Schall at 91—an Interim Report

Note: Many people have inquired about Fr. Schall’s health over the past few weeks. We did not much comment on it here because the situation seemed unclear and we also wanted to respect the good padre’s privacy. But Lo! Here he is, back, to explain his situation (and, as usual, much more) himself. – Robert Royal [N.B.: Father Schall died during Holy Week on April 17, 2019.]

Let me first acknowledge the many prayers and greetings that have been sent to me by so many people. I am deeply touched and grateful. Though I expected to be in the great beyond by now, Schall is not calling the shots. The colon operation was successful and the patient lives, though not so comfortably as before.

This was the fourth major operation that I have had during my four-score years and ten – and counting. The overwhelming issue that one poses to himself in sickness and accident is not “Why me, Lord?” Rather it is the silence of God about us. We each exist for a purpose, probably for many purposes. The very concept of a final judgment includes seeing what such purposes might be in the context of the whole of reality.

We are created, as Ignatius of Loyola said, to praise, reverence, and serve God and by this means to save our own souls. We either achieve this purpose or not, such is the power God bestowed in our being. We are conscious of our sins, so no clear path to glory seems open to us, apart from some power to forgive, something we do not give ourselves.

Somehow, I have found the so-called “Jesus Prayer,’ to be most helpful – “Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on me, a sinner.” One’s life is often filled with prayers for others, and rightly so. But in the lonely hours when you cannot sleep or get comfortable or figure out what it is all about, you realize that you too are now the locus of the reality that is you.

We are each of us created to participate in the eternal life of the Triune Godhead. At times, the connection between this life and the next seems very close. But we are not given the clarity of seeing the complete connection. Our minds still prod us to know what all of this experience is about.


At another level, I have what I might call the “orthodoxy” problem. Is the center holding? I have been long convinced of that insight of Chesterton’s about the abidingness of Rome in the essential narrative of faith and reason. It was this deposit of faith and reason abiding over time that would stand down the ages.

Now we seem to have a Church whose center waffles. We are not being persecuted, at least not overtly. The problems in the Church seem to be of its own making. We are more than perplexed. Concern about eternal things seems to be a side issue to a this-worldly Messiah that claims to be able to make us at home in this world.

We want to say that nothing basic is really going on. Yet too much evidence appears that some huge disconnect it taking place in our midst. That clear line of thought from Aristotle to Aquinas to Benedict seems frayed. Orthodoxy meant a confidence that what was handed down was not itself changing or becoming obscure. It also meant that reason would meet what was revealed to us as compatible with what we could learn by ourselves. The truths of God made reason more itself, when thought out.

Strictly speaking, if what is revealed and what is understood are no longer coherent to each other, then that central promise on which we rely for stability of doctrine and practice cannot be maintained.

Belloc’s “How odd of God to choose the Jews” becomes “How odd of God to let such concerns go on in our midst.” We are reminded often that, “My ways are not your ways.” There is some comfort in this assurance.

I have frequently remarked during the era of John Paul II and Benedict that Catholicism has never been intellectually stronger or culturally weaker. That sharp edge of intellect seems dimmed to me. The God of faith and reason still seems untouched in its integrity.

But the world is not converted. It calls us with loud voices to come, be human, and forget the Man on the Cross who was sent into your midst, lo those many years ago.

It turns out that Christ was serious about our knowing and observing the commandments. Socrates was correct. It is never right to do wrong. There are deeds that are intrinsically evil. To insist that they are good is to undermine our souls. We now see daily that no sin is forgotten, even as it may be forgiven.

God created the world with a plan in mind. We are included in it, each of us. Prayer, for me, has always depended on dogma. To pray is also to seek the truth of what is. Only the truth can make us free. We pray for so many others. We also pray for the Church that it remain the bridge between this world and the next.


*Image: Old Man at Prayer by the “circle” of Rembrandt, c. early-to-mid 17th century [Museum of Fine Arts Boston]

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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