Of Strong & Purposeful Lovers

Nothing new under the sun, these days. I know that is easier to say than to believe. Yet from my cruelly limited knowledge of history, I can think of precedents for anything that the “meejah” can put before us. We (Catholics) have seen it all before.

Historical episodes no more repeat themselves than sunsets, yet I notice, they happen every day.

It is especially easy to find parallels for the political stories. For instance, those old enough to remember the name “Anita Hill” are not in a position to be discombobulated by the name “Christine Blasey Ford.” Politics is a bloodsport, and wasn’t something else in the past. Supreme Court appointments are a political process, in this or any country. They are not always this vulgar, but they can be. And though the Democrats may be trying to corner the market at the moment, no mere political party can have a monopoly on sleaze.

In religion, the time-lines are longer. There are people who think we have a very bad pope, and some very bad bishops. (Me, for instance.) But a candid review of the 265 previous popes (give or take a couple) – and some of the conclaves that elected them – will yield other examples of badness.

Verily, more than one square-headed, tightly-fitting “traditionalist” has remarked to me, that it was about time we had a really bad pope, the last few were leading us into papolatry. Christ’s warning, not to put our trust in men, could be extended by the observation that popes are men. And as our “pope emeritus” patiently explained, they may, or may not, be guided by the Holy Spirit.

This is the world, after all. None of us were briefed before arriving here, but the Church herself has posted multiple warnings, and has the solemn responsibility to make Catholics (at least) aware of them from an early age. History, too – any history at all – tells us to expect horrors; and to expect them in every generation.

Is this generation worse than all the others? This would be statistically unlikely. I think you had to be there to appreciate how bad things could be, even when a clear majority of protagonists were self-declared orthodox Christians. Sometimes this makes things worse, for in such circumstances, the hypocrisy puts those “movers and shakers” directly in touch with the Devil. And the scandal that they bring cuts deeper.

Religion has the power to make people much better than they would otherwise be. But it would be naïve to disregard the contrary proposition. Some of the worst operators I have met were ostensibly Christian. It would be invidious to start naming Catholics in high political offices, who appear to represent the dark side. Because unnecessary.


This is what happens from the moment one begins to resist spiritual mediocrity. Yes, zeal can make of us, potentially, saints. But “spilt religion” is the cause of a disproportionate number of the horrors to which I alluded above. This is not, however, an argument for lukewarm.

In the Catholic and Christian “sphere,” and too, everywhere outside it, there is such a thing as misguided faith. That is to say, a faith vested in something other than God in Christ, and Him crucified. As soon as we begin to create a list of social, economic, political, or personal priorities, we begin, subtly or not, turning into monsters. If we attribute these profane priorities to the Man whose “kingdom is not of this world,” we are not simply in error. We are on the path to Hell.

Should the Church, nevertheless, “accompany” sinners there? No. The actual teaching is quite opposite. It is to deter sinners from the path to Hell, and guide them rather in the other direction.

This is elementary stuff, but of such great importance – and so neglected at present – that I will pause for emphasis. The Church does not tolerate evil. Nor does she recognize short cuts: bad means to good ends. (That is the Communist faith, not ours.) She allows human freedom, as God has allowed it – but the man who takes the open road to Hell must choose other companions. We do not “accompany” him, but part ways. “Go that way, and you are on your own.”

Ditto, priests who abandon their holy orders to preach something other than “the way, the truth, and the life,” as anciently received. They do not need our sympathy and encouragement. Adulation they may find in the world. But from the Church, what they need is to be defrocked and excommunicated.

Priests are instructed not to get too excited in the confessionals. Murder, for instance, is nothing new, and one must keep a cool head when responding to such things. “How many, and with or without conscious intention?”

For even murderers can be saved, according to our religion. But (as in the U.S. Senate, Vatican, &c) the process has to start somewhere. Some clarity on the facts makes an excellent place to start. But an excellent place to start is not an excellent place to finish, unless the track is circular.

“Son, you are not yet a strong and purposeful lover.”

“Why, Lord?”

“Because before a little opposition you give up the attempt and too easily look round for a solace. The brave lover stands firm through trials, and consents to no cunning persuasions of an enemy. ”

This extract is from The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis.

Though we failed last time, we must not plan to fail again.

And if the world were actually coming to an end – as it will do, soon enough, for each one of us – the instruction would be no different. The message to and from the Church would not require any kind of “update.” It would be exactly what it always was: Become a strong and purposeful lover.


*Image: The Swine Driven into the Sea by James J. Tissot, c. 1890 [Brooklyn Museum]

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.