The Second Reading of The Office of Readings this morning is from the Catecheses of S. John Chrysostom; and I was particularly struck by the first paragraph of it :
‘The Israelites witnessed marvels; you also will witness marvels, greater and more splendid than those which accompanied them on their departure from Egypt. You did not see Pharaoh drowned with his armies, but you have seen the devil with his weapons overcome by the waters of baptism. The Israelites passed through the sea; you have passed from death to life. They were delivered from the Egyptians; you have been delivered from the powers of darkness. The Israelites were freed from slavery to a pagan people; you have been freed from the much greater slavery to sin.’
I say I was particularly stuck by this paragraph : because it struck me very forcibly that, when you consider those things, all that we – and I include myself – have been concerned about for the last few weeks – the Equality Bill, question of Sex Education and teaching Abortion, the Guidelines on Assisted Suicide . . . all of these are, in one way, somewhat trivial.
Now; please don’t get me wrong – I accept that they are important matters; what I am trying to say is that to the early Christians they would have been – as far as I can see – viewed as things which were simply not worth discussion : ‘they are wrong, they must be resolutely opposed without hesitation – to death if necessary – now let’s concentrate on discussing and proclaiming the important things . . .’
It dawned on me that we all spend a great deal of time fussing about whether or not the Bishops have said things the way we want them to about these political matters because we have to some extent lost sight of just how many greater, more significant things, they – and we – have to talk about.
If we could persuade our non-Catholic, and perhaps particularly our non-Christian (or even better, our non-religious) fellow-citizens to understand the important truths which we have to share, then not only would the world be a better place, but we would not have the problems with civil legislation which we currently have – because a population which recognised the truths of Faith would not want such legislation.
In other words, I suppose, I’m saying that it is at least partly because we’ve stopped trying to persuade people of the truth of the Faith that we have the problems we have : because the Faith (in England, at least) is now ‘respectable’, we have largely ceased to try and convert England : and because of that, other people have ceased to think that it matters very much to us.
fr Aidan Nichols, OP, subtitled his book ‘The Realm’ ‘An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England’ : and I believe his central thesis was sound. He was not, as far as I could see, ultimately arguing that Catholics should simply be trying to convert other Christians to Catholicism; but rather that all Christians should be trying to bring those with no religion into the Christian fold – Catholic for preference, of course, but anyway Christian.
Isn’t the problem that because Catholicism has become acceptable in recent years, the drive to convert has dropped off; so that the rest of the population is now surprised when we suddenly stand up and suggest that there are things which matter to us ? I think it may be.
If we can persuade the people of England that we have seen the devil defeated; and the Son of God raised from the dead : if we can make them understand that what is on offer by the Church is nothing less than Life Eternal; if we can do these things, I suggest, then we may find it easier to persuade them that other things, which in many minds have little to do with ‘religion’, are important because they are all part of God’s ‘big picture’.
If we can do that, then we shall move away from the ‘secular’ society in which we now live; and the more we do that, the less we have to worry about Governments creating the sort of legislation which we are now having to fight : and if we had not taken our eyes off the ball, if we had continuously fought for the ‘Conversion of England’ for the last fifty years, then perhaps we wouldn’t have the problems we have now anyway.
They do say that ‘attack is the best form of defence’ : I think they may just be right.