“In the end, the only memorable stories, like the only memorable experiences, are religious and moral. They give men the heart to suffer the ordeal of a life that perpetually rends them between its beauty and its terror.” ∼ Whittaker Chambers, Witness
Evil loves the spotlight. It is exceedingly easy to perceive the chain reaction started with evil: abuse perpetuating abuse, bitterness to bitterness, death to death. For this reason it is easier to count those killed by Nazis, or Communists, than to count those encouraged to holiness by Maximilian Kolbe. Likewise, it seems that only when a marriage falls apart do we see how many are touched by that marriage, rather than recognizing all along how many benefit from a strong and holy marriage. Every once in a while, though, we can catch a glimpse of the thread stronger than death, linking us together, revealing the debt of gratitude to those who began our battles for us and opened channels of graces to share with us. For though evil may be more visible, the power of the Good God is far mightier. Grace, while it may be refused, never dies, but lives on, given by God to those who will cooperate, and ultimately brings about the unfathomable glory of God. Therefore, we may find that we are, in fact, in the same story of grace and the ultimate battle between good and evil as past heroes.
J.R.R. Tolkien reminds us in The Lord of the Rings that we have a place in this ongoing story. During a particularly desperate time on the journey to destroy the ring, Sam Gamgee wonders aloud to his dearest friend, Frodo:
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
“I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into? …Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it—and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got—you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?” “No, they never end as tales,” said Frodo. “But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later—or sooner.”
We are all part of a hero’s story. This became clear to me upon reading two books. The first book was One Man Perched on a Rock, A Biography of Dr. Warren Carroll. The second was Witness, by Whittaker Chambers. Whittaker Chambers had an incredible impact upon the nation, upon politics, upon several well-known individuals—William F. Buckley among others—and upon the subject of the first book, Warren Carroll.
Whittaker Chambers sacrificed his reputation, his privacy, and his livelihood—knowing that everything and everyone he loved would face danger—to do what was right. His actions, good, courageous, and magnanimous, are among the great actions of the twentieth century. Yet, he did not see the fruit of his labors, save in minute glimpses, moments of grace, and the tiniest encouragements to persevere. Mostly, he saw the suffering. Just before his public witness against Communism began, he told his editor and friend that:
[A]ny act a man performs, even the simplest and best, may set up reverberations of evil whose consequences it is beyond our power to trace; that my action might cause great suffering. But one man must always be willing to take upon himself the onus of evil that other men may be spared greater evil. For the sake of his children and my own, that all children might be spared the evil of Communism, I was going to testify.
He almost gave up; he almost committed suicide. Had he done so, who knows what greater evils would have rippled out. Because Whittaker Chambers gave his great witness before a committee, and his greater witness as a soul turning away from the world to seek God, innumerable souls have been given grace to live their own witness.
One soul in particular who was deeply affected by Whitaker Chamber’s actions was Dr. Warren Carroll. Upon reading Witness, Carroll became totally anti-Communist and very active in the conservative politics of his day. According to Carroll’s biographer, Laura S. Gossin,
Reading Chambers’s book at Columbia in the summer of 1955, Warren flatly states that it “changed my life… I consider Whittaker Chambers’s Witness to be the greatest book written in the twentieth century,” adding that it “has particular significance for me because it made me a firm anti-communist for life.” It also had an influence on Warren’s later conversion to Christianity, especially as it described Chambers’s own conversion experience which enabled him to break with communism.
Eventually, following his employment with fellow Catholic conservatives at Triumph Magazine, Carroll, with the support of other friends of the magazine, founded Christendom College.
Therefore, suddenly the realization came to me that we are in the same story as Whittaker Chambers, and indebted to him personally for his part in the good fight. My husband and I both graduated from Christendom College, and number among the 460 alumnus to alumna marriages, our four children among the thousands of children born to those marriages. There are also, according to Christendom College, 91 alumni priests, 55 religious sisters, seven brothers, six transitional deacons, one permanent deacon, and 25 men currently studying for the priesthood, as of May 2019. All these, alumni from one college founded by a man who, along with his wife Anne, longed for children but had none of their own. And this is merely one thread of grace flowing from one man’s sacrifice. There are so many more, surely. Considering the number of children owing their lives, i.e., their entrance into the Faith, to Warren Carroll’s college, the streams of grace continue. When one soul cooperates with grace, a spring of grace erupts for others, and a channel is opened which will flow with grace as long as there are souls who respond.
There are so many more ancestors in my story, in your story, and in the story of salvation history itself. Furthermore, as the story is still ongoing, you and I have a part to play, for a purpose, every bit as much as Whittaker Chambers did, or Warren Carroll. Blessed, soon-to-be-Saint, John Henry Cardinal Newman eloquently expresses in his Meditations on Christian Doctrine:
I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created; I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has; whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man, God knows me and calls me by my name.
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next…. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
We each have a unique part to play in the ongoing story of grace. We are connected to others in a way that no one else is. Let us respond to grace now, wasting not a moment, so that we might get to heaven and help others along the way.
We must get to heaven in order to meet our ultimate Beloved, but also, oh, to see the Final Judgment (CCC 1040) from the winning side! To see with perfect satisfaction and clarity the beginnings and branching out and culmination of grace at work so humbly in so many unknown souls. I cannot wait to see how God’s Divine Providence ultimately smashes all the devil’s proud plans, to see the bonds of grace connecting so many throughout history, right down to you and me—the eternal well springing from Christ on the Cross, through the Apostles and early saints, then on and on through Charlemagne, Pelayo, Catherine of Sienna, Joan of Arc, Thérèse of Lisieux, Karl of Austria, Sister Faustina, Maximilian Kolbe, Josephine Bakhita, Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, Dr. Takashi Nagai, Mother Teresa, John Paul II, Mother Angelica, and countless heroes unknown to me—men, women, children, monks, and nuns—all united by grace in Christ Jesus Lord of History.