The Strange Joy and Power of Catholicism

Years ago, I attended a lecture by an impressive man, who would later become the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Now, although I cannot recall the exact words spoken by this truly impressive speaker, the following, I believe, faithfully represents  something that he said:

‘I’m reasonably happy being an Anglican, well … as reasonably happy as any Anglican can be.’

For me, it was an incredibly striking, telling comment, which has reverberated in my soul ever since.

Reverberated, because of the contrast it made with something I might call: ‘The Strange Joy of Catholicism.’

For it seems to me, that not only have I experienced a profound joy in Catholicity, but that in all I have read, there is recurrent testimony to other Catholics experiencing this strange joy. (For the record, I also imagine something analogous exists in Eastern Orthodoxy. Though I am not well versed enough in Orthodoxy to say.)

Now this joy paradoxically seems to exist even when there is great anger and bitterness towards the Catholic Church.

For it seems to me, that no matter what their attitude to the Church may be, Catholics frequently display tremendous attachment to their faith.

It is mysteriously important to them, no matter if they feel disillusioned with the Church or not.

Thus disillusioned Catholics are frequently asked ‘Why don’t you simply leave the Church?’ Indeed, I find myself mentally putting this question to certain radical Catholics.

For instance, the Catholic theologian Fiorenza proclaims “Ordination is subordination” and advocates doing away with one of the central pillars of traditional Christianity (Orthodox and Catholic) that is, the notion of the ordained hierarchy,

I find myself wanting to ask: ‘Doctor Fiorenza, if you have a vision of the Catholic Church so alternative, so alien to the essential tradition, instead of trying to destroy the essence of the traditional Church, why do you not simply become a Protestant? Join a Christian Church, free of suppressed, subordinated priests?”

But I know or sense already, that even in the angriest Catholics, there is so often this deep aversion to leaving the Church. It seems there is something holding them there.

We could think of it as a bonding glue. And I suspect that this same glue is the reason why the Catholic Church, along with the Orthodox, have known so comparatively few schisms through the centuries.

By contrast, the Protestant Churches do not seem to me, to have the same glue of attraction.

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Hard data I lack. But I think it a fair wager that people move from one Protestant Church to another, far more easily and often, than Catholics or Orthodox move away from their faith.

And I think it can also be wagered that it is this same cohesive force that has kept the Catholic Church comparatively free from schism.

Thus it seems to me that the real answer that people rebel against or seek to reform the Catholic Church, rather than simply leave, is that Catholicism possesses an incredible attraction at its core – however much it may also anger or alienate.

And I suspect this attraction is rooted in a strange, strange joy.

This strange joy that I have felt so deeply since entering the Catholic Church. And of which I have since heard so much repeated, confirming testimony to among so many other Catholics …

To all of this I feel more attention should be drawn – because I also suspect that at the root of this strange joy, is the POWER of the Sacraments …

Now, dear Lector, what you have just read is a small fragment written years ago. But I now append more fragmentary thoughts.

This is a weblog written by a Catholic convert, a Catholic who in fact converted at Easter 2000. What is it to be converted?

That Easter night I was confirmed, a strange joy did indeed descend. An unforgettable joy – a feeling precious beyond words. I was really not prepared for it at all …

According to the Catholic tradition, I was configured that Easter night. Sacramentally configured. According not only to Catholic Tradition, but for what it is worth: according to my own experience, as well. I am grateful beyond any words at all for the Grace of that Configuration, the fruits of which are beyond anything I can possibly express to you, Lector.

Now, I am engaged in a years’ long process of considering the transition from the medieval epoch to modernity. Presently, I am studying Charles Taylor‘s masterpiece A Secular Age.

In A Secular Age, one reads of how a medieval Catholic worldview was transformed, stage by stage by stage into the secular world we know today.

From a Catholic worldview that took the Sacraments seriously, that took the Supernatural seriously, that took the hierarchy seriously, that took the Fall seriously, that took the need for Grace seriously . . .

To a trajectory that encompassed first the Reformation, then the move to the impersonal, uninvolved Deist God of the so-called Enlightenment, then finally to the current ethos in the West, where there is no need for any conception of God at all, whether Catholic and personal – very, very intimate, received on the tongue! – or the less personally involved, more remote God-conceptions that emerged out of Protestantism.

In the ascendancy of this de-Catholicised trajectory in Western Europe, Taylor correctly emphasises, I believe, the importance of Protestant English-speaking culture. He delves into many, many aspects of this particularly Anglophone reversal …

But several hundred pages into Taylor’s masterpiece, one factor —not surprisingly!— seems to me to lack.

So far, he says little or nothing at all about the fact these Protestant cultures were deprived of the fullness of the Sacraments and Sacramental configuration …

Vast portions of Europe and then America no longer had Sacramental Configuration. (Yes America too – for as Charles A. Coulombe masterfully makes clear in Puritan´s Empire, in even North America – from New Orleans to Santa Fe to San Francisco – the Sacraments receded in face of the impulses brought by the English Pilgrim Fathers, who were deeply hostile to Catholicism).

According to the Protestants, the Deists, the agnostics and atheists to come, both Europeans and Americans were now free of Catholic subordination. But were my English and Scottish ancestors now more open than before to being constrained by other kinds of configuration…?

A profound question. All I will say for now, is that personally, I feel a very, very great joy indeed at the Grace that led me to breaking free of Protestant Anglophone configuration, which later led to New Age configuration.

I feel liberated by Catholic Sacramental Configuration.

Some little hints of where I hope to take this weblog in time . . .

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2 responses to “The Strange Joy and Power of Catholicism”

  1. […] And the point of introducing this little slice of autobiography here? It seems to me that there is a general cultural need to speak – to speak more of what I have elsewhere called the Strange Joy of Catholiciism. […]

  2. […] The Strange Power and Joy of Catholicism This entry was posted in Roger's Weblog and tagged Catholic Mystery, Liturgy and Sacraments, Personal/Autobiography – Roger. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « What Péladan WANTED […]