Introducing My Take on Christianity

Through 52 weeks we will follow my take on the development of Catholic Christianity through twenty centuries.

This will not be a standard history of Christianity, but only my take on it. To explain where I get off presenting my take on our history, let me tell you about Lois McNally and Father Jim O’Brien, two friends of mine who have passed on.

Two weeks ago at the funeral Mass for Lois, as I was listening to the priest giving the eulogy, I began thinking about the contrast between Lois and Father O’Brien.

Lois and I often talked about what we had been reading. In fact, shortly before Lois died at age ninety-six, we had been exchanging insights on our faith. We could never plumb its depths.

Then, while sitting in the sanctuary listening to the priest saying fine things about Lois, I suddenly recalled a conversation I had with Father O’Brien fifty-five years ago. Jimmy and I were manning a Korean parish together when we got word that Father Michael O’Healy had left the priesthood to marry a Korean lady.

Father O’Brien said, “He should have talked to a priest.”

I asked, “Which priest?”

And, Father O’Brien said, “It doesn’t matter, we all learned the same things.”

Remembering that exchange, sitting there at Lois’s funeral, it struck me that we have two distinct kinds of Catholics. Father O’Brien’s kind are convinced they have the true faith tucked away in a back pocket, while Lois’s kind, with whom I identify, spend their lives searching out our faith’s endless meanings.

On Wednesday mornings the past two years, a group of Catholics has taken up the articles to be presented here, and they have been surprised that they do not cover over the mistakes of Catholic leaders through the centuries. While experiencing shock at first, they are now strengthened in knowing our Catholicism need not fear the truth.

While Christ has seen to it that afterwards we have always straightened ourselves, our Catholic Church has taken some wrong turns; as when it used the Inquisition and when it ignored advances in historical investigations into the language of the Bible.

While owning up to our mistakes, we must still love the church. The French priest Henri de Lubac gave us a good example of that in 1950. The Holy office under the direction of Cardinal Ottaviani had banned him from teaching and had removed the books he’d written from Catholic libraries.

After being confined to a small room where he was pursing his studies, he received a letter from an old friend, asking him if he was bitter toward the church. The friend later published Lubac’s answer to that question.

Although the shocks that assaulted me from without also troubled my soul to its depths, they are still powerless against the great and essential things that make up every moment of our lives. The Church is always there, in a motherly way, with her Sacraments and her prayers, with the Gospel that she hands down to us intact, with her Saints who surround us; in short, with Jesus Christ, present among us, whom she gives us ever more fully at the moments when she allows us to suffer.”

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