Second post of the day, I know. This incident is from a little less than 3 years ago, but with Christopher Hitchens recent self-removal from his book tour to attend to his throat cancer and have chemotherapy, I stumbled upon it. (I'm a reporter, I like to dig around deeper and wider.)
Imagine this: an encounter between Fr. George Rutler, the Roman Catholic priest who served the firefighters in NYC on 9/11 and a convert from Anglicanism, and Christopher Hitchens, the gifted writer and Atheist.
Hitchens described the encounter like this in the September 2007 issue of Vanity Fair:
May 1, New York City: An evening at the Union League Club, sponsored by the conservative David Horowitz. A full house of upscale right-wingers who at least agree with me on the single issue of fighting Islamic jihadism. A generally receptive and friendly audience as I am interviewed by the publisher Peter Collier. He's just closed the meeting when a man in a clerical collar puts up his hand. In a magnanimous mood, I say, Fair enough—let's extend the event for a man of the cloth. This turns out to be Father George Rutler of the Church of Our Saviour, who announces that he's on the committee of the club and will make sure that I am never invited there again. There's some shock at this inhospitable attitude, but I think: Gosh. Holy Mother Church used to threaten people with eternal damnation. Now it's exclusion from the Union League Club. What a comedown. In a brisk exchange near the elevator, the good father assures me that I shall die a Catholic. Why do people think this is such a good point?
Here's a brief transcript from Elizabeth Scalia's First Things blog:
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.
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. And secondly, I’m an officer with this club. And this conversation has been beneath the dignity of this club.
I've been thinking a lot about God and Catholicism as a whole lately. Being Catholic is the hardest and best part of my life. Today was no different. I'm too rebellious by nature; God has been slowly taming my soul. This has not been easy for me, but very necessary.
Pascal talked of the God-shaped vacuum in people's lives. Augustine wrote in his Confessions that our hearts are restless Lord until they rest in thee. B.H. Fairchild wrote in his essay "Credo" that the reason Christians attend mass or services is because they are admitting they are weak; they talk to God. Pope Benedict says there are as many ways to God as there are people; that being said, Jesus Christ is the only way.
And to get to Christ, He uses the worst of us. He befriended the tax-collectors and prostitutes. He gave the keys of the Church to a coward who denied him three times. I sometimes think, if there were no homeless, would we still be thankful for the roof over our head and our covers at night? If no one was persecuted, how could we taste justice? Resisting temptation bears fruit of contentment. When I leave the office late only to continue working at home, I'm glad I have the crucifix to remind me of what a blessing it is to have a job after college and the chance to write for a living, among many other good things.
The subjective nature in which people see the world always makes me think of E.A. Robinson's poem "Richard Cory":
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
With all the material gain in the world, Richard Cory still had nothing to sustain him. "Cum panis" is Latin for "with bread." It is a simple phrase my good friend Betsy brought to my attention in the spring in a letter; about the significance of communion and community when friends and family share bread together at a meal- or, for me at least, when Catholics gather to celebrate the mass and the Eucharist.
My fellow reporter doesn't get why I go to mass every day I am able. "Again?" she once said, slightly exasperated. I smiled and said "Yes!" but wanted to elaborate. I wanted to share why I feel compelled to go and why I must go. Yes, must. How mass (ergo, God) comforts me in estrangement from dear ones, drives away doubts about my purpose and His will, quells fears that I will end up alone, gives me the gumption to do my job, fills me with His Love and gives me peace. As St. Ignatius Loyola said, "Go forth and set the world on fire." That I will, God-willing.
Perhaps I have told too much and gone on for too long but something compels me to tell this story (most likely the Holy Spirit; I loathe to think I wrote this for my own silly purposes). I hope this aids or supplements something on your own minds or hearts. God works in mysterious ways but purposeful ways.
And something else to think about: how momentous would it be if Christopher Hitchens had an Alexander Flyte from Brideshead Revisited moment? The English do have their fair share of famous converts!