It’s not hard to be depressed if you’re a conservative Catholic in 2021 America. That’s especially the case if, like me, you marvel at a country that seems to have radically changed in just a single generation. If a drag queen had shown up at my public elementary school in suburban Northern Virginia in the early 1990s, my teachers would have run him (her? zher?) out on a rail. Now teachers are the ones inviting drag queens to school (or perhaps they play the role themselves!). I knew a socially outcast kid in sixth grade who bragged about his collection of porn magazines—now every sixth grader with a phone can have a digital porn collection. And how many of those old schoolmates of mine, now in their late 30s, even have kids? Not many.
Raising a family of four children in that same suburban Northern Virginia—even with a great homeschooling co-op, an excellent Catholic diocese, and strong publicly-funded infrastructure (thank God for public libraries)—can seem, given the broader cultural currents, like King Cnut trying to stop the ocean tide. Given the odds stacked against people like me, will my little domestic church make any ultimate difference? The story of England, over which Cnut reigned in the eleventh century, is instructive in understanding why my pessimism is perhaps premature.
For it was England, after all, that over the course of the last fifteen hundred years, produced some of the most remarkable exemplars of sanctity, many of whom are beautifully described in The English Way: Studies in English Sanctity from Bede to Newman, recently reprinted by Cluny Media. And, as much as it is fashionable to bad-mouth colonialism and imperialism, it is England that enabled the spread of so much good across the globe, bringing to peoples who until only a few hundred years ago were remote and unknown such goods as modern medicine, representative government, and yes, the Christian faith.