A Letter to One About to Leave the Church
By Rev Daniel A. Lord, S.J.
Australian Catholic Truth Society No. 893 (1960).
The pipe was out. In fact, it was stone cold. Yet he kept pulling on it with meditative little noises that showed clearly he had no idea it was out.
Then, mechanically, he laid it on the table beside him, among the happily disordered books and magazines and scraps of manuscript, picked up the letter from his knee and read it again. His eyes, about which the small, thinly graved wrinkles were set in ordinarily smiling curves, were misted with pain. Yet he read on to the end of the rather incoherent letter scrawled in the still unsettled handwriting of one who was neither quite a girl nor altogether a woman.
Finally, he laid it down, picked up the pipe again, knocked out the cold, grey ash, refilled and lighted it, and walked over to the window and drew back the curtain.
Outside, in his small, well-kept yard spring was holding high festival. The tulip bed made a goblet display by Tiffany seem cheap and colourless. The green of the grass looked bright and almost saucy under the insistent fingers of the late afternoon sun. The ivy against the little church was alive with small, bright, perky little leaves. And somewhere in the large maple that centred the scene, he could hear robins alternating fussy home-building with bursts of happy whistling.
A Thieving School
Earth looked so young, so vigorous, so hopeful!
He turned back to his chair and picked up the letter. By sharp contrast, though it seemed pitifully young, it was so wavering, so dispairful.
Though he could almost recite it from memory, he read the letter again.
The letterhead presented a dormitory building of a fashionable eastern college. Once it had boasted a Protestant affiliation. Later it had given up its religious connection for a sizable endowment from a steel king who disliked religious connections, and it had retained only non-committal Sunday vesper service (in which assorted ministers talked anything but religion and God), and Bible studies that treated the Bible as a young Airedale might treat a book he discovered on the library rug.
He had mildly suggested that, if she went to this college, her faith would get a hard battering. He remembered her gay laughter and protest.
A Letter From Youth
“Dear Father Hall,” the letter began, “I've been wondering for months whether I should ever write to you again. There really is not much point to it, is there? Yet . . .”
(He noted in parenthesis that she began her letter with a personal “I.” He pushed aside a memory retained from childhood, of a teacher who declared that letters beginning with a personal “I” clearly indicated an egoist.)
“You see, I've gone through a pretty disturbing time. When I needed to talk to you, you were too busy to reach.”
(He remembered guiltily one letter that talked about everything under heaven except religion, and realized now that it was a cry for help that he had not noted.)
“Now, I'm afraid it's not much use. I am scarcely a Catholic any more. Isn't that a pleasant thing to tell you? You know I hate like the mischief to hurt you, but I can't lie to you either, can I?
“Immediately you're going to blame the whole thing on my college. That's wrong. I insist it's not the college's fault. Yet, in a way, we both may be right. I just don't want to put too much blame on the college. There are any number of girls here who stay good Catholics. I guess it's just me.
“I just can't help but see the ridiculous superstition and tyrannical didacticism behind the church.”
(He winced a little that she should spell it with a small “c.")
“Now you know what I mean. Please don't be angry with me or impatient because of the usual scepticism of youth. And don't ask me precisely what I mean by superstition and tyranny. You know; you must know.
“Why Rules? Why for Me?”
“A group of rules and regulations are indispensable for the mass of the people, I suppose. But why must I do things which God never actually commanded? Can't I worship, humbly acknowledge, in my own way? Must I perform all those duties at a certain time, in a certain place, or else be damned? It's just not reasonable.
“Why, just because I was born a Catholic, must I remain in the church? Why am I allowed no will, no mind of my own in the matter? Why is it such a grievous sin to want to work out your own religion, your own salvation? And, above all, why should I receive any eternal reward if I merely meekly follow the dictates of others, out of fear or out of mental laziness?
“Oh, you won't understand. I have thought and thought, made retreats, talked to good Catholics, but it doesn't convince me. I suppose you are tremendously disappointed. Awfully sorry, because I still think you're a grand person. But, you do believe in the ‘whole works,’ and I can't see how you can.
“And you can't see my point of view; so we're even.
