Because the Quality of Friendship is Just Different

We learn by contrasts, brass beside gold. Two years along, I am still learning what it is to be a Catholic, but one thing is clear: I have never known such friendships. Within the past week, I have been confronted with a “friendship” from years past, one based on power, fear, and lies. This week, I also have had numerous encounters with Catholic friends. What a difference!

How to understand this difference? “The first thing to worry about is whether something is to be loved or not. If it is a lie, I cannot love it.” The line is from a Catholic writer I admire, and reading it today brought this question of friendship into focus. Some people, some friendships are based on lies. I can try to love such people, and maybe if I were Mother Teresa or Maximilian Kolbe, I would. But I’m not and I can’t, so I turn to where the gold is.

Or as my wise-beyond-her-years daughter told me this morning, “Dad, just because you have to forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to stay in the line of fire.” There are “friendships” that should be left behind, and there are friendships we make on the road to Emmaus.

I think this is the difference. Like two fishermen who encounter Christ, we are bonded together with our Catholic friends because we have a common destiny, a common desire, a common love. It’s not about you or me. It’s about you and me, gathered together His name.

I have found gold in my parish friendships.

There’s gold in my friendship with C., whose e-mails are always a joy to read. C. has had health troubles, but she always has a smile for me, and a line in almost every e-mail to make me think and be grateful.

There’s gold in my friendship with P., whose troubles are mostly professional. I enjoy calling P. on his cell phone on his way home from work to catch up, to let him know I’m thinking of him, to share a laugh or a moment or a thought.

There’s plenty of gold in my friendship with F.—but, heck, readers of this blog know that I mean Ferde. He is not necessarily the last person I would be attracted to if I were not a Catholic, if we did not have Christ in common, but I might be the last person for him. Ferde once said to me, and he said it to tweak me, “That’s the difference between you and me, man: You’re upper crust and I’m lower crust.” I didn’t deny the comparison—I come from comfort, Ferde had to fight for everything he has. Instead, I only said, “Yeah, Ferde, but together we make a great sandwich.”

Every day, I find gold in unexpected places. Just this afternoon I was at the coffee shop across the street from my office, and I ran into R. I see R.’s wife at the coffee shop in the mornings sometimes, but—unlike self-employed me, for whom it’s always casual Friday—R. is a hardcore working professional who has to dress up for the job and commute to the city. I don’t envy him, although today I have to admit that he looked very sharp in a bow-tie. He must have been home early from work, taking his kids out for a treat. Though I don’t know a lot about him, in the sense of name rank and serial number, I imagine that R. is the sort of slightly shy but brilliant person who can seem standoffish. We run into each other regularly on Sundays, but it never seems that I pull two words out of him.

Today—well, it wasn’t Sunday, it wasn’t Church, it was late Thursday on a glorious spring day in New England—I stood and listened mostly as R. and I talked in the coffee shop for about ten minutes. Big deal, right? Two middle-aged white guys shooting the breeze? True, except that I understood that our friendship—because that’s what it is—isn’t based on power, sex, or money, or anything else that life has to offer. It’s based on our both being Catholic Christians and being very happy that way. We know hardly anything about one another, except that we both seem to love the Church, head and body. And so, in ten minutes of friendly conversation, I didn’t feel an ounce of suspicion or fear or doubt. It was, as they say, all good.

I’m sorry. This subject is hard to write about without sounding air-headed, lobotomized, superficial. But I know what I’m saying, and maybe you do too.

“Praise” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I searched all evening for a poem with which to celebrate the Ascension. I found nothing worth publishing. But deep into the last chapter of a book I am writing about Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (which is making my posts here both few and far between), I find myself thinking every day about science and faith, about intelligent design, and even about the AIDS virus. And so, wouldn’t you know it, I came across a poem that blends all of these themes. It is by R.S. Thomas (1913–2000) (left), and it is called simply “Praise.”

A Welshman like Dylan Thomas, he was also an Anglican, like John Henry Newman before conversion. A pretty good combination and, I think you’ll agree, a pretty good poet too. 

I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.

