Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

No Ordinary Fool: A Testimony to Grace

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

No Ordinary Fool: A Testimony to Grace

Article excerpt

NO ORDINARY FOOL: A TESTIMONY TO GRACE by JOHN JAY HUGHES Tate, 344 pages, $19.99

Good autobiographies are rare. The genre is easy; the writers are difficult. The worst autobiographies are chortling with their writer's vanity; the best amount to a writer's confession and pilgrimage through life. No Ordinary Fool is in the latter camp. The proportions of confession and pilgrimage are sometimes uneven, but no matter, since the author's vanities are trifling.

John Jay Hughes may not have been bom with a silver spoon in his mouth, but surely he was sprinkled from a silver chalice. He had extraordinary ancestors, including one of the Founding Fathers, and the first chief justice of the United States. His father was an eminent and prominent Anglican priest and pastor. John Jay Hughes profited from die best kind of education then offered within his country. He was a fledgling of an American high-upper class, of which he lived to see the entire extinction during his lifetime. While he was still a child he lost his beloved modier; his father broke with him when he chose to relinquish his own Anglican priesthood to become a Catholic priest.

"For as long as memory runs, I have wanted to be different. Announcing my decision for priesthood was a way to satisfy diis not entirely admirable desire." And, then, "lifelong Catholics have no notion-can have no notion-of the agonizing struggle confronting an Anglican priest who comes to believe that, in conscience, he must consider moving from Canterbury to Rome." For John Jay Hughes there was another difficulty-besides the rigid withdrawal of his father whom he went on to love: "I entered the Catholic Church with a cold heart, motivated solely by intellectual conviction. There was none of the 'coming home' reported by other converts." There is a bitter sincerity in diis fragment of a confession.

His pilgrimage was not easy, from a world where mothers were called "Mummy" to a world where mothers are "Moms. …

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