One of a Hundred
Slowly the priest laid the letter open beside him on the low table, reached out and lifted up his portable typewriter, unlimbered it with practised ease, and slipped a long sheet of paper under the platen.
And then he stopped. His elbow rested on the table, his chin was cupped in his palm, and he gazed fixedly at the blank sheet of paper. For suddenly he was looking beyond this one girl, whom he had met as he gave a lecture at a girls academy some five years before, a girl whose face he could not recall, but whose soul had been sketched out for him in her intermittent letters.
He seemed to see racing between his eyes and the paper the hundreds of Catholic young men and women, in similar colleges and outside of them, who were kicking, as she kicked, against the goad. St. Paul, when he was still the brilliant Saul, had kicked against that same goad, until Christ struck him down with a flash of light that blinded him and made him see. They were kicking against it, these young people, and Father Hall, shutting his eyes tight, prayed that they might be given the flash of light that brought blindness and the vision of truth.
Slowly at the top of the paper he typed: “Dear Helen Claire:”
He hesitated, then clenched his teeth so tightly that his jaw seemed locked in a tense line, and his fingers began to beat a quick and uninterrupted tattoo on the keys.
“Yes, your letter hurt. You yourself have disappointed me. But I do see your point of view even if I think it silly and utterly wrong. Your letter waved me a kind of dismissal, but you knew I shouldn't and wouldn't take it. And since we are far away from each other and can't sit and talk, may I speak through the clumsy medium of my typewriter? Sit back patiently, please, for I have much to say, and you are going to be good enough to let me say it.
“Now, there are a few things I am not going to do. I am not going to blame your college. It has long made a trade of taking from young people like yourself their faith in God and their confidence in His religion. But it has done so frankly. It has never disguised its intents and purposes. And it does not even pretend to give its pupils anything in place of the things of which it robs them. Your college has stripped from you your faith. I have failed to notice anything it has given you for substitute. Certainly not happiness. Your letters have been a crescendo of irritation and disgust and disillusionment.
“And I am not angry with you. After all, one doesn't grow angry with a friend who is struggling and on the point of giving up the most precious gift that comes to the heart and mind of a man or woman. I am sorry, but I'm not angry.
“However, I'm going to tell you the truth, though it hurts. I thought your letter infernally stupid. Yes, that's the plain fact. I thought it utterly stupid. Especially did I think it stupid because of what I had just heard at a conference of literary men held in New York. They were talking, these brilliant Catholics and non-Catholics, about the new Catholic thought running like a white flame through literature. They were stating with astonishment that the modern thinker is coming closer and closer to Catholic doctrines.
“They pointed to England, where Catholic thought dominates the literary field. They indicated the swing in America, less among Catholics than among Protestants: ticked off Eugene O'Neill Philip Barry, Gertrude Stein, Harvey Allen, Willa Cather, Thornton Wilder, who were turning to Catholicity for their thought and beauty.
The Great Return
“One of them said, ‘Why, this is the era of the return of the writer to the Church,’ and listed the hundreds of important writers, from Manning and Newman to Oscar Wilde, from Benson to Sigrid Undset, from Housman to Papini, from Jorgensen to Chesterton and Compton Mackenzie. I heard the literary editor of a great New York newspaper, himself not a Catholic, confess his joy at discovering the Summa of St. Thomas, and his excitement when he ran across Karl Adams, and his amusement with Evelyn Waugh, and his delight in Belloc.
“I heard it said that the Pope was the most advanced thinker in the world today, whose utterances were years ahead of his own times and centuries, and that even our progressive President is miles behind him in his solution of modern problems.
“And, while I listened, I knew more clearly than ever that, while the world of un-Catholic thought is bankrupt and knows it, hasn't a certainty or a security in anything, the world of Catholic thought is sweeping ahead with gigantic speed. Tomorrow it will be Catholic thought or no thinking at all.
“Then comes your letter, my child, and I find it just a little silly. In fact, I should like to ask you a pointed question. How many of the writers I have just mentioned are more than names to you? How many are even names? What arguments led them to give up the easy course of their ways and take up the difficult career of Catholicism? Do you know any of this?