Meanwhile, can anyone come up with a good Ascension-themed poem?

To Redeem My Past

If Catholicism were only about getting into heaven, then it would be only about the future. I’m sure there are skeptics who look at our faith this way, as a means of racking up brownie points for the afterlife. In fact, however, I chose to become a Catholic mostly for what it does for my present. It changes my life, day by day. It makes me happier, here and now. What I didn’t know then, and what has taken two years to begin to understand is, being a Catholic also changes my past.

I am not talking about confession, though that is an obvious place to start this discussion. My first, general confession before I was received into the Church began a process of absolution and of letting go. A weight was lifted from my shoulders, mostly from stones that surprised me. The obviously bad stuff I had done had not been such a burden. What most buoyed my heart was absolution for things I had been less aware of, if also haunted by, like being a bad father or an ungrateful son. I have written elsewhere that it was the Fourth Commandment that stuck hardest in my craw—my failures to honor my parents, as well as personal failures that made me a parent not worth honoring.

But I do not mean confession when I say that Catholicism is changing my past, and I do not even mean forgiveness, although that is an important way of changing one’s past. What I mean is something like forgiveness, or perhaps it is a pathway to forgiveness. 

My business is memoirs: I help people write their stories. Sometimes that story might involve a whole family or even an institution, which is why I now find myself deep into the final stages of writing the history of a large Boston institution, the Massachusetts General Hospital. (It’s also incidentally why readers of this blog are reading fewer posts by yours truly in recent weeks.)

Now, you would think that someone who effectively had ghost-written sixty books (I have, though none on the scale of the MGH project) would have no trouble writing his own memoir. But over the past couple of years, I have come to the shocking realization that there are things in my past life—major things—that I cannot write about, or at least should not. This is because to write about them truthfully would create a scandal. Although this may sound confusing and abstract, and I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, it is actually a very real quandary. Imagine a doctor who could not use his skills to save his own life. That is me and memoirs. I cannot tell my own story. Not all of it, anyway.

Let me be clear: I believe that there are some things that we should take to the grave with us. I do not side with the tell-all school of memoirs that has been such a rage in the past twenty years of mainstream publishing, from fine-lit efforts like Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club to the latest, stupid tell-all destined for ten minutes on Oprah and then, once the publisher’s receipts are counted and the author’s vanity sated, Oblivion.

What do you do when there are things in your past that cannot or should not be told? My experience as a Catholic has taught me this: you redeem them. Redemption is one of those big, ponderous religious words that I’m not sure even most Catholics understand, though we use them freely enough. I want to propose a new reading of the word. To redeem is to reconsider, rethink, re-deem. As a Catholic, one redeems the past by viewing it through the lens of one’s faith. Here’s an example.

I once knew someone whose actions toward me had mixed motives, or so I’ve come to believe. This person did some very good things, and some pretty bad. But when I review (re-view) the trail of events that stretch from my first meeting with that person to this present day, I see many steps along the way that led me toward the Catholic Church, bread crumbs leading Hansel and Gretel out of danger and safely home.

I am happier today than I have ever been in my life. Some of this is seeing my children safely on their own roads home. A big part is being married to Katie, and happily, after 25 years. But the greatest ingredient in my happiness is my Catholic faith, without which everything else would reflect a paler light. And without that person’s mixed influence on my life, I might never have become a Catholic.

When I can look at my past—all of it, good, bad, indifferent—and not just imagine but begin to understand that every person, every incident led me here, I can only be grateful, and for all of it. I am, in some sense of a difficult word, redeemed.

Because I Can Always Go to Mass

Drink too much last night? You can go to Mass this morning. Argue stupidly with your spouse about matters that seem trivial in the new day’s light? Christ awaits you in the Eucharist. Thrashing over a problematic relationship or a financial problem? Somewhere right now a priest is saying Mass. Pinwheeling through life without a clear sense of direction at work, at home, in love or friendship? The church door is unlocked somewhere near you, and Mass is about to begin.

