Memoir in Progress Feed

I'm In Touchstone Again

You can read most of the first paragraph here

Heh. Sorry. It's subscriber-only. But you can see a nice picture of the little Methodist church in which I grew up, and which is the subject of the piece. If you get the magazine, you'll see that the byline says the article is an excerpt from my as-yet-unpublished memoir. That was true when I submitted it, but may not be now, as I'm rewriting the book and aiming to make it roughly half its original length. Which was...I hesitate to say...a bit over 130,000 words. Which I'm told is way too long--roughly the length of Merton's Seven Storey Mountain

I'm touched that the editors went to the trouble of finding a picture of the actual church to include with the article. 


Sunday Night Journal, February 19, 2017

It was not long after Pope Francis was elected that I remarked to my wife that he seemed like someone who would be a wonderful parish priest, but I wasn't so sure that he would be good at running the Church. I've said it several times since, and it looks like there was something in it. I certainly never expected to see the amount of internal strife that is going on now. I guess I was naive in thinking that the "liberal" and "conservative" split in the Church was fading away under John Paul and Benedict, because it's back and very much alive. "Back with a vengeance" seems unusually appropriate.

I'm sticking to my resolution to refrain from taking a position on the Amoris Laetitia-induced controversy about communion for the divorced and remarried. I'm aided in this resolution by a prior one not to even read it (see this and this). But I can't ignore the fact that the controversy is happening, and it's not pretty. I did try to ignore it, and hoped that the critics were making too much of their reservations, but I realized that it must be serious when I saw that Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P., had signed a letter asking for clarification on the question. I don't recognize the names of most of the signers, but I've read several books by Fr. Nichols, and he is a solid man, certainly not a crank.

Some say that no change at all is proposed beyond the encouragement of kindness and charity toward people in those "irregular situations." But this seems to be an attempt to avoid or squelch the controversy, because many on both sides, in and out of authority, seems to think that it's quite clear that the pope wants to change the traditional teaching. As far as I know he has not explicitly stated this. Instead, what we have is ambiguity, and persons in authority contradicting each other. Some say that the pope (as understood in Amoris) intends to change the sacramental discipline, but not the teaching. Others argue that the proposal does involve a change, more precisely a reversal, of the teaching. Others say that to change the practice would make a dead letter of the teaching. I admit I don't see how the last of these would not be a natural consequence, given human nature.

There are bishops contradicting each other. I am in an odd situation of having, in a sense, two bishops. Juridicially my bishop is Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (aka the Anglican Ordinariate, which is an officially forbidden term, because apparently it makes people think we are not Catholic). But geographically I'm in the diocese of Mobile, Alabama, whose bishop is Thomas Rodi. Both of "my" bishops seemed to be concerned by the change which many seemed to expect, and quickly issued statements saying that the practice is not going to change. Bishop Lopes seems to have been alarmed; at any rate he took the trouble of writing and publishing a substantial pastoral letter. You can read it at this page.  I think the matter may seem more urgent to Lopes because, as the bishop of a prelature specifically meant for converts, he was concerned that potential converts might get the wrong idea.  Archbishop Rodi made it the subject of his column in the biweekly archdiocesan newspaper.

Other bishops, apparently some in Germany and definitely those in Malta, have said, more or less, that it's up to the consciences of the individuals involved.

Worse, Cardinal Mueller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has taken the "nothing is changing" position, while Cardinal Coccopalmerio of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (I didn't know there was such a thing), has published what sounds like a sort of pamphlet in which he seems to take the position that seems to be the one that the pope seems to want to win out: that the divorced and remarried should have "absolution and access to the Eucharist as long as–I repeat–there is the impossibility of immediately changing the situation of sin."

Surely no one with a heart can fail to sympathize with people who made a serious mistake when they were young, or who have been betrayed, abused, or abandoned by a spouse. God knows I do, having been in "an irregular situation" myself. But you don't have to be a theologian to see that Cardinal Coccopalmerio's view is not only problematic in itself but has enormous implications far beyond the specific question. 

