AN ILLNESS OR AN INVITATION?
Roman Fever

January 2003By David Mills

David Mills is a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Magazine of Mere Christianity and the Director of Publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry near Pittsburgh. He is the author of Knowing the Real Jesus (Charis Books, 2001), and is working on a new book to be published by Sophia Institute Press in the spring of 2003 titled The Need for Creed. A much shorter version of this article appeared in This Rock (Jan. 2002). This article also appears in somewhat different form in a book of conversion stories, Surprised by Truth 3, published by Sophia Institute Press.

“What beauty was once ours,” I said to my wife as we drove along the coast north of Boston, looking over the waving salt marsh grasses to the ocean just beyond and the blue sky stretching above. My wife and I had lived for 13 years on this coast, first in Beverly and then in the small town of Ipswich (said to be the real setting of John Updike’s novel Couples) before I was hired to serve as a writer at an Episcopal seminary outside Pittsburgh, which was for me well into the Midwest.

Driving around our old neighborhood, we felt a deep, almost painful ache of homesickness. I had loved the salt marshes especially, but almost everything I saw made my heart ache: the clapboard houses, the old barns, the slightly rolling fields, the stone walls running through the woods, the old stone library where my wife had worked, the stream where our first-born had fed the ducks, even the little seafood restaurant shaped like the paper box, complete with handle, they give you to take home your clams.

We felt that, living near Pittsburgh, we were not where we should be. We were estranged from something that should have been ours. The feeling passed, of course, but it would return just as strongly the next time we would visit.

Almost everyone has felt this longing to be home (a close friend even feels it for southern California). It is the closest experience I know to that longing for the Catholic Church that Anglicans call “Roman Fever.” When you suffer this fever, you feel that you are living in exile, and that you cannot be happy until you go home. You feel a great, aching desire to be a Catholic.

Roman Fever

Roman Fever was, at least for me, much like malaria. It comes and goes unexpectedly and without warning. When you have it you feel it is going to take you off to Rome (a sort of death for the Anglo-Catholic), but when you get better you easily forget it. When you do not have it, you tend to think of it as a chronic illness to be suffered until it goes away and you can get back to doing what you think you are supposed to be doing.


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