The Winds of Change

More than 30 years ago, a storm swept away a beachfront in Dooagh, Achill Island, off the County Mayo coast of Ireland. The entire coast was washed away, leaving a scenic but also craggy coast, uninviting to bare feet and treadable only with the hardiest of soles.

Around Easter of this year, the beachfront reappeared overnight. A member of the Achill Island tourism board suggested that a cold snap and a steady north wind probably deposited the sand on its shores. Already, it was reported, tourists were visiting the beach and were once again walking shoeless.

Well, all right, that story will do, if one wants to be sensible and sober about it, but must we be? It’s an enchanting story and, particularly as it is situated in Ireland, it almost begs for an accompanying bit of freewheeling blarney — something about “the little people” being miffed at the locals for some reason and taking away their beach only to restore it when their pique had run its course.

One could spend a happy evening putting together such a tale (or several) simply for the sake of the auld Irish storytelling of previous generations.

But as I read a brief news story about the reappearing beach, what struck me was what a working metaphor it was for our lives — both the material and the spiritual, the worldly life and the life of faith. It brings us a lesson about how the world and everything in it is continually in flux. What is alive is constantly in motion, sometimes obviously — like the waves pounding upon every ocean’s coast, or the wind bending a tree or raising a beach — and sometimes imperceptibly. Right now, for instance, if your body is operating as it should, your red blood cells are collecting oxygen through your lungs and then transporting it throughout your body tissue by way of your heart, enlivening every bit of your tissue, but you don’t notice it.

Similarly, right now, if your religious practices are being kept up, prayers and sacraments and devotions are, in a manner of speaking, bringing oxygen to your spirit in a strengthening and sustaining way. They are keeping your spiritual life alive, even as you attend to material things.

Thus what is living is always changing in big and small ways, always resisting stasis and stagnation by living within the thrust and tension of a moment. It is adaptive. “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it,” observed G.K. Chesterton. That’s very true, of course, and only a living thing can evolve, too.

That is an especially timely thing to remember, even as you read this column — my last for the print edition of The Catholic Answer. Few associations have I enjoyed more thoroughly in my career; writing Ora Pro Nobis for this venerable publication has been a distinct pleasure and privilege, and I am, of course, sorry to see the gig end.

Still, all things have their season and currently in publishing the ascendant wind is digital. As the beach of Achill Island demonstrates, a strong and steady breeze changes things — cuts new lines, exposes new ground that can and should be traveled, but always with an eye to the gauge of one’s sole.

It’s like that, right now, in Catholic publishing, too. As editorial teams consider the wind shift from print to digital, they’re witnessing the appearance of new corners and lines which bring new perspectives and reveal new trails. All of it requires new avenues to walk — and new soles with which to travel forward within the mission of evangelization.

OSV is in the midst of the wind shift, and it is adapting and evolving, which tells us that it is alive, and no dead thing. That’s good news, especially for those of us who find our spiritual oxygen in the shared faith of our fellows, and in the teachings, the stories, the lessons and the life-giving realities of our Christ-centered Church, also wind-buffeted, also quite appreciably alive. May God bless us all, and thank you for reading!

Elizabeth Scalia, Obl.O.S.B., is editor-in-chief of Aleteia.org’s English edition and the author of “Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life” (Ave Maria Press) and “Little Sins Mean a Lot” (OSV). She is married and lives in New York.