Thursday, September 14, 2006

If I Had My Life Over Again

In his book The Shoes of The Fishermen, Morris West relays a conversation between two cardinals who had gathered to elect a new Pope.

Cardinal Rinaldi said, "What would you do if you had to begin again?"

"I've thought about it often," said Leone heavily.

"If I didn't marry—and I'm not sure but that's what I needed to make me half human—I'd be a country priest with just enough theology to hear confession and just enough Latin to get through Mass and the sacramental formulae. But with heart enough to know what griped in the guts of other men and made them cry into their pillows at night.

I'd sit in front of my church on a summer evening and read my office and talk about the weather and the crops and learn to be gentle with the poor and humble with the unhappy ones.... You know what I am know? A walking encyclopaedia of dogma and theological controversy. I can smell out an error faster than a Dominican. And what does it mean?
Nothing. Who cares about theology except the theologians? We are necessary but less important than we think. The church is Christ—Christ and people. And all the people want to know is whether or no there is a God and what is His relationship with them and how they can get back to Him when they stray."

"Large questions," said Rinaldi gently, "not to be answered by small minds or gross ones."

Leone shook his lion's mane stubbornly.
"For the people, they come down to simplicities!
Why shouldn't I covet my neighbour's wife?
Who takes the revenge that is forbidden to me?
And who cares when I am sick and tired and dying in an upstairs room?
I can give them a theologian's answer. But whom do they believe but the man who feels the answers in his heart and bears the scars of their consequences in his own flesh?
Where are the men like that?
Is there one among all of us who can wear the red hat?

Source: Morris West, The Shoes of The Fisherman, Heinemann, London 1963, pp6-7

Image: The red hat.