There was a moment during the recent Napa Institute conference where I found myself looking…
Heaven in a basement
“There are places I’ll remember / All my life though some have changed. / Some forever not for better / Some have gone and some remain.”
That’s from “In My Life,” an old Beatles song. Though I have to remember that there are only “old” Beatles songs.
I was swapping emails with a friend from Pittsburgh. Mike Aquilina, author of more books than I could ever list, keeps me informed of the comings and goings of the place I lived for 12 years before retiring.
We were talking about the latest doings of the “Writers Group,” which we founded back in the day when I first got to Pittsburgh. It was a group in the diocese that was filled with writers or writer-wanna-bes who focused on all things Catholic. We had an informal priestly moderator, Capuchin Father Ronald Lawler, co-author of the classic “The Teaching of Christ” (OSV). He kept us on topic unless he wanted to wander. I was humbled when he referred to me as a “great man.” Until I realized that he called every guy he met a great man. Father Lawler, may he rest in peace — and I’m sure he does — died in 2003.
Membership was male and pretty open, as long as you weren’t a rascal or a heretic. We would get together on the third Thursday evening of the month at a tavern called the Sharp Edge Creekhouse in Crafton, just outside the city. We’d swill a few beers — the place was known for its Belgian beer — eat greasy bar food and discuss Catholic subjects that let us pretend we were much smarter than we were. By 9 p.m. at the latest, we were all yawning and ready for home.
We liked the Creekhouse because they had a basement room where we could yak away without bothering other tables. It smelled of old cigars and fried foods. I leaned toward chicken tenders and a side of French fries. To be young again.
Our discussion was never an issue of redefining the Faith in our own image. No navel gazing allowed. We would take an aspect of the Faith lived — sacraments, celibacy, the Gunpowder Plot, Humanae Vitae — and one of us would research it and give a presentation. Then we’d talk.
One night we surveyed and were surprised — at least I was surprised — that over two-thirds of us were converts. They hopped on board under Pope St. John Paul II.
Heading home, we’d always congratulate ourselves that no souls were lost that night. And we understood an aspect of the Faith better.
When I left Pittsburgh, I knew I would miss a lot of things. The Writers Group was high on that list.
The group grows and shrinks over time, and Mike keeps me posted. He let me know that the basement room was no more. They had mold issues a few years back, so they moved the gang upstairs. “We’ve been on the upper floor,” he explained, “which even has windows.”
Mike broke the news to me a few weeks ago. “The Creekhouse is closing next week,” he emailed, “so we have to find a new home.”
And the old Beatles song came to mind. I didn’t respond too delicately. “Oh no, Mike. I can’t imagine the group not meeting in the Creekhouse.”
I felt that heaven would be just that. I would be with old friends in the basement of the Creekhouse talking about the Faith.
But I soon realized it wasn’t the moldy basement. It wasn’t the bar. It wasn’t the greasy food. It wasn’t the Creekhouse. It was the friends gathered together, talking about our shared faith.
God’s gift to us is the people he puts into our lives. I miss those friends from Pittsburgh. Like Father Ron.
Don’t need an old Beatles’ song to understand that.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.