By Kurt Jensen
Catholic News Service
“Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable” by George Weigel. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2021). 224 pp., $17.95.
One characteristic of a collection of elegies by a single author is that they reveal the writer’s core beliefs — a prism through which the world is viewed and people are judged.
This is so with “Not Forgotten,” a collection by the prolific George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, a frequent commentator on the workings of the Catholic Church in America and a spirited polemicist.
For Father Francis X. Murphy, the Redemptorist priest whose writings about the Second Vatican Council for the New Yorker in the 1960s were instrumental in labeling clergy as either liberal or conservative, Weigel writes: “Doctrine isn’t liberal or conservative. Doctrine is true, or it’s heresy. Theology isn’t liberal or conservative, either. Theology is thoughtful or dumb, scholarly or shoddy, well-informed or ill-informed.”
For New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Weigel sees in Moynihan’s support for abortion “the greatest lost opportunity to bring the full range of Catholic insights to bear in public life in my lifetime.”
He likes to focus on other missed opportunities by Catholic politicians. Had Sargent Shriver and wife Eunice “prevailed over Ted Kennedy, the United States might not have developed, in the late 20th century, something resembling a European-style two-party system, with a lifestyle-libertine, secularist party on the left contending against a quasi-Christian Democratic party on the right.”
Most reflections here are on theologians, politicians, clergy, athletes and authors Weigel either knew well or had met a few times, with occasional side trips such as one to mourn the abandoned sainthood cause of Bishop Francis X. Ford, a Maryknoll missionary, who died in a Chinese prison in 1952, becoming one of the best-known martyrs of the Cold War era.
Twice he writes about St. John Paul II, who had the wonderful custom, he found, of having daily lunch and dinner guests. “His table talk was often conducted in three or four languages simultaneously. He was the most intense listener I have ever met, a man far more interested in what you had to say than in telling you what he thought.”
Weigel, a Baltimore native, also finds any number of ways to work in references to the personnel of his beloved Baltimore Orioles, and singles out Jim Mutscheller, a tight end for the Baltimore Colts in the 1950s, by saying, “I remember that, once upon a time, Catholic men from working-class families could be sports heroes — and role models as well.”
Weigel levels political scorn at “Clintonistas” and also writes of the left-wing folk singer Pete Seeger as “leaving this vale of tears to meet Karl Marx.”
He refers to the astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom, who died in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967. He notes that author Tom Wolfe described him a “Hoosier grit” and also characterized Grissom as a bumbler in “The Right Stuff.”
Weigel does hope, however, the two are now reconciled in death. “Because they both had the right stuff.”