“Now, I'm not trying to overwhelm you with authority. That would be silly. For, after all, you are surrounded with authority at college. Grave professors propound grave doubts. Brilliant lecturers grow awfully funny about the ‘ridiculous superstition and tyrannical didacticism’ (I recognize the words in your letter, they are directly quoted, though you forgot the quotation marks) of the Church. The books you read take it for granted that the Church is as dead as the dodo and then attack it as fiercely as if it were more alive than the reigning racketeer.
“So we won't say, as we easily could, ‘My dear, you're all out of style. Today the brilliant are coming to the Church. How silly for you to be running away from it!’ Instead, we'll go back to your letter and read it together phrase by phrase.
“What Are You, Then?”
“You start by telling me that you are scarcely a Catholic. Then what are you? I'd much like to know. Youth cannot be negative. It can't be just nothing. It can't say, ‘My mind was made, not to know truth but to go fluttering around like a silly moth from candle to candle.’ It can't say, ‘I have only one certainty, and that is the certainty that the Church is wrong.’ For quite naturally I, as a member of that Church can retort, ‘Very well, then, tell me what IS right.’
“I'll be waiting patiently for you to tell me what you are and what you have become. But I'm afraid I know without you telling me. You're nothing. You're not a Catholic, but you stand looking at the thousand things you might conceivably be and realizing that you aren't any of them.
“Have you read O'Neill's ‘Days Without End’? Read it. I'm afraid you are like its hero, the young John Loving. If you have his brains and brilliance (as, my dear, I am frankly afraid you haven't), you are in for the same course of disillusionment with ‘truth’ outside the Church that he experienced. He ran the gamut: atheism, rankest materialism; Socialism as the solution of all, and then Communism as the world's messias; idealism as the swing away from materialism, and then science, science, science, the re-maker of a world. Finally, he rushed into mysticism of the East, and sat contemplating (his own phrase) his navel. And after tasting them all and trying them all, as O'Neill his creator surely did, he realizes that he can have none of them, and ends back at the foot of the crucifix.
Too Many Choices
“All I am asking is one simple question: If you are not a Catholic, what are you? A Protestant? That would be absurd. Protestantism is only Catholicity with its truth and beauty removed. A Communist? My dear, you don't know what giving up your freedom means until you join the slave state that is Communism, where you walk in mass and think in mass and aspire in mass and lose your head for stepping aside from the mass.
“Are you a rationalist? Why, you'll find more reasonableness in the Catholic Church (if you'll just look about a bit) than in all the rationalism outside of it; for the Church begins with the self-evident fact that man, with his own limited reason, cannot reach beyond this life and can know pitifully little even of his immediate here and now. Rationalism becomes reasonable when it admits that it needs information. And divine information is just another name for faith.
“Are you an agnostic? That means you just don't know for certain about anything or anybody. And why deliberately choose to wander in a fog?
Don't Be Nothing
“There are a thousand different things you can become, from a Christian Scientist, who must make an act of faith in the nonexistence of the patent fact of pain and of his own body, to a hedonist, who makes a god of the body, from a monist, who thinks his little finger is part of God, to the atheistic evolutionist, who says that, if the world were simple it might need a God, but, because it is intricate beyond conception, it needs neither a Creator nor an Organizer nor a Director.
“But you have to be something. And if you are not a Catholic, which of the thousand other things do you mean to be? I should dislike your becoming a nonentity, a mere nothing.
“I've heard the phrase ‘ridiculous superstitions’ before. Now, even if Catholic doctrines were superstitions, believe me, they'd not be ridiculous. They are beautiful, dignified, ennobling. Perhaps I don't know just which doctrines you mean. A superstition to me is something silly and more than a little ignoble. It's throwing salt over your left shoulder so that you won't quarrel with your best friend - as if salt could come between you and a real friend, or as if you hadn't sufficient control over your temper to keep you from a nasty little scrap, and had to invoke a witch that sat on your left shoulder.
“It's thinking that Friday is an unlucky day, when Friday was really the day of the world's greatest ‘luck,’ since on it Christ brought back heaven for mankind and regained for men their lost happiness. It's not walking under ladders. (I don't myself, but I am not afraid of any other bad luck than the dropping of a bucket of paint on my one suit.)
