Because Some Words Make My Heart Vibrate

I often lie awake in the small hours of the night. It’s a soon-to-be-old-man thing. Last night, both to get back to sleep and to avoid waking Katie, I read a Kindle book by the teeny light of my iPhone. Tonight, after thrashing around wondering whether it’s time to start posting again, I’m writing about it.

I was reading George Weigel’s book Letters to a Young Catholic. As a book publisher, I wonder how much of the $7.03 Kindle download fee Weigel is earning as a royalty, but as a reader I couldn’t care less. Letters to a Young Catholic is a lot of book for $7.03.

It hardly matters what I was reading from Weigel; it was the section on GK Chesterton (left), but it could as easily have been the one on Brideshead Revisited, which I picked up today at Borders at full retail. Weigel’s a wonderful read, especially for me; I am “young” as a Catholic convert if not as a JAG (football coach Bill Parcells’s acronym for “just a guy”). My point, though, is not the content of the Weigel book but the experience I had reading it.

With the lights off in the middle of the night, with the bright light of daily living dimmed down too, you can be intimately aware of your inner experience. “What my heart feels” becomes literal. Some thoughts, some readings in cases like this, can cause a distinct vibration in your chest, a warmth like the one you might feel in recognizing an old friend or finding the lost piece of silver. I felt that sensation while reading Letters to a Young Catholic—not just that it was “speaking to me,” but that it was speaking to the deepest needs of my heart.

This month, Communion and Liberation (CL) groups around the world (known in the parlance as “Schools of Community”) have been reading a short monograph by Fr. Julian Carron about the critical importance of making “judgments.” I thought I understood something about what this meant last night while reading Weigel. Making a judgment is a complicated notion and I can’t possibly exhaust its meaning here, but it boils down to weighing experience against the deepest needs of your heart. We grow through experience, Carron says, only when we “judge” it.

Reading Weigel by the light of my iPhone, I felt that I was in the presence of a dear friend who had something ultimately important to tell me. Two dear friends, actually. Standing alongside Weigel, overshadowing him literally, was the rotund GKC, explaining with the words of his book Orthodoxy, just exactly why I am a Catholic. “But that’s it exactly,” I thought, as my heart vibrated. “And that too—and that too.”

We judge things against other things, by contrast, and although Carron does not use this notion exactly, I did just this last night. An iPhone being an iPhone, mine periodically vibrated in my hand, indicating that, while reading Weigel on Chesterton, I had received an e-mail. And being a JAG, of course I pumped the control button and touched the e-mail command to see who or what it was that was trying to “reach” me at this hour. And each time I did so, my heart stopped. The moment I turned away from Weigel to pick up some trivial thread of quotidian experience, it was as though my heart literally stopped beating. The sensation of vibrant warmth vanished, and I was suddenly lost in “learning” something about the world. I had this experience not just when trashing a piece of junk mail but even when reading the New York Times lead story for the coming day, which flashed to me as it always does around 3:20. Last night that lead story was about the pope’s dramatic offer to the Anglican communion, which you might think would be “heart-warming” to Catholics everywhere. In fact, it is heart-warming to me too, but not that kind of heart-warming. 

The book that was most influential in my converting to Catholicism, My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J., tells a wonderful story of St. Ignatius of Loyola that perfectly mirrors my experience last night:

Confined to his sickbed, Iñigo asked a relative for some books. All she could offer was pious reading, which he took grumpily and grudgingly. To his great surprise, the soldier found himself attracted to the lives of the saints and began thinking, If St. Francis or St. Dominic could do such-and-such, maybe I could do great things. He also noticed that after thinking about doing great deeds for God, he was left with a feeling of peace—what he termed “consolation.” On the other hand, after imagining success as a soldier or impressing a particular woman, though he was initially filled with great enthusiasm, he would later be left feeling “dry.”

I dried out instantly last night each time I looked at my e-mail. Which makes me wonder just how dry most people’s daily lives are. As a JAG, I am “most people.” As a Catholic, I often feel an inner call to something else entirely.

(If my computer clock is working better than my circadian clock, this post will be date-stamped around 3 a.m. Time to get back to bed, back to Weigel, and, in about 20 minutes inevitably, back to the New York Times.)

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  • We sit for hours watching our email come in.Waiting anxiously for something to fill the void in our heart. The prayers of the Church call us, the Rosary lays unused on the table.Night comes, but rest does notTossing & turning in the dark..lonely, empty, dry.We await the answernot realizing it was, He was always therewaiting

  • My love for Weigel (*Witness to Hope* is awesome) was unqualified until his analysis of Pope Benedict XVI's latest encyclical (e.g. trying in partisan fashion to tease out liberal vs. conservative influences in its writing—sigh). Maybe this book will renew my esteem? – TL

  • Ferde

    My disdain for Weigel has not waivered in 6 years. I attended a symposium on the writing of John Paul II a couple of years ago. Weigel was the featured speaker. All the scholars presenting brought new material germane to the topic. Weigel read a few pages from 'Witness to Hope.' When he was done, his MC, Jody Bottom, asked soto voce if he wanted to take qustions from the audience. Weigel sneered at him as if to say, "Questions?? From these peasants?!" The lies he told in support of the invasion of Iraq will never leave me. I'm down on Weigel. (Webster is down on politics. If he posts this it'll be a miracle!)

  • Anonymous

    Kudos Ferde!I don't much care for him either…Raving lunatic indeed:)

  • EPG

    A friend gave me "Letters to a Young Catholic" several years ago — great stuff, especially the chapters to which Web refers. "Witness to hope" is an impressive book. For these alone, I am grateful to GW for his work. Chesterton, of course, is much better, but one of the things people tend to forget is this: He wrote "Orthodoxy" (published in 1909) while he was still a member of the Church of England (he became a Catholic in 1922). I don't know that this is terribly important, but I find it a little comforting as I, having fallen away from Anglicanism (at least in its North American incarnation) look at Catholicism. I'm not sure why, but . . .

  • I'm just wondering if you have read Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle? I'm wondering if your experience was similar at all to the experiences she attempted to write about in that book.