Guideposts executive editor Rick Hamlin reviews a new book by Fox News analyst Father Jonathan Morris.
- Posted on Oct 21, 2014
If I had picked up Father Jonathan Morris’ new prayer book The Way of Serenity (HarperOne) hoping for a dense theological analysis of that famous prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, the one that goes, “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….” I would have been disappointed. But for a conversation about faith with a warm, thoughtful, big-hearted man of God, the book was satisfying.
Here—in case you’ve never seen Fr. Jonathan as an analyst on Fox News or The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, where he is the program director—is a story from the book and a good example of what kind of guy he is:
One summer morning he was having breakfast at Penn Station in New York before heading off to the beach on the south shore of Long Island.
As he carefully explains, it was his day off, so he was not dressed in his usual clerical collar. While he was eating his breakfast sandwich, a gentleman came up to him, asking for money: “I would love to have some breakfast too. Can you give me five bucks?”
“Well, sir,” Fr. Jonathan responds, “how about I buy you one of these sandwiches?”
The man appreciates the offer but explains that he prefers to get his breakfast around the corner where he always buys a low-fat bran muffin with whipped cream on top. Fr. Jonathan laughs to himself, wary of some scam, but digs into his pocket “more out of laziness than kindness,” as he says, and discovers that all he’s got is a twenty-dollar bill. He gives it to the man anyway, asking for change and a receipt.
Five minutes pass, his breakfast is done and he sees no sign of the man. A street-smart New Yorker at another table shakes his head, as if to say, “What a sucker.”
Then all at once the man walks in carrying the low-fat bran muffin topped with whipped cream in one hand and some bills and coins in another. “Your change, sir,” he says. “Have a good day.”
Fr. Jonathan doesn’t quite remember if he resisted the impulse to look over at the cynical New Yorker with a smile of triumph, but he does feel compelled to reveal his identity to the muffin man. “I’m a priest,” he says.
“What’s that?” the man asks.
“I’m a minister. You know, a pastor.”
At that point the man’s eyes got big and he let out a scream. “I have won the Jesus lottery!”
Like a good pastor, Fr. Jonathan goes on to explain that the low-fat bran muffin man really did win the Jesus lottery. “He did the right thing and saw his moral triumph as a sign of God’s mercy in his life.”
Whether that’s what went through the man’s mind, I would be hard-pressed to know, but the story, like the best parables, can be probed for a half-dozen messages, including what it means to be a Catholic priest and a person of active faith in a decidedly secular city like New York.
That’s what I enjoyed about Fr. Jonathan and must be a key to his popularity with his 169,000 Facebook fans and 43,000 Twitter followers. He might be preachy at times but he’s honest and doesn’t let himself off the hook.
He is at his most compelling in discussing the Serenity Prayer when he focuses on that last petition, “the wisdom to know the difference.” What is wisdom? How do we find it? How would it possibly help us?
In Fr. Jonathan’s analysis, wisdom comes through growing closer to God. “That is not to say that every great believer is wise in all things, nor that nonbelievers cannot be wise in many things, but belief in God radically changes—indeed, rectifies—our worldview. It makes the world around us intelligible at its deepest level.”
Wisdom means asking the right questions, focusing on the important things, stepping away from foolish distractions, and developing a relationship with God.
“In our friendships, we take on a bit of our friends. We become like them. Personal contact and friendship with God brings us wisdom, since we are in relationship with wisdom itself.”
Let me close by giving you some indication of how good a teacher Fr. Jonathan can be. In one chapter he discusses how God often speaks to us in whispers, exploring just why. The final reason for God whispering, he says, may be to save us from despair.
“If all of God’s inspirations and instructions and corrections were put in our face at full volume all the time, we would recognize how far we fall short of his totally fair and reasonable expectations and we could be tempted to despair: ‘Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ Instead, his urgings are accessible in that quiet voice for us to discover in silence, in prayer, one or two at a time, as our human frailty can handle them.”
Good work, Fr. Jonathan. I’ll be looking for you at a Penn Station eatery next summer, clerical collar on or off.