One way to discover whether a person has understood what they’ve read is via a diagnostic question. I was delighted to discover that Walker Percy held this same view, and that he had a diagnostic question for the readers of Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz, a book for which I, too, have a question. If you’ve read CfL, then perhaps you’ll recognize the value of these two questions.
Percy’s: Who or what is Rachel? (the second head on the woman at the end of the book)
Mine: Is this book fundamentally optimistic or fundamentally pessimistic?
Here, I just want to put down one of my favorite scenes. This is from the fifth chapter in the first section, Fiat Homo.
. . . on Palm Sunday, with only six days of starvation remaining until the end of Lent, Prior Cheroki heard from Francis (or from the shriveled and sun-scorched residuum of Francis, wherein the soul remained somehow encysted) a few brief croaks which constituted what was probably the most succinct confession that Francis ever made or Cheroki ever heard:
“Bless me, Father; I ate a lizard.”
Prior Cheroki, having for many years been confessor to fasting penitents, found that. . . he replied with perfect equanimity and not even a blink:
“Was it an abstinence day, and was it artificially prepared?”