“So come, my soul, come and let us go to God by self-abandonment. Let us acknowledge that we are incapable of becoming holy by our own efforts, and put our trust in God, who would not have taken away our ability to walk unless He was to carry us in His arms…. Our trust and our faith will deepen the darker it grows; and as we pass great gorges and jagged peaks and across vast deserts, and become terrified by persecution, famine and drought and visions of hell and purgatory, we have only to glance at You to feel safe amidst the greatest peril. We shall forget the roads and what they are like, forget ourselves and abandon ourselves entirely to the wisdom, the goodness and the power of our Guide, and remember only to love You and avoid the slightest sin and fulfill all our obligations. This, my Beloved, is all Your children have to do. You take charge of everything else.”
Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
These words, written over 250 years ago, are especially meaningful to those of us who have left behind a lifetime of Protestantism, forced by our unexpected encounter with Christ Jesus in, of all places, the Church that He established, to ask of ourselves some difficult questions, such as “Where am I?” “What am I?” and even “Who am I?” We have left behind our familiar places and our familiar ways, learning new words and thinking new thoughts, in other words, learning to be Catholics. Throughout this process the Holy Spirit whispers to us, urging us to “forget the roads and what they are like,” and to follow Him as He leads us away from what for us is the beaten path, abandoning ourselves to the wisdom of our great Guide, who has taken charge of this expedition into the Unknown which goes by the name of Faith.
God forbid that I should write anything original on these pages. As a Catholic of nearly 10 years, I stand in an unbroken line of Catholics down through 20 centuries, Catholics of every race and nation, of every time and place, all saying the same thing. In this holy conformity lies our safety, a safety especially prized by this former Protestant seeking refuge from the swiftly eroding sand upon which so many 21st-century spiritual houses have been built. The exhortation of St. Vincent of Lerins cries out to us from 15 centuries ago:
“I cannot sufficiently be astonished that such is the insanity of some men, such the impiety of their blinded understanding, such, finally, their lust after error, that they will not be content with the rule of faith delivered once and for all from antiquity, but must daily seek after something new, and even newer still, and are always longing to add something to religion, or to change it, or to subtract from it!”
“…if some new contagion attempts to poison, no longer a small part of the Church, but the whole Church at once, then [the Catholic’s] great concern will be to attach himself to antiquity which can no longer be led astray by any lying novelty.”
Twentieth-century Catholic convert G.K. Chesterton expressed the folly of “daily seeking something new” very well:
“I am the man who with utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it.”
And so I forswear any new approach to the presentation of the Faith, clinging instead to the arguments of my spiritual ancestors. At this method of sharing the Good News, the Catholic Church excels. We see St. Thomas More (16th century) and St. Francis de Sales (17th century) arguing against foundational tenets of Protestantism in words amazingly similar to those of 21st-century Catholic apologists, and at the same time hearkening back to passages in St. Augustine’s arguments against heretics of the 5th century. No wonder St. Francis was moved to write:
So many great personages have written in our age, that their posterity have scarcely anything more to say, but have only to consider, learn, imitate, admire. I will therefore say nothing new, and would not wish to do so. All is ancient, and there is almost nothing of mine beyond the needle and thread: the rest I have only had to unpick and sew again in my own way, with this warning of Vincent of Lerins: ‘Teach, however, what thou hast learnt; that whilst thou sayest things in a new way, thou sayest not new things.’ St. Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy
I have only to consider, learn, imitate and admire on this blog. This is my “patchwork quilt” of apologies for the Catholic faith, stitched together with great love, in hopes that it can somehow be of service to Him Who called me, all undeserving, to participate fully in the life of His Church.
On the memorial of St. Joseph Calasanz
Deo omnis gloria