Saturday, March 27, 2010

I Alone Have Escaped To Tell You

I just finished reading the memoirs of the late Professor Ralph McInerny (1929-2010). From the mid-1950s to his retirement in the 21st century, Professor McInerny taught philosophy at Notre Dame. He also found time to write an incredible number of novels. This book, published in 2006 by the University of Notre Dame Press, is called I ALONE HAVE ESCAPED TO TELL YOU: MY LIFE AND PASTIMES.

The Bad Catholic found this to be a very enjoyable read, as well as a profound one. Professor McInerny surveyed the highlights of his life, which include the death of his first born child at age three to the writing of the highly popular Father Dowling mysteries.

Professor McInerny also spoke at great length about the Church and Catholic education and the poor state that both have fallen into. He talks about his early years in the junior and senior seminaries and his higher education after he left the seminary. Even going to graduate school in the late 40's and early 50's, McInerny felt that there was much that was wrong with "modern philosophy." McInerny says "To doubt everything is impossible. . . . No wonder philosophy over the last century has seemed to real from one form of self-assertive subjectivity to another, with its last state being skepticism that there is anything beyond our construals to know anyway. Truth along with objectivity goes out the window."

Professor McInerny felt that the Zeitgeist of the 20th century was very destructive and that the smoke of Satan had definitely entered the Church through "the Spirit of Vatican II." In his chapter on his various extended stays in Europe, McInerny says this: "Of course Europe has changed since our first visit, and not for the better. It is not simply that lovely national currencies have given way to the euro. There is something post-Christian about the continent, England seems neo-pagan to me, and even holy Ireland is taking on the worst traits of modernity. Cardinal Schonborn has said that our cathedrals have become museums and our museums have become churches. That does not begin to capture the change that has occurred."

Professor McInerny attacks the idea that in order to be a first class university, that a school must be totally secular and abandon its religious affiliations in the classroom. "I have portrayed the conflict as one between believer and nonbeliever . . . In Catholic departments of philosophy, one now has tenured colleagues whose training disposes them to take seriously positions which, however implicitly, are in conflict with the faith. And of course, students in our colleges and universities are likely to be taught by professors, whose views, if true, would undermine the student's faith. That is why those of us who have spent long careers in traditional Catholic institutions are involved in a long twilight struggle within the walls. Positions dubiously compatible with the faith are maintained and taught all around us. A young colleague of mine announced in a departmental meeting that, since he regarded Catholicism as false, he had a moral obligation to disabuse his students of their faith. That is where we have come." This is underscored by the recent commencement address controversy at Notre Dame. Professor McInerny loved Notre Dame passionately and was deeply saddened by the forces of secularism and evil at Our Lady's University.

In discussing the decline of the Church, Professor McInerny says that the post-conciliar problem was primarily Catholic intellectuals and left-leaning bishops who fostered changes on the Church which were not intended by the Council. The hot button issue was sexual ethics. According to McInerny, this one issue is the primary fire bringing Pope Paul's "smoke of Satan" into the windows of the Church. Professor McInerny opines that the open rebellion against the teachings of the Church in this one area has opened the door and led to the collapse of moral theology.

This quote is worth reproducing in full:

". . . many of the priests who are currently costing the Church millions upon millions of dollars in court-ordered payments were already priests before the collapse of moral theology. Their training surely would have enabled them to see that adulterous and homosexual activities were morally wrong. How can one explain this? I will provide an anecdote.

Priests of that age, though not only they, were regularly sent to programs allegedly designed to familiarize them with the brave new post-conciliar world. There was such a program at Notre Dame. A St. Paul priest I had known years before, who had been engaged in dedicated and effective pastoral work, came to Notre Dame to be renewed. We had lunch one day in the University Club. After pleasant reminiscing, it became clear that he wanted to talk about what he was undergoing. He leaned across the table and said to me in a whisper, "They told us to forget everything we had been taught in the seminary." Perhaps the one speaking to those priests was indulging in hyperbole, a little rhetorical excess to gain attention. Perhaps. The effect on my old friend was obvious. He was not, I can say, a fast-ball pitcher in the seminary, but he was a good priest. He had walked in the vocation to which he had been called. Now he was being told to forget everything that had defined his life. How could he not feel vertigo? He finished the course and went home and a few years later left the priesthood, under a cloud of accusations of sexual irregularity."

It is no doubt that Ralph McInerny was a remarkable man and led a very rewarding life as a husband, father, teacher, and author. The chapter in the book on writing fiction and detailing how McInerny broke into the publishing business and came to write mystery novels is worth the price of the book by itself.

Professor McInerny does not close his memoirs on a sour note. "Have I become a Cassandra, in despair of the Church and the modern world? Not at all. With William Faulkner in his Nobel Prize address, I am confident that man will prevail, and as for the Church, the gates of hell will not prevail against her. But one would have to be a mindless Pollyanna not to admit that we live in strange and antinomian times."

I ALONE HAVE ESCAPED TO TELL YOU is highly recommended. I have previously reviewed Professor McInerny's book SOME CATHOLIC WRITERS and his novel THE PRIEST.

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