My New Radio Series

I’m pleased to announce that I am co-hosting a new radio series with celebrated talk show host, Mike Church. The series is called “The Pearcing Truth” (pun entirely intended!) and will focus in alternate weeks on famous literary converts and the social teaching of the Catholic Church. The series, which is currently airing on the Crusade Channel on the Veritas Radio Network can be accessed here:

The Drama of Faith

Subscribers to the St. Austin Review will have a sense of dêja vu when reading the latest article of mine published by the Imaginative Conservative. It was originally published as the editorial to a recent issue of StAR. Those who are not StARsubscribers (shame on you!) can read it for the first time here:

Hurricanes and Raptures

I am in the emergency room waiting for the second injection in the rabies vaccine series. (I tried to rescue a squirrel during the hurricane on Monday, and he bit me.)

A lady, who said she was 65, stopped me as I walked to my seat in the waiting area. She wanted conversation, but she often started to cry when she spoke. When I asked her if she was all right, she said, “Oh, yes, this is just tears of joy—because of my Savior.”

She interjected Scripture frequently into her conversation about the hurricane, her family, and her grandchildren—of whom she is very proud: “She got a full four-year scholarship to the University of Georgia. I thought my heart was going to burst when she walked across the stage for her diploma. Praised be Jesus Christ in whom we live and move and have our being.” She referred to the rapture a couple of times. This went on until I was called away, and as I left, she said, “We will see each other again. This world is not our home.”

She is what some people call a “fundamentalist.” The doctrine of “the rapture” is not universal among fundamentalist Christians, and judging by the small number of her references, it’s not of paramount importance to her. What was important were the passages she chose to interject, those that occurred to her as she spoke; they were all passages of praise, gratitude, and deep faith.

I noted that she did not ask me whether I was a Christian before she spoke. I was glad she was apparently unconcerned about whether I might be “comfortable” with her Jesus talk. For her, the reality of Christ was absolute; one’s comfort with that was not significant. Indeed. One’s relative degree of comfort does not alter Truth even a little bit.

I am a Catholic living among Protestant Christians. This is not the first time I’ve wished the Holy Spirit were as welcome in my local church as he is in some of theirs. I know there are pockets of anti-Catholicism here, but it’s like white racism, remembered only in the stories of generations ago. I hear about it mostly from my fellow Catholics, who, like some die-hard black racists, seem to have a vested interest in perpetuating victimization.


But hate is like love. Love comes from the lover, not the beloved. So does hate. And we choose. Just as surely as you can choose to love, you can choose to hate. Either way, your choice says nothing about your object—but it says a great deal about you. “By their fruits shall you know them.”

