Anthony Esolen reflects on what happens when we tear down the solid foundations of Christian life. We need builders now. We must have slow, patient building, the building up of human souls.
One day when I was a boy I was riding in the car with my father, in the countryside north of Carbondale, Pennsylvania, when we came to an open crossroads at the top of a high hill.
They call this intersection The Four Corners of Life,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “Can you guess why?”
I looked out of the windows left and right and back, and saw a church and a cemetery on two of the corners, and a couple of buildings which I couldn’t identify on the others.
Well, I can guess, but you’d better tell me.”
That building over here,” he said, “used to be a small hospital, and this over here is a beer garden.” That’s what we called bars in that part of the world. “So you’re born in the hospital, you get married in church, and you get buried in the cemetery.”
What about the beer garden?”
That,” said my father, with his humorous understatement, “is where some guys go after they get married and before they get put in the ground. The Four Corners of Life!”
My father was a good man and a devout Catholic, not above visiting the Pine Cafe on a Sunday afternoon, owned and operated by his old friend Joe with the Italian accent. He took me with him sometimes, as you could do then without fear of anything indecent, and I’d play shuffleboard or skee-ball, snacking on red-dyed pistachio nuts which Joe provided free of charge.
My father has been gone these twenty-six years, the Pine Cafe is no more, and the Four Corners of Life might be remembered by a few old-timers; I think I can still find the intersection. But that place came to my mind this evening when I went to Mass in a rural village in Nova Scotia.
I like the people in that old place of fishing boats and lobster traps; they’re a lot like the coal miners of my youth. They bear no resentment against the Church, and have little use for modern ideologies.
But they have been ravaged by modernity all the same. The church was filled with people who really wanted to be there; almost all of them older than I am, and I’m not young. The priest is newly ordained: his hair is white and he breathes heavily and he clearly has seen the other side of seventy.
He preached a fine sermon, and before Mass he addressed the people directly, telling them that the diocese of Antigonish has no ordinands this year, and not one young man in the seminary. It will be at least seven years before a man from the diocese will minister as priest to his people.
No children, no priests. No healthy habits of manhood, no priests; no vocations to the married life, no priests. But my mind returned to the jest my father told.
Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He directs the Center for the Restoration of Catholic Culture at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts.