[Marxism] thoughts of rejoicing on Easter Sunday

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 12 15:13:50 MDT 2009

Jim Farmelant wrote:
> On Sun, 12 Apr 2009 01:13:26 -0400 Mark Lause <markalause at gmail.com>
> writes:
>> The Church is aiming to regain its most right wing adherents,
>> apparently in the expectation (probably correct) that they stick to
>> the hierarchy much better than the living-in-the-real-world types.  
> Before becoming pope, Ratzinger had made clear many
> times that he preferred to see a "purer", that is a more
> doctrinally orthodox church, even if that meant seeing a smaller
> church.
> www.nytimes.com/2005/05/29/weekinreview/29fisher.html

Speaking of Catholics, here's a review of Jim Carroll's latest book. You 
wouldn't know it from the review, but Carroll has excellent politics. 
The movie "Constantine's Sword" that I reviewed 
(http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/constantines-sword/) was 
based on one of his books.

NY Times Book Review, April 12, 2009
The Believer

By James Carroll
385 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $28

A story is told in the Gospel of a Roman centurion who asks Jesus to 
cure his servant. Jesus agrees: “I will come and heal him.” But the 
centurion stops him: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under 
my roof. Say but the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus is 
stunned: “I have not found so great a faith in Israel.” The centurion 
returns home, and, lo, his servant is healed.

In the Latin Mass that James Carroll and I remember so well, born as we 
both were in the early 1940s into working-class Irish Catholic Chicago, 
the centurion’s exclamation, beginning with the words Domine, non sum 
dignus, was spoken just before the Communion wafers were distributed, 
with the word “soul” substituted for “servant.” The faithful were to 
consider their own bodies as houses, Jesus as the great visitor who 
would come under their roofs, and their unworthiness as swept aside by 
his healing word.

Consoling for many, the valence of Domine, non sum dignus was traumatic 
for the young James Carroll. At 5 or 6, living in the neighborhood 
called Back of the Yards (“The stockyards give me my religion”), he saw 
his parents striking their breasts beside him in the pew and was marked 
for life, as he writes in the first chapter of “Practicing Catholic”: “I 
recognize my patrimony. Inbred, indeed. A feeling of unworthiness is the 
core of my selfhood, and I know exactly where I get it.” He gets it 
proximately from the church, he says, but ultimately from his forebears, 
who, remembering the Great Famine, “spent their lives trying to escape 
the claws reaching up for them out of the starvation grounds of their 
ancestors, and out of the blood pits . . . of their own youths, to pull 
them back down where they belonged.”

Domine, non sum dignus becomes a leitmotif throughout the nine 
fast-moving chapters that ensue. We follow the story of the author’s 
life into later Catholic school days in Washington (his father became 
director of the Defense Intelligence Agency), through college (at 
Georgetown) and Paulist seminary training, on from there to his pivotal 
five years as a priest in the tumultuous late ’60s and early ’70s, and 
finally into his last 35 years as a lay Catholic and a writer. Carroll 
would understand Catholicism principally as a practice rather than a 
creed, and as a practice one of whose forms is writing. His last 
chapter, “A Writer’s Faith,” quotes the concluding words of the 
Centurion’s Prayer on its final page: et sanabitur anima mea, “and my 
soul will be healed.” Writing has been his salvation.

In Carroll’s several well-reviewed novels and his three impressive 
histories (“An American Requiem,” “Constantine’s Sword” and “House of 
War”), the Vatican, the Pentagon and his Irish-inflected autobiography 
triangulate in a way that provides both his most and his least appealing 
moments. He projects his life story on the story of the Catholic Church, 
while, conversely, he introjects the history of the church — its entire 
history, not just its recent history — unto himself. He does something 
similar for the American military. The result is a style distinctive for 
its way of introducing portentous digressions from world history into 
private autobiographical moments and indulging sometimes jarring shifts 
to the personal anecdote midway through a footnoted historical 
exposition. In “Young Man Luther,” Erik Erikson wrote of rare, historic 
individuals who succeed, as Luther did, in making their personal ordeals 
representative for entire populations. Reading Carroll, one could 
conclude that he aspires to some such role for his story in the lives of 
his fellow Catholics or his fellow Americans. Certainly, anyone who has 
read his earlier work already knows the broad outlines of his life and 
even some of the detail delivered in this new book. His novels read like 
histories because their goal never seems mere entertainment, while his 
histories read like novels because he himself is always present in them 
as a protagonist telling and retelling his own story as he goes.

There is something about Carroll’s ­oeuvre that might almost bring a 
James Joyce jingle to mind:

O Ireland my first and only love
Where Christ and Caesar are hand and glove!
O lovely land where the shamrock grows!
(Allow me, ladies, to blow my nose.)

Almost, but not quite, for Joyce had no faith in either Christ or Caesar 
(or in Ireland, for that matter), and Carroll does. His ninth chapter, 
“Religion and Terror,” is an eloquently anguished denunciation of Pope 
Benedict XVI, “the chief sponsor of the new Catholic fundamentalism, 
enforced with no regard for the real cost to human beings” — a prophetic 
denunciation by a writer whose early, impassioned columns in The Boston 
Globe against the Iraq war were prophetic in a parallel way. No 
nose-blowing flippancy for him. He takes his country, his church, his 
ancestry and himself too seriously for that.

Carroll, married to an Episcopalian, reveals that he once considered 
becoming an Episcopalian himself: “Theologically there was no longer any 
substantial difference between Rome and Canterbury, with the one 
exception of Rome’s claim to supreme ecclesiastical authority. . . . My 
conclusions about the overreaching authority of the modern papacy made 
me more like an Anglican than a traditional Catholic. So why did I not 
follow the path that so many Catholics took in those years and become an 

Having taken that path myself, I am predictably unpersuaded by his 
answer, but here it is: “By remaining a Catholic and advocating reunion 
of these two traditions (and ultimately of other Christian 
denominations), I am keeping faith with the widely held and profoundly 
Catholic conviction that the scandalous divisions of the Reformation 
must end.” His view is that “such ‘conversion’ was no longer to the 
point in the post-Vatican II church.” Mine is that resisting such 
conversion is no longer to the point.

In terms of lived religious practice, I concede, these differences 
shrink away to almost nothing. But behind them, there does stand one 
substantial divergence of judgment. “The Catholic people have already 
changed,” Carroll writes, “and this book” — autobiography though it may 
seem — “is that story. Catholics came to understand that they themselves 
— not their priests, bishops and pope — are the church.”

So Carroll believes. I believe otherwise. In the wake of the clerical 
pedophilia scandal, I thought it just barely possible that lay Catholic 
reform groups like Voice of the Faithful might either force more 
democratic, more effectively self-correcting governance on the Roman 
Catholic Church as a whole or introduce it into the American Catholic 
Church in spite of the Vatican. But such groups never became a working 
majority, and now the moment has passed. The “new kind of Catholic 
identity” that Carroll names as the very subject of his book I see as a 
faded hope rather than, with him, an accomplished fact. It remains a 
brave hope, however, for all that, and no centurion of the pen is 
worthier than he to keep it alive and burning.

Jack Miles is the author of “Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God” and 
the general editor of the forthcoming “Norton Anthology of World Religions.”

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