“Superstition is as silly as blaming misfortune on a black cat; as utterly irrational as carrying a rabbit's foot or spitting when one sees a white horse and a red-headed girl. It is undignified as bowing one's head in ancient idolatry to a statue one has oneself carved, or kneeling in modern idolatry at the feet of humanity, of which I, the adorer, am myself a part.
Beautiful and Noble
“Now, what's superstitious in the Catholic Church? Oh, I believe that God answers my prayers not because I think they are a charm, but because I believe that I have a Father in heaven tender enough to love me, powerful enough to help me. I kneel and ask a fellow-man for absolution - not because I want him to remove the evil eye, but because I have in my soul the commonest of human experiences, the realization of my sins, and I have heard a divine Saviour give joy to the world by conferring on fellow-men the power of removing those sins.
“I lift my head in adoration at Mass. But that Mass, far from being a superstition, is the piling together, the massing together, if you can forgive a play on words, of tremendous truths: God died in my stead when for my crimes I deserved to die; He poured out upon the world His strength and grace from Calvary, and then day by day made it possible for me to reach out for that strength and grace (which surely I know I need) in Mass.
Far From Ridiculous
“Which Catholic truths are ridiculous? That God is my Father, and that the loveliest woman in the world is my Mother? That through grace I am united with God Himself in sharing a divine life? That the grave is the beginning and not the end of all? That from cradle to bed of death God watches over me and strengthens me with His Sacraments? That sin, far from leading to the despair you find all through pagan literature, ancient and modern, can be forgiven? That I am not a creature of today or yesterday, but, a creature destined to exist as long is God is God? That I am the absorbing interest in the Heart of God, protected by His divinely constituted Church, yet free to such an extent that God Himself will not force my liberty?
“Say you don't believe any of this. Say you find it too beautiful to be true. But don't call it ridiculous. Go out into your classrooms if you want to hear theories that degrade a man to the level of a beast, deprive him of liberty of movement, dignity and high estate. And come back then to the Church which believes in man and holds him in highest regard.
A Teacher Must Teach
" ‘Tyrannical didacticism’ is another neat phrase that doesn't mean all it seems to mean. Of course the Church is didactic. That means simply it is a teacher. ‘Go, teach,’ Christ said. ‘Go, teach all people.’ ‘Feed my lambs, feed my sheep’ - the whole flock, young and old, people of your age as well is your grandfather and grandmother. If the Church ever ceased to be didactic it would be utterly false to its divine commission. It would betray the direct command of Christ.
“And didacticism is not the unpleasant thing that your word was intended to imply. Christ was didactic in His Sermon on the Mount. Burke was didactic in his speech on conciliation. Aristotle and Plato were didactic when they drew their thousands to the groves of Athens. Your professors are professionally didactic. If you want to find didactism gone mad, don't look for it in the Catholic Church. Look in the writings of Shaw or Mencken or Nathan or H. G. Wells. Read the brash didacticism of the unimportant little professor who wrote your book on biology or history. There is more didacticism in the writers of popular problem novels or the contributors to smart magazines than in all the cardinals of the past three centuries.
“It would be interesting for you to jot down just what things the Church requires you to accept as a matter of unmistakable faith. I have mentioned a few of them. Think up a few more. You won't find them oppressively numerous. You will find them wonderfully beautiful and consoling.
“As for the tyranny of the Church's didacticism, I'm afraid you are a little muddled there. The Church no more forces people to believe than Christ did. When Christ explained the Blessed Sacrament and people turned away and walked no more with Him, He followed them with sorrowful eyes. But He did not by His divine power force them to return and believe. Nor does the Church drag obedience from reluctant wills.
“If you want to leave, the Church will watch you regretfully, as Christ watched those hard-hearted men who could not believe anything so loving and exquisite and tender as the Holy Eucharist. But it will let you go.
All or None
“However, you can't be a Catholic and give up the things that make you a Catholic. You can't be an astronomer and believe that the earth is flat and that the sun swings around it. You can't be a Democrat and believe that Republican principles are the correct ones. You can't be an American and pledge your allegiance to the British constitution. You can't be a mathematician and deny that two and two make four. You can't be a historian and refuse to believe in the records of the past. And you cannot be a Catholic and deny the things which the Church teaches at Christ's command.
