Diogenes Unveiled: A Paul Mankowski Collection
Edited by Philip E. Lawler.
Ignatius Press, 2022.
Paperback, 294 pages, $19.95.
Christendom Lost and Found: Meditations for a Post Post-Christian Era
By Father Robert McTeigue, S.J.
Ignatius Press, 2022.
Paperback, 125 pages, $17.95.
Reviewed by Kevin P. Shields.
In his memoirs Russell Kirk reflects that “some men are meant to be gladiators or knights errant, not merely strolling players. Swords drawn, they stand on a darkling plain against all comers and all odds; how well they bear themselves in the mortal struggle will determine in what condition they shall put on incorruption.”
Such are the two authors in this pair of collected comments, musings, and meditations. Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (1953-2020), was a knight errant whose identity was concealed by his helmet’s visor. In Diogenes Unveiled: A Paul Mankowski Collection, veteran journalist Phil Lawler has produced a well-curated collection of Mankowski at his best as he appeared in the Off The Record section of the daily online service Catholic World News (CWN), now a part of CatholicCulture.org.
Mankowski was a Jesuit, but he stood outside the walls of the post-modern Jesuit ethos. From such a vantage point he sallied forth to parry against the follies of his order, the hierarchy, and the dominant culture. Using Diogenes as his pseudonym and muse, Mankowski demonstrated over and again that virtue (or lack of it) reveals itself in actions more so than words. Unsheathing his sword, he cut cleanly across the errors and deceptions of our times. Leaving no important area untouched, Mankowski was a voice of sanity for insane times, giving hope to the beleaguered laity—hope that fresh springs of clear water still flow within the Church.
Although his columns are time-bound, as they were written in response to specific events, the organization of the collection is timeless in its arrangement. Assembled and categorized along the lines of the eternal challenges and temptations of man on earth, its riches are easily harvested by the reader.
The collection is prefaced with heartfelt tributes by two who knew Mankowski well, and in its opening chapters reveals the man in entries from his 2002 Christmas holiday diary. These personal reflections provide a glimpse of Fr. Mankowski not found in the satirical jabs of his Diogenean writings; they reveal his heart and love for the poor, especially the poorest of the poor with whom he worked in Romania and Armenia. These opening chapters frame the picture of who Fr. Mankowski was and provide a clear lens for the pages that follow. Would that each of us could find the courage to spend a Christmas holiday as he did—giving his all to the “least of these.” Should we do so, I have no doubt that we also would then have the strength to venture forth to do battle with the machine and ruler of this world, just as Mankowski did in his pseudonymous writings.
Though the selections in the collection address specific events, Mankowski’s observations clarify and reinforce that a faithful Catholic life is one of strength and courage lived against the thrones and dominions of this world. Mankowski lived just such a life; walking his talk and defending his faith to the end.
Still upon the ramparts, Fr. Robert McTeigue, S.J., picks up the sword of his fallen Jesuit brother and lands a deft blow with his Christendom Lost and Found: Meditations for a Post Post-Christian Era as he battles the demons masquerading and wandering through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Brilliantly done, these “journalings,” recorded between November 2018 and February 2021, cover the lost years of the pandemic and illuminate the challenges of our time.
McTeigue’s meditations are a respite in a world gone mad, offering a path to living a happier, less fearful life. He gives no quarter to withdraw from the world as he lets us know that the way out is the way through. And he provides clear thought and guidance on surviving and moving beyond the shallow vapidness of our post, post-modern era. While covering several narratives of Catholic history, McTeigue shines the spotlight on a source of our current cultural and ecclesial difficulties by sharing what he calls “McTeigue’s Axiom” and “McTeigue’s Corollary,” to wit:
- Axiom: “Most institutions would rather die than admit that anyone ever made a mistake.”
- Corollary: “Most people haven’t matured beyond the age of fifteen and are still desperate to sit at ‘The Cool Kids’ Table’ at the high school.”
Poignantly captured in his Axiom and Corollary, McTeigue puts his finger on the tap root of our trials and tribulations: Pride. When Christ instructed his followers, “Unless you change and become like little children” (Matt 18:3), he was aiming to lift our gaze and behavior a bit higher than that of an adolescent.
Ultimately looking at the Church and how to live the faith effectively, McTeigue offers four strategies that, if approached together, will facilitate our way through the banality of these post, post-modern times. First, by keeping our eyes on Christ we can Circle the Wagons, drawing on the fellowship and teamwork of our Christian community. Second, we can practice Ark Building through provident action to overcome our normalcy bias. Third, we can take To the Catacombs by being “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves,” as we learn how to live both above and below ground. Fourth, by Riding Forth as the happy warrior, we can take “initiative when it is needed, and leave the rest to God. The long war ahead of us must be fought by a band of such happy warriors.” The goal is to be Christ-centered, not anxious, as we “[m]ove from self-seeking to self-donation.”
Kirk’s reminder speaks to the selflessness of those who defend the “permanent things” and the importance of these things (family, community, faith, and tradition) to our world. For it is in these permanent things that we “live and move and have our being.” Fathers Mankowski and McTeigue are fine warriors, knights errant who staked their claim on the darkling plain. We are indebted to them for their service.
Kevin P. Shields is Treasurer and Managing Director of the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.
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