Sunday, November 2, 2014
Why I Am Walking to Montreal, Preamble
For five months, I had been studying to be a Catholic and now the great day was only three days away. At Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, I would be received into the Catholic Church.
Since the previous October, I had been studying the catechism—the nuts and bolts of being a Catholic person—in weekly RCIA classes; and nearly every morning since then I had come to mass. I was a daily regular, sitting in the same pew seven rows back from the ambo. I couldn’t receive communion but I had made good friends in the parish.
Now I was all set to be Thomas More. Actually, I had wanted to be Thomas since the 1960s, when I first saw “A Man for All Seasons” and was wowed by Paul Scofield’s portrayal of the great man, a Lord then but no saint, at least not according to my adolescent Protestant vocabulary.
Now, on the verge of being Catholic, I had realized that Thomas More (the guy in the picture) was one of several saints who had brought me to this moment. (Others notably were Francis of Assisi and Joan of Arc.) When I stepped to the front of the church on Saturday evening and heard the priest speak my confirmation name, that name would be Thomas.
Statesman, writer, father, martyr—Thomas More was a big-time Catholic role model. I was setting the bar high.
Then came morning mass on March 19, the day on the Catholic calendar that celebrates St. Joseph. You know Joseph, the foster father of the child Jesus, the husband of the Virgin Mary, the guy who dreams and follows the orders of angels into Egypt and back again—and never says a word.
I listened to the liturgy that morning and pondered Joseph. Joseph was the anti-Thomas, hardly a statesman, not even martyred. Tradition says he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, silent as ever. Thomas More wrote Utopia, poetry, articles of statecraft. Joseph? No word of his is recorded anywhere in Scripture. Statesman and writer? Hardly. “If I were a carpenter . . . ” I decided it might be better being a carpenter.
That morning, I changed names. In the way that names subtly shape the person you are, the name began to change me. I had been given the name Webster to commemorate my father’s heroic older brother, the pilot of a Flying Fortress shot down over Holland at Christmastide 1943. In tricky ways that still take me by surprise, the name Webster came with heroic expectations. I’m not sure I ever quite lived it down.
Now, though, my name is Joseph, and the effects of that name are still being felt. Here’s an example.
Six months ago, I began meeting with what Catholics grandly call a spiritual director. In the way of spiritual directors, mine asked me what Christ is asking of me. Big, tough question. But in the grand way of heroes named Webster, I reeled off an answer about evangelizing, you know, with my writing, including a conversion memoir I am shepherding through a third draft and maybe even restarting this blog (?!). And, I told her, there was the one-man show I wanted to put together, another way of getting the Word out.
My spiritual director looked at me coyly and sort of said (I’m paraphrasing), “Uh, seriously?!” Then she said that it may just be possible Christ wants me to be a good father, husband, son, brother—you know, like Joseph.
With grandiose thoughts of evangelizing, I was going for someone I wasn’t. My spiritual director reminded me that my name is Joseph, not Thomas.
None of the above really explains “why I am walking to Montreal,” the promise at the top of this post. But that will have to keep until next time.