“Tolerating Other Religions” by G.K. Chesterton

“Tolerating Other Religions”
By G.K. Chesterton
“Illustrated London News” May 31, 1913
When I was a boy, in the old indescribable days which I can only describe as the great days of Stead, a thing met that was called the Parliament of Religions. It had all the evils of a Parliament. It had the narrow novelty, the deaf dignity, the profound isolation and unpopularity that a Parliament so often commands. A Member of Parliament must be a man who comes to think more of the men he argues with than of the men he argues for. The club is mightier than the constituency. This can be seen in all political Parliament’s; it is notorious that in all such assemblies … The back benches fight, while the front benches make peace.
All this, which is true of political Parliament’s, was a little true even of the poor old Parliament of Religions. Every man was a very cultured representative of a very distant constituency. If it is hard to make a man represent Surrey, or even Surbiton, it is harder still to make him represent the Central plains of Asia or the ultimate islands of Japan. Thus, I say, the Parliament of Religions seemed almost as useless as the Parliament at Westminster.
Men did not come there to explain their religion. They came to explain it away. At that gathering, everyone had to have a silky manner just as (at some social gathering) everyone has to have a silk hat. It would be improper in the Parliament at Westminster to knock off another man’s hat. It would be improper in the Parliament of Religions to knock off another man’s head. Yet the whole object of theology and philosophy and pure reason is to knock off another man’s head. As the philosophical world goes, just now, it is rather a compliment. One can pass through crowds of earnest modern thinkers without finding a head to knock off.
Yet only the other day I came across a little book by a man who was really defending one of the great philosophies of the earth, and not merely excusing it. His book is really an apologia and not an apology. It is concerned with the Creed of Zoroaster, the great Persian mystic who has left behind him the sect of the Parsees. It is published by Mr. Dent, and the name of the author on the title page is Ardasir Scrabjee N. Wadia. I intend no flippancy about this highly intelligent author if I do not know what part of this is his name. I only intend to indicate of the subject — of all such subjects as Persia and the Parsees. “Wadia” at the end of his name may be something like Esquire, for all I know. N. may be his telephone number for all I know. I know nothing about his nation; I know nothing about his civilisation; I know nothing about him. But I do know something about his religion. I did not know it five hours ago, and I owe what I know to him. His book is one of the very few books about the religions of the world of which this can be said.
Generally, the difficulty is not to tolerate other people’s religion. The trouble is to tolerate our own religion. Or rather (to speak more strictly), to get our own religion to tolerate us. Comparatively few modern religious people are intolerant. But a great many modern religious people are intolerable. Nor are these specially those that are called bigots; it is rather I think, the other way. The person we find really exasperating is he who does not understand our beliefs, and yet also does not agree with his own. Now, the author of this book does agree with his own. His philosophy is not in the least like mine, but it seems to me to be one of the two or three intelligent alternatives to mine. It is a philosophy which is roughly, perhaps too roughly, describes as Dualism: the theory that good and evil are, in one sense at least, exactly balanced in the universe: that, in one sense, at least, their balance creates the universe. The very pattern of the cosmos, so to speak, is a pattern of crossed swords. Life and death are fencing forever; and ( I say again in one sense, at least) the issue is always doubtful. With a movement of iron self control, I here refrain from making a pun about a Dualist and a duellist.
The author writes like a man who really has ideas; for ideas are always most original when they are grown from the old religious origins. It is not a paradox; but a very common fact of human nature. A man’s ideas are much more his own if they come out of his father’s Creed than if he had got them out of a book: just as a man’s cabbages are much more his own if they come from his father’s field than if he had got them out of a shop. There is something convincing even in a sort of weird simplicity which the writer shows, and which is often shown by men writing in the language of another civilisation: as where he speaks of “our revered Master — RUSKIN, to whom I belong so entirely and so devotedly that I invariably that I invariably use his words, expressions, and even paragraphs as if they were my own.” I feel myself on delicate ground; and I do not know whether I shall be considered as clearing him of the charge of imitation, or insulting him with the charge of bad imitation, if I say that I do not think there are any solid chunks of Ruskin embedded in his prose. But there really are solid chunks of what is more fresh and interesting for English readers; the real ideas of a real and able believer in the Creed of Zoroaster.
The great principle of the Zoroastrian philosophy seems to be that the thorn is essential to the rose. Or, to put it more correctly, that the life of man is a chess-board, because chess is a royal game — the great game for the human intellect. And in chess it is necessary, not only that there should be black and white, but that black and white should be equal. There must be a pattern f black and white, and the pattern must be exact.
To all this view of life I should only answer that the chess-board is only a pattern, and therefore cannot be a picture. A black-and-white artist always treats one or the other color as the background. The artist may be scrawling black on white,when he is a illustrator in pen and ink. He may be scrawling white on black, when he is a schoolboy chalking the school master’s nose on the blackboard. But the pen and ink artist knows that the page is white prior to the arrival of the pen and ink. The wicked schoolboy knows that the blackboard is black. So we, as Christians, should always believe that this is a white world with black spots, not a black world with white spots. I should always believe that the good in it was its primary plan. Also, I should remember that chess came from Persia.

Little Saints of the Poor

I’m always crabby when I go to Sunday Mass.  If I were the perfect Catholic, this would not be the case.  But I am not the perfect Catholic.

For one thing, I don’t like doing anything on Sundays.  For another, the homilies are always insipid and the music makes me want to throw things and hurt people.  “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat” – just typing those words has made me see red and froth at the mouth.  Now I can’t get that terrible tune out of my head!

I’ve tried the Latin Mass, and at least the music is not awful at the Latin Mass.  My wife doesn’t like the Latin Mass, so two Sundays ago, when she was out of town, I went to a Latin Mass parish without her.  I noticed the guy five rows ahead of me was “packin'”.  He had a pistol at his side, in a holster – two sons and a handgun.  I did not notice, when I walked into this church anything like this … 

… so I assume it was OK to be “totin’ some heat” at Sunday Mass.  I suppose if there had been any Liturgical Abuse … this guy was prepared!  

