Pro-Convert: Proposing Undying Truth, Beauty, Salvation

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“One thing in this world is different from all others. It has a personality and a force. It is recognized, and (when recognized) most violently loved or hated. It is the Catholic Church. Within that household the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it is the Night.” (Hilaire Belloc, Essays of a Catholic)

To Be Pro-Convert Is To Propose Eternal Truth, Eternal Beauty – Eternal Salvation, the “One Thing Necessary” for Every Man

 “As for the fundamental reasons for a man joining the Catholic Church, there are only two that are really fundamental. One is that he believes it to he the solid objective truth, which is true whether he likes it or not; and the other that he seeks liberation from his sins. If there be any man for whom these are not the main motives it is idle to enquire what were his philosophical or historical or emotional reasons are for joining the old religion; for he has not joined it at all.”(C. K. Chesterton, “The Youth of the Church”)

 Converts on entering the Church express their state of soul in words like that of the actor Alec Guinness: ‘Like countless converts before and after me, I felt I had come home—and known the place for the first time’ 

As Evelyn Waugh, author of Brideshead Revisited, expressed it: “Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a looking-glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.”  

Or like the author of The Lord of the Rings, who converted as a child with his mother and who was forever grateful to the “Catholic faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little things that I know: and that I owe to my mother, who clung to her conversion and died young.” 

What individuals will discover, whole nations can also discover, as indeed whole nations already discovered during the first millennium and the era of Christendom. In the USA, Archbishop John Ireland ( also known as the “Consecrated Blizzard of the Northwest”), when speaking about the Catholic aim “to make America Catholic” in 1889, added  that the Catholic’s pro-convert outreach sprang not only from love of individuals but also from patriotism since the “touch of [the Church’s] divine-made hand will strengthen and sublimate the rich heritage of nature’s virtues, which is the portion of America and of America’s children; it will super-add the deifying treasures of supernatural life.” 

We cannot remain silent. As Pope Benedict XVI stated at St.Patrick’s Cathedral in New York  using the metaphor of  the Neo-Gothic church’s stained glass windows:

“From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendour. Many writers – here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne – have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself.  It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.”(April 19, 2008)

Elsewhere Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the duty of Catholics to evangelize:

“Sometimes we hear the objection that imposing the truth – though it be the truth of the Gospel and of salvation – can be a violation of religious freedom…It would, of course, be a mistake to impose anything on the conscience of our brothers and sisters, but proposing knowledge of the truth of the Gospel and the salvation of Jesus Christ with absolute clarity and full respect for the free choice of conscience (hence without coercion or dishonest persuasion), … far from being an attack on religious freedom, is a homage to that freedom capable of choosing a route that even non-believers consider noble and edifying. … to present Christ and His Kingdom in a respectful way, more than a right, is a duty of evangelization.” (October 4, 2010)

 Throughout the world there are countless men and women who live lives of quiet desperation without any ultimate meaning to their existence, and this, according to psychiatrists such as Viktor Frankl is the single most frequent cause of suicide.

In the streets of our cities many such men and women are awaiting the words of invitation to “come inside” from men and women who have given themselves to be  co-workers of  the Holy Spirit, the “Sleepless Lover” who never ceases striving to “bring all men to the knowledge of the Truth” ( 1 Tim 2:4).

Pro-Actively Pro-Convert to be True to Truth and True to Our Identity

The following is the preface from William J. Slattery, The Logic of Truth (Rome: Leonardo da Vinci, 2016):

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” (George Orwell)

 When I was fifteen years of age I began to question the meaning of life. I had serious doubts about whether or not to remain Catholic because I didn’t see why I should due to an education that had given me few arguments for believing. I decided that if Catholicism were not true, then, frankly, to hell with it. I fully shared the opinion of the convert from atheism, C. S. Lewis:

Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that’s true, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, then what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud, the most colossal ‘sell’ on record. Isn’t it obviously the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?[1]

One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue ‘True ‒ or False’ into stuff about a good society, or morals, or the incomes of Bishops, or the Spanish Inquisition, or France, or Poland or anything whatever. You have to keep forcing them back, and again back, to the real point. Only thus will you be able to undermine…their belief that a certain amount of ‘religion’ is desirable but one mustn’t carry it too far. One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important[2].

But the problem was that although I suspected there might be a reasonable set of arguments for the truth of Catholicism, I didn’t know where to find them. However, providentially, amid the bookshelves in my family’s living-room I came across an old dust-covered book that presented clear arguments, based on the ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, for the existence of God, the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the authority of the Church. Amazed and thrilled with my find, I went from conviction to conviction about Catholicism and its mission to achieve the eternal salvation of souls. Faith led to prayer; and prayer to more incisive grace-action in my soul; so much so, that when the vocation to the priesthood was heard a year later, I was wide open: “Why not? What greater thing could one do with one’s life than to help others reach their eternal destiny in Heaven and avoid the ultimate tragedy of unending damnation?” So sublime a mission is worth any sacrifice ‒ even ones as costly as renouncing marriage and physical fatherhood.

