Sunday, March 22, 2009

'I found out all of a sudden that life looked very precious'
FIRST TIME ON WEB: Ultra-rare recording of Daniel A. Lord S.J.

FREE AUDIO DOWNLOAD: Father Daniel A. Lord, So I'm Dying of Cancer! (right-click to download MP3 audio file)

"God's that wonderful Saviour who walked the highway looking for you because He loved you. And when He couldn't find you, He climbed up on a Cross, hoping that He could see you from that elevation. And then He died rather than let you die."

I have something very special to share: the voice of a man I believe is an unacknowledged saint.

He is Father Daniel A. Lord S.J., and his voice is on a recording of an interview, followed by a sermon (from which the quote above is taken), both recorded in 1954, less than a year before his death at age 66. The interview and sermon comprise an ultra-rare long-playing record with the eye-popping title So I'm Dying of Cancer!.

As David Endres wrote in America on the 50th anniversary of his passing, "Though now forgotten by many, Lord was a larger-than-life figure in the seemingly confident, cohesive preconciliar church in America. Catholics, especially the generation that came of age during the interwar years, were undoubtedly influenced by Lord’s work. He directed the sodality movement and edited its popular magazine, The Queen’s Work, wrote hundreds of literary and dramatic works and led the crusade to safeguard Americans from immoral films." (The "Daniel A. Lord" tag below will take you to some excerpts I have published from his books and some of his approximately 300 pamphlets.)

The recording of the Lord LP comes from the collection of Kliph Nesteroff, a Canadian freelance writer disc jockey who is fascinated with arcane and off-the wall expressions of pop culture. (His blog, which, like his radio show, is called Generation Exploitation, features an exhaustive history of the line of Christian Archie comics.) Kliph has been extremely generous to upload the album onto the Web at my request after I heard a snippet of it on one of his radio shows.

Side 1 of the LP (the first half of the MP3 recording) is an interview with Father Lord by George Cushing for the Detroit radio station WJR, later rebroadcast by Montreal station CJAD and released on the Genesian Meme label. Given that it is after his diagnosis of terminal cancer, which I believe was in January 1954, and that Father Lord mentions during the interview that he has just given the commencement address at Marquette University, I would place it in May 1954. Five months later, he entered the hospital in St. Louis where he would pass away on January 15, 1955.

It is striking to hear the contrast between Cushing's subdued, concerned tone—which is understandable, given his subject's illness—and Father Lord's buoyance. The Jesuit's fortitude is disarming. Refusing to sugarcoat his condition, he places the subject of his impending death firmly within the context of an undeniably vibrant life.

Also striking is Father Lord's response to Cushing's attempt to draw a parallel between the cancer of the body and the cancer of Communism. Instead of taking the bait and throwing out a simple slam against the ideology, he responds with a challenge to listeners. The best strategy for defeating Communism is the same as that for defeating cancer: "Develop your healthy cells." His point (which he makes even clearer in the sermon that follows the interview) is that it is not enough to merely attack a bad philosophy; one has to uphold and live out a good one. The challenge is particularly relevant in the face of contemporary threats to marriage and the culture of life.

Following the interview, we are treated to Side 2: a rip-roaring sermon delivered to a Canadian audience, perhaps during the Toronto trip Father Lord mentioned in the interview that he was to undertake later that spring. Again, it would have been within months or perhaps only weeks before his final visit to the hospital.

The sermon is very rich and has given me great food for thought, such as Father Lord's observation that, while priests—including himself—often focus on the Ten Commandments, Jesus focuses on the Love Commandment. His message is not that the Ten Commandments are unimportant, but, rather, that moral teachings must be understood in light of the call to love. In this way, I think he was anticipating the work of later theologians such as Servais Pinckaers O.P. and laying a foundation for those who would defend the Church's moral teachings in an increasingly secularized world.

READ MORE: Father Lord's autobiography, Played By Ear, is available used from and may be read online for free at the Internet Archive.

GIVE BACK: The audio file of Father Lord's talk is hosted by noncommercial radio station CITR. If you would like to express your thanks to CITR with a donation, details of how to donate are on the station's Web site.

P.S. It is my hope that the Jesuits' Chicago Province, to which Father Lord belonged, will introduce Father Lord's cause for canonization. He was an untiring servant of God in his earthly life, and I believe he is quite busy in heaven and eager to take on more work. He is one of several saints and saints-to-be whom a friend of mine, petitioned for intercession while undergoing chemotherapy; that same friend just got the wonderful news that his treatment is working.