Friday, March 05, 2010

A Too-Brief Lenten Tribute to Fr. Urban Schnaus

Fr. Urban Schnaus was a Benedictine physicist at St. Anselm's in Washington, D.C. who died some years ago. All throughout the 1980s, he sang the Latin Mass, ordinary form, at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Before I was Catholic I used to go hear him say Mass and chant. I recorded it on a tape player and listened all week. I didn't believe in this strange religion going on. I just liked his chant, which was beautiful even if weak (he was old).

Finally one day I visited him at St. Anselm's. I peppered him with hostile questions about this religion he practiced. He put his hood on his head and took me on a long walk in the gardens. We talked about nothing in particular: flowers, geography, the sun, the moon, the stars, growing up, pitch relationships, soil fertility, the weather, you name it. Finally we walked back and he said goodbye.

I said, "but Father, you didn't even answer any of my questions about Catholicism!"

He said, "oh yes, that. Well, I think what you really need is not a polemic but rather prayer."

He handed me a tiny book with the Stations of the Cross. He said to pray it every day. Then he said goodbye. I did what he said. Three years later I was a Catholic. He was right of course. I'll never forget that man.

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