instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Plus ca change

In an old Catholic humor anthology, I found a selection from Frank Leslie's 1947 book, There's a Spot in My Heart, that, with minor changes, could have been written today. It opens:
Uncle George described himself as one of the "Church Militant" .... "Militant" was too fragile a word to define Uncle George's emotions on the Church. "Church Rampant" might have been more accurate, although "Church Berserk" was even closer to it.
The piece is about the discord between the narrator's uncle and grandfather, the latter being a temperate skeptic.
Uncle George, who was compounded, spiritually, in eccentric portions, of Savonarola, Saint Jude, and Father Dooley's bitch, accused Grandfather of lacking "respect for the cloth." My grandfather said that he had the highest respect for the cloth; he merely did not like to see it being used to wrap up a fool.
The story culminates with a visit from the new curate.
...Uncle George moved in with one of his favorite openings: the magnificence of plain chant versus the odious and uncanonical caterwauling of mixes choirs. Father McManus ... never quite realized what hit him when Uncle George swarmed all over him with decrees of the Council of Trent, more recent regulations of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and direct citations from a bull of John XXII. Before he could regain his balance he was parrying an interrogation on the nature of Sanctifying Grace and, having countered with a Dominican defense, found himself buried under an avalanche of Jesuitisms. After a further incautious lead, he was hanging on the ropes, desperately endeavoring to duck a haymaker of the heresy of Jansenism which Uncle George was trying to land...

"Without a vigorous priesthood we cannot have a militant Christianity," he declaimed to the now helpless and bewildered curate. "Why are there no Christian martyrs in our times? Why are we Christians poorer in spirit than mere Mohammedans? ... We find those who profess Christ indifferent and slothful, wavering and watery in the practice and belief of their Holy Religion, while Mohammed's millions are still charging into the teeth of the Unbelievers' guns, greedy for that martyrdom whose recompense is lust! To think that we, who hold ourselves as Christians--"

"I wouldn't be so hard on the Christians, George," said my grandfather suddenly from the doorway. "After all, a Mohammedan can anticipate while a Christian can only hope."

The next time my grandmother got sick they sent the pastor.