Marian Writes, is featured in the sidebar at right; you can read it yourself. Marian doesn’t wear her churchliness on her sleeve the way her father does, but it’s no secret that she was received into the Catholic Church two years ago. Since that time we have had fruitful talks about combining other traditions and disciplines with the call of Christ that dominates the heart of any practicing Catholic.
These talks really got going when she blew out an ankle training for a marathon, took up yoga as substitute exercise, and found value in it. She has taken 200 hours of teacher training in North Carolina and is now in India deepening her knowledge of Ashtanga, the practice she follows. I am profoundly proud of her, as I am of her older sister.
Marian would have laughed to see me earlier this morning.
I lay on the floor of a New York City hotel room doing yoga while listening on my iPad to last night’s opening remarks by Fr. Julián Carrón at the North American Diaconia of Communion and Liberation. My yoga practice I blame on Marian, and I bless her for it, too. She created a 20-minute routine for “stiff guys” when she left the States at the beginning of the month, hoping that this stiff guy would become more limber before the two of us walk the Camino de Santiago in May and June. So far, the good news is, I haven’t popped a hamstring.
I know Catholics who want their religion pure. Follow the Pope, read the catechism, say the prescribed prayers—in short, don’t mess with the Mass, even if the Church does. For such Catholics, ecumenism is a challenge inside an enigma inside a confusion. The idea of Thomas Merton going off to India to meet the Dali Lama or of Fr. Pedru Arrupe SJ praying in a recognizably Buddhist posture (photo above) is anathema to them. (Admittedly, India didn’t work out so well for Merton, and Arrupe was effectively fired by the Pope, but anyway.) We risk diluting the Christian proposal, these Catholics say, we risk decaying into a whateverness of faith that says, you practice Christianity as it suits you, I’ll practice in my way, and it’s all good. And I agree with them.
But fatherhood changes you, or brings you back to yourself. I have said in front of my own pastor that I was a father before I was a Catholic—and this is literally true, of course, as I became a father 26 years ago, a Catholic 4 years ago. But it’s more than arithmetic. Fatherhood is ages old in me, going back many good generations of Bulls, and it is deeply rooted in my heart. So when I speak or write or e-mail with one of my daughters on life or matters of faith, I speak first as a father, then as a Catholic. And if it means following my daughter in the practice of yoga, then I’ll follow her, just as I followed her down the slide at preschool.
Meanwhile, I do my best to clarify my position, for myself, for my children, for you too. For Christmas, I gave Marian a small book by Fr. Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, which I thought might help her better appreciate Catholic faith in the light of spirituality, more broadly conceived. She wrote me from India about how touched she was by the book, and I wrote in return:
“About Henri Nouwen and others, like Thomas Merton and Pedro Arrupe, who have broadened their Catholic faith with other practices—I think all of them were probably extraordinary, enlightened people. The danger comes only when one forgets the Other, meaning Jesus, and concentrates only on the Self. That I think is the temptation of Eastern practice, especially maybe as Westerners apply it and as it comes to be understood in New Age practices—it's all about the self, making myself better, more whole—there is no Other.
“Being priests, Nouwen, Merton, and Arrupe certainly continued going to Mass and confession, hearing the Gospel, and ‘praying without ceasing’—so that the Eastern practices were being integrated into the Christian heart, and not the other way around. They did not let their Christian faith become diluted or confused by Eastern practice.”
This was a private communication to my daughter, which I am now making public—and I have been cautioned against crossing private-public boundaries in this way. I hope Marian is not uncomfortable with my sharing this, but having read these words again, I think they are words I will stand by, privately or publicly, while praying the rosary and practicing Stiff Guy Yoga.