Why should someone in his late 70’s be thinking about the future of the church and his own community? Leave it to younger people; they’re going to live then, not you.
I’ve been reading the 1977 novel “Lancelot” by Walker Percy, who writes incisively about modern American life and I think he’s “on to something.”
It’s a story of a man confined to a mental hospital after setting fire to his beautiful ancestral home in Louisiana and murdering his wife and her lover. Fed up with the evils of his time, he thinks they have to end, even if it takes blazing fire to do it. He’s turned against the modern world and is looking for what’s next; he’s “on to something.”
The book is his conversations with a visitor, an old friend , a priest. The priest’s role interests me. He visits the hospital regularly and listens, hardly saying a word. That’s because Lancelot, the main character in the novel, no longer believes in the faith the priest represents.
Still, the priest listens; Lancelot occasionally seeking acknowledgement that he understands. The priest has been affected by the modern world too. “When our eyes met, there was a sense of our having gone through a great deal together, wasn’t there?” Yet the priest has something his friend wants to regain, but it wont take place in a day.
‘When I saw you yesterday, it was like seeing myself. I had the sense of being overtaken by something, by the past, by myself.”
“Perhaps I talk to you because of your silence. Your silence is the only conversation I can listen to,” Lancelot remarks. Only as the book ends does he say to the priest: “Very well, I’ve finished. Is there anything you wish to tell me?”
As we foresee an increasingly secularized society what shall we do? Withdraw to a few secure places of faith and speak only to a diminished number of believers? Or engage the Lancelots of this world who are “on to something” yet have trouble accepting the gospel and the church and all they entail?
“Go out to the whole world and preach the good news…”Is silence a way of evangelizing the world as well as words?
I visited some sisters recently living simply in a big city neighborhood where not many go to church. Their neighbors love them; they’re not preachy people, but I tell them they’re the pastors of the place. Too bad, instead of investigating nuns, Rome doesn’t praise religious women like them who engage so many who don’t darken a church door.
My own community is engaged now in planning its future. Instead of being absorbed in its institutions, I wish it would think more about the world of Lancelot.