“Remember, the things which the Church teaches, it teaches simply and solely because Christ ordered it to do so. When one of its members questions those truths, the Church can only say, without alternative: ‘I'm afraid you have no choice, as I myself had no choice, He taught that; He ordered me to teach that. I can't force you to accept it; but you can't stay with me and look upon Christ Jesus as either grossly mistaken or a liar.’
All Knowledge Demands
“After all, it is just a matter of common sense. Mathematics has its principles and its axioms, and anyone who denies them is laughed out of class. Science has its fundamentals upon which it builds, and anyone who cares to flout them, gets no serious consideration from anyone who knows. There are correct rules for thinking, and if people flout them, they are ushered politely to the insane asylum. Does anyone call this tyranny, that the teachers of mathematics, science, and logic insist on these fundamentals?
“Then, why should religion be the one lawless, ruleless, ‘unprincipled’ thing in the world? Why should it be tyranny for religion to insist on its fundamentals, especially as those fundamentals came from a Divine Teacher and conform in every least detail to man's own inclinations and highest ideals? That isn't tyranny, my dear. That is just plain horse sense.
“Maybe what you mean is that the Church is tyrannous in its laws. As a matter of fact, you make a quick jump from didacticism to rules and regulations. Youth usually does. Truth doesn't as a rule bother youth much. Conduct does. Youth is not vastly concerned with what it thinks or doesn't think; but it is much bothered about what it can do or cannot do. Is it really the Church's law that you mind?
“First of all, the Church really has few commands, and those are extraordinarily light. It requires weekly Mass, a matter of, perhaps, sixty minutes. It requires giving up meat one day a week, an easier requirement than that made by your doctor when you went on a diet. It demands that at least once a year you avail yourself of the magnificent privilege of being freed from sin through Confession and of being united with Christ in Holy Communion. It has the excellent dietetic practice of Lent, which you, as a student, have not as yet experienced.
“And what else? Really, it's not such a formidable array, is it?
“In all this, however, the Church is not considering you only, important though you are to its heart. It is seeing to it that this lazy, indifferent, easygoing creature called man does at least the minimum to honour the God who made him and to make reparation for his too frequent sins. The laws are not merely on your account, they are to ensure God's honour and glory, which men as a general rule are pretty careless about caring for.
“The Fact Is, They Don't”
“Can't you worship God in your own way? There is another side to that. Will you? I've noticed that the people who protest violently that ‘they would rather worship God under the spreading oak trees of His mighty forests than in any cathedral made by man’ never go either to the forests or the cathedral. People who are willing to worship at all are rather glad that an expert like the Church helps them to do it a little less badly. People who protest they want to worship their own way usually don't worship at all.
“When did you last go down on your knees and worship God, your own way or any other way? And as for your own way, what makes you think your way is worthy of the God you worship? I think you're showing a lot of tall conceit. Maybe God has ways in which He would like to be worshipped. Maybe, when through His Divine Son He instituted the Mass, He preferred the Mass to your way of worshipping Him. Quite aside from its divine character, I rather admire His taste if He did. Maybe, when He said, ‘Unless you do penance, you shall all likewise perish,’ He knew the importance of penance for young people, who have more than their share of temptation, and wanted to be worshipped by people who had learned self-control as well as emotional ecstasy.
“Do It My Way”
“You make me think, and I hope you'll forgive me, of the sort of person who wants you to have a good time her way. She'll take you with her provided you'll play her games or see the plays she likes. You're like the lover who doesn't say to the girl of his heart, ‘My dear, what would you like me to do to please you?’ but who says, ‘I want to do this for you, and you can take it and like it.’
“In our dealings with those we really love, the first thing we try to find out is what they want or what they would like or what they have actually requested. And we do that. Maybe God has things He wants and would like and has actually requested. If He has (and He left a clear record of those things in His Gospels and ,His teaching Church), maybe your way of worshipping Him would be pretty unsatisfactory in comparison.
“After all, it is not easy to be original in worship. It is not simple to think up new ways of worshipping God. You'll find, if you'll take a second look at it, that the Mass and the Sacraments, the great chorus of the Church praying and sacrificing, the small sacrifices that God asks of His creatures, about cover the ground. I doubt if you'll be able to think up a way of worshipping Him that can bear comparison. If you can, you are one of the great geniuses of history.