It is a glorious spring morning in Massachusetts, and this train of thought rumbled through my brain as I parked my car on Cabot Street and looked up at friends entering St. Mary’s ahead of me. Daily Mass is not an obligation. It is not something you do for “extra credit” and it never quite feels like “just a habit.” It is an anchor to windward, a dependable oasis, the place I’m always glad I came back to.

This morning I kept looking around for my friend Bob, who wrote a couple of touching comments on a recent post of mine that has caused some heartache (the post, not Bob’s comments). Bob wasn’t there. (He runs his own business, has three young kids and a wife who works too—under the circumstances, who could possibly have the time? But he’s often there anyway, in the back on the left.) I particularly wanted to see him this morning, but others were there, and it was good to see them: Frankie G. in the front row as always, beside Chris and just ahead of Phyllis and Henry. Jolyne and Ferde and Heidi just behind me. And Dottie at the other end of my pew, and Flo and Maria directly across the center aisle. I love seeing Bill and Joe and Tom, and Lorrie, John, and Patty too. Brothers Tony, Frank, and John are usually side by side behind me to the left, but Frank was AWOL today. (He’s serving at a 9 a.m. funeral Mass.) And others. Many others. Morning Masses at 7 a.m. in Beverly draw between fifty and a hundred people, a tribute to Father Barnes and also to the Catholic bloodlines of Beverly, which has been favored by many, many Irish and Italian families over the past couple of centuries. I honestly consider each of the “regulars” a friend.

Becoming a Catholic is just absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me. And daily Mass, with the friendship we all share, is the one place each day where I am truly fed.

“The Habit of Perfection” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Twice in the past week I said or wrote something deeply embarrassing—hurtful words about someone else that I have regretted with a stab in the heart. The first time was with someone very close to me. The second was in a recent post. In the first case, my embarrassment led to a reconciliation with the person involved: we have never been closer. It is too early to predict what will happen in the second case, but I’m praying about it. Meanwhile, I’ve taken a vow of silence.

Yeah, I know, you’ve probably heard that one before, especially if you know me personally or have hung around this virtual soapbox for any length of time. Like many people with a certain minor gift of eloquence, I suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. I get too smart for my own britches, and my mouth runs all the same, and then I feel awful about it.

Which is why I’ve chosen another poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., for this week’s installment. I suppose it is about taking literal vows; but it has a lot to say to all of us, especially me, and right now.

The Habit of Perfection
Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorled ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

Be shelled, eyes, with double dark
And find the uncreated light:
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
Desire not to be rinsed with wine:
The can must be so sweet, the crust
So fresh that come in fasts divine!

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
Upon the stir and keep of pride,
What relish shall the censers send
Along the sanctuary side!

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
That want the yield of plushy sward,
But you shall walk the golden street
And you unhouse and house the Lord.

And, Poverty, be thou the bride
And now the marriage feast begun,
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.

To Keep My Mind Open, My Heart Too

There are Catholics and there are Catholics. I don’t mean conservatives and liberals, or Dominicans and Jesuits. I’m talking about Catholics who remain open to experience, because in that experience they may find beauty, they may even find Christ—and Catholics who are closed to experience, because they’re right enough as they are, thank you very much. I had a vivid demonstration of the difference yesterday, when our men’s group welcomed four members of Communion and Liberation (CL) from Boston and Cambridge.

They are four remarkable young Catholics: a doctor from the Massachusetts General Hospital; a Harvard Ph.D candidate and composer of music; his wife, a concert pianist; and a Ph.D candidate in philosophy from Boston College. Three are natives of Italy, one of Paraguay (though he moved to Kansas as a young child). Bright, articulate, and passionate about life—they are typical of the people I have met in CL. They are the kind of people you look at and think, I want to have that kind of passion for life!

What different responses they evoked from the 35 parishioners who came to hear them speak!

I won’t even talk about J. and M., who seemed so fascinated by what was said that they stayed after to learn more. Perhaps one or both will begin to take part in “The Movement.” Instead, I want to boast about my dear friend Carrie. (Yes, women were invited to this special session of our men’s group, a first. Next week the doors slam shut again! LOL) Carrie is in her mid-70s and does not exactly fit the CL demographic, where the average age is probably half hers, if that. Carrie is the sort of elder lady seen at daily Mass of whom an outsider might think, “What else can she do? She’s gone to Mass all her life, and she doesn’t know any other way. The poor dear probably doesn’t even think about it anymore.”

