Many years ago in Paris I was telling Julian Green of being an altar boy at St. Francis De Sales Church in Patchogue and having the feeling that I was sitting on the lap of Jesus. "O, how I envy you," Green said, "I converted too late."
Last night at Midnight Mass at St Bartholomew Church here in Milltown/East Brunswick, New Jersey I finally really understood what Green meant. Back then I thought how could this member of the French Academy (the only foreigner and an American), this prolific author of books that would survive his own mortality, this close friend of Gide and Mauriac envy me anything?
As I was attending Mass last night with my wife Anna--- with whom I had earlier that morning gone to the Estonian Lutheran Church Christmas service down in Lakewood--- I thought of serving Midnight Mass in Patchogue so many years ago and I thought of other Midnight Christmas Masses I attended: in 1968 in Menasha, Wisconsin with my parents when I had come back from Ireland and Bulgaria with Lilia, in 1972 in Saugerties three days after the death of my mother, in the tiny Catholic church in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1973 after the death of my father the previous August... and more recently over the years with my children Elizabeth and Lorcan and their mother in St. Brigid's Church on Tompkins Square and more recently for many years with Anna at Presentation on East Third Street...
And of course finally I really knew now why Green was envious of me: the belief that comes both before and after reason--- he had once written a short book attacking the rationality of the French church--- which of course is the great flaw of French civilization.
One hopes to never lose that belief though so often it can get lost in the clutter of argument for finally argument is always a celebration of a sort of unappetizing arrogance.
The true grandeur of the church lies in the fragility of that memory of serving Midnight Mass at St. Francis de Sales Church in Patchogue.