The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 8, 2000 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

The gift of faith opens the eyes and ears

Religion affects every relationship and every activity of our lives

September 10, Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. How is your faith nourished?

2. Is your seeing and hearing in need of "conversion"?

3. Do you have some blessings in disguise?

On Aug. 4, the remarkable actor Alec Guinness died at age 86. In 1957, he won an academy award for his role in The Bridge over the River Kwai. I found it interesting that in reporting on his life - his illegitimacy, his 50 years of marriage, the different roles he played - the newspaper article made no mention that Alec Guinness was a convert to Catholicism. Surely this was one of the most significant events in Guinness's life.

When God gives someone the gift of faith, the grace that brings about conversion, there comes a certain opening of the eyes and ears. We hear about that type of opening in the Gospel for today. Jesus is always helping people to see the work and to hear the words of his Father. Alec Guinness was the recipient of that grace.

In his autobiography, Blessings in Disguise (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), the actor turned Catholic writes: "The winter hills nourish my faith. There had been no emotional upheaval, no great insight, certainly no proper grasp of theological issues: just a sense of history and the fittingness of things. Something impossible to explain. Pere Teilhard de Chardin says, 'The incommunicable part of us is the pasture of God.' I must leave it at that." (42-43)

"The fittingness of things." That God not only creates but sustains us on our journey through life. More, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God continues to guide us still. Alec Guinness did not suffer from deafness nor a speech impediment. Yet he needed God's grace to see God's love and to hear of divine mercy. Thus, many things nourished his faith: winter hills, a long marriage, the gift of a son. A certain fittingness of things here.

Converts often face special trials. Friends can be puzzled, family members upset, social circles disrupted. The prophet Isaiah has advice for converts: "Be strong, fear not!" Alec Guinness was strong and did not fear what others thought.

Guinness writes of the response of one Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell when Alec told him of his conversion: "When I told him I have become a Catholic he was genuinely puzzled, saying, 'But how can you believe in a creative all-good, all-wise God, knowing that you have an appendix, which is a totally useless organ and can prove dangerous?'" (99)

Guinness's faith was based, not the presence or absence of an appendix, but rather on the person of Jesus.

One wonders how many people were able to speak more clearly and hear more profoundly after witnessing the marvelous performances of this great actor. The gift God gave him was put to good use. He exercised his stewardship well.

Reporting on someone's life without mentioning such a significant fact of one's religious conversion leaves us with a distorted portrait of the person. For religion is not just a private matter; it affects every relationship and every activity of our lives. Alec Guinness was sustained by faith and he responded to that gift in a profound way.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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