McInerny the journalist
A brief footnote to Greg Wolfe’s earlier post about the death of Ralph McInerny.
I was once an assistant editor at Crisis, the magazine McInerny founded with Michael Novak in 1982. While I was there, one of my jobs was to edit and proofread McInerny’s column. It was usually the smartest thing in the magazine, and it always arrived in excellent condition, with every comma in place. If he used a foreign term (and he often did), it came with the right accent. If he wrote a long periodic sentence (and he knew better than to write too many), it held together: all the verbs agreed with their subjects; the whos and whoms hit their marks. He was an elegant writer, as any reader could tell, but he was also a careful writer, as only his editors could fully appreciate. The ability to produce clean copy was no doubt the least of his virtues, but it was a virtue — and one that seemed in keeping with some of his larger intellectual virtues. He was fastidious in the best sense of the word, not content with verbal approximations, intent on the mot juste but also on the just verdict. He had his prejudices and intellectual obsessions, but he didn’t settle for intuitions when he knew an argument was required. If he was wrong about something, it was usually because one of his premises was wrong, not because he hadn’t taken the trouble to draw out a careful conclusion. He was capable of intellectual resentment — aren’t we all? — but he managed the difficult task of keeping his resentments from curdling into malice. As I say, a careful man, whose disappointments only heightened his self-discipline.
Here‘s one of the pieces he wrote for Commonweal. A taste:
The Catholic church Greene entered was not the rollicking one of Chesterton nor the Establishment before the Establishment of Waugh—what Greene thinks of the second is revealed in his review of Waugh’s biography of Ronald Knox. What Greene had been convened to was a Communion of Sinners, an alliance of earthly losers whose wisdom was Socratic. The elect, if you can call them that, know that they are sinners; the others are merely sinners. And an important thing about sin is that it is tawdry and a cheat. When as a boy I read Chesterton’s remark that the young man who knocks on the brothel door is searching for God I found it only a well-turned phrase; the glimpse of the prostitute’s crib in The Heart of the Matter enabled one to sense the odor of damnation. Loss and treachery and purchased sex were the landmarks on this journey with a Jansenist map. But if Greene needed an antithesis to his Catholicism, if he needed to repudiate the claim of happiness now, why didn’t he take the fashionable route and see Communism as Antichrist? Why did he pick on us?