04 June 2012

Eine Kleine Feeneymusik

Or, a little wisdom from Fr. Leonard Feeney, one of the great Catholic writers of the Twentieth Century, from his book, Fish on Friday.  This collection of short stories was written in 1934, when Fr. Feeney was very much in good standing with Holy Mother Church, and long before the unfortunate dust-up concerning Baptism of Desire led him into hot water (which, for the record, was cleared up before his death, and he died in the good graces of the Church).

I have had occasion to re-read this gem recently and, according to my usual practice, can't help but share a few excerpts here.  The first one seems to describe me to a T: 

I am given to superlatives.  I overstate things.  My friends have rebuked me for it.  I have tried to correct it.  But I haven't.  I can't.  I say "most" when I mean "much."  Without the words "tremendous," "wonderful," "amazing," and "astounding," my vocabulary would collapse.  I couldn't talk.  I couldn't think.  Megalomania is like a bad devil.  It can be driven out only by prayer and fasting.  And I have neglected to fast sufficiently. 

Here he is on the virtue of motherhood versus the vice of contraception: 

I sometimes think mothers get more pity than they require.  There is much talk lately about how difficult it is to bear a child and too little talk about how nice it is to have one.  Someone should put a stop to the considerable screaming being done by unmarried lecturers in the throes of giving birth to imaginary children on public platforms.  Motherhood is never honored by excessive talk about the heroics of pregnancy.  If babies were not worth the pains and confinements they cause, there would not have been a billion of them born in the last hundred years... 

Katie Zdrojefska [the protagonist of this particular short story] has never heard the reasons advanced for the restriction of families and would probably not comprehend them if they were explained to her.  She knows it is hard enough to be poor and have children.  She would think it unbearable to be poor and have none.  Fidelity to nature's laws has left her will unhampered by hesitancies, inhibitions and phobias.  Her body has become the instrument of a pure spirit able to melt every inch of it and make it maternal.  Her fruitfulness has never been outraged by drug-store deviltries and so there are no cross-purposes  in her nerves needing to be untangled by a psychiatrist.  Hither and thither she moves at her nursery tasks, bothered but not bored, tired but never in a tantrum, her children's chiefest plaything continually tugged at by the apron strings.  It is her way of learning that life is very good and God is very wonderful...

It must be obvious that this unlettered Polish woman is a splendidly civilized person and a most valuable member of society.  She is a minimum of annoyance to her neighbors and a minimum of expense to the state.  No high-salaried social scientist is required to adjust her to the simple problem of living... 

On Catholic humor and the joy of being Catholic: 

...one source of Catholic humor is human nature itself in the act of being transformed (with all its absurdities, stupidities, scruples and superstitions) into something serene and noble.  For a religion as universal as ours embraces all classes and patiently tolerates among its members even the most ridiculous types provided they be men of good-will.

But this is to take Catholic humor in its passive sense.  This is not what makes a Catholic laugh.  It is what makes him laughable.  I am anxious to discover, in some fashion or other, what is the inner secret of our joy and what it is that makes us laugh by ourselves and within ourselves, even when we are alone.

I am sure the reason lies in our knowing through the light of Faith paradoxes too magnificent to be contradictions.  And this is the secret not only of our mirth but of our sorrow as well.  There is an empty amusement and an empty sadness that come from a mere knowledge of life's contradictions.  But these are the portion of the skeptic and the stoic who seldom laugh and seldom weep.  But the Christian may look into a world of mystery in which all contradictions are reconciled even though paradoxes remain.  And the fruit of his wisdom is his gayety and his tears, for laughter and tears are safety valves of sanity and by these beautiful outlets the strain within our nature is relieved. 

And finally (for this post at least), this description of reasons for his close friendship with a Protestant minister: 

...I think the reason must be because we are a perfect complement one for the other.  He is a living example of what I should like to be in the way of nobility, sincerity, kindliness, and singleness of purpose.  I am definitely what he longs to be in the way of spiritual power.  He can forgive injuries, but I can forgive sins.  He can soothe the dying; I can anoint the dying.  The size of his Sunday congregation depends on the sun; mine on the Son of God.  His sermons are well written but his service is meaningless.  My sermons are very poorly written, but my service is the sublimest act of religious worship ever conceived.  He has two lovely children, but is title is "Mister."  I am homeless and childless but thousands of loving hearts call me "Father."  He outweighs me by fifteen pounds, but is sufficiently diminutive to be named "My Little Minister."  Ecce Sacerdos Magnus the choir sang on my ordination day, and, though I say it with shame and confusion, I do humbly avow they sang the very truth.


Anonymous said...

He was undeniably one of the very bright and shining stars of all the brilliant Jesuits in his early days, until they felt embarrassed by him.

Hootiecootie said...

I am so glad that you shared some of his writing. He is sadly overlooked by many.

Jane Chantal said...

Beautiful, breathtaking. Thank you, Timman.

Dan said...

I have this book on my shelves but have never read it. Now, of course, I will, thanks to your post.

As an addendum, I think the best explanation of the little "dust up" you referred to aboce can be found in the book "The Loyolas and the Cabots" by Catherine Goddard Clarke. I've just re-read it in the last month or so and was astonished to find in it many of the reasons why the Church suffers so terribly today. I can highly recommend that book.