How wrong that outsider would be! After the hour-long discussion of CL, Carrie called me over. She had taken meticulous notes and there were a couple of points she wanted to clarify. She so desired to understand the particular charism of CL, that she asked me a couple of searching questions. When I had answered to her satisfaction, she twinkled a smile at me and said, “Thank you, I just wanted to understand. Thank you. God bless you. God bless you.” I was very touched.

Later in the day, I happened to be out walking when I ran into a friend whom I will call T. He is a good man, good husband, good father. T. was walking the dog with his wife, F. We stopped to talk and the first words out of T.’s mouth were, “I gotta tell you. I have no idea what that CL is about.” T. had sat through the same hour that Carrie and I had witnessed. He had all the same information, though not the same experience. When I rejoindered, “You could probably learn more from the CL web site. You know, there’s a great CL web site,” T. said, “I’m sure there is.” It was obvious that T. had no intention of checking out the CL web site.

I pondered this experience as I continued my walk home and later over dinner with Katie. T. is an admirable man and a devout, well-read Catholic. But it seemed to me that there was something a bit too certain about his point of view, almost as if he viewed the world from behind battlements: “I am a Catholic, I will defend Catholicism to the death, and I will not let pass anything that even smells of the unknown.”

There is a difference between the unknown and the unorthodox. If one took the time to study CL, one would discover that the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation was approved as a valid ecclesial movement within the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1982. (Founder Luigi Giussani began teaching in 1954. The photograph shows him with early students.) One would discover that the homilist at Don Giussani’s funeral was none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, our present Pope. One might even discover that our present Pope meets in weekly School of Community (the term for a CL meeting) with consecrated women of CL who manage the papal household.

But T. will probably never open his mind and heart far enough to appreciate the consequences of these facts, even if he is confronted with them. Which is why I saw little point in arguing with him, and when another dog came by to play with his dog, I used this opportunity to break off our brief conversation and wish T. and F. a pleasant evening.

The truly remarkable person in all this was my dear friend Ferde, because in Ferde I can see the tension between openness to experience and a limiting sense of rightness. To hear him speak sometimes, to exchange e-mails with him, you would think that Ferde must fall into the closed-minded camp. Ferde’s e-mail signature reads, “If the Catholic Church teaches it, it must be right.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt. Ferde is definitely in the “Catholic right or wrong” camp, but you see, that’s something else entirely. That’s upholding orthodoxy. An actor, a writer, and something of a free spirit for all his gruff righteousness, Ferde is orthodox and open.

Given that there are Catholics and there are Catholics, “Catholic right or wrong” necessarily has an expanded definition. Within the Catholic experience, within a full following of the Church and its doctrine, it is possible to be open- and closed-minded. Ferde’s mind is open, which is all the more remarkable because his eardrums are as good as closed.

I’m not telling any tales out of school here to write that Ferde has a congenital hearing deficit. So to sit for an hour listening to accented English, with his hearing aids turned up full, in a space with bad acoustics required an extraordinary effort. (Our upper church has the acoustics of an ear trumpet; our lower church is hushed like the catacombs.) Ferde made a concerted effort to understand, as difficult as that effort may have been for him, and when the hour was over, he was one of the few who asked a searching question of our four guests. As righteous as he may sound at times, Ferde’s desire for the truth is very much intact. This moved me. This impressed me. This showed me once again why Ferde has been such an important friend to me in the Church.

I thank my friends from The Movement for bringing this and many other insights to friends of mine in my home parish.

For All the Saints: Joseph the Worker

Writing is not physically demanding, but try doing it every day for three or four hours. The first thing you have to accomplish is to put your body in the chair. (There are other saltier words for body.) Then you have to move your fingers, despite interference from your brain. One of my remedies for this laziness (which some glorify as “writer’s block”) is to read a prayer to St. Joseph each morning before I begin. It hangs over my writing desk.

