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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rebuke Him, O God

By Catherine Goddard Clarke*

(Extracted from a longer 1948 From the Housetops article)

There was great glee in hell. Beelzebub was having a meeting of committees, and things were going well.

“I congratulate you, ‘Screwtape,’ he said. “When you first advanced the idea of getting Mr. C. S. Lewis to paint a picture of us, I never believed the Catholics would fall for it. I thought more of them would remember their theology, but you were right, they are farther from it than I had dared hope.” [The devil went on boasting and then told this story:]

“There was, in an old New England town, a man who had fought against coming into the Catholic Church for seven years. He suffered a great deal during that time, and he had to make some real personal sacrifices when he finally gave in and was baptized. One of the first things he did after his baptism was to go and see his mother, in order to teach her the Faith. He had a very difficult time with her, but he never gave up hope. I have known him to put in a long distance telephone call to her from whatever city he might be in on his business just to see how she was getting along with the books that he had mailed her to read. He and his wife made every effort to get back to his mother on Thanksgiving and Christmas, always to assure her of their love and their great desire that she might come into the Church and be with them both on earth and in heaven. It was all to no avail.

“Then one day he dropped in to see a priest, and he explained his mother’s situation to him, and told him that he had spoken strongly to her on the subject of conversion. The priest said to him, “How dare you talk that way to your mother! She has been a good Protestant according to her lights, and a good mother to you!’ The man said, ‘But, Father, she no longer has those same lights. I have very carefully explained the Faith to her, and given her Christ’s challenge. She is in no sense ignorant of the Truth. She is a very intelligent woman.’

“And then he was told: ‘You should not disturb your mother in her religion. Faith is a gift. She may get to heaven a good deal faster than you will — indeed you may find her there before you. You don’t think that only Catholics are saved, do you?’

“My man walked out, thoroughly upset, muttering to himself, ‘In the name of God, why should I have gone through all I did to become a Catholic!’ He tried not to let it [go], but the edge was off the whole thing for him, and I assure you I have made every effort to keep it so. He hasn’t tried to convert anyone since then, and certainly not his mother.”

“Please go on, my lord!” It was the curious little devil again.

“You know the rest of it,” the powerful angel answered. “One makes the most of every opportunity. I noticed that the policy of Catholics used to be to convert, first, by preaching, and second, by living according to that preaching. They called this latter ‘good example.’ Gradually I got them to forget the first principle and to emphasize the second. They are doing a fairly good job of selling themselves, as a result of my foresight, and a very poor job of selling their Christ.”

“Bravo! Bravo!” the cry went up.

“Then, too,” the great one went on, “the following little story will illustrate how far we have come. The Catholics were asked the other day if they held that there was salvation outside the Church. This was their answer: ‘Let us put it this way: heaven is on the distant shore. There are two ways of getting there, by rowboat or by motor-boat. Each will make the shore, but the rowboat takes a longer time. Let us call the motor-boat the Catholic Church.’ Now the non-Catholic merely wants to be assured that he will reach the shore, heaven. And so, much preferring the comfortable and familiar way, he settles back in his rowboat and goes to sleep again.”

“Just as I planned, just as I planned!” Beelzebub was very solemn. “For the first time in the history of the world,” he told his fallen angels, “I have not only been directing you, but I have undertaken a mission of my own, the nature of which is so important that I have not dared to trust it to anyone but myself. You see, she has been appearing in the world. She came down to Fatima, in Portugal, and to Heede, in Germany. Those appearances gave me much to do. I had to work as I never worked before to make men forget and belittle what she prophesied and what she requested them to do in order to forestall my work. But I am pleased to report to you, my sons, that all is well. It is now as if she had never spoken. It is true that her appearances are still mentioned here and there, but men, thanks to my effort, speak of it as they might relate one of their legends.”

* Later known as Sister Catherine, Mrs. Clarke was the foundress of Saint Benedict Center, which began as a lay apostolate in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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