It’s another one of those days on the calendar when one is supposed to pause, take note and celebrate. Part of me prefers to ignore it, but I am forbidden. My number one son Jonathan came home from LA , as he always does on this day, and my number two son flew off to London. There is a message there. I am grateful for them both. Jonathan is a writer and considers me a rank amateur, a want-to-be romantic transplant from 19th century England. Nevertheless his gift to me was my very own blog https://whispersfrombabylon.wordpress.com/ You may find his description of what it is to be used for guttural, graphic but true. I invite you all to follow me there if you are so inclined
1946 is a long way away. Indeed, It’s in another century. Consider for a moment those intervening years, and how different the world is today from that whence we sprang. While grateful for the well-spring that is our past, I really have no desire to romanticize it. We grew up in a world more similar to fascist Quebec in the 1950’s than to more advanced and open democratic societies. We were trained to be bigots. Pius XII was both Prince and Fascist, and I apologize to this day for what we could have and did not do during the Shoah [Holocaust] Ours was a paternalistic, authoritarian, clerically dominated world where free thought was not encouraged. In fact, if anyone dared, they were immediately ostracized and suppressed. I was among the most compliant, and learned very early to play the right games. I entered into the heart of our religious heritage, self-appropriated all of it, and then was graced by Jesuit intellects to grow beyond it and them. I don’t know how many of you know this, but I was supposed to do doctoral studies not at Cambridgeunder Owen Chadwick but at Tubingen under Hans Kung. Gregory Baum had arranged for me to study with Kung and pushed me hard. I chose not to go, not because I didn’t want to, but because I feared the German Examination called the “Rigorosa”, a comprehensive on everything in your field; and the thought of having to do that in German scarred me silly. Instead I went off to Harvard for a month to check it out, didn’t like the United States at the time, and thankfully escaped to wonderful and glorious England. Kung has since been sort of excommunicated, not allowed to teach, even though he was the main reason Tubingen hired his old friend Josef Ratzinger. I still wonder what I would have turned into had I spent three or four years with Kung.
Like Quebec we Newfoundlanders will now travel through our own period of reaction. In the 1950 Quebec was the most conservative and highly religious cultures in the world, with more in common with Franco’s Spain than with France. We were not all that dissimilar. Today Quebec is one of the most secular cultures in the world, religion is firmly on the side-lines, and fascism has given way to democratise socialism. Are we not going through our own similar ‘Quiet Revolution”? Will we yet see the NDP govern our Province? Will we lose our rich spiritual heritage as we cast aside religious paternalism and triumphalism? Will we drift into secular authoritarianism as easily and as readily as we embraced religious authoritarianism? Or will we discover our own via media? Who knows?
My focus has also began to turn to more immediate and personal issues. My friends seem to dying before they should, and most months I am forced to grieve and confront my own limitedness and mortality. Ultimately we are all alone, no matter how intimate the marriage, and that too grows in my consciousness. I have also begun to feel my own ‘limitedness’, some of the old bravado has diminished, new consciousness dawns, and very old friends are making contact again. This week I heard from Linda Inkpen, one of the brightest minds I encountered in my youth, and a dynamic female leader way before her time. I love reconnecting. Number two son is now in London with Moya Greene and her daughter Mary Angela, and I heard from Moya Friday, one of those amazing Newfoundland women not sufficiently acclaimed. I am also connected to Patricia White, a national media anchor at the age of 23, a career media star, and another accomplished Newfoundlander not sufficiently celebrated. This year has also brought me in contact with Greg Power’s son, a man who has taken up the torch of making us all proud of who we are, with Seamus O’Reagan, now out and married, and a truly delightful human being. On our own front, I am determined to fly down even if only for a couple of days to visit Jim Prowse, among other things. I don’t understand the urge, I just know I have to do it.
To conclude, allow me to celebrate all of you, you who have run the race, taken the transcendental turn, and moved beyond the illusion of your own self-containment. Ad multos annos!