Anyway, last Sunday I went to our dreadful little parish church up the road, the one that was designed to look like a shopping mall, only a lot less beautiful.  After the mushy and gooey “music minister” assured me that all were welcome in this place and that I would be raised up on eagle’s wings and before he told me to taste and see, someone stepped to the pulpit after the homily.

St. Jeanne Jugan

It was one of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

I love these women.  We toured around with our show Little Saint of the Poor, about their foundress, St. Jeanne Jugan, and performed at over 20 Little Sisters homes across North America.  This is the most amazing group of women on the face of the earth.  Most of them are older than the seniors they care for.  One of them goes out begging every day, at every home, so that they can purchase the food the residents of their homes eat.  They have stood up to the Federal government, who are trying to force them to pay, indirectly, for contraceptives for their employees.  They are amazing.

The Little Sister at our parish spoke.  This is, more or less, what she said …

I’ll tell you a little bit of my vocations story.  I had everything, but I wasn’t happy.  There was a hole, a hole that I couldn’t fill, a hole in my life, in my chest.  I had cars, a nice job, everything in life – but I was single, I was lonely.  I prayed to God – finally.  I said, “God, please send me the perfect husband.”  Well, you have to be careful what you pray for!  Within twelve months, I gave up everything and became a nun – a Little Sister of the Poor.  And He said, “Guess what?  You’ve got the perfect husband!  It’s Me!”

We take in the elderly poor.  We care for them.  We know they all have holes in their lives like I did – family divisions, loneliness, despair.  We don’t care if they’re Christian or atheist, Muslim or Buddhist.  We take them in and we show them love.  We fill that hole.  They become part of our family.  We give them what they need, and some of them realize that and they’re very grateful.  We don’t just give them care, we love them.

And then, when the Lord calls them – when they’re dying – we stay by them.  We pray with them, we sing, we talk to them.  We make sure they don’t die alone.  This is the mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor.  This is what Jeanne Jugan did, and this is what we continue to do today.

And I left Mass actually feeling good.

This is what we’re called to do – all of us.  Answer the loneliness of others.  Give them a share of our hope.  Make them part of our family.  

This is what we are all called to do. 

My Interview with Patrick Coffin

Last week I recorded a 45 minute video interview with Patrick Coffin, discussing my wicked past and hopefully not quite as wicked present. Those wishing to wallow in the mire of my past while gazing with me at the stars are welcome to join me and Patrick in our exchange. Click on the link and enjoy or endure what follows!

The Faith & the South

The Faith & the South

The new issue of the St. Austin Review is hot off the press. This issue’s theme is “The Faith & the South”. Highlights include:

John Devanny surveys Catholicism and the ‘Older Religiousness’ of the South.

Adam Tate considers Southern Catholics and Protestant Bias in the light of Bishop John England’s 1839 debate with Rev. Richard Fuller.

Christopher J. Carter examines Catholicism in Colonial Alabama.

William Randall Lancaster pays tribute to Charles Maxwell Lancaster: Southern Scholar and Renaissance Man.

Francis M. Carroll shares his Recollections of Being a Student of Allen Tate.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker ponders C. S. Lewis and Bob Jones, Jr.

Donald DeMarco offers A Touch of Southern Comfort.

Joseph Pearce interviews Igor Babailov, Painter of the Popes.

Kevin O’Brien experiences Death and Poetry in New York.

K. V. Turley connects The Making of Psycho and the Unmaking of Alfred Hitchcock.

James Bemis critiques Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

Fr. Benedict Kiely recalls a “Statesman and Prophet”, revisiting Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Michael Kurek begs to differ with Dietrich von Hildebrand in “Richard Wagner: The Controversy Continues”.

Louis Markos reviews Disarming Beauty: Essays on Faith, Truth, and Freedom by Julián Carrón.

Stephanie A. Mann reviews Reformation Divided by Eamon Duffy.

Fr. Peter Milward reviews Heroes of the Catholic Reformation by Joseph Pearce.

Stephen Tomlinson reviews October 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day that Changed the World by Martin E. Marty.

Charlotte Ostermann reviews The Radiance of Being by Stratford Caldecott.

Plus new poetry by Mike Aquilina, Philip C. Kolin and Nicholas Zinos.