The beautiful thing about the saints is, they are so connected to the practicalities of daily life. Lose something? Pray to St. Anthony. Have a particularly thorny problem? Think it’s hopeless? Call on St. Jude. Can’t write? Ring up St. Joseph the Worker, whose feast we celebrate today.

Many things link me to St. Joseph, beginning with my own father (long story). Two Catholic links are St. Teresa of Avila, who had a particular devotion to him; and Dorothy Day, who distributed the first edition of the Catholic Worker newspaper on May 1, 1933, just as the Communists were making their greatest inroads among a depressed working class in America. She intended to show workers that the Catholic Church has a program for them as well. Pope Pius XII followed suit by making this a feast day, beginning in 1955.

Here is the prayer to St. Joseph. I hope you find it as helpful as I do in getting over writer’s block or garden-variety laziness:

O glorious St. Joseph, model of all who are devoted to labor, obtain for me the grace:
To work in a spirit of penance, for the expiation of my many sins;
To work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my inclinations;
To work with gratitude and joy, considering it an honour to employ and develop by means of labour, the gifts received from God;
To work with order, peace, moderation, and patience, never shrinking from weariness and trials;
To work, above all, with purity of intention, and with detachment from self, having ever before my eyes the hour of death and the account I must give of time poorly spent, talents unused, good omitted, and vain complacency in success.
All for Jesus, all through Mary; all after thy example, O Patriarch Joseph; such shall be my watchword in life and in death. Amen.

“Death Be Not Proud” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I interviewed a devoutly Catholic man yesterday for non-Catholic reasons. He told me that for people like him and me, both nearer 60 than 50, each day boils down to “a choice between Dunkirk and the Alamo.” When you get into a situation, there are two outcomes: You get your boats off the beach and live to fight another day, as at Dunkirk; or you make your last stand, as at the Alamo. Meaning, we’re getting near the end of the line, and now it’s only a question of, How long?

Then he said, “Of course, we Catholics know that there is a final destination, and that makes all the difference,” or words to that effect. (He said all of this with much saltier language. I have never met a Catholic more at home with profanity.)

All of this made me think of the line “Death be not proud,” which I first encountered as the title of a memoir by John Gunther about his son’s early death from, I think it was, a brain tumor. We read the book in 7th grade, or maybe 8th, and it made an impression.

Where does the line come from? My sister Elizabeth, the English scholar in the family, would know, because it comes from her favorite poet, John Donne (pictured). Here is Donne’s Holy Sonnet #10. It’s worth a second reading for any Catholic.

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou thinks’t, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Thanks to Arvo Pärt (Music for Monday)

The beautiful thing about Catholic life, if you love it, is that everything streams into it: literature, music, theater and art, politics, science. Everything can remind one of the beauty of creation. Everything can be a sign of Christ’s presence. Even music you know nothing about.

I have written before about the joys of Pandora Radio, a Web service that allows you to build your own customized stations. Like a song? Make it the “seed” of a new station and Pandora will grow you a whole wildflower garden of music with similar qualities.

Thanks to my pal James, I’ve been listening to Stile Antico Radio, which features polyphony, mostly from the Renaissance. But Pandora is sneaky. It will start slipping you stuff that’s from an entirely different era or even planet just because this music has features of that music. Thus I met Arvo Pärt (pictured).

Believe me, I know nothing about the guy except what I read in Wikipedia. But I love the umlaut. And I love the music. So, presto, I asked Pandora to create another station for me, and for the past week, while out walking, I’ve been listening to Arvo Pärt Radio on my iPhone, complete with cool white ear buds.

Here are some selections from Arvo Pärt Radio (how do you pronounce that name?!), with minimal liner notes from the honestly ignorant Mr. Bull.

Arvo Pärt, “Agnus Dei”
Born Estonia 1935. Apparently still living, or was living the last time his Wiki entry was updated. Made up his own style of composition called tintinnabuli but “also finds inspiration from Gregorian chant.” Those in the know say he belongs to the school of “holy minimalism.” I say I like his stuff.

