He is eighty-four, and perhaps entitled to retirement, but gentle reader must know what we think of "entitlements." A certain Joseph Ratzinger was looking forward to a serene retirement — to catching up on his bedside reading, and humming Mozart in the garden, and not having to listen to delegations of crackerjack Yankee theologians any more — when the nasties in the College of Cardinals suddenly elected him Pope. We harbour the same secret wish for Father Schall: that Our Lord will immediately disturb his retirement plans, with some task suited to a much younger man. It is not for us to demand alterations in the Divine Plan, but we were thinking he would make a good President of the United States, and a considerable improvement on the incumbent. (We leave the "how" to others.)
Er, seriously, Father Schall and Father Ratzinger (as he then was) were, prior to our own entry into the Catholic Church, at the top of the list of (biologically) living Catholics we most admired, and read. The full list was longer, but these were by-lines that made our heart skip and our wallet come out, every time. Since we are discussing the former, in limited time, let us say the quality we found most glorious and exceptional in Schall, after taking his towering intellect for granted, was his manliness.
He was not merely unafraid of the vast wretchedness of our post-modernity, or of the pinhead legions expounding the latest progressive doctrines. In his writings he embodied, and has since embodied, a very masculine head into the prevailing breeze; a wonderful freedom from soppiness and crappola. He was ex-Army when he entered the Jesuits, and it shows. He leaves the impression of the true Christian soldier, marching as to war; of the Crusader in the finest sense, which incidentally encompasses a casual drollness, a delight in paradox and the shocking understatement. With a gentle smile, he loads a slingshot against Goliath.
Read this brief squib, "On the Mind that is Catholic," directed to the "popular" reader, in which faith and reason are presented whole. And here is a characteristically manly phrase: "The very idea that we can actually love someone without willing his good is simply contradictory." To which we could add only, "Bang!" — for he has just shot the Zeitgeist in the head.
He was ex-Army when he entered the Jesuits, and it shows.
That appeared in a collection of philosophical and political essays recently published. (He has been, in fact, a "professor of government.") The man has been on a roll, these last few years, his books and collections appearing almost annually. His titles through the years give some flavour: . . . Redeeming the Time . . . Human Dignity and Human Numbers . . . Christianity and Politics . . . Christianity and Life . . . The Praise of "Sons of Bitches" . . . Idylls and Rambles . . . Does Catholicism Still Exist? . . . Unexpected Meditations . . . What is God Like? . . . And then: On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, the best, most Platonic, recent presentation of homo ludens, of man who "plays," not as a break from more serious activities, but as his sustaining and essential activity. For even soldiering is play.
Let the reader unfamiliar with Schall do his own homework. His Georgetown University website is still here. His column in today's Catholic Thing is another point of departure. And here is a little call to arms, to get things moving.
Fr. James V. Schall's Final Send-Off
David Warren. "Father Schall in play." Essays in Idleness (December 11, 2012).
This article is reprinted with permission from David Warren.
David Warren is a self-confessed white male, and Roman Catholic of the worst kind. He pings mostly from the Parkdale district of Toronto, Canada. Most recently he was filing thrice-a-week for the Ottawa Citizen (copied to other papers in the PostMedia chain), but may have stepped out of "legacy media" forever; except, a few dead-tree magazines to which he sometimes contributes. His blog, Essays in Idleness, replaces the archive into which all his newspaper columns since September 11, 2001, had been shovelled. They will no longer be easy to find.
Copyright © 2012 David Warren