Issue Date: July 1, 2005
The quirks of history
Editor at large Arthur Jones, retiring after 30 years with NCR, looks back on his beginnings
By ARTHUR JONES
I once coauthored a book called Facing Fear with Faith. Call this quartet: facing faith without fear.
I grew up a merry lad with a strong sense of history -- how could one not, living in England. Within a two-hour drive I could visit the cottage some great-great-grandparents had lived in. History was my first love, but journalism -- the first draft of history -- is what I did. Like a pearl in an oyster, nuggets of history are provoked when reports of news and trends bring responses from readers and reactions elsewhere.
And so, for these four columns, one a month, the quirks of history in my personal life are the common thread as I apply them to the contemporary Catholic church. Columns are, of course, observations, not facts, but theres a good scattering of facts amid the opinion.
I grew up slightly out of step with my middle-of-the-road to conservative extended family, for by the age of 10 I was a distributist, a feminist, an ecumenist and a socialist. And that was in 1946, when only two of those four words were in general usage.
My two siblings and I grew up merry because we grew up loved, openly and affectionately, by parents, grandparents, their relatives and friends, a huge extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins. My goodness, were we fortunate!
But I also grew up afraid, with a childs frightening insight that life was short and not guaranteed. For I grew up with bombs falling, the house shaking, and people being killed. By war. That insight has never left.
My dads youngest brother, Cyril, a pilot, died; then his brother Norman, the tank commander. My grandmother, until she died, kept a light in her window for Norman in case he came home. For his blown-to-bits body was never found. The two older brothers, Arthur, a senior police officer, and Leslie, my dad, a hospital administrator, were exempt from military service.
But with the solemn reality that two brothers were already dead in a war Hitler still might win, my 34-year-old father volunteered and was commissioned into the Royal Engineers. Not dads parents, nor his wife, Alice, nor his three kids expected to see him again.
In the air raid shelter built into our huge old Victorian, we wore out Our Lady of Mount Carmel with our nightly prayers for everyones safety.
We lived across the road from St. Josephs Catholic Church, which, after a powerful Nazi delayed action bomb exploded, dropped a chunk of its spire through our roof. We moved for the duration to my Scots-Irish Catholic maternal grandparents home.
Dads Anglican parents lived next door to St. Bernadettes Catholic Church in Liverpool (up Mather Avenue from a couple of kids called McCartney). My grandparents saw us to Mass on Sunday mornings, and took us to Evensong at All Hallows on Sunday evenings. My evangelical Anglican grandmother taught Bible school. In both churches we prayed, and to the same God. Thats why at 10 I was an ecumenist. My grandmother also taught us to play cards for money.
Wartime shortage came atop an economic depression that lasted 20 years, ever since the previous war. Little food or new clothing, no parts to repair things. No thread or leather for the cobbler. Apart from the black marketeers, everyone had nothing: poor, middle class, upper class. At 10 I was a distributist: share what you can, and let the government see that no one goes totally without.
In wartime the men were gone. Women kept our world together. Alice and her four sisters and a sister-in-law kept going, were witty and fast with words. The dog was excluded with Out, damned Spot, and a fib brought the rebuke, You little Ananias. My mother would say she was so hungry I could eat a man off his horse and then go back for the horse. Auntie Duck would chime in: Ive a thirst a drunk would give a gold sovereign for.
When the men came back they immediately took over as household bosses. The women whod kept everything going were summarily relegated to second-class status. I was astounded at what I witnessed. At 10 I was a feminist.
By 1946, too, there were cars on the roads again. I watched an elderly lady painfully lugging two huge bags, one with groceries, one with coal. I saw young men drive by in cars and said to myself, this is wrong. The young men should be carrying the bags and the elderly lady riding in the car.
At 10 I was a socialist. I helped carry one of her bags. She gave me an orange.
My dad was back. He was a modest and generous man. He would never own more than one pair of shoes at a time. Truly his left hand never knew what his right hand was doing (the downside was that when he died he left my mother ill-provided for).
At age 11, at a boys school ruled by the cane and the boxed ear, bright, captivated early by economic history, bored by much else, I questioned, took stands, was caned too often and, after five years, ousted. I knew which college I wanted, but I was too young. It was the 1950s. College had to wait until the 1960s. At 16, I was a journalist.
I grew up in a war waged by major nations headed -- with the exception of Japan -- by baptized Christians: Churchill, Roosevelt, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. And in a church with two successive Piuses -- XI and XII. The poverty and carnage of the Great Depression, bracketed by two World Wars, was doing something to a church that, through Leo XIII, had discovered it had a Gospel social justice message. Meanwhile, throughout World War II, Angelo Roncalli, a humble Italian son of the farm, one of many brothers, was apostolic delegate in Turkey. He was also a student of history.
He was developing a vision of church moved back, moved closer to that of the Jesus who dined with, talked and consorted with, the poor, the sinners, the despised. Those on the margins. At 16, I knew nothing of all this. All I had was curiosity, energy and a fledgling secular social conscience that was alert, but relatively ignorant.
National Catholic Reporter, July 1, 2005
|Copyright © The
National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd.,
Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.
TEL: 816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280 Send comments about this Web site to: email@example.com