Philip Yancey in What is so Amazing about Grace? recounts a lovely story about a meeting between Mauriac and Elie Wiesel. Mauriac was at that time France’s most famous writer, and the greatest Roman Catholic writer of his century.
Wiesel is networking. Using the old man for his connection, to inveigle an interview with the French Prime Minister. But Mauriac wants to talk about Jesus. A little secret, inward smile plays about his face as he talks about Jesus.
I love that, that 20 centuries later, people can be so in love with Jesus, that a secret, inward smile lights their faces when they talk about him. Wiesel writes
I was a young journalist in Paris. I wanted to meet the Prime Minister of France for my paper. He was, then, a Jew called Mendès-France. But he didn’t offer to see me. I had heard that the French author François Mauriac — a very great Catholic writer and Nobel Prize winner, a member of the Academy — was his guru. Mauriac was his teacher. So I would go to Mauriac, the writer, and I would ask him to introduce me to Mendès-France.
Mauriac was an old man then, but when I came to Mauriac, he agreed to see me. We met and we had a painful discussion. The problem was that he was in love with Jesus. He was the most decent person I ever met in that field — as a writer, as a Catholic writer. Honest, with sense of integrity, and he was in love with Jesus. He spoke only of Jesus.
Whatever I would ask: Jesus. Finally, I said, “What about Mendès-France?” He said that Mendès-France, like Jesus, was suffering. That’s not what I wanted to hear. I wanted, at one point, to speak about Mendès-France and I would say to Mauriac, “Can you introduce me?”
When he said Jesus again I couldn’t take it, and for the only time in my life I was discourteous, which I regret to this day. I said, “Mr. Mauriac,” we called him Maître, “ten years or so ago, I have seen children, hundreds of Jewish children, who suffered more than Jesus did on his cross and we do not speak about it.” I felt all of a sudden so embarrassed. I closed my notebook and went to the elevator.
He ran after me. He pulled me back; he sat down in his chair, and I in mine, and he began weeping. I have rarely seen an old man weep like that, and I felt like such an idiot. I felt like a criminal. This man didn’t deserve that. He was really a pure man, a member of the Resistance. I didn’t know what to do. We stayed there like that, he weeping and I closed in my own remorse. And then, at the end, without saying anything, he simply said, “You know, maybe you should talk about it.”
Read more about the interview here.Mauriac challenged Weisel to write about his experiences, which eventually became the tight Holocaust memoir, Night. Mauriac pushed through its publication against resistance.
I also LOVE this quote from Dorothy Day, about to write her autobiography. She writes, My Life, opens her book on a new page, “But then I found I could not do it. I just sat thinking of our Lord, and of his visit to us all those centuries ago, and I thought it was my great good fortune to have had him on my mind for so long a time in my life.”