The pope created this confusion, and he could resolve it, but refuses to. I seem to remember him saying something to the effect that priests should be willing to make a mess. Well, he's following his own counsel, apparently.

*

We do not know how the Lord will call us to testify to the truth, but in the end there is no evasion. You will volunteer for the army of God, or you will be conscripted into the ranks of the enemy.

--Anthony Esolen, in Magnificat

Or, as Dylan said: "It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gonna have to serve somebody."

*

In one of her letters Flannery O'Connor writes about the difficulty she's having in finishing The Violent Bear It Away. She says something to the effect that she's trying to convince her impatient publisher that it takes seven years to write a novel. I remembered that with alarm the other day. I'm afraid the book I'm working on will take that long. I can't allow that to happen, but I am moving very slowly at the moment, too slowly.

Starting last summer sometime I began working in a really disciplined way. Ordinarily I spend most of the morning working on the book. (It turns out I'm only about two-thirds retired; the biggest part of the afternoon is taken up with work for my not-quite-former employer.) I required myself to fill at least two pages of a legal pad, which generally comes to something between 700 and 800 words. I filled several pads that way, and now I probably have 80% or so of the book in rough draft (very rough). Maybe more, maybe less, depending on how much detail I want to go into about certain things I haven't yet discussed; certainly the main body of it. At that point I decided I'd better take stock, especially as I sometimes find myself unsure of whether I'm repeating myself or not.

So I started typing the manuscript into Open Office files, and quickly found that I couldn't just do it mechanically, but was revising fairly heavily as I went. And of course I have to do this at the computer, instead of getting out of the house with just pen and paper, as I did all summer and fall. I find it very hard to stay focused--i.e., to stay off the Internet. And it's also easy to be distracted by things around the house, e.g. the refrigerator and the pantry. And when I'm revising I often find myself stuck for ten or twenty minutes on one sentence or even one word, trying to get say exactly what I want to say or to say it in a vivid way. (I may regret having admitted that, because I doubt anyone is going to say "Well, that sentence was certainly worth any amount of the author's time." Maybe it would be better to say I just dashed it off and never looked back.)

Anyway, my progress at the moment is slow. Worse, the result seems pretty dull to me. Really, I think if I weren't so old I would give it up as a bad job and a waste of time. I also suspect age may be reducing the quality of my writing, but there's nothing I can do about that. In any case it's getting late and I have to press on. I'm ready to have some feedback, so I hope sometime in the next few weeks to pull out a few thousand words or so, post them here, and solicit your opinions.

*

I've been playing, very intermittently for months, an interesting video game called Kentucky Route Zero, which one of my children gave me last year. (The game is not one of the distractions I referred to above, by the way--I don't have any trouble keeping it in its place.) "Game" is not really the right word for it; it's more a sort of illustrated story which can take different paths depending on your choices. And it's a very strange story.  You start out as a truck driver who's supposed to make a delivery at 5 Dogwood Lane. You stop at a gas station and ask for directions, and are told that you can only get there by taking Route Zero. That's not easy to do, because it exists in a sort of alternate reality. And once you get onto Route Zero....

Anyway, I finished it last night, and the scene below occurs not long before the end. And I thought the exchange between Ezra and Clara, which is about music, was apropos to my work on the book, and to any artistic effort. I sometimes find it difficult just to put the pen to the paper and write something. But as Clara says, there's only one way to find out.

TheresOnlyOneWayToFindOut

The green and yellow/orange lines at the bottom of the text are possible responses Ezra can make to Clara. You choose one and click on it .

I say I finished it, and I did get to the end of it. A rather unsatisfying end: it just stopped. Then I found out that the game is still incomplete. There are currently four acts, and a fifth one is due out this year sometime. I'll definitely be getting it.

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Seen on Facebook: "If they were really pro-life they'd have used low-flow showerheads."