Father C. John, Fisher of Men

By Mark Judge

Fr. C. John McCloskey recently returned home to Washington, D.C. to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his priesthood. A somewhat shy man, McCloskey has been responsible for many conversions to the Catholic Church, including Judge Robert Bork, Newt Gingrich, Lawrence Kudlow and Dr. Bernard Nathanson. (Before his conversion, Nathanson had been a NARAL founder and abortionist who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of babies.)

A few years ago, McCloskey was assigned by his order, Opus Dei, to Chicago. So he was only back for a visit. He has been missed. Many of us are still wondering what he is doing in Chicago.

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Fr. C. John, as he is known by his many friends, is partly responsible for me being a somewhat free man. Although I had heard about him for years prior, I met Fr. McCloskey about ten years ago. I had just finished my book Damn Senators (2003), about my grandfather who was a baseball player for the Washington Senators. I had also reverted to Catholicism a few years before the book came out.

I came across Fr. McCloskey the way I suspect many people at the time did -- by accidentally stumbling across the Catholic Information Center, where he was the director. The CIC is a book store and small chapel that sits between a bank and a fitness club on K street, about two blocks from the White House in one direction and the Washington Post in the other.

It's easy to walk past it and not even know it's there. K street is a clean, broad avenue where lobbyists work and where one tends to focus the eyes forward. Unless looking directly at the store -- where a life sized cutout of Pope Benedict XVI greets visitors -- it's easy to miss.

When I first came into the CIC, I knew I had found the equivalent of the medieval monasteries where culture was preserved during the Dark Ages. The bookstore is filled with titles from Fr. McCloskey's "Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan," volumes of timeless wisdom from Teresa of Avila, Chesterton, and Dietrich von Hildebrand.

I walked into Fr. McCloskey's office and introduced myself. Within minutes were talking like old friends and wondering how we had missed meeting each other growing up in D.C. The priest who baptized me? Fr. C. John had graduated with him at seminary. A famous actor who was making a movie about Jesus? Father had just talked to him. My grandfather was a baseball player? Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn was a friend.

I began to read some of the books on Fr. McCloskey's reading plan. The effect was intoxicating. Reading Chesterton, Dorothy Day, John Paul II and other brilliant theologians and philosophers, I began to understand the concept of what George Weigel calls "genuine freedom." In the modern age, freedom has come to mean freedom to choose where you live, what you guy, who you marry, and what your philosophy about life is. But this kind of freedom can become a trap that actually decreases our freedom.

Freedom to be sexually promiscuous is not a real type of freedom. Neither is freedom to consume. Last year I bought a new imac computer and itouch, and within weeks I was getting emails from Apple telling me about the "next generation" imacs and ipods that were soon coming out. Being a slave to the next new gadget is not being free. Genuine freedom involves growing in virtue by making wise decisions based on faith, reason and conscience.

I also began to meet a lot of D.C. Catholics. Fr. C. John is one of the great networking facilitators of all time.

Pope John Paul II said it took him years to learn how to listen well. Fr. C. John often emphasizes the importance of simply listening. This no doubt is one of the primary reasons he has been responsible for so many conversions. At his 30th anniversary party, he told me that during a conversion he just waits and listens. God provides the grace.

This is not to suggest that Fr. C. John is a stoic. He is a wonderful conversationalist and has a strong will. My first book signing at the Catholic Information Center was in 2003, when my book Damn Senators came out. Fr. McCloskey introduced me, and I still remember the first thing he said: "The Catholic Information Center is a place of Catholic prayer and study and fellowship, and Damn Senators is a book about baseball. But I am the director here, so I dictate the policy." It was said with a smile, and got a laugh.

I wrote earlier in this piece that Fr. McCloskey was responsible for me being a "partly" free man. As he knows, none of us are truly and fully free until our restless heart rest in God. But Fr. C. John has helped countless pilgrims make that journey to ultimate truth and love more compelling, rewarding -- and fun!

Mark Judge is a columnist for RealClearReligion and author, most recently, of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock 'n' Roll.

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