Upon coming to a fork in the road

Friday 10 June 2016 — Port-O-Call: Westport Harbor — Historical Society’s 25th annual garden party

Keeping one’s thumb on the pulse of popular culture takes much time and effort. It involves, among other things, perusing a variety of newspapers – The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Cape Cod Times, the Providence Journal, the New Bedford Standard Times, the Fall River Herald News, the Falmouth Enterprise, the Taunton Gazette, the Attleboro Sun Chronicle, the Village Voice, etc. Oh, did I mention The Anchor?

I even follow stories reported in Westport Shorelines. Why it is called “shorelines,” in the plural, I have no idea. How can the Town of Westport have more than one shoreline? 

At any rate, what happens in Westport is important to me. Many of my relatives came from Westport. I spent eight summers living in Westport as a counselor at the former St. Vincent de Paul Health Camp on Adamsville Road. And besides (although I have never served as a priest there), Westport is one of the towns in the Diocese of Fall River. There are three Catholic parishes in Westport: Our Lady of Grace, St. George, and St. John the Baptist. It behooves me to read the local Westport newspaper. 

Consequently, I know that Westport, over the years, has been a hotbed of local politics. They say town meetings can be more contentious than the current presidential election cycle. That’s saying something. 

It seems Westport has now come to a fork in the road. Perhaps you, too, read it in Westport Shorelines. No? Well, let me hasten to enlighten you. 

There is a fork in the road. I mean that literally. One road leads to the estates of the hoi aristoi and the other to the cottages of the hoi polloi. There at the intersection someone has erected a massive fork sculpture. When locals give directions to disoriented drivers, nobody will ever again miss the fork in the road. This is just another example of Yankee ingenuity. 

I am not making this up. You know me, dear readers. When have I ever made things up?

One society matron wrote a letter to the editor in a noble attempt to rescue the common folk from the slippery slope of poor taste. I salute her. How often have I myself assumed this sacred duty of the upper class? She complained that this giant kitchen utensil is nothing less than gateway kitsch. She predicted it would lead to such “lawn tchotchkes” as flocking pink plastic flamingos, roving bands of plaster gnomes, and a plethora of Victorian gazing balls. (Gasp!) The courageous writer urged all persons of impeccable taste to band together at a town meeting and stem the rising tide of tastelessness. 

A “fork in the road” is a metaphor for a deciding moment when a major choice is required. Forks in the road tend to inspire poets, artists and musicians. Consider the lines from “The Road Less Traveled,” by the late poet laureate Robert Frost

“Two roads diverged in a wood. 

I took the one less traveled by, 

And that has made all the difference.”

Or perhaps the advice of the legendary athlete/philosopher Yogi Berra: “When you come to the fork in the road — take it.”

Let us never forget the immortal words of the grandmaster of neurosis, Woody Allen: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” 

As you are no doubt aware, both church and state, both politics and religion, have arrived at a fork in the road. In today’s world, everything, it seems to me, stands at the crossroads. It’s part and parcel of our modern society. 

In politics, the divergence in the road is wider than I have ever seen it. My GPS makes a distinction between bearing right/left and turning right/left. My GPS knows this is an important distinction, especially when one comes to a fork in the road. In today’s political climate, it’s not so much “bearing” as “turning.”

The electorate is widely divided. Virtue may stand in the middle, but where exactly is the middle? It keeps moving. The decision as to which road to take has become a conundrum. 

In a certain sense, the Catholic Church is also at a fork in the road. In the Church, how we got here is one question. The more urgent question is where do we go from here? May I elucidate for you, dear readers, as to how the Catholic Church has for millennia discerned which road to take? 

Firstly, we put ourselves in neutral. Purge preconceived ideas, hidden agendas, and self interests. Next, we hear what people are actually saying. Thirdly, we identify the proven facts. Finally, we don’t just do something, we stand there. We stand with arms raised in prayer. 

The Church is the oldest and largest institution in the world. When we come to a fork in the road, God always shows us which road to take.

And that has made all the difference. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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