“…we find him in the malaise of more than a few post Vatican II clergy, who are dare we say it, in the business of easy consensus, a short homily and an early lunch.”
You get the feeling that Brian J Gail is one of life’s big personalities. Former college and semi-pro athlete, Madison Avenue ad-man, Fortune 500 senior executive, entrepreneur and CEO, he now makes his way as writer and educator and possibly as a professional thorn in the side of that certain type of Bishop who counts down the days until retirement in the hope that most of his pastoral and doctrinal problems will quietly go away. You can see Brian in full swing here.
I am not sure how I originally came across his first book Fatherless but I know now that it is the first book in a trilogy, Fatherless, Motherless and Childless (still to come) that essentially tracks the wholesale sell-out and enervation of American Catholic culture in the wake of the oral contraceptive, the Sexual Revolution and the misinterpretation of the bulk of what the Second Vatican Council was all about.While there may be numerous socio-theological and demographic theories about the seismic decline in aspects of American Catholic life and culture the one thing that is not in dispute is the statistics. In the last 50 years American Catholicism saw a collapse in vocations, the closing of endless seminaries, the rebirth of most of America’s female religious as political activists at war with the Vatican, a massive decline in Catholic family size, historically unprecedented changes in divorce, marriage and cohabitation trends and the death of millions through abortion and IVF procedures.
What makes Gail unique is that he has managed to work these sociological and demographic events into a powerful work of fiction that is actually readable. Since the death of G.K. Chesteron, Catholic fiction has been a little sparse. While Gail is guilty of the occasional overuse of a few key literary devices, the whole project comes together well with moments of genuine emotional power and the sense that there is something very, very important about this moment in history for all Catholics. As someone who has read voluminously and studied literature at a high level I was surprised to find myself genuinely moved on more than one occasion.
Both Fatherless and Motherless follow the ministry of one Father John Sweeney. In Fatherless we find him in the malaise of more than a few post Vatican II clergy who are, dare we say it, in the business of easy consensus, a short homily, and an early lunch. What emerges in Fatherless is the growing awareness that he is spectacularly failing his flock in pastoral leadership by dispensing all manner of non-confrontational guidance on what we have come to call the life issues.
While on a visit to the Vatican with a group of other priests he has a life changing encounter with a rather well known figure and life is never the same again, for him or his parishioners. He returns to America; into the maelstrom of joy, pain and confusion of the lives of several families. His rebirth is profound and perhaps profoundly moving as we see the raw beauty of the true priestly vocation.
The tragedy that consumes the final pages of the book makes a powerful statement about the great scandals that have rocked the American Church in recent years and Gail’s courage in giving it such a direct portrayal is more than refreshing.
Motherless moves beyond the scandals of priestly abuse and pastoral cowardice to address the emerging global trade in human embryos and the complicity of some Catholic health care facilities in that trade. Gail also goes after Bishop’s who simply refuse to act, to teach or to lead on these crucial matters. His central premise seems to be that the lay faithful should not be fighting these battles alone but should be following the lead of well-formed and passionate priests and religious who themselves are united behind strong, courageous Bishops. His work, in summary seems to touch upon the Old Testament principle that ‘without vision the people perish’ and Jesus prophetic words that if the shepherd is struck then the sheep will scatter.
I like Gail’s courage. I wish we all had more of it. These books are worth reading, they are worth sharing and they are worth writing blogs like this about. You may not agree with all of his conclusions but you won’t fall asleep reading them and you may just find yourself thinking that it might be time to step into the challenges of the day while they are still there to be challenged. Oh…and when you are finished reading it, please pass it on to your priest so he can pass it on to his Bishop.