Disturb the Universe

A blog post from Paul Bernachhio about T. S. Elliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock points to one lesson to learn from the poem (by the Anglo-Catholic poet). Here is another:

J. Alfred Prufrock is one kind of modern American Catholic man.

The poem is ironically titled. The narrator, Mr. Prufrock, is a watcher of the world, not a lover, or fighter, or doer. If it’s a love song, who does he love? Women’s braceleted arms, skirts, and imagined mermaids; which is to say no one.

Prufrock epitomizes radical individualism and materialistic complacency, both at once. He says:

“And indeed there will be time …
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea. …”

“And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’ …
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?”

Prufrock the narrator stares at people but won’t look them in the eye. He would rather dream what he could be than “become what he is”. He doesn’t interact with the universe; he ricochets lightly through it like a billiard ball.

He might seem familiar. Men who grew up in the last few decades have been incessantly warned not to be too forceful or too competitive. We have also been coddled, praised erroneously, and supervised continually. We are like sheep with 1,000 shepherds.

It has made of us like Prufrocks on steroids. He was in a passive stasis with only his overwrought imagination and wandering legs staying active. We needn’t even activate those: We have video games, online amusements, and special effects movies. Or perhaps we are active, but only in endless online disputations that leave only the illusion of accomplishment.

It reminds me of the predicament Legionary Father Richard Gill once spoke of at a Regnum Christi convention: Young Catholic professional women can’t find men who can handle them. Some single guys they meet are driven and ambitious, others are faithful and appreciate purity. A precious few are bold in both the world and their faith.

One of the major contributions the Register hopes to make is to move Catholics out of Prufrock mode. Our message: The spiritual battle isn’t a game played in our minds. It’s a battle in the world, with flesh and blood and not just principalities and powers. Real souls are really won or lost.

It isn’t enough just to be right and to correctly identify who’s wrong. Christ specifically asks that we find ways not just to tell the truth to the world, but to convince “all nations” to accept and live it.

In Faith & Family, Father Richard recommended one way women can try to help the Prufrocks in their lives.

But ultimately, men have to do it on their own. The Holy Spirit, as always, is on the job, this time in men’s conferences. We need exactly that.

— Tom Hoopes