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Eric Whitacre, “Water Night”
Now this guy is young, born 1970, yikes, 19 years younger than me. He shouldn’t even be allowed on this site. But get a load of his music. It’s beautiful.

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Sir John Tavener, “The Lamb”
Born in England in 1944, he claims to be a direct descendant of 16th-century composer John Taverner, but I say, if so, what happened to the second r? Strikes me as a bit of a poseur, but then I hear this setting of William Blake’s “The Lamb,” and I no longer care.

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If you read music, you’ll especially enjoy this piece by Sir John, “Funeral Ikos.”

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Henryk Gorecki, “Totus Tuus”
Again, it was James who tipped me off to Gorecki, and I’ll close with this piece. Born in Southwest Poland in 1933, he wrote it in 1987 in honor of Pope John Paul II and one of his return trips to Poland. “Totus Tuus” was JPII’s apostolic motto, “All Yours,” an expression of his devotion to Mary. Do you have any favorite pieces by any of these modern masters?

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To Recapture the Faith of My Youth

The joint was jumping as I entered the Cathedral of the Holy Cross last Saturday, April 17. The nave was filling for the 2010 Boston Catholic Men’s Conference, and I was attending for the first time. I didn’t expect a rockish sort of band singing faith songs in front of a video screen that flashed the lyrics or hundreds of men on their feet, sort of swaying, sort of clapping, depending on their age and level of inhibition. I certainly didn’t expect to find myself beside Dick from Foxboro and wonder what had happened to my faith when I turned fifteen.

I learned Dick’s name only later. What I was first aware of was a guy in a New England Patriots slicker, somewhat older than my 58 years, on his feet, bobbing his head, clapping his feet, and definitely totally into it, singing something about loving Jesus. I was momentarily embarrassed for Dick. Then, for quite a while longer, I was embarrassed for myself and brought up short by my embarrassment.

The music was good, the lyrics inspiring, the temperature rising—and yet there was some kind of reserve wedged between my heart and a mind that had grown skeptical, then cynical during my boarding school years. Before I left home at fifteen, I was an Episcopal altar boy thinking about becoming an Episcopal minister. By the time, three years later, that I had completed “the best educational years of my life” (as I’ve always considered them), I had been led away (e-ducatus) from an innocent faith to a sophisticated agnosticism.

What had done the trick? The 800 boys, each of whom thought he was smarter than his neighbor? The religion classes that were really an indoctrination in existentialism? Or just the wise-guy, butt-smoking smart-aleckness of teenage kids, with no parentis in loco and little available in the way of a faith experience? Our daily “chapel” was really an assembly without the pretense of devotion. Maybe we had an invocation, once, at the beginning of the year, I don’t remember.

It strikes me that becoming Catholic has turned my world view, and my self view, butt over teakettle. Because I understand now that the same seductive cultural forces that we Catholic parents worry about when we think of our children in today’s world were working their magic, 1960s style, with me, just when I thought I was getting the best education money could buy, just when I thought I was so smart.

I’m probably not shocking anyone by writing this. Unless you were raised in a strongly evangelical setting and went to a Christian college, you probably had a similar experience of adolescence. The amazing thing is that I ever recovered. Because I was an insufferable wise guy by the time I went to college, reading Camus (pictured) with a Marlboro hanging off my lip, reciting Beckett while trucking around campus with my hands thrust deep in my pockets, thinking that Kafka must have been an amazingly cool guy, mostly because I didn’t understand a word of what he wrote.

In college began my long and winding path back to the church, stretching through 35 years of midlife, my “prime working years.” I’ve documented that path before in this space. But right now, I’m back beside Dick from Foxboro wondering about that reserve, the residue of doubt and skepticism that is often (always?) still there, a lasting legacy of my Exeter years. How do I grind that doubt away? How do I fully reopen my heart and silence the agnostic in my mind, so that next year I can be on my feet from the opening bell, clapping and singing along with the guy in the Patriots slicker?

I have been asking myself these questions all week long.