07 February 2010

From The Professor: On the Topics of Faith, Scandals, and Communion

from letter # 250, To Michael Tolkien:
You speak of 'sagging faith', however. That is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with historical knowledge). 'Scandal' at most is an occasion of temptation--as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scape-goat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act > state which must go on--so we pray for 'final perseverance'. The temptation to 'unbelief' (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there with us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely we shall be 'scandalized' by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the 'scandals', both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe any more, even if I had never met any one in orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His face.


The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect, complete, and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely or once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children--from whose who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn--open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than) a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand -- after which Our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)

-J. R. R. Tolkien, 1963.


cmblake6 said...

Your site is enlightening, and very thoughtful. Nice place, indeed. Peace be with you.

Justinian said...

And also with you.

Thank you very much. The Codex is less about me and my thoughts than it is about sharing with others some of the great stories and inspirational moments that have fallen by the wayside with modern, liberal society.

Anonymous said...

That's good! I haven't read anything of Tolkien's other than his well-known works of fiction. I really appreciate the perspective in that last paragraph. And life really does boil down to perspective. May God give us eyes to see as He does. Thank you for this.

Justinian said...

While it would be an exaggeration to say that I've read everything of JRRT's work, I've definitely had a good bit of experience with him. The collected Letters are a treasure trove, not just of knowledge about the mythology (and there is a lot of that), of the things that show him to be a very humble, pious man.

Anonymous said...

Wow. The temptation to unbelief is the wish to unring the bell. Can't be done, no matter even I wanted to.

I'm certainly capable of leaving a parish that has problems, or when I don't get on well, or feel some pull toward another for wahtever reason. And I have gone for long periods of not attending DL at all (the longest has been 3 years.) Those periods are often the ones that "grow me" the most --- when I am denied (either by choice or circumstance) and it always in the drives me back to the Heart. (This is a path I don't recommend but I am just honest about admitting it.) But in the final analysis I'm not sure I'm even capable of leaving the Faith. Leaving a parish or even in some cases, leaving the Church, is not the same thing as leaving the faith which is embracing unbelief. That's sort of like embracing a vacuum and I don't think I have the "strenth" for that. Isn't that a twisted/upside down concept??
Much love always and I deeply appreciaite your friendship, your thoughtful and insightful blogs and your words...

Justinian said...

Hi Suz! Thanks for the kind words here. There's a lot of good stuff in this whole letter (not just the pieces I pulled out to share), but one of the things that really struck me is his assertion that the more easily tempted toward apostasy we are, the more 'scandalized' we are by others. Given the scandals in our Church in recent memory (and the reaction that it gets--especially on online forums, that orthodox 'news' site, &c.), that really puts things into perspective, I think. I may be a vicious, wicked sinner...but I know I am the only place where I can possibly get better. Leaving the Church would be the same as committing suicide; not only is it just unthinkably wrong, but I'm not strong enough for an act like that.

The second paragraph makes another great point; get out of situations where you are surrounded by "showy" piety, and go commune with the truly lowly. And love and pray for them. This makes me feel better about my parish, which often distresses me because people don't take it seriously, and on occasion, we are liturgically sloppy...but it is done with a sort of earnestness that I have not experienced in more "established" and orderly parishes.

I love you very much, my friend--and over the last year or so, I have often been encouraged and humbled by your words (and, the one or the other at just the appropriate time--the work of the Holy Spirit, I have no doubt!). God be with you!


GretchenJoanna said...

I'm amazed...thank you so much for sharing this.

Justinian said...

You are welcome! I was greatly touched by it, and felt compelled to share.