Thursday, October 27, 2011



I am reading Baron Friedrich von Hügel's Letters to A Niece (battered library copy)  The baron (1852-1927) loved the Church, TOTALLY got that the Church is a trial, that it is glorious and a cross, that it COSTS.

Because of which, he also says you should almost discourage people from converting because if you try to persuade them and they’re not ready it can be disastrous. They leave forever or become lukewarm.

I myself  have never entertained the slightest hope of converting, or even real desire to convert, anyone. Though at the same time I of course wish with all my heart that everyone would be converted. I just know beyond the shadow of a doubt it would not be through me. All I can do is say I love Christ, I love his Church, which has revealed himself to be the center of everything. I don’t have to justify or defend or promote, which is good because I wouldn’t know how to.

Anyway Baron von Hügel says, more or less, continue on as you are. Give everything you have to being the best Buddhist or Hindu or agnostic or whatever you can be...

Some excerpts from his letters:

"God has never left the world in complete and groping darkness; all religions contain some light from God. They are all from him. It is an awful idea that souls who cannot have known Our Lord should be debarred from God. None of the saints have believed that"…

"The most subtle enemy of religion is humanitarianism. If Christianity is true, there must be abiding consequences. We can’t get rid of it, it’s all in the Gospels. Our Lord speaks of it several times. His message is an immense warning to us here and now, a terrific alternative. You must see that. If you read the Gospels and give that up, I don’t know what you see."

"Sometimes I ask myself—the wisest, deepest men I have known—are they not all Roman Catholics? Yes, they are…You can’t be a Roman for nothing. There is a tension here, a heroism, an other-worldliness. If you don’t feel it, then it’s your fault. There must be some change in you."

"The touching, entrancing beauty of Christianity, my Niece, depends upon a subtle something which all this fastidiousness ignores. Its greatness, its special genius, consists, as much as in anything else, in that it is without this fastidiousness. A soul that is, I do not want to say tempted, but dominated, by such fastidiousness, is as yet only hovering round the precincts of Christianity, but it has not entered its sanctuary, where heroism is always homely, where the best always acts as a stimulus towards helping towards being (in a true sense) but one of the semi-articulate, bovine, childish, repulsively second-third-fourth-rate crowd. So it was with Jesus himself; so it is with Francis the Povorello; so it is with every soul that has fully realized the genius of the Christian paradox. When I told you of my choking emotion in reading, in St. John’s Gospel, that scene of Jesus, the Light of the World (that He is this, is an historic fact), as the menial servant at the feet of these little foolish fishermen and tax-gatherers, what do you think moved me but just that huge, life-and-love-bringing paradox, here in its fullest activity? The heathen philosophies, one and all, failed to get beyond your fastidiousness; only Christianity got beyond it; only Christianity. But I mean a deeply, costingly realized, Christianity—got beyond it: Gwen will, some day, get beyond it. It is, really, a very hideous thing; the full, truly free, beauty of Christ alone completely liberates us from this miserable bondage."

(the angels got him out!)


  1. My advice to you would be to err on the side of doing what Jesus commanded us to do, and not listen to people who think it's nice to do the exact opposite of what Jesus told us to do.
    Jesus told us to spread the good news and that we would be persecuted for it. He didn't say we would be nice to people and tell them what they want to hear and have tea. He didn't come to bring peace but a sword.
    Let us imagine a scenario.
    Mr. Anderson: I'm an Evangelical Protestant. Do you think it's fine for me to continue on being an Evangelical Protestant?
    SOF: Why, yes, just make sure you try to be the best darn Evangelical Protestant you can be!
    Mr. Anderson: Well, ok, then can I give you some advice in return?
    SOF: Of course, that seems only fair. As you know I'm a Catholic, so do you think I should continue on being a Catholic?
    Mr. Anderson: No, because you believe in things like you're eating the body and blood of Jesus, and that you are not saved through faith alone. If you continue on as you are your soul is in jeopardy. Jesus said...


