Visiting an old friend

One Friday this Lent I decided to revisit an old friend — J. Blue, or as most know him, “Mr. Blue.” Because I don’t think I have ever known a better man. Even if he is fictional.

“Mr. Blue” is an American Catholic classic written by Myles Connolly (Cluny Media, $17.95), first published in 1928. But the book reads well today. And it is totally Catholic in thought and culture.

Connolly was a young Roxbury, Massachusetts, native just a year from beginning what would become a successful Hollywood career. He was a writer, story editor and producer who worked with the likes of the legendary director Frank Capra.

Connolly died in 1964 and, honestly, not too many would remember him in Hollywood today. But a lot of people still cherish “Mr. Blue.” Let me try to introduce you.

It’s hard to give a synopsis of “Mr. Blue.” It is a slim volume. You could read it cover-to-cover in an extended lunch hour. There isn’t a narrative plot. It’s just the narrator describing his friend Blue, a man who “was born a Catholic, but he had all the enthusiasm of discovery which heaven usually reserves for converts. His faith did not transform things: It made him see things.” To Blue, “nothing mattered outside of saving one’s soul and making others noble and amiable.”

A favorite part of the book for many readers is Blue’s description of the movie he would like to make. Set in a dystopian future, the world is celebrating what it thinks is the death of the last Christian.

Blue then states that there is one man they missed. He grows a little patch of wheat and creates a wafer from it. Then, with two cruets of wine and water, he climbs to the top of a huge tower and begins to celebrate Mass. He is the last priest, “heir in a noble line of Christ’s servants.” And as he utters the words of consecration — Hoc est enim corpus meum — the last great miracle takes place, the Second Coming.

“Mr. Blue” is a book of vignettes and quotes, without a real beginning and middle, though it does have an end. There are so many things to get you to thinking. Or praying. My favorite quote from “Mr. Blue” is its description of the universe after the end of the world:

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“When the day comes that the sky is emptied of stars, and the sun is black, and the distraught winds have only the void for their lament, I am sure that somewhere men will be merry together, somewhere good hearts will greet good hearts, and somewhere our dreams of unbroken love and good talk and laughter will come true. This is a glorious Somewhere, and it is far nearer to us than the stars.

“There Our Lady talks of children to unknown mothers who taught their many children the lore of her single Son .... There Thomas More swaps jests with the older Teresa, while the younger Teresa gathers her roses ... and mayhap the Good Thief listens, or mayhap he hears little St. Francis singing his songs.

“It is a good place, this Somewhere. It has been called Paradise. It has been called the Tavern at the End of the World. And it has been called Home. It is only Catholicism that would ever allow the like of me to hope some day to be there.”

I know what he means.

Blue wants to begin the “Spies of God” among derelict men that he will bring to Christ. The “Spies” will then by “their unselfishness, their patience, their amiability, their fine wholesome lives” be living sermons. “Mr. Blue” ends shortly thereafter.

You can get a copy on Amazon and probably any Catholic bookstore.

Read it to finish your Lenten season.

Or to begin your Easter.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @BobPLockwood.