Saturday, January 30, 2010

Course correction

Well, he's not really a saint (officially canonized one, that is), and I do wonder what his reaction would be to a canonization movement. However, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was the most trenchant observer, the most faithfully insightful social commenter in the early 20th century. If Dietrich von Hildebrand is said to be a modern doctor of the church, Chesterton is his "common-man" counterpart. Never failing to get to the heart of the matter in a deceptively simple way, he surprises by always being right just when you begin to think he might be just a little bit off plumb.

Here, courtesy of the American Catholic, is a bit of Chestertonian food for thought in regard to our culture:

The saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr: he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age . . . It is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it.

That's the problem with conversion, it looks so different. To correct our course, what is sometimes required is an over-correction. I am sure I am not the first one to wonder if we aren't a little too careful about some things, a little too (gasp) legalistic. That may well be, at times, precisely what is required.

One of the things that makes me grin is thinking about who may be sharing a mug of beer with whom up in Heaven right now. Have you ever wondered what an evening with Chesterton and St. Paul would be like? Here's Paul's answer to the problem of course corrections, antidotes and poisons:

4Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.

5For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords,

6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

7However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

8But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.

9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

10For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?

11For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.

12And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

13Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

-- I Corinthians 8:4-13

Causing a brother (or a sister) to stumble is no small matter. Whether it be wearing a two-piece swimming suit in mixed company at the beach or having a glass of wine with dinner, we must consider whether we are causing a weak brother among us to stumble - or giving a legalist cause to tsk, tsk to his heart's content.

On the other hand, what about the repentant sinner, formerly used to such theological diversions as preacherettes and equal-partnership marriage? Well now, there is where we might see what looks like an over-correction. When the repentant sinner comes home to Christ's church, everything is up for grabs. Jeans in church? May it never be! Skirts and dresses, if you please. Long hair and headcoverings in worship, constant self-reminders about a wife's submission and delighting in things formerly despised are on the daily menu.

It is the repentant among us who are often the most sensitive to appearances, the ones who may be offended by seeing a brother dine in an idol's temple. Not because all the old is cast off and the logs are removed from eyes, but because the old sins leave their marks, their sore spots and sensitivities. The pull of the old, familiar wretchedness can catch at one's heart at the most unexpected moments. Especially when one's gait is unsteady in these new, orthodox shoes.

Perhaps also, because of this, it is the repentant who appear to be the most dangerous poison of all.


David said...

But how do you know Chesterton wasn't a saint? The evidence seems good that he was, or may have been.

Kamilla said...

I was thinking of those saints officially canonized . . .among those saints, he is not (yet?) included.

Kamilla said...

Of course, if we are talking about another kind of saint, perhaps we should ask Frances Chesterton, eh?