized by the future pope John Paul II: the way to be truly and fully human is to emulate Christ. In a few words the secular rift, all too common among modern Catholics, was exposed. To many of us, Catholicism had been a compartment in our lives, the Sunday Mass obligation and the imperative to be nice to people. Our strivings at work, in romance, and with our families were the real world, and the church could say nothing to our desires for material goods, love, and security — the things that really made us human.
As I went through more of Dad's old books, again and again I found myself surprised at how, for so many old Catholic writers, there was no divide between the church and the world. Dad's embrace of nature was explained in a passage from No Man Is an Island, the 1955 book of meditations by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton:
All nature is meant to make us think of paradise. Woods, fields, valleys, hills, the rivers and the sea, the clouds traveling across the sky, light and darkness, sun and stars, remind us that the world was first created as a paradise for the first Adam, and that in spite of his sin and ours, it will once again become a paradise when we are all risen from death in the second Adam. Heaven is even now mirrored in created things.
Reading these books, I began to understand a crucial difference between my father's faith and the faith of modern Catholics. It was described well by Frank Sheed, a great twentieth-century Catholic writer. In his classic Theology and Sanity, Sheed noted that many older Catholics consider their faith to be as close and personal as the clothes they are wearing. To them, the world is represented by a few patches on their clothes.
To many modern Catholics, the world is the clothes they wear, their Catholicism the patches. To us, the supernatural is not the prism through which we view the world; the world is the prism through which we view the supernatural. We consider this latter position the more realistic and intellectual one. Yet in my father's books I found men and women who felt that the way to get to the real was through God. This was eloquently explained in another of Dad's old books, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirits, Conditions, Methods. It was written in 1920 by the French monk A. G. Sertillanges and has this passage describing the meaning of being an intellectual:
The intellectual I have in view is a man of wide and varied knowledge complementary to a special study thoroughly pursued; he loves the arts and natural beauty; his mind shows itself to be one in everyday occupations and in meditation; he is the same man in the presence of God, of his fellows, and of his maid, carrying within him a world of ideas and feelings that are not only written down in books and in discourses, but flow into his conversation with his friends, and guide his life.
At bottom, everything is connected and everything is the same thing. Intellectuality admits no compartments. All the objects of our thought are so many doors into the "secret garden," the "wine cellar" which is the goal of ardent research. Thoughts and activities, realities and their reflections, all have one and the same Father. Philosophy, art, travel, domestic cares, finance, poetry, and tennis can be allied with one another, and conflict only through lack of harmony.
What is necessary every moment is to be where we ought to be and to do the thing that matters. Everything makes one harmony in the concert of the human and the divine.
I finally began to understand how my dad loved everything from the stars to the oceans, books, women, and flowers — even the Washington Redskins football team and rock and roll. Dad was the biggest Redskins fan I ever knew. He had grown up with the team, watching them play at old Griffith Stadium (where his father played first base for the Senators in the summer), and would never concede that the team was having a lousy season. He would sit in his study and calculate the exact circumstances under which the "Skins" could achieve a playoff berth. He would enter the family room, where we were waiting for the TV broadcast to begin, and announce, "They can do it. If the Cowboys lose to the Raiders by more than fifty-seven points, and we beat Dallas by more than thirty, we're in." He wasn't joking. When we would shout him down as delusional, he always played his trump card. "Seventy-three to nothing," he would remind us, silencing the room. That was the amount by which the Redskins had once lost to the Chicago Bears in 1940 — and proof to Dad that any score was conceivable. It was the greatest loss in Washington football history, a disgrace so profound that it made its way into the Bears fight song. (The song refers to the famous Chicago "T formation," which had never been used before the Washington game and completely baffled the Redskins.) One of the few times I ever heard my mother genuinely angry with Dad was when the Redskins made it to the Super Bowl in 1983. The night before the game we had a party, and no one made it to bed until 3 a.m. About three hours later, Dad woke the house by blasting on the stereo Washington's football fight song, "Hail to the Redskins." Mom was not amused.
Dad also loved rock and roll, although never as much as his beloved Big Band music, which he would blast at all hours when he and Mom had dinner parties. He didn't love rock and roll in the superficial way that some parents did, believing that their vague ideas about the music being all about "freedom" and "the beat" gave them currency with their kids. My father had an ear for music. He hated the Rolling Stones — he would leave the room whenever he heard Mick Jagger's voice — but loved jazz and the Beatles. He could not name a single member of any band, but he would often hear a song coming from one of our rooms and ask us what it was. When I told him the Who, the Cars, the Pet Shop Boys, he would say, "That's a good tune." In college I made him tapes of current songs I liked, which he would listen to over and over again. His favorites were love songs. We would sit in his study while he smoked cigars and drank Irish whiskey and I played him the latest tracks. He would become almost ecstatic over the songs that moved him. I'll never forget the night he became almost speechless — a real feat for him — after hearing the anti-drug song "Bad" by the Christian group U2. Dad understood what the rock intelligentsia didn't: that all good things, including good songs, are from Christ. The best songs capture the essence of Christian love. The popular love song is most often about a love so powerful it can conquer time, distance, and death — a love, like the love of Christ, that has dominion over the natural world.
When my dad died he was working on a book about a man who exemplified my father's Catholicism, which was tough, adventurous, and steeped in the belief of the reality of the spirit world. The life of this man, Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, is also an exotic, bizarre story that Dad thought would make a good movie.
Gallitzin, born in 1770, was the scion of Prince Demetrius Gallitzin, the Russian ambassador to France and later to Holland. Gallitzin père was friends with Diderot, Voltaire, and other Enlightenment thinkers. His wife was the Countess Amalie von Schmettau, a devout Catholic and considered by some to be the most brilliant woman in Europe. When her son was seventeen he became Catholic, taking a new name, Augustine.
When he was twenty-two, Gallitzin traveled to the New World. He landed in Baltimore, a center for Catholic life in America, and entered St. Mary's Seminary. He was moved by the needs of the early church in America, which had only a handful of priests to cover the million square miles of the New World. Contrary to the wishes of his friends and relatives back home, Gallitzin decided to devote his life and fortune to his faith. He became a priest in 1795, adopting the alias of Smith so that no one would suspect he was royalty. Gallitzin was sent to Conewago, a tiny outpost in the wilds of what would become western Maryland, western Pennsylvania, and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "God and Man at Georgetown Prep"
Copyright © 2005 Mark Gauvreau Judge.
Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One My Dad the Catholic,
Chapter Two The Collapse,
Chapter Three Mercy,
Chapter Four Prep,
Chapter Five Rock and Roll,
Chapter Six The Unknown Hoya,
Chapter Seven Catholic U.,
Chapter Eight Twelve Steps to Man,
Chapter Nine Reversion,
Chapter Ten The Passion,
Index of Authors and Titles,