It was toward the end of a hot day. I was in the midst of a “small talk” conversation of sorts with an acquaintance, and the topic of religion came to the surface. Of course, when pondering the conversation, I can’t help but think that it was a peculiar topic to randomly come up amongst two strangers. However, the topic did somehow naturally develop between acquaintances when my fellow conversationalist told me that he had gone to Catholic School. At this point, I thought perhaps I had stumbled upon a new friend of mutual lifestyles and my reply to his revelation was “Oh, I’m Catholic too.”
The response of my acquaintance was a bit deflating as he said, “Oh, I am a recovering Catholic.”
I’ve heard the phrase before, and I’ve always thought it odd. How do these folks perceive their recovery? Do they feel that they have been so indoctrinated as a child that the foundation that had been forged in their youth causes them to relapse from their newfound clarity back to Catholicism or is it an ongoing process to cleanse them from their attachment to Catholicism much like the doctrine of purgatory?
Regardless, I didn’t continue further with the conversation because I felt that there was little more that I could say on the matter. However, I’ve been reminded recently of two particular parts of Brideshead Revisited after the conversation. My current employment has been a blessing that I am able to listen to many audio books, and when seeing that Brideshead was narrated by Jeremy Irons I could not resist, but it has allowed for little to no time for blogging.
(Although I do try to keep up on reading and browsing my favorite blogs)
As I began listening to Irons read the timeless words of Waugh with the conversation fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but focus on the particular passage in this great title:
“Bridey, you mustn’t be pious,” said Sebastian. “We’ve got an atheist with us.”
“Agnostic,” I said. (Charles Ryder)
“Really? Is there much of that at your college? There was a certain amount at Magdalen.” (Bridey)
“I really don’t know. I was one long before I went to Oxford.” (Ryder)
“It’s everywhere,” said Brideshead. (pg. 86 ebook Little Brown Book Company)
Prior to this clarification by Charles, Charles and Sebastian have a conversation on the topic of Sebastian’s Catholicism:
“Who was it used to pray, ‘O God, make me good, but not yet’?”
“I don’t know. You, I should think.”
“Why, yes, I do, every day. But it isn’t that.”
He turned back to the pages of the News of the World and said, “Another naughty scout-master.”
“I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?”
“Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”
“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”
“But I do . That’s how I believe.” (p. 82)
As I was listening to these two scenes that are very near each other, I kept thinking in my mind “Recovering Catholic” over and over. I suppose it’s because in many ways both Julia and Sebastian attempted to be “recovering Catholics.” Charles in a discussion with Julia about his love for her and her brother commented on Sebastian being the “forerunner.” The two were so very much alike in many ways it’s not entirely surprising that Charles shared a love for both of them.
Our modern world questions the Catholic faithful much like Charles does of Sebastian’s faith especially when our Catholicism is counter to the prevailing wisdom of mainstream secular morals. When it comes to topics like the sacrament of marriage, unborn children, and rejection of material culture the world replies, “You can’t seriously believe it all?” Of course, when the faithful respond, “But I do. That’s how I believe.” The faithful will be mocked for being anti-science or anti –intellectual. In fact, when Julia is struggling with the realization of her own sins in the world, in a way, Charles mocks the idea in the narrative saying:
“Of course it’s a thing psychologists could explain; a preconditioning from childhood; feelings of guilt from the nonsense you were taught in the nursery. You do know at heart that it’s all bosh, don’t you?” (p. 272)
Julia’s replies: ““How I wish it was!”
“Sebastian once said almost the same thing to me.”
So what does this mean for “recovering Catholics”? What does Waugh attempt to tell us in his passages to a man who during those particular points in the story speaks just like our modern world? Waugh attempts to tell us to recognize God’s Grace in action. I didn’t say anything to my acquaintance, mainly because I thought I would do more harm than good, but we have to remember the words of the Venerable Fulton Sheen, “Actually, there are only two philosophies of life: one is first the feast, then the headache; the other is first the fast then the feast.” And so according to the precepts of Christianity, it comes down to a choice between picking up one’s cross or not. Preparing one’s treasures in heaven or on earth. However, a “recovering Catholic” may yet have the tools necessary to choose to accept God’s Grace.