One of the most moving comments I ever received at this website came from Billy Bishop, a fellow convert to the Faith:
What you have … said so often is how cold the world has become, how hard people’s hearts have become.
It’s like Hans Christian Anderson’s story of The Little Match Girl. She sold matches to make money and had no place to stay. In the end, she lit those matches in an effort to keep warm in the snow and cold, even seeing some beautiful images before finally succumbing.
Imagine if someone had instead found the girl, brought her inside a large house filled with all sorts of warmth: comforting fireplace, blankets, food and drink, and most especially people who cared.
Maybe that sounds like the kind of ending out of Hollywood. As a human being, she will no doubt suffer in the future. For now, we can rejoice that she has been saved, redeemed.
That’s what the Mass and the Sacraments are like for me, coming into the Lord’s house and out of the bitter cold.
I didn’t even realize how cold I was or how used to being cold, to being hard, I had become.
As I thaw out, I can only hope to become softer still, more human.
Every time I receive Communion, every time I confess, every time I go to Adoration, I feel like I do and I pray God it’s true and will always be true.
Fellow convert, how I hear you and how I resonate with your words! You did not even feel how cold you were until you found this unexpected warmth. Here is the warmth of the Mystical Body of Christ.
As I write in my upcoming book:
It is frequently remarked that converts often differ in intensity from cradle Catholics. And perhaps this is because Catholics from the cradle have never known anything different from this Grace working silently in their lives.
For it seems to me that the Mystery of the Church forms the unconscious background to the whole of their lives: barely liminal, even whilst it is all-important.
By contrast, is it not possible that converts register more acutely the Sacramental Mystery, which now operates in their souls?
For in converts, the Mystery is less likely to be subliminal, precisely because it stands in such contrast to their former existence.
Be that as it may, we, as Catholics – whether we are converts or were cradled in the Faith – can and should actively contemplate what the Church extends to us.
A world of consumerism asks us to ‘contemplate’ so many false riches: gadgets, fashions, food and all the rest … Would it harm us to consider actively, instead, how much our lives have been enriched by the Holy Church?
Let us dare to ask then: What are the cumulative results of meeting Christ in His Church, time after time?
What amasses in us, as we participate in Mass after Mass after Mass? For as Canon Ripley has written in his pre-Vatican II catechism This is the Faith:
The purpose of Holy Communion is to incorporate us more completely into the Mystical Body of Christ.
What really happens to us in the Holy Mass, even if we are scarcely awake to it? Such enquiry can prove valuable indeed.
And let us not forget, as Billy does not forget, the accumulated effects of Confession and Eucharistic Adoration …
Let me amplify with something of my own experience now.
I address you, dear Reader, sixteen years after I first encountered the Catholic Mystery and began my journey into Her Sacraments.
Now, if you and I, as Catholics, have been repeatedly incorporated ever ‘more completely into the Mystical Body of Christ’, can we observe anything noteworthy in our souls as a result?
Personally, I have seen much of note in these sixteen years since the Catholic Mystery has been working on my soul! My spiritual orientation is radically different from my New Age days.
This website and my upcoming book are my testimony to that decisive change in spirituality.
But that decisive change is not Pelagian! It is not something that I, myself, have done. Rather it is something that was done to me and in me – via His Mystical Body.
And so, so much, it seems to me, hangs on understanding precisely that.
The New Age movement, to which I formerly devoted nearly twenty years of my life is profoundly Pelagian.
It spreads the belief that there is one great, universal spirituality to which we can all attain through our own effort.
And oh-so-confidently excluding the need for religion, it excludes the Sacramental Graces of the Heart of Christ pouring through His Mystical Body.
Or to echo Billy Bishop’s beautiful words above, it excludes the warming, thawing, softening HUMANISING power of His Sacred Heart communing with our tiny hearts of stone …
This warming, thawing, softening, humanising power is, I should also say, all the more apparent when one goes to Mass frequently or indeed daily. And really here is my hope for the world: deepening recognition of Sacramental Grace and deepening participation in Sacramental Grace.
I say this often at this weblog. For over a hundred years ago in 1905, St. Pius X recognised the need to sound this call for ever more frequent communion. And in our own dark times, it is no less urgent than it was then …
But to return to the New Age movement – if I tell my old New Age friends that there is this warmth, this power of the Mystical Body of Christ that is like nothing I ever experienced in two decades of New Age they may stare at me with blank incomprehension. As I have written before:
Self-assured that the Catholic faith can offer nothing of real importance beyond the New Age, Catholicism becomes nothing but irrelevant trappings.
‘Window-dressing’ is how one old colleague of mine described it.
When she said that to me, she was, in fact, trying to be ecumenically sensitive. She was, in effect, telling me that our differences (meaning my very different Catholic views) posed no problem to her – because such differences were simply cosmetic.
Of course, she and I believed the same thing behind the ‘window dressing’.
In her well-meant attempt at sensitivity, she had no idea she was trashing everything to which I have committed my life in turning my back on the New Age. For here is my dictionary’s definition of window-dressing:
“A means of improving appearances or creating a falsely favourable impression.”
Catholicism is not window dressing for the ‘universal New Age path’.
Dear old New Age friends, how often you mean well! But how often you fail to existentially confront what is truly at stake here.
I have not left you behind to pursue cosmetic ‘window dressing’ for what I already experienced as a New Ager.
I have left the New Age behind because I found something in the Holy Church and Her Holy Sacraments that two decades of New Age-ism never gave me and never could give me …
Yes, dear Reader, two decades of effort towards such varied things as meditation, psychotherapy, holistic healing (as both Reiki healer and ‘healee’ of so many other techniques besides) channeling, astrology and esotericism never brought me anything like this.
Two decades of devouring the books of New Age favourites like David Spangler, Alice Bailey, Krishnamurti, C. G. Jung, Carolyn Myss, Eileen Caddy, Peter Russell, William Bloom and all the rest, never brought me anything like this.
Two decades of visiting New Age workshops or even living in a New Age community like Findhorn never brought me anything like this … this warming, softening, thawing Mystery that is the Heart of Christ.
This Mystery which, I should add, is not only softening but also clarifying and strengthening, giving me a measure of courage, for example, to look into the darkness of my own sinful heart.
Must I be obliged to confess that all this is, in the end, just window dressing?
Ah well … I refuse to confess that the power of the Catholic Mystery is window dressing and can easily be found by New Age practices.
I confess, instead, Christ and His Mystical Body – the Church.
(And my need for His Sacraments, as often as I can.)