On Being Damned
“As for being damned, why must we drag that in? I do hope you won't be. But in order to prevent that possibility, let's see what leads to ‘being damned.’
“Man has essential relationship towards himself and others. Those relationships towards himself demand self-respect, regard for and preservation of his important powers and faculties, a reverence for the gift of life.
Then, he may not, because of his social relationships, commit murder, steal, burn other people's property, lie or cheat. All that is covered by laws against which no sane man rebels.
“But man also has his relationships to the God Who created him. Those relationships he must fulfil. He must thank his Benefactor; human decency requires that. He must apologize to Him for his shortcomings, as honourable men do when they have hurt a friend. He must admit a dependence, as an inferior officer does when he comes for orders to his colonel. He must do these things or he has failed in his plain duty to God.
“Now Christ, in establishing His Church, committed to it the obligation of seeing that these fundamental, simple duties were fulfilled. It was not a matter of imposing new obligations on man. It was just that men are likely to forget these obligations, as, facing the facts, most of your friends about you have done. How many of them ever thank God, offer Him their loyal love, represent their needs to Him, beg pardon for their offences against Him, ask His orders?
Men are forgetful. Yet here are duties that cannot be forgotten without an essential failure in a great human relationship. And that failure is important enough to be a reason for eternal failure, which is ‘being damned.’
“So graciously, the Church says: ‘To simplify life for you, to see that you don't grow careless and forgetful of these fundamental obligations, we'll mark down definite times and seasons for carrying them out. You shall on Sundays give sixty minutes to praising God, thanking Him, asking His favours, and expressing sorrow for sin. And you can do that best in union with Christ offering Himself for these same intentions in the Mass. Once a year you shall set yourself straight with God through Confession. Once a week, on Friday, you shall do that penance which, if you neglect, ‘you shall likewise perish’.
The State Does
“Could anything be more sensible? The State sets aside its holidays of obligation in which to reinforce patriotism and to reawaken a love of country and a sense of loyalty. It says that you shall pay your income tax by a certain date. It enforces its taxes under threat of prison. Surely men should love their country. Surely they should be willing to pay for the benefits their country brings them. But human nature being what it is, they just naturally aren't. So the State sees to it that they have definite times when they have to do this. And everyone thinks such action remarkably sane. Even when men complain, they admit the wisdom of the course.
“Why, then, is the Church tyrannical when it imposes its light obligations of time and place, knowing as it does and as you do that otherwise men would forget and neglect religion as they neglect and forget patriotism and taxes? It's all so in accord with human nature, when you see it straight, now, isn't it?
A Limitless Field
“Why, of course you have a will and a mind in the matter. All the Church requires is a pitiful minimum, the small service that is necessary if you are not to fail completely in your duty. Beyond that, have you ever glimpsed the fields into which will and mind can stray? Have you ever, since you seem to lean that way, learned even the beginnings of mental prayer? Have you learned to pierce into the great heart of God, to wander as a personal spectator through the life and passion of the Saviour, to sit with the saints contemplating the love of the Son of God and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost within your own heart?
“I wonder if you have let your mind and will grow conscious of the intimacy by which God unites Himself with your soul in the wonders of the Mystical Body. Have you ever said to Jesus Christ, ‘Oh, I am way beyond any matter of mere observance of Commandments. Let me understand those principles of perfection that You laid down for Your close followers. I don't want to be merely good; I want to be perfect.’
The Motive of Fear
“Don't speak so contemptuously of fear. Lovers are afraid they may offend their beloved. Children with any real love for their parents are afraid of hurting their feelings. And our Heavenly Father Himself through His inspired word, called the fear of God the beginning of wisdom.
“And fear really has an important part to play in our civilisation. Policemen and their fearsome night sticks are necessary in our cities. The fear of the law is an important factor in keeping people from running amuck.
“Of course I am glad that fear means little to you. I am glad you have risen beyond and above that motive. There are motives so much finer and nobler. Though Christ held out the fear of hell as a strong motive for goodness, mentioning the fact of hell about fourteen times in His life, yet, when He talked to John or the Rich Young Man or Mary of Magdala or Peter or the Holy Women, He appealed to them to love Him.
