Father Schall in play

We may not have the time this week to blather as we have done the last few days, giving a certain “Mildred” an opportunity to catch us up, for she complains we write faster than she can read. But we would not have another day pass without acknowledging the retirement of Father James V. Schall from Georgetown University in the District of Columbia, to a Jesuit community in Los Gatos, California.

He is eighty-four, & 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, & humming Mozart in the garden, & 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, & a considerable improvement on the incumbent. (We leave the “how” to others.)

Er, seriously, Father Schall & 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, & read. The full list was longer, but these were by-lines that made our heart skip & our wallet come out, every time. Since we are discussing the former, in limited time, let us say the quality we found most glorious & 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, & has since embodied, a very masculine head into the prevailing breeze; a wonderful freedom from soppiness & crappola. He was ex-Army when he entered the Jesuits, & 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 & 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 & 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.

That appeared in a collection of philosophical & 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 & collections appearing almost annually. His titles through the years give some flavour: … Redeeming the Time … Human Dignity & Human Numbers … Christianity & Politics … Christianity & Life … The Praise of “Sons of Bitches” … Idylls & 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 & 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.