I recall reading an article once, by I-forget-now, but the fellow who wrote it told of meeting Mother Teresa and finding himself giving her the lowdown on all his life difficulties. He said she just gave him a smile and said, “if you prayed, it would all be easier for you,” or something like that. Must look it up. She wasn’t being dismissive, just telling what she knew.
I have no idea how much of this story and this exchange between Christopher Hitchens and Fr. George Rutler is accurate, and I want to say that upfront. It happened over four months ago, and I tend to think that if it were real it would have generated a great deal of print…but on the other hand, if neither man was at his best, perhaps they preferred the downplay.
I tend to doubt that Hitchens was intoxicated. While the man makes no secret that he enjoys a cocktail (nothing wrong with that, either, if you’re not doing it to excess, hurting others or making a spectacle of yourself) I don’t think he’s going to go about promoting his book and debating religion and atheism while in his cups. I could be wrong but he doesn’t strike me as that sort. And of course, I like Hitchens, so I’m inclined to believe the best about him. Oh, I know, I know, he’s a bigot about religion and he has issues. We’re all bigots about something and we all have issues. I just think there is greatness within him and he fascinates me. His potential fascinates me.
What intrigues me about this strange story – which sounds very dramatic – is this part:
FATHER RUTLER: I have met saints. You cannot explain the existence of saints without God. I was nine years chaplain with Mother Teresa [inaudible]. You have called her a whore, a demagogue. She’s in heaven that you don’t believe in, but she’s praying for you. If you do not believe in heaven, that’s why you drink.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Excuse me?
FATHER RUTLER: That’s why you drink. God has offered us happiness, all of us. And you will either die a Catholic or a madman, and I’ll tell you the difference. [Emphasis mine – admin]
Whoa! Imagine saying that to someone! By today’s standards, the first part of Rutler’s remarks are presumptuous and judgmental, but once upon a time they wouldn’t seem so. Once upon a time they would have seemed like “tough love” coming from a priest who means to be a shepherd – can’t you just hear Spencer Tracy saying it to Mickey Rooney?
But the second part -imagine saying that to someone, “you will either die a Catholic or a madman…”
Think about that for a second. A Catholic priest gets up and says that…it is impossible not to be tempted into saying “and good Father, is there a difference? Are they one and the same? Are you, in fact both?”
I can’t tell you how much I want to know what Fr. Rutler was going to say, how he was going to illustrate the difference. I absolutely yearn to know, because I think he probably had a profound distinction to make…but he never did.
“You will die a Catholic or a madman.” The world has often called Catholics mad. I wrote about some of the “mad Catholic women” here.
What is the difference between a madman and a Catholic? I dearly want to know…I have an inkling that it has something to do with potential and intent. I hope someday Fr. Rutler spells it out.
Meanwhile, I’d love to see Mr. Hitchens and
Cardinal (whoops, wishful thinking!) Archbishop Chaput onstage together. I’m not a fan of apologetics, but that would be a fun ticket.
UPDATE: Hitchens covers it, sort of