The Catholic Thing
On Wobbly Legs Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 28 July 2014

I had lunch a few years ago with a friend at my club in Manhattan, a nice table by the north windows looking out at Central Park, and afterwards I went to the garage to retrieve my car and drive home to Westchester County.

We had talked over chicken potpies of Jesus Christ and how our suffering unites with His. “We are sanctuaries,” she said. “We’re pietas.” And she said: pee-eh-TAHS, which is not the way I said it earlier when I showed her the iPieta app on my iPhone, which gives you the Catechism (Baltimore), saints (Butler), the Bible, lots of prayers, the Novus Ordo and the Tridentine – all sorts of stuff – and which I’d referred to as the eye-pee-AH-tah.

Soon after, I’m walking down a long ramp and handing my claim ticket to the guy in the garage office, a tall man, clearly Jamaican, who is telling the Hispanic fellow to whom he hands my ticket, “Ay tol ‘em, I say: Mahn, ya gotta chill, ya know? Ya hav’ta reeeelax, okay?”

And I’m thinking, but not saying aloud: You know, when you were a boy in Kingston and I was a kid in Columbus, we had no idea – either of us – that God would put us face-to-face, here and now. That we’d be like two animated ships in a Thirties adventure movie, trailing broken lines across a map of the Americas, me east and you northwest . . . 


“Wha – I’m sorry?”

“Dat’s tirty dollah.”

Thirty! It used to be half that. I should have taken Metro North . . .

Shame about my sullen reaction, because in my mind the idea was just forming that this is exactly the sort of moment Saint Paul thrived on. He’d meet somebody and hear something said, or note the man’s way of dressing or his accent, and step right in:

Brother, I note you are a man of the Islands, where the people are known to be very easygoing, which is a way of expressing contentment, but are they content? Are you? Can any man know peace or joy who doesn’t know God-among-us, whom people call the Son of God . . .

            Paul the Apostle by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1481

In the New Testament we mostly read Paul’s letters to men and women already converted to the true faith, but there is that remarkable speech from Acts (17:22-31) in which he addresses the men of Athens. It was a different time, of course. A place such as the Areopagus (or, as the Romans called it, Mars Hill) was a part of every ancient city, where people gathered to hear speakers argue about one thing or another, not quite the equivalent of London’s Hyde Park, but similar, and hearing and debating the ideas – and sometimes catcalling the speaker – was an import kind of educational entertainment.

As the author of Acts puts it: “Now the Athenians as well as the foreigners residing there used their time for nothing else but telling or hearing something new.” When Paul spoke there, it wasn’t a one-on-one conversation such as I might have had with the garage attendant (or the attendant might as easily have begun with me), but can there be any doubt that there sometimes were such conversations between Paul and some citizen of the many places he visited? To talk to one person actually requires more courage than to speak to one hundred, and Paul had that courage, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I imagine him waiting for Titus or Timothy or another companion, and Paul is watching a blacksmith at work, say, and he walks up to the man and begins to profess the faith, but only after a greeting and some pleasantries, after finding something in the smithy or in the words of the smith to begin conversation on the man’s own terms.

In essence, that’s what he did on Mars Hill.

As I was walking around just now, looking at bronze effigies of your many gods, I came upon one inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. [Paul shakes his head and, smiling, holds up his hands.] So, even in the light of your forge you’re in the dark about the very thing you worship. Well, this is exactly what I’ve come to proclaim to you today: the light that illuminates darkness. And what is that? Not what but who: the one God who made the world and all that’s in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, who does not dwell in symbols made by human hands.
To say such things to strangers, most of us would have to be drunk.

God-intoxicated is a term I hesitate to use only because Novalis, the German poet-philosopher, originally said it about Spinoza, the Dutch lens-grinding philosopher. Surely, Paul was God-intoxicated; I’m not sure Spinoza was, although the great Jew of Amsterdam had half and mind to be Christian, and sometimes more than that.

God-intoxicated is also used a lot in the syncretic neo-religions of the New Age – a sort of mishmash of Hinduism, the Sufi part of Islam, and whatever lazy, drug-addled states that leave folks “blissed out.”

But, God-intoxicated as Paul was, he was yet about as stone cold sober as any man who ever lived, even if he’d lost whatever inhibitions drunkards also lose. The sot is lose-lipped and on wobbly legs as he says stuff he’ll later regret, even if true, but Paul, inhibition-less, stood steady and spoke clearly, because the New Wine looses the tongue but does not inebriate. It’s a vintage that sharpens the mind

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His book, The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio and as an iPhone app.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.