“And loving Him, they found the whole world opening before their wills as the whole world of truth opened before their minds.
“Fine! Leave the motive of fear to those who need it more than you say you do. But may I ask how much love there is in your heart? How many intelligent questions could you answer about the personality and life and motives of Jesus Christ, who is love incarnate? There are only two main motives for men and women, fear and love. Fear is a wholesome thing for all of us; for there are times when we need fear - to strike us back from the evil we might easily do, or from the imperilling temptation that is so pressingly sweet and insistent.
“But if you feel you have risen above fear, then you must have that motive of love which God had given to the select group who have looked upon the magnetic personality of Jesus Christ and have thrown their loyalty at His feet. Great men have done that, from Peter to Papini; splendid women have done it, from Magdalen to the latest loving successor of the Little Flower of Jesus.
Take Love Instead
“You dislike and distrust fear. You think it a low motive. Don't throw fear away altogether. Fear is a motive that keeps us in moments of violent temptation from crucifying Christ.
“But since you reject fear as an impulse, I give you gladly the love of Jesus Christ. Take it and in it you will find inspiration and joy and happiness and a well-spring for a life of achievement.
“If you merely follow the paths of fear, believe me, your eternal reward will be nothing compared to what it should be. Fear will hardly lift anyone to heights of eternal glory. Fear will keep you out of hell, and that is important. Fear may slip you through the gates of heaven. But if your eternal reward is to be what Christ hoped it would be, it will be in proportion, not to what you feared to do and hence did not do, but to what you did and to the depth of that love that inspired your doing.
“My dear child, how silly you are to think that we in the Church give up either minds or wills. The most alert and entertaining, the most brilliant and restlessly curious minds in the world are within the Church. And the wills that lead men and women to thrillingly varied professions and careers, that respond to the highest ideals, are the wills of the saints. It's no fun being just a not-too-bad Catholic. It's a joy to struggle with mind and heart to be a saint.
A Lost Inheritance
“One phrase of yours troubles me. I have heard it often before. ‘Just because I was born a Catholic, must I remain in the Church?’
“No, my dear. You can go. People who were born with great musical genius have neglected it. Men who were born in noble families, descended from great lines of heroes and heroines, have been traitors to their high traditions, disgraces to their family. The sons and daughters of millionaires have thrown away their inheritances in folly and crass neglect. Men have ruined the health that was bequeathed them by healthy parents. Women have let their exquisite beauty fall into premature decay.
“The God Who, without any deserving on your part, gave you the gift of faith, has also given you the will that makes it possible for you to throw it away. Yours is the pearl of great price of which Christ speaks. But whether it shall be cared for and protected or tossed to swine depends entirely upon your own decision.
An Open Door
“The door of the Church is always open for those who care to leave. Even Christ Himself will not place His crucified body with its nail-torn hands between you and that open door.
“But I pity you from my heart as you write that hot and bitter line, that repudiation of the faith for which martyrs died in agony, which missionaries carried to foreign lands at cost of all joys of home and country and personal comfort. May I say that I pity less the possible sin than the stupidity of it all?
“You are giving up a thing you do not know or understand, as a child might toss a diamond on to an ash heap.
“You are tearing up your title deed to heaven, a title deed that was handed to you in baptism by the Christ Who loved you; and you are tearing it as an illiterate loon might destroy the will that makes him the heir to a millionaire's fortune.
“Into Your Place?”
“And as I see your hand lifted to toss away this precious stone, this priceless title deed, I am watching another young woman, almost your double in everything, climb painfully into the Church. She is young like yourself. She has your lovely home and affectionate parents. She, like you, has been walking through the classrooms and halls of a college which, to paraphrase the expression of the great convert poet-ambassador Paul Claudel, acts and talks and teaches as if it had never heard that a God died upon a Cross for love of men.
“And she is climbing, this girl, painfully and slowly, into the place that you threaten to leave. For she has seen the beauty of the faith you think is fear, and has been drawn to the love of that Church you call a tyrant. What you give away with a careless gesture, she is winning with deep personal suffering. Her parents have turned against her. The door of her home is locked in her face. Her friends, who know the Church only in caricature, think her more than a little mad.
