I am posting this letter from a distinguished Canadian writer written in response to a letter from a young Anglican man seeking his way into full communion with the Catholic Church in the 1970s.
Many years later with a Catholic wife and family he maintains great compassion and sympathy for those who struggle with conscience, family, culture and commitments as the Holy Spirit moves them towards the Ordinariate.
At the recent Toronto Conference this man, now a master teacher in the Catholic School system, showed us the original letter. He has kindly transcribed it so the we might share here the insights of Anne Roche Muggeridge (daughter-in-law of Malcolm) a remarkable woman of faith who has since passed into God’s eternal keeping.
Some names have been edited.
Rest eternal grant unto Anne, O Lord; and may light perpetual shine upon her.
In 1976 (during the pontificate of Pope Paul VI), amidst my second bout of “Roman Fever”, I read Anne Roche Muggeridge’s book, The Gates of Hell. Having witnessed the banality of so much Roman Catholic worship in Toronto at that time I had serious misgivings about my ability to fit into a Roman Catholic parish. Yet I still felt it was what I needed to do. Her book gave me hope. I was able to visit her in her home that summer with a couple of acquaintances from Toronto. (Among this company was one who had visited the Oratory then in Montreal and it was he informed Anne for the first time that her cousin, David Roche, was studying to become a priest. The establishment of the Oratory in Toronto was still three years away.) Following that visit I wrote her and divulged my struggles.
Monsignor Lefebvre had been attracting some attention at that time and I could not understand why his seminary was meeting with such hostility. I met people in Toronto who also availed themselves of the opportunity provided by a Montreal priest, Fr. Normandin, who persisted in celebrating the Tridentine mass. I attended a couple of these but resolved that I could not leave Anglicanism to become what I perceived of as schismatic. I had also gone through a break up with a girlfriend in the spring of that year and though I did not discuss this with Anne often wondered whether she had picked up on this. At any rate, her reference to a dead love affair definitely resonated with me. Following is the letter she wrote in response to mine.
I was very moved by your letter and I understand your predicament and deeply sympathize with you. We didn’t really get a chance to talk when you were here, but do come again and we’ll pursue the things we began.
I agree with you about the collapse of the Anglican Church, and I’m sorry. A good, grave, holy presence has gone. The Anglican Church in England has long been dead, perhaps since the early 18th century, though there was that reforming evangelical burst in the 19th. Are you a member of Council for the Faith? Its general secretary lives a few miles from here and is a dear friend. If you come, I’ll have her over. I’ve often said that I love your Church because of that beautiful gravitas its best members project, a serenity and dignity of belief no one else possesses, certainly not my belligerent and exuberant communion.
Obviously, your biggest cross will be leaving [the Church of] St. Mary Magdalene [Toronto]. A real small crucifixion: I don’t know if I could do it. If you do bring yourself to do so, you can offer it up at your reception and first Holy Communion as an enormous sacrifice, which will go on hurting you, probably all your life. An offering on the paten, an entering into the night of the senses, and that voluntarily. I envy you almost as much as I pity you.
Yet, my dear ______ , remember that the good is the enemy of the best. If you are convinced that your Church is, as you say, no longer entitled to claim that she is “one, holy, catholic, apostolic, orthodox, or even Christian,” then you can’t stay in her if you’ve found another which is, as you perfectly put it, “not capable of making decisions, at least in matters of faith and morals, which [you] could suspect of being contrary to the will of God.”
You are already a Roman Catholic, then. You are, poor child, exactly in the position of someone in a dead love affair, unwilling to cut off entirely from your once, and always, in some ways, beloved. You had better pray to some lover like St. Augustine, I think.
All you say of the Roman Church is true. The liturgy is in ruins, thought the Church has the power, at the stroke of a pen, to rebuild it, as she tore it down. I think perhaps she will, perhaps in your lifetime. Any way, she’ll have many lifetimes to do it in. Them Mass I loved took 1500 years to make; irritatingly, we’re caught at the end of one liturgy & the beginning of another, and haven’t 1500 years to spare.
You are right, too, about the lack of charity in all the Church’s administration & bureaucracy. The Church as It always fails in charity during every papal government, though the Church as She always retains and extends orthodoxy. I always say to people like you – yes, the Pope is weak & liberal & wrongheaded, with the obstinacy of the weak man. But who could imagine that a man like him could have proclaimed HVMANAE VITAE against his own appointed opposition?
The fact that he, instead of Pius XII, did do this, is proof for me that he is trully (sic) the successor of the Apostles & that HVMANAE VITAE must be true. HVMANAE VITAE belongs to the Church as She; and the Pope who is so unkind to Lefebvre & misguided over Mindzenty, belongs to the Church as It. Not a schizophrenic situation, just a human one. Join the Church who is She, perfect, tranquil, indefectible, infallible, one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
One thing though that I will point out: perhaps, human nature being what it is, the institutional Church (It) has to behave rather badly, as we would consider it, to preserve Her, the Church of Christ. If the Church hadn’t acted harshly & definitely often in the past, She would be in the state your own beloved communion is now. Seeing all sides is okay, but accepting all sides is mistaken charity. Awry with the institution is an habitual Catholic state. All good Catholics are to some extent anti-clerical, justly. I’m defending uncharity and legalism, etc.? The Church as It shares our fallen human nature, its “will is weakened and inclined to evil, its intellect is darkened, it suffers sickness, death and all the other, pains and miseries of human life.” (Definition from my childhood catechism.) Forgive It and love and obey Her.
Speak to Fr. _______. Perhaps he’s been sent by God to help you. I’m taking the liberty of sending your letter to a good friend I made through my writing – like you he read some of it some years ago & got in touch. He’s older than you, my age, and used to be an Anglican clergyman but since he’s married, couldn’t become a Catholic priest. He’s a wonderful man, perhaps he can say to you things I can’t, as I can only vicariously appreciate the convert’s agonies. Anyway, my prayers are with you.
P.S. I won’t offend your modesty if I say that the fact that someone like you wants to join the Church, through all her chaos is proof renewed to me that she does possess the truth.
PPS Thank you for the lovely music. A.