Catholic Iron Man
About a month ago Twitter got lit up with superheroes. The actors playing the Avengers all tweeted pictures of support for a man dying of cancer, who is a lifelong comic book fan. Through a creative use of social media, Sophie Caldecott was able to harness the Marvel universe for her dad, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the autumn of 2011. You can read the amazing story here. However, in a perfect world, the Avengers would be asking for tweets from him. Sophie’s dad, Dr. Stratford Caldecott, is a superhero in his own right.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer in the fall of 2011, Stratford Caldecott seems to have reacted like Bruce Banner to radiation. He is now Super Strat. Rather than rage and massive strength, his super powers are blinding insight and extraordinary eloquence. His cancer seems to have given him an inner stamina few can match. He has averaged a book a year since 2009, and four since his diagnosis.
I met Stratford (Strat as he is known) and his wife Leonie in the late 1980’s when a group was getting together to study the possibility of a Catholic Great Books college in England. (The project has been through many visions and revisions, but has taken shape and now is Benedictus College.)
In 1990 Strat participated in a retreat I helped organize with the Legionaries of Christ in Rome. He was the only one of the participants who wanted nothing further to do with the congregation. He said that the founder’s writings left him uneasy, and that he sensed there was something amiss or imbalanced about them. (Talk about insight, Strat! You were way ahead of that curve.)
Strat’s blog is a good place to start if you want to know his thought. When a man who is facing death can write so clearly and compellingly about life and death and the power of the cross, you know you have a hero before you, who is living out the only superpower that ever really matters: the grace of Christ.
This summer I am slowly going through his 2012 Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education. It has given me a deeper perspective on the Liberal Arts, specifically on grammar (that humble science where I spend many a Latin 101 day) and on the true nature of the educational relationship between teacher and student. By imparting to a student something I love, I try to awaken a love in that student, so the love may be shared. His view of education is essentially Trinitarian.
He has written much on many topics. His volume on The Lord of the Rings is a must to plumb the depths of Tolkein’s own spiritual vision. When the history of twentieth century Catholic thought has been fully sifted and chronicled, I think Stratford Caldecott will loom large as one who showed how to be deeply rooted in tradition and at the same time branch out firm and tall toward the future.
Strat has been honored by the Marvel universe in his struggle with cancer. He has honored us all with his insight and eloquence. You are a Catholic Iron Man, Strat. Our prayers go with you in your final battle. I wish I got to know you better, but you are leaving us volumes to sift through slowly, widening our insight into a universe of marvels.