Daily Archives: May 16, 2009

Waiting for the Apocalypse by Veronica Chater

Waiting for the Apocalypse is the hilarious yet tragic story of the author’s family, whose father, distraught by the Catholic Church reforms of the Vatican II Council, decides to abruptly move his large family (6 children at that point, under 12 years of age!) from the San Francisco Bay Area to… Portugal, where he just knows he will find a more conservative church tradition. His plan is perfect, starting with a cheap charter flight to England which, as everyone knows, is right next door to Portugal, and when they do get to Portugal they find that Vatican II is even more entrenched than in the US, so after a couple years of near-starvation (American policemen don’t seem to be in high demand in Portugal for some reason) they move back and continue to seek a more conservative church, as more children are born and more bread is added to the meatloaf.

I just loved this book. All the details ring true, from the dread of the newfangled Handshake of Peace during mass to the no-thanks letter from the police department of Lourdes, France (the dad’s initial destination), from the relief of being back in California (on 880 of all places, but with the weather forecast firmly stuck on low clouds overnight, then sunny) to the craziness of carpooling with a teenage boy whose idea of a normal speed is 100 mph. There’s fun poked at the church, but it’s gentle. There’s fun poked at the father, even some serious criticism of decisions made or not made, but the author has made her peace with her family and clearly loves her mother, who literally kept the family together while never deviating from perfect obedience to her husband and the church.

This book brought to mind My Life in Orange, a throat-tightening memoir of a boy growing up with a mother seduced by gurus, and Drop City (thanks to Larry for reminding me of the title), a novel about California communes, which both show how good people can lose their way seeking an ideal life. Read this book and perhaps read them all.

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Practicing Catholic by James Carroll

The vagaries of library waiting lists (have I mentioned before that I love our public library?) dictated that I read two books about Catholics back to back. This one,  Practicing Catholic, is a serious reflection of what it means (to the author, that is) to be a Catholic, while the other one, Waiting for the Apocalypse, is a funny and sad story of a Catholic family.

James Carroll trained and was ordained as a priest in the tumultuous 60s, practiced enthusiastically as a campus priest at Boston University (in one of the Newman Centers, the first of which, I learned in the book, was established at UC Berkeley), and then renounced his priesthood as the reforms of Vatican II gave way to increased conservatism in the church, in particular around contraception and the access of women to the priesthood. James Carroll knows the bible (and the texts that did not make it to the bible), commentaries about the bible, and church history very well and uses that to build the argument that the Church has become so static and fossilized that it is losing the vitality to evolve to match the world at large. His vision of what the church could be is very inspiring: a church that would be vastly more inclusive (women, gays, married men), a church that would reach out to other faiths and seek understanding (while remaining separate), a church that would not hesitate to voice concerns about injustices and conflicts.

His view of the current pope is quite negative on all these aspects. A shame, isn’t it?

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