Ralph McInerny

Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

recent articles

On Being a Catholic Writer

Many Catholic writers have balked at being called that. They were Catholic and they wrote, all right, but they didn’t want to be read as if the point of their fiction was a religious message. As if you could earn an indulgence by reading them. And maybe they didn’t like the prospective company. There used … Read more

My Pagan Passion

The hero of Ev­e­­­­lyn Waugh’s Scott-King’s Modern Europe is a classics teacher who has lived into a time when classics are regarded as irrelevant and useless. He is told that parents no longer want the school to produce the “complete man” but to qualify their sons to enter the modern world. Can he blame them? … Read more

Liar’s Paradox

Logicians have an exercise called “The Liar’s Paradox” which is used to illustrate a number of things. The basic scenario is this: Your ship goes down, and eventually you drift ashore, where you are greeted by a native who informs you that everyone on this island always lies. Can you believe him? If what he … Read more

Concentrating the Mind

Catholic opponents of the death penalty sometimes seem to lose sight of the primary purpose of punishment. The Ca­techism of the Catholic Church (final text) says, “Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense.” If I commit a serious offense against society, I bring about a disorder, and the point … Read more

I Was Young, and Now I Am Old

This laconic statement in Psalm 36 does not, of course, express a choice of the psalmist. It is the realistic observation of a man lucky to have lived long enough to make it. We are the age we are whether we like it or not, but there are good and bad ways of accepting it. … Read more

On the Two Kinds of Writers

Marcel Proust wrote in a cork-lined room to shut out all but the sound of his own memories. Whenever recent writers write of writing they tend to refer to Proust and his soundproof room, but to write of writing is already perhaps to take the path of Proustian self-absorption and to reveal which one of … Read more

Waiting for Spring

Once in Athens I was nearly hit by a truck as I started to cross a street. I got back in time to read the legend lettered on its side. Metaphora. One is supposed to be struck by metaphors, of course, but this seemed too literal a way to go about it. The legend meant … Read more

The Essential Tourist

I have often cited Evelyn Waugh’s solution to living in socialist Britain. Life was possible there, he decided, only on the condition that he think of himself as a tourist. Was this ruse or realism? In a deep sense we are all tourists here, even when trodding the green, green grass of home. Travel is … Read more

O the Mind has Mountains

It would be easier to follow James Thurber’s advice to leave your mind alone if it could be mutual. Besides, you’d have to put your mind to it and that makes following Thurber’s advice a contradiction in terms. Mind-boggling, as it were. Of course one could fall asleep, but then Thurber would lose a reader. … Read more

The Faithful Departed

Patrick and Nora lie buried in the Catholic cemetery in Lake City, Minnesota in the shadow of an imposing pillar bearing the legend McInerny. Their individual stones read “Our Father” and “Our Mother.” My great-great grandparents. We stopped there a few weeks ago on our way to Minneapolis and Connie tolerated my bout of Celtic … Read more

Dead Language: A Roger Knight Mystery

An hour after arrival in Minneapolis Philip Knight called on his client, but the man who answered the door was clearly a policeman. “Is Genevieve Magee at home?” “Who are you?” Though he was on a step below the man, Philip could see the top of his head. “I was going to ask you the … Read more

The Eucharist and Culture

He is everywhere, of course. There would be no anywhere without him. The Trinity dwells within the graced person, and the faithful can say with Paul, I live now, not I, but Christ lives within me. In a sense we can find him in one another. But sacramentally, under the appearance of bread, Jesus is … Read more

Mountain Man

Many years ago, in 1948, a book was published that had an immediate dramatic effect on its readers. It was written by a young man, Thomas Merton, and told the story of his riotous youth, conversion to Catholicism, and entry into the Trappist monastery at Gethsemani, Kentucky, in 1941, when he was twenty-six years old. … Read more

Dust Abhors a Vacuum: A Roger Knight Mystery

Aunt Lucerne was the only relative Philip and Roger Knight had, so it was perhaps fitting that she should be absolute. Once in the dimly remembered past she may have entertained doubts, but this was long before her nephews came to know her. In their experience, she had always been omniscient, riddled with certainty and … Read more

Thinking Backward

Of course, you can go home again; it’s just not the same. I recently returned to the scenes of my boyhood in South Minneapolis, drove along the parkway to Minnehaha Falls, past the house my grandfather built from which I set off to kindergarten at John Ericson School. Above the falls — I once wrote … Read more

End Notes: The Snares of the Devil

When the reader of the In­ferno comes upon Paolo and Francesca in canto 5, he is struck by the delicacy with which Dante presents the damned couple. Their story of how they fell into sin is so commonplace, their infi­delity so fleeting, that it seems incommensurate with an eternal punish­ment. Or so we might think. … Read more

End Notes: It Could Be Worse

Evelyn Waugh once wrote that there are three kinds of writers: those who have something to say but don’t know how to write, those who know how to write but have nothing to say, and those who are at writers’ meetings talking about the agony of creation. Analogously, one might say that there are three … Read more

End Notes: Heaven’s Our Destination

C. S. Lewis offered as an initial definition of literature whatever we will read again. On that basis I have just conferred literary status on several of my novels that I recently read for the first time since they were published many years ago. Enough time had passed that I found myself wondering what would … Read more

End Notes: For Sale

A way that most of us can sum up our passage through this vale of tears is to make a list of the addresses at which we have lived. In many cases, the list will be a long one, given the mobility of Americans. Some of our residences will have left little mark on our … Read more

End Notes: Capital Punishment

If Martha Stewart had poisoned her husband or drowned her children, she would have received more sympathy. I never quite understood what she had done wrong, only that her indictment and trial were the occasion for morose delectation in many. When the mighty are brought down from their heights, those who exult are not always … Read more

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