Following Fr. Schall—who nudged me home to the Church some years back—I do a bit of evangelizing by recommending—or when feeling rich, giving—books to people. Hanging around secular universities the past 40 years, I’ve met a lot of left-liberal academics, most of whom are practical if not ideological atheists. Some of these are, like me, cradle Catholics, and so the sort of people I think I know well and am looking to reclaim for Christ. So recently I bought a stack of Frank Sheed’s marvelous little book A Map of Life to give away. I’m sure most everyone reading this has a copy, and if not, should get one. In any case, I thought it would be a good idea to send a note along with the book and below is what I came up with. This version is aimed at those lapsed professors. Should you take up the joyful practice of giving Catholic books away, feel free to use it, edit it for your audience, or even better write your own. It’s a good thing to do.
Dear Professor Lapsed,
I have a pile of these books I have been giving to people, and you’re on the list. I do so at the risk that you might throw it in the recycle bin, possibly unread. That’s your choice, and about which I can do nothing, but it would be a foolish choice, based on emotion, not reason. If there’s truth in Catholicism, and there is, you should want to know it. Its truth didn’t come from man, but it’s true just the same. Whether or not you have any respect for me, as an academic, I hope you have respect for the truth. I’m just the messenger, and my job is to get the word out. Whether you can hear it is one of those things about which I can only pray.
I know it’s considered impolite in certain circles to speak of religion. In the liberal order, religion is defined as a private matter, and privacy is to be respected. That’s nonsense. It’s just a way to shut people up and keep Christianity down and out of the public square—as if pretending God does not exist is not itself a religion; it is, it’s called atheism. So, I’ll stop speaking about God when liberals and atheists stop not speaking about God. And if someone is interested in conversing with you only if you are willing to pretend to be someone you’re not, then they’re not really interested in conversing with you. They’re just pretending.
The book was published in 1933, but what it says was true in 933 and will be true in 2933, should such a year ever come along. We all need this truth if we want to be happy, and if Aristotle is correct happiness is something we can’t not want. In fact, everything we do, good or bad, sensible or silly, we do because we think or hope it will make us happy. But as it happens, the things of this world, good as they are, don’t make us happy, or not completely, and not for long. Seeing this, C.S. Lewis said that if we find ourselves with a need for something we can’t get in this world, the most reasonable explanation is that we were made for a different world. St. Augustine said much the same when he famously wrote “You made us for yourself oh Lord, and we are restless until we rest in thee.”
This book is just an introduction. The next thing you might want to read is an encyclical by Pope Saint John Paul II entitled Fides et Ratio. It should allay any fear (mostly the result of atheist propaganda and bigotry) that Christian faith contradicts reason. There are religions, and even some perversions of Christianity, that do contradict reason, but Catholicism isn’t one of them. For Catholics, the truth of reason cannot contradict the truth of revelation because both come from the same source: God.
Becoming well-adjusted to this world is not really the point of living in it, something that might have dawned on you from time to time. Using power to force the world to adjust to our idea of what a world should look like hasn’t always worked out so well for the world, as you may also have noticed. And reason alone, it turns out, ends up grounded in nothing but what we want, and what we want isn’t reliably reasonable. In any event, however we pass the time, we are just passing through. Soon we will be stripped of everything worldly, including wealth, status, friends, family, and health. Naked we came in and naked we go out, so says the Book of Job. We can do little or not much about any of this. We are and always have been at the mercy of God, whether we accept or deny this fact. Fortunately, while most everything else is out of our control, nothing but our own free choice can ruin our relationship with God and separate us from his loving care. And so, in the end we have nothing to fear so long as we hold fast to God through Jesus Christ. Behind all pain and sorrow, all suffering and strife, and even bodily death, lies the source of all truth, beauty, and goodness. To know this is to know God, and it is only through knowing and loving God that we will find the eternal comfort and joy we can’t help but want.
As Sheed makes clear in this book, we will get whatever we choose. If it is God, we will get God, and live with him in bliss forever. If we choose ourselves, we will get ourselves, without God, forever. It is God’s wish that we choose him—we were made to choose him—but he must allow us the choice or our lives would be meaningless.
Think whatever you will about me; this is not about me. You are a baptized Catholic. Read this book with care, and then go see a priest and ask for help in coming home to the Church, where you belong.
By Clifford Staples