To Tell the Truth

Letter from the District Superior, Fr David Sherry, May 2024

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

In 1516, St Thomas More presented to his friend Erasmus a little book called Utopia. It described the journey of a certain Raphael Hythlodaeus to a country hitherto undiscovered where lived a nation not yet enlightened by the Catholic Faith. Although you might expect them to be barbaric, they lived as virtuously as possible according to the light of their reason. Unlike the English who had the harshest punishments for even the smallest theft, the Utopians had graded punishments depending on the gravity of the offence, as is more reasonable. Many Christians loved silver and gold and lied and cheated for it; the Utopians despised it and used it for the lowest uses, etc. So far so good. But then, they also had things such as divorce, married priests and euthanasia.

If a disease be not only incurable, but also full of continual pain and anguish, then the priests and the magistrates will exhort the man that he not be unwilling to die, that he dispatch himself out of that painful life, or else suffer himself to be rid out of it by another, seeing by his death he shall lose no commodity, but end his pain.

A saint? Praising mercy killing? Not at all. The saintliest of politicians is warning us: a nation guided in no way by revelation will end up doing many things which may seem reasonable but are in fact evil.

The Scottish Parliament, the States of Jersey and the Tynwald in the Isle of Man are all actively considering the introduction of Euthanasia ‘laws’ and the Westminster parliament will no doubt follow suit. The Christian state, unlike Utopia, is guided by the revelation of the Natural Law taught by an infallible Church. For centuries then, Christian nations have abhorred abortion, euthanasia, sodomy and suchlike. But, if the Christian nation abandons Christ and rejects Him, it will have left not just the ignorance of the Utopians, but much worse.   

Another illustrious Englishman (and descendant of the Keiths of Scotland) was born 150 years ago this month. Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s interest to us is not simply that he was a household name who converted to the true Faith and is thus an example of fidelity to grace; his supreme interest is that his writings themselves are an antidote to the madness of our times.

Underlying their wit, style and imagination, his writings have the one essential element of good art: they tell the truth with originality.

Raised in a vaguely religious atmosphere, our author drifted into atheism as an older adolescent. One day, in his early twenties, he realised he had become, what he called, ‘orthodox’.

The man asked me abruptly why I was becoming orthodox. Until he said it, I really had not known that I was; but the moment he had said it I knew it to be literally true. And the process had been so long and full that I answered him at once out of existing stores of explanation.

'I am becoming orthodox,' I said, 'because I have come, rightly or wrongly, after stretching my brain till it bursts, to the old belief that heresy is worse even than sin. An error is more menacing than a crime, for an error begets crimes. An Imperialist is worse than a pirate. For an Imperialist keeps a school for pirates; he teaches piracy disinterestedly and without an adequate salary. A Free Lover is worse than a profligate. For a profligate is serious and reckless even in his shortest love; while a Free Lover is cautious and irresponsible even in his longest devotion. I hate modern doubt because it is dangerous.' 

— From the essay ‘The Diabolist’ in Tremendous Trifles (1909).

The truth is told accurately in dry and technical terms, necessary for precision and definition, but these terms have little enough effect on us because the way to penetrate a man’s mind is through his imagination. That is why Our Blessed Lord taught the multitude in parables.

It is easy enough to say that the philosopher is generally the more rational; it is easier still to forget that the priest is always the more popular. For the priest told the people stories; and the philosopher did not understand the philosophy of stories. It came into the world with the story of Christ.

— From The Everlasting Man (1925).

The dry truth penetrates rarely and style without truth is diabolical; the real reason why we should read Chesterton’s witty and sparkling works is that they tell the truth.

May God bless you,

Fr David Sherry
District Superior

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