    Which person did what Jesus asked us to do? Which person seems to care more about the other person? Which person seems to care more about doing as Jesus said?

    I know that seems simplistic, but I'm just going from what your post said.
    You shouldn't presume what God could use you to do, he can do anything, he can use you to convert people...he can use you to bring your friend back to the church.

  2. I have a friend who is Anglican because he finds the liturgy comforting like an old slipper - I keep wanting to ask him where does he think the slipper came from. Another friend who moved from Agnosticism through Anglicanism to Catholicism told me he became Catholic when he realized that all that is good in Anglicanism came originally from the Catholics. And then many years ago a retired school teacher & his wife when I asked how they ended up Catholics, said he suddenly realized he was in need of salvation so he went to see the local vicar who told him he could do a variety of things such as start attending church etc etc. He felt very dissatisfied & went to see a priest who said emphatically you must start hearing Mass you must start doing etc etc. He said that was what he needed to hear - a priest directing him.

    The sad thing in all of this is that only the practising Catholic know what it's like to be Catholic. Heather your Episcopalian friend never really latched onto it or else he could never have let it go.

    Oh yes there is certainly "cost" involved - if it doesn't cost it's not worth owning. Matt 13: 46.
    Stephen Sparrow

  3. Oh I actually wasn't asking for advice, Oddy.

    And I AM spreading the Gospel, or in my way trying to, to the ends of the earth. THAT is my goal, though; that is what Christ asked us to do, not to convert. Subtle but very deep difference in intent. I have control over, I can choose, I can exercise my will to "spread the Gospel." The results, whether anyone is converted, are in God's hands. As soon as I think they're in mine, as soon as I make conversion rather than spreading the Gospel the goal, I'm trying to convert the person to me, not to Christ.

    As I said, my friend and I had a long talk. I wept, and said, "I will be there waiting when and if you decide to come back." That's my way. Maybe you have your own way--and the beauty of Christ is that there are an infinite number of ways--but please don't presume to tell me mine is wrong. Share your joy, your wonder, your astonishment, your pondering, your wounded but ever-open heart! Go out and practice your way, then come back and tell us what kind of fish you have caught in your net! Because while remaining a steadfast, grateful member of the Church, I have pulled up some amazing people, places, experiences, insights, reflections, epiphanies and joy in mine...

  4. Dear Heather I would jump to your defense but Iknow how deeply you hold non-violence! :-). You, again, make some excellent points and truly live the message of the gospel. Your "spreading the gospel" here quite effectively to this sad and hurting heart. Every time I come here to read I am inspired and renewed in my Catholic faith because you truly get the human experience and the human heart. You know what it means to suffer and to have Christ and His church be the answer to that suffering while not at the same time saying that we shall not suffer in and by loving Him. I find great peace and comfort coming here as I would guess your friends have in coming to you to talk.


  5. Thank you Heather. What I love about your writing is that you always bring it back to the heart of the matter - Jesus Christ. It's all about him isn't it? What place have I let him have in my heart, my life?
    Please God, people will be converted through my witness and word but it will all be because of Christ and in spite of me (in the sense of the egotistical me...)
    I love the image of the net in your comment - my net is pretty technicolour and eclectic too! Long may it be so.
    God bless you.

  6. Hi Oddy, have been out walking, looking at the crescent moon, thinking more about “My advice to you would be to err on the side of doing what Jesus commanded us to do, and not listen to people who think it's nice to do the exact opposite of what Jesus told us to do. Jesus told us to spread the good news and that we would be persecuted for it. He didn't say we would be nice to people and tell them what they want to hear and have tea. He didn't come to bring peace but a sword.”

