From the passage in St. Mark’s Gospel that was read at Holy Mass on Friday, December 10, Father Paul drew a direct line to the short story by Flannery O’Connor, “Everything Which Rises Must Converge” explaining the Gospel by analogy with the story. That story involves a young man, Julian, and his mother, and a bus ride one evening. Julian does not like his mother, he criticizes almost everything she is and does, even though she lives her life around him, thinks the world of him and believes only the best about him. Nothing she can do seems to satisfy him.
In the Gospel passage, St. Mark shows us Jesus wondering about those who criticize everything He and St. John the Baptist do: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ ” Nothing they can do seems to satisfy their critics; the one lives on wild honey and locusts while the other dines with sinners, and both are equally judged wrong. The passage ends, rather cryptically for me, with this allusive sentence: “But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” It could be a good title for a short story.
Father Paul spoke quietly about the story’s point that Julian came too late to understand and value his mother’s worth to him. and the worth of their family’s heritage which he never spoke of “without contempt, or thought of without longing” as O’Connor puts it. Julian’s family had once been great, and though they had little, now, his mother reminded him in her attitudes and beliefs of what they once were, something he both longed for and hated, and did not understand, finally. She answers his assertion that “True culture is in the mind”, his harsh insistence that she and her beliefs were dead letters, with words he scorned. She had said these quiet words: “It’s in the heart and how you do things, and how you do things is because of who you are.” Scornfully and meanly he replies, “No body in the damn bus cares who you are.” She simply answers him, “I care who I am.”
In the end, she is knocked to the ground, suffers a stroke and Julian, after ignoring her distress for some time realizes something is very wrong. He runs towards some lights ineffectually calling for help. They recede into the distance, And at that point: “ The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.”
While Father Paul spoke I began to think of another Julian whose name has been in the news lately, Julian Assange the fellow behind WikiLeaks. We were talking about him just the previous evening, trying to get a grip on why someone would do what he has done. As I recalled that conversation….it’s funny how one thing leads to another…I wondered what the people St. Mark’s Gospel, the Julian of O’Connor’s story and the real Julian Assange all had in common, if anything. Father’s remarks focused on our all too common fault of dismissing the
“others” whom we do not see worthy of attempting to engage on any level, the “others” who are in a word “beneath” us.
I don’t know Assange any better than the next fellow, and from what I have been able to read about him, the “next fellow” doesn’t know him too well at all. If rootless can define someone, rootless will do for him. He has no fixed abode as the song says. In a long article in the New Yorker about him one reads that he spent his growing years moving from pillar to post with his mother, hiding out from something or other, and breathing the air of her particular disdain for most things organized, including education, work and wages. But, he’s a brilliant guy, the article shows us; doing the job himself of education, reading his way through libraries all over Australia.
He learned all about computers and the Internet, when it finally lit up, and early on began to associate himself with those who in another age would have been called “Peeping Toms”. He was arrested and convicted of a computer hacking crime in Australia. The article goes on for a number of pages detailing Assange’s growth and metamorphosis from a precocious self-educated techno-geek into the man just bailed from a London jail after an arrest for some sexual crimes. Several details from the New Yorker story, aside from his mother’s influence, caught my interest.
He developed a theory about what the article’s author calls the “human struggle. ” (H)e came to believe that: truth, creativity, love, and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by “patronage networks”—one of his favorite expressions—that contort the human spirit.” And, as his answer to that problem he had identified developed into WikiLeaks he showed a growing interest in and determination to make sure everyone everywhere knew what governments were doing. He would be the one to make that come true.
I thought of another Julian on the way home after Mass, the anchorite of Norwich so long ago; she who talked a lot about Love and courtesy, referring to the tactful, gentle, modest ways of Christ which are so different from. O’Connor’s angry son and Assange’s angry, well, son, both of whom were slowly morphing into one person in my mind.
“The old manners are obsolete, and your graciousness is not worth a damn,” Julian says to his mother at one point in O’Connor’s tale. In a self-description on a dating website before he established WikiLeaks Assange says he is interested in “Changing the world through passion, inspiration and trickery,” and “directing a consuming, dangerous human rights project which is, as you might expect, male dominated.” So much for love, or graciousness.
Only one Julian does the work. Only one shows how to reap the fruit.