       Catholicism as the one and only truth about the ultimate purpose of reality became the North Star of my existence. With its light I could see the goodness and beauty of life’s ocean crossing; I had a compass pointing me homewards; I knew how to navigate through the reefs of lies and deceits; I was blessed to be able to help other sailors along the voyage; and was even able to survive a shipwreck.  Through the truth of the Faith I became ever more deeply aware of the goodness and beauty of God and this world; through its truth all other truths took on deeper hues, pain acquired value, and the mind found satisfaction and the serenity of order. And I knew that my experience was not unique ‒ a countless multitude of Christian brothers and sisters, century after century, had felt the same after finding the “Beauty ever ancient, ever new” (St. Augustine).

But the rock-bottom requirement in order to be able to acknowledge the truth of the divinely revealed doctrines of Catholicism is the recognition that man has a natural ability to be certain of the truths that are the stepping-stones to faith: the certainties of God’s existence and His traits of wisdom, power, holiness, justice and goodness; as well as the certainties that are the logical presuppositions for these latter truths: the existence of the world around us, of the self and other persons in their metaphysical dimensions, and of the physical and moral laws that configure reality.

Underneath all of this structure must lie the acceptance of man’s natural ability to know reality and not just his own ideas about reality: this is the foundation of the foundations of all knowledge. If realism is denied, then the existence of God, the divinity of Christ and the nature of the Church can no longer be proposed as truths; they become quaint ideas with a pragmatic or aesthetic value; or, as they say in street-talk, just “wishful thinking”.

The currents of modern philosophy that now dominate the thought-patterns of the West are skeptical about the claim to know absolute unchanging truths about reality. This skepticism, fueled by modern utilitarianism and hedonism that “does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”[3] has led men in the West to fear truth. They have built a “Dictatorship of Relativism” (Benedict XVI) where political correctness rules supreme and in which Catholics ‒ real Catholics ‒ are viewed as dangerous people. For “the further a society drifts from Truth, the more it will hate those that speak it” (George Orwell).

The consequences are colossal. For the very pillars of civilization are built on the foundations of man’s ability to know the laws about human nature by which certain actions are ever good and others absolutely evil. Where truth is imprisoned, ideologies rampage through the streets and menacing fanaticisms and fundamentalisms wait at the society’s borders, scenting like wolves the weakness of such a society. No civilization in denial of truth has ever survived because where truth has been destroyed, love is swiftly obliterated. This is the situation of the West, and because of the West’s influence, that of much of the globe: a new “Dark Age” has arisen, one far darker than the epoch after the Roman empire’s collapse, because this one has all the power of technology with which to dehumanize man.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity[4].

      

The philosophical currents of immanentism, historicism, and pragmatism that have poisoned the air of the West have not halted at the frontiers of the Church. Penetrating deeply within the philosophy and theology of many leading Catholics, they have provoked the popes to alert us about the danger of trying to reconcile these incompatible systems with the Faith: Pius X in 1907 in Pascendi, Pius XII in 1950 in Humani Generis, and John Paul II in 1998 in Fides et Ratio. As philosophies that are structural to the “Dictatorship of Relativism”, they deny firstly that man can know absolute and immutable truths and secondly that the Catholic’s act of faith is an intellectual assent to  truths. They shrink man’s knowledge to mere valueless, fleeting opinions, and warp the faith into a pragmatic, aesthetic, or emotional “experience”

Especially since the 1960s, these errors have been an important factor in a complex web of causes that have largely destroyed the clear self-identity of many Catholics. “How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades,” declared Cardinal Ratzinger, “how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking? The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another…”[5]. For millions of Catholics the Faith has become a blurred reality that is no longer the one true religion. And if it is not that, why remain Catholic? 

Why indeed? Millions upon millions have abandoned and continue to abandon the Church due significantly to this downplaying of truth and the importance of doctrine (vis-à-vis “experience”) in the training of priests, catechesis and apologetics[6]. The severity of the hemorrhage is menacing to bleed Catholicism almost to death, immediately in the West, and elsewhere in the long-term. In 2005, in the USA, one in ten adults was an ex-Catholic; by 2015 the number has rocketed to one in eight (12.5%); and between 2007 and 2014 the Catholic share of the population fell from 23.9% to 20.8%[7].  In Europe matters are even worse. In the Netherlands, for instance, in the 1950s 90% of Catholics still went to Mass every Sunday ‒ now it’s only 5%. All over Western Europe churches are being closed and sold off. Catholicism in Latin America is also in a state of freefall and at an astounding rate[8]. In 1960 90% of the people were Catholic; today only 69% per cent are[9]. Roughly one in four Nicaraguans and one in seven Venezuelans are former Catholics. Self-identified Catholics in Brazil dropped from approximately three-quarters (74%) in 2000 to about two-thirds (65%) in 2010. Mexico, the country with the second-largest Catholic population in the world, went from 89% Catholic in 2000 to 85% Catholic in 2010[10].