    Maybe I didn’t make clear that my friend was not coming to ask me for advice or to ask me to explain the doctrinal differences between the Episcopal church and the Catholic church. We were simply talking as friends. In fact, we were talking at the reception of a wedding we had both attended in an Episcopal church, a service at which, pretty much alone among the hundred or so people in attendance, I had refrained, as a Catholic, from taking “communion.” And I think when Jesus said I come not to bring peace but a sword he wasn’t talking about the sword with which we charge in and tell people how right we are and how wrong they are. I think he was talking about the sword that pierces your heart when you want more than anything for everyone to be around the table but the table has to be the table of truth, the table where the Eucharist is not a symbol but the Real Body and Blood. It was the sword that pierced Christ’s heart when he said "O Jerusalem, I would have gathered you as a mother hen gathers her chicks, and you would not”… It was the sword that pierced Christ’s heart when the Pharisees said, "You are not spiritual. You are not of God. You are not a prophet. You heal on Sundays. You don’t clean the outside of the dish." It is the sword that pierces your heart when you lie alone in your bed at night, knowing that everything you live and are willing to die for is bound to be misunderstood...

    For that reason, I am very, very distrustful of people who are just raring to be persecuted, who purport to suffer persecution, who wear being persecuted as a badge of honor. I think we need to be very careful to distinguish between being persecuted and being called out for being cowards, bullies and blowhards.

    I think people who have the courage of their convictions, who are doing what Jesus commanded us to do, and who are willing to be persecuted show their faces, their names, their neighborhoods, their parishes, their families, their jobs, their histories, their flaws and their identities. Check out the rest of my blog if you want to know any of that about me. Funny, I couldn’t find a profile for you.

  7. Heather,
    Heard you on Al Kresta the other day. Bought your book and liked it and like your blog -- a lot! (okay maybe not the sardines and fried spinach, but the photos were well done). Thought you might catch some heat for this post. It's kind of a touchy subject. Here we have this pearl of inestimable price and are constitutionally so unsuited for telling people about it (at least I seem to be). The Church is pretty clear about the fact that no one gets to the Father/Heaven but thru the Son, but also acknowledges that we can't presume to know the extent of God's mercy for those who are not ensconced in His Holy Catholic Church. Does this mean that we should encourage a Buddhist to be the best Buddhist he can be? Not sure about that and not sure about the Baron's advice to limit (did I get that right?) encouraging others to join us at the table. Do know that Mother Theresa and the MC's insisted on honoring the religious traditions of thise dying under their care. Anyway, God bless you and keep you. Please keep writing. I love your stuff.

  8. Anchovies and Tuscan kale, you mean, ejf! Though I am just mulling over a recipe for pasta with grilled sardines, raisins, pine nuts and wild fennel...

    Thanks, I think what both Albacete and von Hugel are saying is that Christianity is all invitation, all "Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened, ask and ye shall receive " And nobody can knock or ask or seek for someone else. We tell the truth, we live the truth out the best we can in our own lives, and we make ourselves entirely available to anyone who is interested in hearing or knowing more. But we don't force, we don't badger, we don't bully, shame, threaten, guilt-trip. We point people to the Person of Christ...

    If you come to the Church any other way--because you're afraid, for instance, because of peer pressure, because you feel someone else wants you to come--the seed is going to have been planted on shallow soil. It is precisely because being a Catholic is such a serious, life-and-death enterprise that it can never be undertaken lightly, or for the wrong reasons, or for a misguided motive. It costs, as von Hugel says. We have to have some idea of the cost, we have to be mature enough to at least want to try to pay the cost, and most of all, we have to love with all our hearts Christ, who is beyond cost. And for most of us that takes time, discernment, spiritual guidance, prayer, perhaps many dark nights and days of doubt...

    We're not dealing with automatons, with robots, with children. You just don't get in people's faces and scream at them that they should join the Catholic church. That is simply not an attraction, and it is not remotely the way Christ drew people to himself. The folks who favor this approach are the people I always get the impression are bragging to their friends (or would like to brag to their friends, because I'm also not persuaded that anyone of marginal goodwill, health, or sanity would respond to such an approach), I made a convert. They mistake a lack of histrionics for a lack of conviction. That's not to say there aren't many occasions when we are called to be firm--in fact, we are always firm, in whatever way the occasion calls for, to take public and private stands, to establish clear boundaries, to bring truth where there is error.