Happy Birthday, Bob Newhart

In three television films between 2004 and 2008, Bob Newhart played Judson, the director of an unusual urban library.  The fictional Metropolitan Public Library contains secret chambers holding priceless artifacts, such as the Ark of the Covenant and King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur.  To carry on the work of the library, Judson hires a young scholar, a highly-strung and socially awkward bachelor, but at one point the young man rebels, in large part because the secret nature of his often life-threatening assignments keeps him from having a girlfriend for more than a few months.

To console the young man and help him put things into perspective, a smiling Judson tells him, “Think of yourself as a celibate monk.”

Needless to say, the thirty-two year-old librarian rejects that advice.  For all their comedy, the films tap into the public’s perennial fascination with the supernatural and the biblical.  The films center around Judson sending the young librarian off to seek out for the library’s collection three fabled wonders of the world:  the Spear of Destiny, King Solomon’s Mines, and the Judas Chalice.  All three quests have the bad guys hot on his heels, and Judson appears magically at just the right times.

By the time of the three TV movies where he played Judson the wizard librarian, Newhart, born on 5 September, 1929, had long established his name in stand-up comedy as a master of deadpan delivery.  In 1960, he recorded six of his brief comedic monologues, and The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart became the first comedy album to go to number one on the Billboard charts.  In 1961 it won the Grammy Awards’ Album of the Year.  Other albums and other honors followed, as well as film roles and two long-running television series bearing his name.

Newhart’s dry, often cerebral, humor derives from events of everyday life, notably as experienced by Americans in middle-class, usually suburban, jobs.  Among the more famous of his routines are “Abe Lincoln v. Madison Avenue,” “Bus Drivers School,” and “King Kong.”  That last named portrays a new night watchman having to call his boss for advice on how to deal with a giant gorilla climbing up the side of the building.  After all, the training manual never covered that problem.

The world of the unexpected perils of people in offices was one Newhart knew well.  He grew up in an Irish Catholic family of six in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where his father was part owner of a plumbing and heating supply business.  One of Newhart’s three sisters became a nun and taught in a Catholic high school.

After graduating from Saint Ignatius College Prep, Bob Newhart studied business management and accounting at Loyola University, and after serving in the U. S. Army, he worked as an accountant for several major corporations with offices in Chicago, such as Glidden.  He has always maintained that those companies failed to appreciate his special approach to accounting, which he summed up in three words:  “That’s close enough.”

In public, Newhart’s old friend, the late Don Rickles, called Newhart, “the stammering idiot from Chicago.”  In contrast with Newhart’s quiet style that avoids cruelty and vulgarity, Rickles’ brash brand of humor depended upon raunchy insult and crass exaggeration, and to have the desired effect of surprise, humor in general must carefully balance distortion with remaining recognizably accurate to what is agreed upon as objective reality.  Newhart does stammer and hails from outside Chicago; however, like all comedians, he is exceptionally perceptive and quick-witted, even brilliant.

As have other prominent men who dealt with stammering, such as Winston Churchill and James Stewart, Newhart found ways to incorporate his stammer into his public speaking.  Someone with a stammer learns early on that the stammer is going to occur at least here and there, so it is best to develop ways to harness it.  Several of Newhart’s comedy routines involve him carrying on imaginary conversations on the telephone, a device that someone who stammers can face with fear and loathing.  Newhart’s humorous use of it shows a stammerer that the telephone can be mastered.

Since he is a performer, some critics have thought Newhart’s stammer was simply part of the act.  One producer, ever nervous about time constraints, asked Newhart to cut out the stammer; it was taking too much time.  “No,” Newhart countered, finding humor easier than a detailed explanation of the phenomenon, “that stammer bought me a house in Beverly Hills.”

In his memoir, I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! (2006), Newhart combined the texts of some of his more famous monologues with humorous anecdotes from his own life.  When reading it, though, it helps to be able to hear in one’s mind Newhart’s unique, often halting delivery.  It is possible that someone who has never heard Newhart’s routines or seen his television shows would find the book less than amusing.

Fortunately, his comedy albums continue to be available commercially and on-line, so new audiences will find a fresh, if reserved, source for a much-needed laugh, and a new generation of people with stammers will find a new hero, seeing once more that they are not alone struggling with words.  For Newhart’s nearly sixty years of laughs and inspiration, five days into every September we should honor this national treasure, maybe even by using the telephone.