Sunday, August 26, 2012

Open Letter to an Old Friend

My dear old friend,

Forty-six years ago, two white Episcopalian boys met at a 200-year-old secular boarding school that still clung to vestiges of Christianity. You and I attended daily “chapel.” You became a “deacon.” I took a “religion” class.

During my three years there, I fell away from regular church going, while you remained loyal to the communion of your childhood. Today, you are a lay leader in the Episcopal Church. After 40 years in the wilderness, I instead became a Catholic.

My friend, you and I met last week for the first time in forty years—not counting a hurried word or two at class reunions. We talked about many things for two hours. The one thing we pointedly did not discuss was my conversion to Catholicism. Like me, you seemed to sense that this topic might be . . . awkward.

But that didn’t stop you from writing me an e-mail afterward, in which you took up the subject. From your point of view, the Episcopal Church has “everything to love and respect and even quarrel with in a faith” while the Catholic Church has “baggage” and “unnecessary, bad-for-the-brand, ancient customs” and “precepts that don't square with the way most of us live.” You probably knew that I would take the bait. This letter is the beginning—only the beginning, I assure you—of a response to that offhand dismissal of the Church of Rome.

This morning, after 8 o’clock Mass, quite by coincidence, I attended a 10 o’clock service at a nearby Episcopal chapel. The pastor chose his own “lesson,” about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. (No wonder he declined to use the regular readings, in which St. Paul instructs women to obey their husbands and Christ concludes the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, alienating many disciples and disturbing even Peter.)

The pastor used his lesson to counsel charity, especially with those unlike ourselves. Contradicting his own message, and unaware that a visiting Catholic sat among his small flock, he decried the two largest Christian denominations in America, the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, for not allowing women priests. One of the well-tailored male members of the upscale congregation called out, “Shame!”

I thought of you again, and I made a resolution.

Here is what I am going to do. With the gracious assistance of Amazon, I am sending you today a copy of the best book about Jesus that I have ever read: The Lord, by Romano Guardini, a Catholic theologian (pictured above). It carries an introduction by Pope Benedict, whose own thought and work are heavily influenced by Guardini. Which is to say that the book has major Catholic cred.

My friend, I am going to send you a summary of the book in the next few days, and then once I return home from vacation after Labor Day, I am going to do more. To review The Lord for myself, and to share my personal responses with you, I will write a short post on each chapter. There are 88 chapters.

I am not a theologian, and the level of my thinking about these things is amateurish. But by doing this, I hope to understand the book more deeply, while pursuing a conversation with you, my old beloved schoolmate.

God bless you and happy reading,


The next letter, on the Author’s Preface to The Lord, is here.

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