Letter #45, 2018: Tolkien on Abuse

Friday, August 31, 2018

“Besides the Sun there may be moonlight, but if the Sun were removed
there would be no Moon to see. What would Christianity now be if the Roman Church has in fact been destroyed?” – Letter 250, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

Day #7: Tolkien, and the Church our Mother

As I write this, I have come home to Connecticut.

I am troubled about the scandals in the Church, but today I do not want to write about them.

My mother, 85, is sitting by me.

She does not speak — she stopped speaking in April.

She cannot walk, and she cannot easily swallow. She chews almost imperceptibly on a bit on pureed food, sometimes biting her cheek, then much of the food spills out, first over her bottom lip, then down her chin…

She was strong, very strong, when I was young.

Truth is, she still is strong, just… weak in her strength… as are we all…

I received an email a few minutes ago from my assistant, Ann.

“A Carmelite nun called. She wanted to know when they would receive the next issue of the magazine because, she said, they feel they can only trust you to tell the truth about what is going on. She wanted me to tell you that they so appreciate what you are doing and that you are a bearer of truth and light, and you will receive your reward. She said you will go down in history as the greatest writer ever.”

I laughed, and immediately brought the note to my mother in her chair, to read it to her.

She looked at me as I read the note, expressionless, her eyes fixed on mine.

“The greates writer!” I say. “It was you who taught me to write, Mom…”

She cannot really smile anymore, her lips do not move, but she understands.

Actually, she understands everything. That is her tragedy. She is a still perfect mind inside a body that is drooping away, like a November leaf on an oak tree.

She lifts her thumb up just a tiny bit — thumbs up, sign of approval.

“Good. A-okay.”

And that is her response to being told a Carmelite nun thinks I will go down in history as “the greatest writer ever.”

We are limited, we forget our limits, we forget our own mortality.

All of this will soon pass away, all of it, and others after us will be wearied by different scandals, different confusions and sufferings of this life.

We need to keep our perspective — we are mortal, we should be humble.

We are not gods, we are mere mortals, though our longing for what is good and noble and eternal is a sign that, within us, we have a tendency toward God, the same type of tendency that turns a sunflower toward the sun — if we can pause long enough to sense that longing and realize it for what it is, the highest aspect of our personhood, the compass hand of our deepest part.

When we harm or abuse or use or manipulate or deceive another person, we contribute to the destruction of the world, to the damnation of the world.

This is a reason we should cease to harm, abuse, use, manipulate, deceive.

Mysteriously, the Church is another mother, for us. A new family.

In the Church, we have a brief tradition, only 2,000 years.

We see in that tradition a “cloud of witnesses,” the saints, to the human longing for God.

We cannot wipe that out in one week of scandals, or even in 50 years of scandals.

We all know, deep down, that there comes a time when we must return to home to our Mother.

We must return, even if she is tired, and grey, and bent, and silent, and sit by her, and with her…

We must remain with her, until, God willing, she is young again…

=========================

On this, the 7th day since the publication of Arcbishop Vigano’s “Testimony,” a Friday and the last day of August, it seems important to take a step back, by considering the attitude of someone who actually was a truly great Catholic writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, toward the issue of clerical abuse in his time.

The text is based on a letter that Tolkien wrote to his son.

The article is by Billy Ryan, and can be found here.

Billy (photo here) is a student at The University of Akron in Ohio (USA) studying biochemistry. After graduation, he plans to attend medical school. Tolkien’s words are in italics.

 

 

A photo of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), the Oxford professor who wrote the Lord of the Rings trilogy

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lost Prophetic Message on Abuse in the Church

By Billy Ryan

August 28, 2018

J. R. R. Tolkien was not only the author of the best-selling novel ever written, but a fierce Catholic. Nearly 55 years ago in a letter penned to his son, Tolkien offered a prophetic message on having unwavering Faith despite grave scandal in the clergy.

“Besides the Sun there may be moonlight, but if the Sun were removed
there would be no Moon to see. What would Christianity now be if the Roman Church has in fact been destroyed?” – Letter 250, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

It’s no secret the Holy Mother Church is experiencing a time of turbulence and unrest following a string of abuse scandals, along with allegations of cover-ups that reach the highest echelons of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

To Tolkien, scandal is no cause for sagging faith, eloquently illustrating that even in the most dire of times Faith finds its inspiration in love.

“Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons.”

For those that find the revelations so disheartening they see no other option but to leave the Church, Tolkien says scandal is an occasion of temptation – temptation to falter in our Faith because “scandal tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scape-goat.”

To have unwavering Faith in the face of tribulation is not a single decision, but instead a permanently repeated act of will in praying for our final perseverance.

Tolkien offers the cure for sagging faith: participating in the “perfect, complete, and inviolate” Blessed Sacrament.

Just like Faith is a repeated act of will, so too must Communion be continuous.

Tolkien believed that frequency was of the highest effect, and Communion seven times a week was very nourishing.

“We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences.”

Tolkien said that he suffered from “stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests,” but these are not reasons to leave the Church, because to leave the Church would be abandoning Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Instead, we should grieve for and with Christ, “associating ourselves with the scandalizers not with the saints.”

His letter is a beautiful hymn on the Faith and Eucharist, and a sorrowful lament on scandal and sin.

He reminds us sin was present from the beginning of the Church and will remain present until the Second Coming.

The Church is made of sinners in need of redemption, but the Church made of sinners is not our own.

The Church is the Living Body of Christ, and to abandon the Church would be to abandon Christ Himself.

Read below from Tolkien’s letter to his son:

You speak of “sagging faith,” however, that is quite another matter.

In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love.

Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge).

“Scandal” at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses.

It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat.

But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act/state which must go on – so we pray for “final perseverance.”

The temptation to “unbelief” (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us.

Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us.

The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be “scandalized” by others.

I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity.

I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe anymore, even if I had never met anyone in orders who was not both wise and saintly.

I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call our Lord a fraud to His face.

If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent – that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church (in the sense of clergy) in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud.

If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all – except that we may and should be deeply grieved.

But we should grieve on our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalized heirs not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot “take” Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd & cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.

It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really “happened,” and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded all of him – so incapable of being “invented” by anyone in the world at that time: such as “before Abraham came to be I am” (John viii); “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John v: “He that he eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life.”

We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences.

I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least a right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame.

(However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)

 

Note to Readers

I invite you to visit Inside the Vatican Pilgrimage’s new website.  For your convenience, listed below are some of the upcoming pilgrimages.

Signature Italy, Christmas 2018: Vatican City, Norcia and Assisi

Signature Italy, Easter 2018

Classic California Missions: Join us as we celebrate 25 years of Inside the Vatican magazine, by commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the first California Mission.

Signature Germany 2019: Join Inside the Vatican Pilgrimages in the footsteps of Pope Emeritus Benedict

Signature England 2019: Join Inside the Vatican Pilgrimages in the Footsteps of St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher and Blessed John Henry Newman

Classic Russia June 2019: In Search of the Spiritual Renewal of Post-Soviet Russia

 

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By |2018-10-13T17:32:02+00:00Aug 31st, 2018|Categories: The Moynihan Letters|