    As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, he calls him to die." You don't have to shout that. You have to be willing to die yourself. You have to spend years being tempered and pruned so that you can give your whole presence to sitting across from someone, looking into their eyes, and saying that with love...

  9. In other words, for the person who's seeking but cannot or has not quite found his or her way to Christ, we can say, If you're seeking, keep seeking. If you're asking, keep asking. Keep going on the spiritual path by your best lights. Keep asking the questions. Keep trying to be kind. That doesn't mean everything else is "the same" as Christianity. That doesn't derogate from Christ. When we say that as followers of Christ, it means that in our experience, all roads lead to Christ...

    If we really want to convert people, the best thing we can do is to become as Christ-like as possible ourselves...

  10. Grilled sardines and pine nuts at 7 in the morning? I guess we are a catholic church in the true sense of the word ...

    Well, what you said about following Christ having a cost does resonate, big time, as well Christ calling us to die. I flinch almost every time I hear it, but there it is.

    BTW, that quote from St Francis about "never being well" since the day of his conversion. Where did you get that from?

    Erin Furey

  11. Oh I'm not eating it, I'm mulling over the recipe...

    The St. Francis quote comes from one of my vast files, which means I read it somewhere, sometime, and copied it down...if you google since the day of my conversion assisi or francis, it'll come up a a few other places, but I can't find an attribution...

  12. Why Heather, I see that you use the same filing system I do! Thank you for having this conversation with me. I love the St F quote and will claim it for my own -- may even check authenticity at some point.

  13. Just found your book recently. I hope you're not a fruitcake. After I read your book I'll let you know.

  14. Heather,
    I love your blog. It is such a brilliant mix of theology, story, art, life, love, honesty and friction. I honestly saw nothing controversial about this post. But I am , alas, a dreaded Evangelical Protestant! I have been steering more and more towards reading Christian blogs as of late and I will say it seems like the Catholic ones are better written. I only have a couple on my bookmark bar and yours is one of them. What I am getting the most from you is exposure to fantastic followers of Christ that I have never heard of. Please consider that even one person's day can be radically improved by reading your stuff and know that you are appreciated! Jeff

  15. 'I myself have never entertained the slightest hope of converting or even real desire to convert anyone. Though at the same time I of course wish with all my heart that everyone would be converted. It’s just that I know beyond the shadow of a doubt it would not be through me.'
    Give everything you have to being the best Buddhist or Hindu or agnostic or whatever you can be...'

    I was going off of these two quotes mainly in what I was saying. You said you know that God wouldn't convert someone through you, I was simply trying to tell you that's not true. Why are you saying what God wouldn't do? And the second quote...I would never tell someone to continue being without Christ...but I guess that's just me.
    I have read most of your blog but I've never commented on anything before. I really like your blog and I think a lot of is very beautiful and you have great insights. I just think this is one instance where you need to rethink some things. I understand what you mean about the sword and I think it's a good point. I'm sorry about your friend. None of my family or friends are Catholic, and I don't harangue them constantly or anything. That wasn't what I was trying to say. What I am trying to say is I would never tell myself that God couldn't use me to bring my family to faith, and I would never tell my family they should keep on being indifferent to Jesus.

  16. Thanks, Oddy, you're exactly right: we can have no idea what God wants to do or can do with us. Thanks for your readership and all the best on your own path...

  17. Jeff, excuse the belated response: bless you! We do, maybe, need a TINY bit of friction?...I loved your synopsis...that Shirt of Flame has readers of many different beliefs, or no belief, I take as a major sign that I am doing something right. Evangelical Protestants MORE THAN WELCOME. What gets my goat (probably because of my own dire tendencies in that direction) are the Pharisees...

  18. Lizzie, apologies for tardiness to you as well--yes! It is ALWAYS about Christ. His "gestalt," the Way, the Truth, the Life, love (which, as Dostoevsky said, is a harsh and dreadful thing) as the organizing principle of reality.

    Also, Colette, how sweet of you to promise to weigh in on whether I'm a fruitcake (I think....) Do let us know!


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