No Story So Divine 1 April, 2009

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Calvary by Daniel Mitsui

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Many people have seen in Jesus’s cry from the Cross an indication that the Son of God was allowed to experience the whole of human suffering – including the pain of real despair and a sense of meaninglessness. As the sun itself seemed blotted out of the sky, the world seemed to lose its connection to God. And yet it was God who experienced this exile.

One human being can only experience so much. But each of us can find our own suffering in his. We know that he has accepted it for us, even as we fight against it in ourselves. He makes suffering a sacrament, a thing that connects us to him, and therefore a conduit through which grace can flow to us through him.

The relationship works both ways, of course. That is why traditional piety at Passiontide tells us that our own sins have nailed him to the Cross. My little acts of selfishness, pride, self-indulgence, dishonesty and betrayal find themselves in the treachery of Judas, the denials of Peter, the weakness of Pilate, just as my own sufferings have found their home in his. This is not ‘guilt tripping’ but realism. The life of Jesus in me cannot be disconnected from his life in Galilee, Calvary, Gethsemane – or heaven.

I have known people who, whether for a short time or longer, have lost their religion. Faith deserts them, as though it was never there. Sometimes this is because deep down they don’t want to believe. However it happens, they have lost their connection with Christ. He has become to them merely a figure in the distant past, or a person in a story that has been heard once too many times.

The best argument I have heard against faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was this. If it is true, and if Catholics receive God in communion every week, how do they remain such a miserable bunch? This applies not just to the ones who hypocritically receive communion without even trying to live the moral life that it signifies, but to those who are devout, good people. Shouldn’t something more extraordinary happen to them? Surely they should be transformed into something more impressive, if God is entering them every week?

It will happen. Just give it time. If we look at ourselves, instead of hastening to judge others, we will see how easily we have built a wall of habit and inattention around ourselves that prevents grace flowing into every part of our lives. Why am I not transformed? Even when my heart is spiritually alive, the blood of Christ somehow does not reach my hands and feet. The eucharist, though it keeps me alive, cannot do more than that without my help.

Mostly we simply continue to struggle – with the same habits, the same sins, the same thoughts, repeating ourselves day after day. ‘Baptism is the beginning of a struggle, more or less severe according to God’s providence, that ends only at the moment of death’ (Vivian Boland OP, Spiritual Warfare). By all accounts, the moment of death itself is the most intense part of the struggle. It is like the struggle of a woman giving birth, for we are giving birth to our eternal selves. The best way to prepare for that moment is by receiving the sacraments and trying to be faithful to them: they may not transform us, but they give us the strength to continue the struggle.

Or think of it like this. We are on a journey, but we are tempted to go in many directions. Going to Mass, being reconciled and receiving communion is a way of turning back towards God. We may not get far, but at least we are facing in the right direction.

The image is reproduced with permission from

Are we forgetting how to read?

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going — so far as I can tell — but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

“I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes….  For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded... But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles….” Read the whole article by Nicholas Carr here.

The Messenger

Éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended
Hail Earendel, brightest of angels / above the middle-earth sent unto men

These lines from Cynewulf’s poem Crist, which inspired Tolkien on the eve of the First World War, became the seed of the Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. In those stories, Earendil (the father of Elros and Elrond) is a messenger to the angelic Valar from the races of Elves and Men, conjoined through his own ancestry. He jouneys into the Farthest West at the darkest moment of earth’s history, bearing the holy light of the Silmaril upon his brow, to beg for assistance against the Dark Lord. Having set foot in the Undying Lands, where his appeal is heard by the Valar, he is not permitted to return home but is given immortality, and his ship is given the power to journey among the stars. He becomes the world’s first space-traveller, and the flaming jewel he wears as a token of love appears to us as the Evening and the Morning Star. At the end of the First Age, in response to Earendil’s intercession, the armies of the Valar descend upon Middle-earth to overthrow the power of Morgoth. Descending from the heavens in his silver ship, Earendil slays the greatest of dragons, Ancalagon the Black, and Morgoth himself is thrust by the Valar beyond the Walls of the World into the Timeless Void.

The most effective prayer of intercession is made by one who can represent by his ancestry all the afflicted peoples of the earth, to plead for pardon and pity. And intercession is necessary, not because God is deaf to the cries of individual victims, but because we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and the history of our own woes is bound up in a larger story.  The events to which the myths of the Simarillion look forward have taken place in reality. Jesus Christ who is both God and Man has paid the full price of our redemption, pleading on our behalf at the throne of God for pardon and pity. “For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24).

See Ted Nasmith’s painting of Earendil’s voyage here.