by Fr. Justin Swanton
"Humanly speaking, it is impossible."
are the opening words of an essay by Hilaire Belloc, well-known Catholic
pundit of the first half of the 20th century, on the conversion
of England. I could write an article entitled "The Restoration
of the Church and the Conversion of Any One Country in the World"
with the same words. I could also continue in Belloc's vein: "I
do not say impossible in a thousand years, after I know not what transformations
and catastrophes, when our civilisation shall have broken down, as every
civilisation does in its turn, and when men shall have been taught reality
by chastisement. But humanly speaking, it is impossible."
what should one do, looking at the state of the Church and formerly
Christian nations? Give up?
is an application from Parkinson's law that deserves quoting here, albeit
I use it somewhat out of context: "The vigour of an institution
is in inverse proportion to the magnificence of its buildings".
In other words, the more shiny, oiled and elaborate the bandwagon and
the more smoothly it runs along, the more likely are its wheels to fall
off. And vice versa.
applies, in a strange way, to the Church. Let me quote from Warren Carrol,
The Building of Christendom: "The battered church of the
iron age of the tenth century seems to our constricted vision to have
been peculiarly unsuitable for the work of evangelisation. How could
the church of Pope John XII [the adulterous teenage son of a robber
baron who died violently at 27-Ed.] and the traitorous, murderous bishops
of Germany like Frederick of Mainz possibly convert anyone, to say nothing
of whole peoples? But all things are possible to God, and the fountains
of His grace to His Church are ever-flowing. When the first Christian
millennium ended and the second began in the year 1000, no less than
six great nations, two at least of prime historical significance for
the future, had been brought into Christianity and were on the way to
full conversion: Poland, Russia, Hungary, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
Their rulers were brought to Christianity not by force, not even by
direct pressure, but by persuasion and attraction. It was as though
even the half-barbarians on the fringes of iron age Christendom saw
in its faith something higher and more beautiful than the generally
ugly aspect it was then displaying to the world."
is more than once in her history that the Church has shown this human
impossibility, doing her great works of conversion when she seemed least
ready for it. At the beginning of the 16th century the Church
was in a state of advanced decay, like a rotten fruit ready to fall
off the tree. The Reformation shook the branch, and for a long time
it seemed all the Church could do merely to hold on to some of her traditional
lands in the heart of Europe. Yet in that century all of South and Central
America were converted to the Faith, a feat that has no equal in Church
need to remember that God uses His instruments for his great works when
it is patent that they accomplish His designs, not through their own
vigour and ability, but through His grace. All He requires is the wholehearted
goodwill of just a few men.
live in a time when ideology as a driving force in society is almost
dead. People are now without purpose and are learning what it is to
live their lives without God, in directionless activity that serves
only to underscore the emptiness and futility of their existence. They
are ripe for conversion.
That God, and more precisely the Mother of God, will bring it about in their good time, I have no doubt whatever.