I will just go ahead and admit it, I’ve never read Catcher in the Rye. It is not for lack of wanting to have read it, it is for lack of ambition to actually sit down and read it. My wife and I even purchased the book a couple years ago (or found it in storage somewhere from her high school days – it wasn’t required reading in my school – I can’t remember which) and I still haven’t picked it up and gotten into it. After reading this excellent article by Fr. Damien Ference, perhaps it is time I dive into it and stop being the uncultured swine that I am.
When I first read Catcher in my junior year of college, my absolute favorite part of the book was when Holden explained to Phoebe that all he wanted to do all day was stand on the edge of a big cliff, making sure that the kids playing some game in the field of rye didn’t fall over the edge. I bracketed that entire section with a blue pen. A couple of years later, when I read Catcher for the second time, that business about keeping the kids from falling over the cliff remained my favorite part, but this time I underlined the entire section with a red pen and then wrote “Priesthood 173” on the first page of my book, which is where I always make a personal index. Every time I’ve read Catcher since, I’ve stopped on page 173 and thought to myself, “this is what the priesthood is all about.” I always thought of Holden standing on the edge of that cliff as an image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and I loved that all he wanted to do all day was to save people. That all changed about two years ago.
Read the rest for yourself but at the heart of the article Fr. Ference’s impression of Holden Caulfield was put to the test and was found wanting. As the article puts it:
O’Connor’s issue with Holden Caulfield, Gooch argues, is “the naiveté of his savior complex.” In other words, rather than humbly recognizing his brokenness and his own need for a savior, Holden believes that he is the savior. Holden is at the center of his own world, and everything revolves around him. He’s actually not very mature for his age, although smoking cigarettes, going with prostitutes, and cussing may make him appear so. Under the edgy surface of his coolness, Holden is a selfish boy who can’t see himself as he really is.
Again, I haven’t read the book and these impressions may be off from your perception of the character but that is unimportant. What is important is the lesson here for all fathers (both spiritual and physical). We are called to lead our families to heaven; to keep those in our care close to Christ and His way of Truth so that when the time comes, they can enter into eternal glory with Christ. However, we can’t forget that we are just as much in need of that same salvation. When we fail to love our children and our wives as we should, we need to make amends and beg forgiveness. Let’s not be so proud as to believe that we can do this all on our own.