Ken Whitehead, an old friend, came to Notre Dame recently
to tape some talks on Vatican II, and, his work done, we went
to Mass and then settled in for a long session, preprandial
drinks, dinner, the works.. There may be keener pleasures
than those afforded by talking with an old man who is precisely
my age, but I have yet to hear of them. I recently published
my memoirs, I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You, and
Ken remarked that my story was pretty much his own. What more
convincing testimony of authenticity could one require?
A member of the American diplomatic corps for years, then
a high functionary in the Department of Education, Ken single-handedly
disposed of the argument of many presidents of Catholic institutions
of higher learning that they had to secularize lest they be
cut off from federal funds. Ken was astonished. As a government
official he knew that there were no such restrictions. He
wrote an article, pointing this out. It became clear that
many Catholic institutions wanted to be prevented from
exercising their peculiar mission.
The bad argument that government policy required the secularization
of Catholic colleges and Universities was depressing enough.
But what if it had been a good argument? What if, in order
to continue doing what they had set out to do, Catholic colleges
and universities had to forego federal funding? What price
Our conversation moved on to a trip to Goa that Ken had made
with his wife Margaret. Two things impressed him. First, the
exhumed incorrupt body of St. Francis Xavier. Second, the
magnificently ornate vestments. The latter suggested an order
of priority - worship, vestments, cathedrals themselves,
rightly receive the giant's share of Catholic generosity,
And then there was that incorrupt body of the great Jesuit
In recent years, depressing revelations have led many to think
that the Church is losing the PR war in the modern world.
This is an illusion, but what else does the media deal in?
When one considers the evidence lying there right under everyone's
nose, it can seem incredible that anyone could refrain from
becoming a Catholic.
I remember vividly my fist visit to Nevers where I saw the
incorrupt body of Saint Bernadette. There it was, in a glass
coffin, for everyone to see. And what could possibly be meant
by the undeniable existence, fresh as a daisy, as one might
say, of the body of a saintly person a century and more after
Recently a nun suffering from Parkinson's disease reported
her complete recovery thanks to the intercession of John Paul
II. Doctrinaire atheists went ballistic. Of course this simply
could not have happened and equally of course it was a trick
by the Swiss Guards to convert the British royal family, or
whatever. The relative silence of Catholics was noteworthy.
Are we perhaps embarrassed by these continuing intrusions
of the supernatural? Have we become skeptical or simply blase
about the miraculous dimensions of our faith?
Who knows? I don't.
The world is chock full of extraordinary evidence of the supernatural
order. At the very least, this should give the non-believer
pause. And the believer? What is a miraculously preserved
body in comparison to the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the
Eucharist? But have we retained the reverence toward
the Eucharist to be found in the great hymns of Thomas Aquinas?
Perhaps all those oddities - preserved bodies, liquefied blood,
the swallows at Capistrano - are meant to jog us back into
marveling over the central mysteries of our faith.