Making it to the War


            Many years ago I was a harmless Episcopalian bedeviled by the inconsistencies of the theology of that church. Kings could be divorced or annulled—take your choice—but into the 19th century an ordinary member of the Church of England needed an act of parliament to secure a divorce.

            And there was the intractable pro-life issue. The sign that says “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” is correct. Add to this the complication of figuring out what Jesus said–if he said anything–and there was always more than one interpretation of what he meant. Buried down inside it all was the clarion call of Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

            It was bound to strike anyone alive in the Pontificate of Pius XII that expectations for Catholics were different from expectations for your run-of-the-mill Episcopalians. And something about that clarion call cast all theological conferences, all of the bright-intelligent books based on continental authors, into the shade because the Lord had said, “Do what you can. Do everything you can, and don’t stop until you’ve done the very most you can do.”

            Guided by this inspiration I left the Episcopal Church with its friendliness and goodwill and made for the further shore of the Tiber.

            Becoming a Catholic was not easy. Once in California I climbed down one mountainside and up another to reach a Catholic seminary where I’d be greeted with advice not to worry because Episcopalians were good people too. That attempt to join the Catholic Church failed; the monsignor suggested I have a cocktail and cool off.

            My next attempt was with a crafty Jesuit at the Catholic church on the hill in Knoxville. He generously received me leaving such questions as confirmation in abeyance.

            During the next year—this would have been 1972—I worked my way into being a decent member of the Catholic faithful, abetted, it would be only fair to say, by the gracious pastor of Holy Ghost Church in Knoxville, Father Hinkle. In truth I was the last thing the Catholic Church wanted: a former Episcopalian there for all the wrong reasons, namely, convinced as I was that the Catholic Church bore the burden of divine revelation.

            Over the years I would find a place in the Roman Catholic Church in service to the flagship Texas academic institution The University of Dallas, where I chaired the theology department and then was the school’s academic head. After that, happily, I spent 30 years with the College of St. Thomas More in Ft. Worth, the love of my life.

            In 2014, the College, having chugged along for 30 years, was destroyed by my own ineptitude in alliance with those who should have been anxious for its preservation. And I now know that with regard to wonderful things like the College of St. Thomas More there are no second chances. But let it be said that I did not pass up the opportunity to join the fight.

            I was reminded just the other day of my maternal great-grandfather, Alan Jasper Harris, and Benjamin Harris, brothers determined not to miss the war.  On November 3, 1864, when the cause was surely lost, they made their way from Copiah County in Southeast Mississippi to the front lines of the Confederacy, which then lay in Middle Tennessee. My grandfather lived to return to south Mississippi. His brother—my great uncle—was shot on Dec. 30 in the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, having served as a lieutenant before falling to the onslaught. He died the next day, on Dec. 1, and was buried in McGavock Confederate Cemetery on the Carnton Plantation—later remembered by Alan Tate in his Ode to the Confederate Dead.

            I hope in the autumn of my life that it will not be said that I failed to make it to the front lines. The battle formations are shifting now–ecclesiastical authority aligned delicately but unmistakably with the comfort of the world, but there is always the Lord’s advice to all of us:  “Do what you can. Do everything you can, and don’t stop until you’ve done the very most you can do.”

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