An affecting account of one man’s experiences with the Catholic faith.
Near the beginning of Tracy’s heartfelt debut work of nonfiction, he describes a scene when he was a theologian in a Jesuit seminary and not yet an ordained priest. He was approached on the street by a young man seeking a blessing. It was an awkward moment, and there was a language barrier. Tracy mimicked the gesture of a blessing, telling himself it did the man no harm. “It was the best honest blessing I could give a young man who has no doubts about his faith,” Tracy reflects. “I’m an imposter.” The warning note in his head even so early on sets the tone for the remainder of his narrative, which follows him as a young man working his way through the long, elaborate stages of Jesuit life, from novitiate to juniorate to theologate and so on, always inquisitive and constantly challenging himself intellectually. He met an extraordinary gallery of Jesuit instructors and fellow hopefuls and realized on one level that his primary task was “building a spiritual life.” But under the surface, he also realized he was running on automatic pilot, less and less sure about the spiritual and intellectual certainties that are the hallmarks of the Jesuit order. When at one point an older instructor told him, “We never know when we will be taken off guard, because we can’t predict events in our lives,” he spoke with accidental prophecy: throughout the turbulent years of the 1960s, as Tracy taught and progressed in the order, he grew more disillusioned with the life he chose for himself (although the journey isn’t without humor, as when he attended a lakeside getaway with a few colleagues and discovered that “modern contemplatives could consume moderate amounts of McNaughton’s blended whiskey while doing God’s work”). In an account of remarkably unsentimental honesty, Tracy charts his falling away from the Jesuits and his eventual adoption of another life altogether. His memoir has no villains, no convenient turning points, and no cheap theatrics; instead, he limns the entirely more believable and sympathetic changing of a person’s heart over time. The result is a quietly powerful revelation of personal—and, despite everything, spiritual—reinvention.
A sympathetic but unflinchingly honest testament of indoctrination and embattled faith.