What Does Real Faith Require of Us?
November 1988By Michael Gallagher
Michael Gallagher is an author, film critic, and translator whose articles have appeared in Newsday and elsewhere. He received a National Book Award nomination for his translation of Yukio Mishimas Spring Snow, and his book on Catholic resistance to immoral public policy, The Laws of Heaven, will be published next year by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
How do you feel about faith?
Yeah, you know God, life after death, all that.
The man to whom I put the question a handsome middle-aged priest, a few years younger than I looked puzzled.
Our paths crossed just once before, 20 years earlier at the home of a mutual friend. Then he was an angry young rebel who had disrupted the tranquility of the local diocese by staging an antiwar demonstration at the cathedral. Afterwards he went on to still more radical protests, including an action against one of the major corporate villains of the Vietnam War, for which he was brought to trial and convicted. He has mellowed over the years, but his idealism remains fervent, and today, to his credit, he is still a scandal to Catholics who prize respectability above all else, and a source of inspiration to those working for peace and justice.
Well, Im not sure how to answer. I guess I havent thought about it that much. Id be willing to accept some kind of afterlife, I suppose, but I dont know if its that important to me. Im sure that life has meaning, and that every persons life and death has significance in terms of something greater.
The priest is an authentic hero. And I like him.
But I was losing interest in the conversation. I wasnt especially thrilled at the prospect of meeting where the dead are always alleged to, on the lips of living men; nor do I think slaughtered innocents take much comfort from being part of that vague something greater.
The priest is happy in his work and much admired, and people happy in their work and much admired alas, sometimes even priests have little occasion to wonder about such things as faith or, God help us, life after death.
But I do. I always have, in fact.
When I was a child, I noticed with surprise that the normal expression on peoples faces was a resigned sadness. They might become angry, fearful, shocked; they might smile or burst into laughter; they might look tender and loving; but, inevitably, sadness took hold once more. Is life, I thought, really so unhappy despite the efforts of the kindly grown-ups around me to reassure me that it isnt so bad? It says something about the background from which I come, by the way, that nobody ever tried to persuade me that life is a joy or even a marvelous challenge. Success wasnt esteemed or trusted in my family. I suppose youd call us losers, but if we were losers, we came by the title honorably.
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