Not only have millions left the Church but the rate of converts to the Church has also dropped. This is a sure sign of the intellectual paralysis of Catholics who are now unable and often unwilling to propose the Faith as the one true religion to outsiders. But it also points to the stranglehold of the “Dictatorship of Relativism” on contemporary thought. For two millennia countless men and women, among them prominent philosophers, writers, artists, monarchs and politicians, converted to the Catholic Faith often in the face of social rejection, persecution and indeed martyrdom. The willingness of converts to use their freedom to embrace Truth, at whatever cost, displayed man’s grandeur as man. By contrast, what a sign of decadence it is when conversions decrease to a trickle. It points to a society grown senile because freedom has been forcibly separated from truth. So many are incapable of conversion because there is nothing to convert from and nothing to convert to, since truth no longer exists ‒  all that exists is me and my opinions, you and yours. Men can nonchalantly walk through the ancient churches of Rome oblivious to the ground they walk on, soil made sacred with the blood shed by the first Christian converts for the sake of the Truth. And for the same reason they cannot really understand why our fellow Christians are ready to be martyred in Syria and Iraq rather than renounce Christ ‒ nor why the Islamic fundamentalists slaughter them. All of which has dangerous socio-political implications for the future of the West.

Catholics’ loss of conviction that their religion is the one true religion is due largely to the philosophical denial that there can be rational arguments enabling assent to the Catholic Faith because it is true – and not merely because of sheer “faith” (fideism), or because it is “therapeutic” (“feels good”), or is culturally acceptable (“nice”). These arguments (traditionally known as the praeambula fidei) demonstrate the existence of God, his attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, wisdom and goodness, along with the possibility of divine revelation and miracles. On this rationale, developed by some of Western civilization’s greatest minds, rests the intellectually coherent position of the Catholic who proposes conversion to Catholicism to the non-Catholic.

 “Truth is like a lion”, wrote St. Augustine. “You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself”. He is right, but in our times firstly we must free him since he has been imprisoned by the dictatorship. “Catholics are born for combat” (Leo XIII): we Catholics must seize the keys of his den from the jailers and end his captivity if we are to effectively propose the divinely revealed religion to the world and unleash the revolution for a civilization founded on Truth. Given the grip of the deadly regime on the mass media we can expect no swift triumph and none without intolerant opposition. For relativism, although it hides behind masks of “tolerance” and intellectual modesty, is an egocentric tyrant who by denying absolute truths can enslave men to the intellectual fashion of the moment, thus controlling knowledge to its very foundations in order to have a world order of almost unrestrained materialism, technocracy, and lust. He is therefore free to deal with his opponents in any way he wishes. Proof of this is his bloody treatment of the millions of the most defenseless among us, the unborn.

  As revolutionaries of the Cross we must be convinced that the beginning and end of our combat, and the measure of our progress while campaigning, lies in Truth! Love of the truth will impel us to be on our guard to protect its nature and the truths of divine revelation from the anonymous manipulations of the chameleon of relativism ‒ which is really just another name for skepticism ‒ and which, with its ability to change colors and look in two directions at once, has penetrated Catholicism as modernism. In whatever colors it takes, relativism is “the world’s flight from reason” (Arnold Lunn). Nietzsche described it well: “There are many kinds of eyes…and consequently there are many kinds of ‘truths’ and consequently there is no truth.” Relativism as “the work of the sceptic for the past hundred years has indeed been very like the fruitless fury of some primeval monster; eyeless, mindless, merely destructive and devouring; a giant worm wasting away a world that he could not even see”[11]. From it has sprung an immunity deficiency syndrome in contemporary society, an immunity to truth, which threatens to abolish man. For “a man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed” (Chesterton). The ultimate consequences of relativism could not be grimmer. As a certain polite Oxford professor once concluded: “Out of this apparently innocent idea [that values are subjective] comes the disease that will certainly end our species (and, in my view, damn our souls) if it is not crushed; the fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its ‘ideology’ as men choose their clothes”[12].

[1] C.S.LEWIS,  “Man or Rabbit?” in God in the Dock, Grand Rapids, 2014, 108.

[2] C.S.LEWIS, “Christian Apologetics” in God in the Dock, 101-102.   

[3] April 18, 2005.

[4] William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

[5] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, April 18, 2005.

[6] http://www.pewforum.org/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey/

[7]  http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/ .

[8] http://www.pewforum.org/2013/02/13/the-global-catholic-population/

[9] http://www.pewforum.org/2014/11/13/religion-in-latin-america/

[10] http://www.pewforum.org/2014/11/13/religion-in-latin-america/

[11] G. K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shadows, Aziloth Books, 2012, 48.

[12] C. S. Lewis, “The Poison of Subjectivism” in Christian Reflections, Grand Rapids, 1967, 73.