Virginia Barton

Any port in the storm of faith?

Catholic Herald, 29 July 1988


“It wasn’t that I left the ship, it was the ship that deserted me”.

This is an apt description by someone who stopped practising their religion. Very often the ship is indeed to blame, but much more frequently it is the passengers who are at fault. The tendency to blame some one (or something) other than oneself is as old as Adam blaming Eve, and Eve the serpent.

The deep-seated vanity of keeping the ego intact and the contortions one practises to preserve one’s amour propre; would dazzle Houdini, and cause even MacchiavelIi to stretch his eyes.

stormy sea

To continue the nautical analogy, I picture some vast liner, turning a wide circle, then sailing over the horizon. The twinkling lights and drift of human voices fade and disappear. Tossing in the frothy wake of the big ship bobs a tiny coracle. The little craft is adrift, and since (of course) it is dead of night and closely to boot, the lone sailor is plunged in darkness. A, fanciful vision of infinite peril and solitude.

The resources in the coracle comprise only what the man has within himself. Some accumulated experience, a few physical attributes, a mind aware of what it has abandoned, and a determination to supplant those beliefs with ideas of his own. And a boundless, untouchable ego.

There are as many ways of copping out of Catholicism as there are lapsed Catholics. A particularly rich example was the intellectual who said, “If I really believed Christ was present in the Holy Eucharist, I would never leave the vicinity of the tabernacle”.

We have all experienced the tug-of-war between the demands of everyday life and the very real desire to linger longer in the presence of Christ. The necessity of getting on usually takes precedence. But it is salutory to ask oneself at regular intervals – why am I (stilI) a Catholic?

A few years ago I was asked to talk to a clutch of sixth-formers on the reasons why I became a Catholic. It was great fun, not least because they asked such peculiar questions. They were all “cradle” Catholics, a species I have always envied for their lack of inhibitions about their faith. They are so thoroughly at home in it.

But even they, I understand, benefit from a sort of conversion at some time during their lives. For many this must have come about after the second Vatican Council when they had to re-think and re-align themselves to a “changed” Church.

Bear with me if I pick up the shipping parable. (No islander can resist the rich vein of sea-doggerel!). I, and thousands like me, didn’t join a rusting hulk, a fossil fixed in amber. If you believe the Church was founded by God, is the human body of Christ and was and is directed by the Holy Spirit, you have to stay aboard, however inconvenient the cabins or tasteless the decor.

What’s more, it’s not enough to be a mere passenger. One has to contribute to the running of the ship from swabbing decks to conning the logbook. One’s ego intrudes at every turn, and the devil or his minions suggest a hundred good reasons for not doing this or that.

How do you visualise your ego? I see mine as an incredibly tough nut. It should be assailed from all quarters with cut and thrust.

Like all good yarns, this rasp deserves a happy ending. I put it to you that there is much rejoicing when one battered coracle rejoins the ship, and many a mariner abandons his ego-cruise with sighs of relief.



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