2cornucopias

Tony Snow and Fr. John McCloskey

In 09 Faith Journey on 2012/07/10 at 9:11 AM

by Fr. Roger Landry

Eight years ago, during my last year of studies in Rome, I received an email from a friend with whom I used to work in Washington, DC.

“Hi, Father Roger,” Peter wrote, “I just wanted to let you know that I met Tony Snow at a banquet this evening. He asked me if I knew anyone that might be a good resource/teacher to help him become more solidly based in Catholicism. I told him that without question, you would be my first choice. He asked for your contact information and I gave him your email. It seems to me that with your background and his, you two could have a great friendship.”

Since I had been out of the country for five years, I had no idea who Tony Snow was, but thanks to the Internet I soon found out. I was impressed that he wanted to know more about the Catholic faith. I was moved that his desire was so strong that it would lead him to bring it up at a Beltway dinner party with a committed Catholic whom he had just met.

As God would have it, before he sent me an email, he ended up walking into the Catholic Information Center in DC, where he befriended a great “resource/teacher,” Fr. C. John McCloskey, who over the years has quietly helped to guide many non-Catholics into the Church and many Catholics into a deeper relationship with Christ. There, at the CIC, Tony would purchase hundreds of dollars books at a time and proceed to devour them. He would read St. Thomas Aquinas, Joseph Pieper, books on philosophy, theology, apologetics and more. He had a voracious hunger to grow in faith.

Tony had converted to Catholicism two decades earlier, while at Davidson College in North Carolina, and practiced the faith with the zeal with which many converts are accustomed. A conflict came up in the mid-80s, though, when he fell in love with a devout evangelical woman, Jill Walker. Tony wanted a Catholic wedding; Jill an evangelical one. This is a conflict that many young people, and their families, face. In Tony’s case, the bride won: the wedding took place in Jill’s Church and for the sake of marital and familial unity, Tony also continued to worship with Jill at her church. Despite his not attending the Catholic Church each Sunday, Tony still considered himself a Catholic, loved the Catholic faith and tried, in his particular circumstances, to grow in deeper knowledge of it.

After his first bout with cancer in 2005, Tony began to address the conflict with greater urgency. His mother had died of colon cancer as a young woman and Tony knew that, even though his cancer had gone into remission, it could always return. While putting in grueling hours as President Bush’s press secretary, he also began working with a priest in the Diocese of Arlington to get his marriage regularized so that he could return to the practice of the Catholic faith. After the validation of his marriage, for the last fifteen months of his life, he attended Mass with joy each Sunday.

For me, Tony is a sign of hope for all those Catholics who struggle to align the love of family members with the love of God and of the Church he founded. He persevered. He never thought that the solution was in loving God less or loving his family less, but in loving both more, praying that God would provide a solution. God did. And throughout it all, although by an unconventional route, Tony was becoming “more solidly based in Catholicism.”

That deep foundation showed itself in an unforgettable way by the manner in which he embraced and praised God in his sufferings. About a year ago, in an article entitled “Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings” for Christianity Todaymagazine, he showed all Christians how to respond with faith to the vocation to suffering when God gives it. In his sufferings, he was not a spokesman for the president, but a prophet of the King of Kings.

“Blessings arrive in unexpected packages, in my case, cancer,” he wrote. “Those of us with potentially fatal diseases — and there are millions in America today — find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God’s will.” After admitting that it would be presumptuous to pretend to comprehend fully the mystery of suffering, he then describes four important principles.

First, “We shouldn’t spend too much time trying to answer the ‘why’ questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can’t someone else get sick? We can’t answer such things…. I don’t know why I have cancer, and I don’t much care. It is what it is, a plain and indisputable fact. … Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out. But despite this — or because of it — God offers the possibility of salvation and grace…

“Second, we need to get past the anxiety. …Remember that we were born not into death, but into life, and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. … Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might and faith to live fully, richly, exuberantly — no matter how their days may be numbered.

“Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. … We want lives of simple, predictable ease, smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see, but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension — and yet don’t. By His love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.…

“Finally, we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. … From the Cross, he took on the cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf. We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us, that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God’s love for others. Sickness gets us part way there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also gives us a chance to serve the healthy.…

“Even though God doesn’t promise us tomorrow, he does promise us eternity, filled with life and love we cannot comprehend, and that one can in the throes of sickness point the rest of us toward timeless truths that will help us weather future storms. Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don’t matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?”

Tony chose to believe, to love, to submit, to serve, and to put out into the deep all the way until his death on July 12th. He became an eloquent herald and witness that nothing, neither suffering, death or anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39). He went off-road with Christ and followed his footsteps all the way home to the Father’s house.

Taken from The Anchor, August 8, 2008.

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