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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

The Church Should See America as Mission Territory
January 24, 2016

Peggy Noonan can be described in many ways: former speechwriter for President Reagan, best-selling author, Wall Street Journal columnist. But the “core” of her identity, she says, is being Catholic. That means she embraces the tenets of Catholicism and sometimes offers “tough love” to the Church’s leadership. But at the heart of her words, even when they’re critical, there is a profound reverence for the faith she has embraced since she was a little girl.
Noonan recently joined me on “Christopher Closeup” to discuss her new book “The Time of Our Lives,” a collection of her best essays and columns from 1981 to the present. It’s filled with stories and observations about politics, culture, heroism, humility, virtue, faith, and more.
On the topic of faith, Noonan credits her great aunt with planting the seeds of her belief not through words, but through actions and symbols. Noonan told me, “[She] was a simple Irish peasant, and she had a simple Irish peasant’s belief. She had on her bureau Mass cards and rosary beads and [pictures] of Jesus and the Sacred Heart and the Virgin Mary. She took me to Mass when I was a little girl every Sunday, and I thought everybody in Mass was very nice, so I got it in my head that maybe if you go to church, you become nice...She didn’t proselytize [or] teach me about Christ. She had Christ all around me.”
As Noonan got older and learned more about Catholicism, her faith developed maturity and depth. She even came to teach a religion class to girls at a private school in Manhattan for a number of years. They ranged in age from post-Communion to Confirmation, and they taught her a lesson about the influence (or lack thereof) of the pictures by which she had been surrounded growing up.
Noonan said, “I asked [the girls], ‘What signs and symbols of religious faith do you see around your house?’ There was silence. Then one girl said, ‘My grandmother wears a medal with Mary on it.’ That was the only answer. I thought, ‘Thank you, Grandma!’ I enjoy seeing signs and symbols of faith in people’s houses, whatever their faith is. I understand something’s being said there. What’s being said is, ‘There is a God.’ And it’s important for kids to be aware of that.”
Noonan believes that an awareness of Catholic basics is sorely lacking in modern America, and she offers this advice when she talks to priests: “We in America are mission territory. You have to come to us like we are a vast continent of people who’ve never been exposed to Christian or Catholic thinking. You have to go through the Bible and explain who Jesus was, who His followers were, explain how we feel about the Blessed Mother, explain Catholic thinking and why Catholics have these rules. I honestly believe that we’ve got to start over in America.”
At the same time, Noonan acknowledges there’s something about being raised Catholic that never leaves you, regardless of whether you’re ardent or lapsed. Part of that, she says, is being baptized, which can supernaturally awaken something in our souls. She also compares the faith to a harpoon piercing your heart: “You can swim away with that harpoon in your heart forever, but you will be pulled back.”
Like that harpoon, Noonan’s words can pierce, but they’re ultimately meant to pull as many people as possible back to a faith that becomes the core of their identity, just as it is for hers.
For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, OPENING YOURSELF TO GOD’S GRACE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: