LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

People I Don’t Like

There are plenty of people I don’t like; people whom for one reason or another I find personally antipathetic, and whom I would go out of my way to avoid on a social occasion : people whom I don’t like, and whom I am sure don’t like me.

However, at the risk of offending them all dreadfully, let me say this unhesitatingly : there is no-one whom I don’t love enough to be excited at the prospect of attending their Reception into Full Communion with the Catholic Church; and although I might well not actually do so, that would only be because I thought they would rather I did not, and not for any antipathy whatever on my part.

Why ? Well, because I cannot imagine hating anyone enough to want to see them excluded from the Church.

I think (I can’t now find the reference) that it may have been a friend of Ronnie Knox’s who said that his first thought on his Reception was ‘Now I belong to the same Church as Judas Iscariot’; and I know exactly what he meant. As I know I’ve said before, the Catholic Church is the Church of ‘All Sorts’ – or, as Mgr Robert Hugh Benson splendidly put it :

‘It [the Catholic Church] is not a select society of perfected souls; it is rather a huge vessel that sweeps into itself good and bad, saints and sinners, ethereal souls and deformed monsters of carnality. To point to outcasts of society within the Church’s borders is no more than to demonstrate that the charity of God is larger than the charity of man . . . The kingdom of heaven is not an aristocracy of saintliness, or an exhibition of prize souls; it is not even a sieve which separates; it is a net which gathers and includes.’ 1

When you look at it like that, how can we not welcome, with open arms and joyful hearts, any and all who seek to come home to the Church of Christ ?

Prayer for ‘the Conversion of England’ used to be a great feature of the Catholic Church in England; but for reasons which are not entirely obscure, this rather disappeared in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Whether that development was a wise one or not, though, it seems to me that it has had one knock-on effect which may not have been foreseen at the time – namely, that the Catholic faithful have rather forgotten that it is God’s desire that they should spread His word, and the blessings of His Church, to their fellow-citizens : and, as a result, they are perhaps less enthusiastic than they once were in proclaiming the joy of the Faith. (Let me make it clear that there are very many Catholics, priests and people alike, whom I know to be exceptional in this regard; my point is about the overall attitude, not the splendid achievements of the enthusiasts.)

We have to recognize, though, that as it is God’s will that all men know of His love so that they may be saved, it must be His will that, as far as possible, all men belong to His Church : and that, even if we are not under a positive duty to take active steps to try and convert people, we are undoubtedly under a positive duty not to do anything which may discourage them from conversion – and I think it must be apparent that the remarks I referred to in last evening’s post (from two ex-Anglican clergy to one who has not yet 'come home') fall into that category.

It may be that I should not say this : but I would have thought that such conduct amounted to a sin, and being (as it clearly was) deliberate, presumably a mortal sin. If I am right on that, then I hope that these gentlemen go to confession before Mass tomorrow.

However; it’s not only a sin – it’s also no advertisement for the Catholic Church; and that’s not good news, either.

F. Faber wrote a splendid hymn ‘Souls of men, why will ye scatter’ (though it is more usually sung in a ‘cut-down’ version under the title ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’) which I think is worth setting out in full :

Souls of men, why will ye scatter
like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts, why will ye wander
from a love so true and deep?
Was there ever kindest shepherd
half so gentle, half so sweet,
as the Saviour who would have us
come and gather round His feet?

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in His justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Saviour;
there is healing in His blood.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind.
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal He will not own.

Pining souls, come nearer Jesus,
and O come not doubting thus,
but with faith that trusts more bravely
His great tenderness for us.
If our love were but more simple,
we should take Him at His word:
and our lives would be all sunshine
in the sweetness of our Lord.

Obviously it is intended to be a ‘Mission’ hymn; one has only to look at the first and last verses to realize that F. Faber was seeking – in accordance with S. Francis de Sales’ maxim – to use a ‘spoonful of honey’ to convey to those outside the Church the inestimable joys to be found within it.

However, I think maybe some of us (and I am certainly one of them) need to remember that quatrain at the end of the penultimate verse :

But we make His love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal He will not own.

Isn’t that exactly right ? We are so keen on making our judgements that we forget that we are sinners too, and just as dependent as everyone else on God’s incredible mercy and grace ? We are so keen on ‘belonging’ that we sometimes feel that we must define our loyalty to the Church by ‘keeping out’ those whom we feel are ‘unworthy’ in various ways, without even bothering to consider our own horrible unworthiness and inadequacy ?

The title of this blog may explain why I try2 not to do that : I am a sinner, I know it, and I know that it is only by the Grace of God that I have come home to the Catholic Church, and the joy – and the hope of salvation – that I have found in it. I know, too, that God wants me to share that joy with everyone; that the Saviour wants all men to ‘come and gather round His feet’. It may be3 excusable for me to do nothing to achieve that; but it certainly isn’t excusable for me to hinder God’s will in that regard.

Our Lord said ‘Knock, and it shall be opened to you’ : let us pray that we may never ignore – still less reject – the knocking of a faithful heart seeking to come home; and let us pray constantly for all those whom we know, that they may come to rejoice, with us, in the Catholic Church.

1 The Religion of the Plain Man, 2, II, b : Robert Hugh Benson, orig. London, 1906
2 I say ‘try’; I make no claim to being successful.
3 I don’t think it is – one of the reasons for this blog – but it’s a theological point
I haven’t got space to go into here.


  1. The behaviour of the two converts is indeed shocking; but sadly not surprising. There is a smaugness about some converts: they seem to want to kick the ladder from beneath them.They seem to want to put more obstacles that they had to endure.
    I once had an extreme evangelical colleague who berared my catholic ways. I was actually quite cross -or i prentended to be- when I heard that she has bnot only joined the RC church but is ultra trad- Latin Mass Sos & all that.

    You are right to call for evangelisation. Too many RC priests in England minister to the gathered congragation instead of seeing themselves as priests for all as many Anglicans do. There are plenty of unchurched out there. One does not have to tread on any ecumenical toes!

  2. I have to say that most of the Catholic priests I have met since my Reception have been very keen to spread the faith outside their own congregations, and active in doing so; but - for the very reason you give, namely not treading on ecumenical toes - their activity may not be all that apparent to those inside the congregation, or in other churches around them. However, that is only my experience, and may for all I know be entirely atypical; but I very much hope not.

  3. "True renewal cannot take place in a fragmented Church. In fact, true renewal presupposes unity."

    Father John Abberton, over at STELLA MARIS blog wrote the above in a recent post. I think he was speaking about the separated brethren, but I would go a little closer to home.

    As Roman Catholics, our outreach to the separated brethren surely has to be seen as to be coming from a whole people or body, not groups of different types of Catholics, be they converts or cradle. According to scripture, Christ can only be recognised and embraced by the love witnessed, of the brethren, for each other(John 13:35 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 and of course, the main scripture which is also a commandment John 15:12, I won't say what it is because I love forcing Catholics to open their Bibles haha!).

    What I (me)have a desire to see is a true Methodist type spirit of revival within the Catholic Church where individuals who have an evangelising task (all of us), are re-soaked, with spiritual hoses, if necessary,in the Holy Spirit and undergo a transforming of our inner being, that produces ZEAL for our brother's in Christ. Especially for the clergy. And why not? If Our Lady can revive my sinner's drooping spirit, how much more will she want her priestly son's to receive the joy of the Spirit! I know this joy is on offer! Because she gave it to me, and continues to do so.

    Pray the rosary, as John Wesley recommended, and it WILL change your life and your heart, regarding men's souls.