How does one begin a regular or semi-regular column? It's a puzzle that's vexed writers since the invention of the newspaper.
The great advantage old-timer columnists have is that everybody's been reading them so long that you feel like you know them. You recognize their turns of phrase, their pet topics, their smiles, their frowns; their ups, their downs are second nature to you now, like breathing out and … [smack].
Sorry. Slipped into My Fair Lady mode there for a second. But that's as good a place to start as any, I guess. Because I'll do that a lot in this space. Not slip into My Fair Lady mode but into “reference stuff in pop culture” mode.
Why? Because I'm a Catholic — a “non-revisionist” Catholic, as Peter Kreeft puts it. A Catholic who thinks the Catholic faith is true (Period. Full stop.) and who thinks that what the world needs is not a muttered Catholic faith but a full-throated proclamation of the truth of the faith in terms people can grasp.
Why? Because I think the Catholic faith is not only true, it is also liberating, illuminating, exciting, moving, joyous, tough-minded, gentle as a daisy, beautiful as every song you've ever heard, invigorating, hard as nails, wry, peppery, sweet as mother's milk, rooted like an oak, supple as quicksilver, and the sacrament of Jesus Christ is given to this very real and very messed-up world for our healing, perfection and glorification.
It is the only thing in the world that can take everything from pork to pyrotechnics, from angels to pinheads, from barrios to bio-engineering and see it all as a coherent whole to which the — revelation of God Almighty has something to say. It's the only thing that is both fully divine and fully human. It's the only thing that can take the sublime glories of heaven as depicted by great Renaissance painters and find a way to include an Irish butcher with a hairy wart on his nose in those realities.
It is, in a word, the only complete thing in the world. It's ecological in a way that most ecologists never think of. Everything is connected because it's all the creation of one God, all redeemed by that same God and all called to union with that one God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The trick, though, is making the connection. That's more or less what this column is going to aim to do. Connect the dots.
I think that's a necessary skill for us Catholics to learn today — and a necessary task for us to perform for others. Time was, Catholics lived in a complete cosmos where, as Chesterton remarked, we agreed about everything. It was only everything else we disagreed about. We agreed on a few cosmic truths (summarized in creed and sacrament) and stood upon these rock-solid truths as the basis for a thousand other arguments.
The genius of modernity is that it removed the agreement but multiplied the arguments. We no longer know if there is one God the Father Almighty, but we are ready to fight over private dogmas about things like weightism, homophobia or global warming.
We might not know what we're talking about, but, like Buzz Lightyear, we're always sure.
It's only when you get to eternal things, things that will really matter long after J-Lo and Ben have broken up (assuming they are still an item by the time this sees print) that we go all squishy and don't want to have a definite opinion since, after all, who really knows and what difference does it make, anyway?
Postmodern culture has, indeed, assumed it to be a settled fact that the eternal heaven of private opinion or fantasy and the ordinary life of the public square are too remote to ever have contact with one another. Even Catholics live as though the Blessed Trinity and the morning wash are two separate realities that have little to do with one another. Purgatory? What does that have to do with the healthy baby boomers jogging around Green Lake in Seattle?
In a world of shampoo, blenders, schools schedules and rising prices, do we really need to worry our heads about the inspiration of Scripture, free will, the Real Presence, the Ten Commandments and apostolic succession? As long as you're a good person, that should be enough, shouldn't it? But faith affects everything from politics to warfare to marriage to kids to downloading music off the Web.
In the coming months, we will use this space to explore the ways in which the Catholic faith connects the dots between God and us, heaven and earth, Everything and everything else. I think we'll all be surprised, challenged, overjoyed and occasionally, awed at what we discover. Please, come along.
Mark Shea writes from Seattle.
Find his Web log at http://www.markshea.blogspot.com