This is my Granddad, long before I knew him, but I can recognise him. There’s the pipe and the records and the mind that hair just couldn’t keep covered. He was a member of the Catholic Evidence Guild, though not big on public speaking. He loved music. He had elaborate speakers and wires set up and knew all about radios. He baked his own bread. He took his family from England to Australia in 1959. He settled down on a rather barren block of land not far from the Georges River. He loved bird-watching.
In the family he was the expert on the Catholic Faith. After Mass on Sundays I have memories of the discussions that would fly right over my head at their place. It was very interesting, but overall left me with the impression that there was a lot of stuff wrong about the Catholic Church today. Not that the Pope was wrong, but that Granddad’s descendents weren’t being taught the faith in their supposedly Catholic schools. That’s a handy thing to know, but by itself is only a negative sort of piece of information. If I can’t trust the school teachers, then where do I go?
The next piece of the puzzle came in 1988. I asked my mother a vaguely Theological question, the details of which have been lost. She took me to ask Granddad. He listened, probably asked me to speak up, thought for a bit and came back with a book.
Theology For Beginners by Frank Sheed. He told me to read it slowly and think it over carefully. I read the first chapter, then again in case that wasn’t slow enough. I think children have a great capacity to take on things they don’t understand and work around them. I didn’t get all the way through the book straight off, but eventually I did.
The book talked about how we can use reason to know about God. Rereading the first chapter brings back something of the longing for understanding. He talks about how he wanted to learn Theology, but the world seemed to treat it as a burdensome topic only for seminarians to endure. He stood up to the world – teaching from a soap box in Hyde Park – and found some people to listen.
One of the listeners was a man whose Portuguese mother had given him some idea of the Catholic Faith, but who was swayed by his father’s leanings to Communism. You can imagine the sort of background – the intellectual world scorned the pious faith that only served to prop up people who had no vision of the potential of mankind. Frank Sheed was different. He presented the intellectual foundations for all the Church teachings. He showed it wasn’t purely by blind faith in Revelation that we hold such beliefs, but by Reason informed by faith. That truth he did not invent, he didn’t have to, it was all nutted out centuries ago. The truth doesn’t change, only the lies that come against it.
So that man was my grandfather. He helped with Frank Sheed’s Catholic Evidence Guild, especially his book on communism.
There is some perception that to be Catholic you have to be dim. It’s all about switching off your brain and following the Pope. But the reality is that there are so many converts coming into the Church precisely because they are following Reason. The people who are active Catholics today have had to learn the Faith by effort – you can’t rely on Catholic schools when so many teachers there are not practicing Catholics themselves.
I remember reading a biography of Frank Sheed, written by his son. It was saddening because after reading Frank’s work, on fire for the truth, you see his own son didn’t quite seem to get it. It’s hard to say how he missed it, with his father doing lectures in the United Kingdom, America and Australia, his mother a prolific writer herself, together they ran the publishing house “Sheed and Ward”. But maybe that was it. His parents were busy and somehow underestimated the need to teach their son. They were out convincing the world, but missed their own domestic world.
I don’t know, it’s all conjecture, but it was a similar story with my Grandad. He was saddened to find that the Catholic schools he had entrusted his children to failed to teach basic truths like transubstantiation. Of course that sounds like a terribly complicated and obscure sort of word, but consider going to Mass every week. Surely you’re going to wonder about why people genuflect to a little box on the wall. If you haven’t heard about the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; that the bread and wine change – the very substance change – into Jesus, alive and real; then what’s the point?
We’re lulled into a false sense of security when we think we can just go about our own business and our children will pick it up as they go along. We need to teach them and test them to make sure they’ve got the precious treasure that we had to attend late night classes in the city to glean. We need to keep studying to keep ourselves on track. We need to keep praying to keep our souls turned towards God – because it is all by His grace that we get anything right at all.
And if we can give them a head start like that – a good grounding in the Faith from a young age – who knows what they might be able to do with it?