“She is suffering as the martyrs suffered and for the same truth they loved. She is struggling for what came to you as a free gift of God. She is giving up all the dear things of life to hold that one thing which you are tossing away as if it did not matter.
“I wonder what God thinks of you both. Or do I really wonder? I wonder, rather, that you can look at yourself in the glass without a feeling of shame in your heart, and perhaps a little pity for your own crass stupidity.
“All This You Leave”
“All right; the door is open, and no one can stop you. But what are you leaving? A Church whose demands are exceedingly few and almost ridiculously easy. The Church won't willingly let you run wild, but I doubt that you want that. It thinks a woman too precious to soak her fair body with alcohol or degrade the precious fountain of human life with the casual caresses of passionate acquaintances. I doubt much if you would disagree with it there. Aside from these common decencies, it demands only that little service of God and loyalty to Christ which is the least a daughter could possibly give to the Heavenly Father who has been so good to her.
“You leave that Church, with its calm and beautiful and convincing philosophy, which, my dear, your college has not permitted you to see. You tell the Church you do not believe that Christ meant what He clearly said when He promised that Church: ‘Who heareth you, heareth Me.’ You leave behind Mass, that magnificent sacrifice offered unendingly by the Son of God to our Heavenly Father for the sake of us, His brothers and sisters; you renounce the Sacraments with their consolation, their forgiveness, their grace; you decline ever again to unite yourself with Jesus Christ in the Holy Communion that, on the night before He died, He gave as His most precious gift; you doubt even that great power by which the prayers of a man can rise persuasively to the ears of God Himself.
“You go from the companionship of the world's greatest saints, Paul, Francis, Joan of Arc, Thomas of Aquin, Vincent de Paul, St. Louis of France, the great Catherine of Siena, Ignatius, Dominic, Patrick of Ireland, Theresa the Great, and Theresa who was Christ's own flower.
“And you go to what?
“I wish you could tell me. Can you? I doubt it. To a world of discord and disagreement. To men who know their own mind on nothing. To indecision and uncertainty, to a thousand mad ideas, each clamouring for your approval and in the same breath calling the others cheats and liars. To unrest as I have seen it in the eyes of those who, having known the peace and security and truth and holiness which Christ assured to His Church, left all this to deliver themselves up to mental and moral chaos.
“You move from the light into the shadows. True, you have never seen the light fully. You have not had the chance. But, believe me, you will see the shadows. You have been a Catholic; you will never forget that once you stood near the rays of Him that is the Light of the World.
“You and I”
“Of course I'm glad you think fairly of me. You do, however, seem to think my intellect is not quite up to standard, since I can believe in the whole works.’ Yes, I do believe in the ‘whole works,’ because I have studied them through a long course of years. You don't believe in them but, forgive me for saying it, you know less than nothing about them. Less than nothing, for apparently so much of what you know is wrong. On any point of doctrine or practice I can imagine what a lot of fun unbelievers must have tying you into bow-knots. I don't, by a long shot, know all about the ‘whole works,’ but the more I learn, the more convinced I become that they give the only explanation of life and are the only system of thought that explains, not only heaven, but earth as well.
“My faith has grown with study. Yours, I'm afraid, has diminished from battering your head against trifles, from fighting fogs, and struggling against things that fade away in the light of a smile turned lovingly upon Christ.
“I wish you knew Jesus Christ. That sounds strange, doesn't it? Still, I wish you did. Read Goodier's life of Him. Pray to Him for light. I pray to Him for you. I entrust you to His sympathetic Heart.
“Your devoted friend in Christ, . . .
The priest removed the last sheet from his typewriter and slowly read the letter through. Then, in his own handwriting, he scrawled across the bottom a brief postscript.
“P.S. What a volume this has proved to be! Peter said it all in a single sentence. And how much better! When, after those who declined to believe in Christ's promise of the Blessed Sacrament had turned away to walk no more with Him, Christ, with infinite pathos, said to Peter, ‘Will you also leave me?’ How I wish you could make Peter's words your own. They are as true now as they were then. ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’
“Before you go, my child, be sure to whom else you can go. There is no one. There has never been another. There can be none now or at any time. Christ, and the Church to which He committed them, alone have the words of eternal life.”