LOPEZ: I walked by the Peace Corps building in Washington, D.C., the other day and thought of what a mainstay it has been in the American story in the last few decades. What the Kennedy family, too, for reasons good and not-so, has as well. You write about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and other groups — I’d count ACE among them — that are organizing and training servants. Can any of these play a similar kind of role in our national story?LOPEZ
NOVAK: Sargent Shriver was at the forefront of the Peace Corps (and Jobs Corps), and — with his great wife, Eunice — at the head of the Special Olympics. They surely knew how to inspire people, as Jack and Bobby Kennedy did. Cumulatively, though, I’ll bet all the young Christian (not only Catholic) volunteers serving around the world to help the poor, and to spread “the good news of second chances” taught us by Christ, are doing even more, although anonymously.
: What has impressed you most about Bill Simon’s sense of calling?
: Bill Simon is one tough, persevering, steady, hardworking, always-thinking guy, and as cheerful as sunlight. When he decides to do more reading to become deeper in the ways of the Christian soul, he will spend a lot of time over books, but keep seeking out more, and before you know it he will have learned 60 of them deeply, and still kept going. At first, I tried to say no to doing this book, too many commitments already made. You don’t say no to Bill. Persistent cuss. And new arguments that eventually cut to the quick.
: Is this book about profiles in the Church getting beyond post–Second Vatican Council confusions and debates?
: Yes, new generations are just getting on with it. They don’t even know about yesterday’s rivalries.
: Who is your favorite profilee? What is your favorite new group or project out there?
: I loved the variety
of Bill’s nine (he took charge of searching them out), and the little lessons that every one of them taught. The woman who said “her credential” for running parishes as “pastoral assistant” (CEO on the practical side) is “my baptism.” The accountant who learned of dire accounting needs in his parish — and others, and the diocese — who still does what he loves to do, but now with the extra sense of serving the humble needs of the Lord and his people.
The young teacher and youth leader, former doctoral student, who gave up a “life of abstractions” to be among poor people he loves, and who love him. The convert who was sitting in front of a portrait of the crucifixion in her parish church, when she felt a quiet but overpowering sense that the Lord wanted something more from her. The very successful businessman who felt early in his successes that “there has to be more to life than this,” and committed himself to bringing his personal skills to help the needy in a distinctive way. Like nine Gospel parables, no?
LOPEZ: We have had our Kennedys and we miss our WFB and Father Neuhaus. Who are our up-and-coming young Catholic intellectuals who give you hope and happiness for the future?
NOVAK: Golly, there are a ton of them. I used to wonder who would replace the old warhorses. I no longer worry one bit. There are a lot of them, and they begin higher up on the learning curve than my generation did. We are getting swamped by their greater talents. You, Kathryn, and Ramesh, Derek Cross, Brian Anderson, Ryan Anderson, all those on the mastheads of our prominent journals, young professors. Take over you already have. For that the Lord shaped you.
LOPEZ: You live in Ave Maria, Florida. Why live down in a Catholic ghetto instead of influencing the powerbrokers of Washington?
NOVAK: My second vocation is teaching, and I love it. This is also a rare place, steeped in a deep Catholic culture. At the age of 78, I feel much nourished by being here. So many of my academic colleagues here are from the Ivy League and other top schools, and some of the other ones are even better! At a certain point, it is good to send a new generation forth into battle. Our graduates are special. You watch and see their success rate.
LOPEZ: What’s the fire, the flames, you focus on in All Nature Is a Sacramental Fire?
NOVAK: The transitoriness of life has often struck my heart and mind, everything around us reminds us of it — a rose pressed in an old Bible, fires from a log leaping into nothingness. The play, of course, is on Hopkins’s line that all nature is a Heraclitean fire: All is change, all is vanishing, flashing forth the glory of God.