Caryll Houselander was a mystic, religious writer, artist, and notorious eccentric with both a great capacity for work and a willingness to expend herself in serving others who wanted her counsel. Among her most popular books were her autobiography A Rocking-Horse Catholic and The Reed of God, her meditation on Mary. She died in 1954, at the age of 53. She’s also a writer readers tend either to love or the find incomprehensible.
The article from which this is selected is titled “Christ, the Cross, the Crisis.” It was the fourth in a series on “The Church and the World Crisis.” Other writers included Christopher Dawson and Sheila Kaye-Smith. The full article can be read here. It appeared in the issue of 31 October 1947.
The collapse of materialism around us does not imply the collapse of materialism within us: For that, we have habitually made too many acts of faith in the treasure we hope to lay up upon earth. Materialism has seeped into our attitude to religion. We are morbidly afraid of “impractical piety,” almost limiting religion to corporal works of mercy.
Ours is utility religion, like a utility suit, it is utilitarian. There is as little of it as possible, it is had at the minimum cost, it only fits small people. With unconscious irony, the Powers that Be recognise the existence of only small men. A big man cannot fit into a utility suit. A man grown to the full stature of his Christhood cannot fit into utility religion.
Concrete Religion & Suffering
Faced with both world-wide material misery and sheer supernatural evil, utility religion is powerless. We need concrete religion as never before, justice, mercy, charity, but these are the flower of the tree of life. We want sap at the roots. Give us that and the tree must flower.
Suffering is the Cross. It covers our world from end to end. It is Christ, Christ in His members who carries it. Unless every Christian will give his shoulder to take his full share of the weight, the Cross will crush humanity. It is to Christ that he gives or refuses. In accepting the suffering of mankind, as something we ought to take upon ourselves. we are made one with Christ in His sublimest act of love.
This realised, we have no enemies, excepting in the sense of those marked out for special love. We are not dealing with this German, Russian, Jap. Jew, or Pole, we are dealing with Christ. In Christ there is no distinction of race or class. It is Christ who is hungry. exploited, homeless. For Christ that we hunger and thirst for justice. The limit of our self-giving to humanity measures the size of our love of God.
In continual awareness of these facts is the key to perseverance. Faced by Evil’s full magnitude of misery, nothing else can sustain our will. Policy, organisation, ethics, idealism, all break down before discouragement, disillusionment and multitudinous difficulties. Only supernatural love, grounded in these facts can make it possible for each man to. go on believing in, hoping for, working for, all men.
There must then be a re-orientation of the mind and heart of mankind. It must begin in the ordinary Catholic.
It must begin here and now, in making use of the daily exasperation of everyday life for reparation.
Rations, shortages, queues. early rising, overtime, anxiety, all small coin to pay down the price of sin. Mortification, not as a spare-time hobby, but a willing sharing and bearing of one another’s burdens, offered, not ostentatiously, but in simple justice, for those in other countries, suffering more than we. In this is the germ that kills depression and braces for good work. In these habitual acts of faith in supernatural, immaterial values, is the cure for our habitual materialism.
In all this there is nothing new. But we have to face evil in this crisis. Evil is not new, it is as old as Adam. I um pouring very old wine into very old bottles. But I ant confident in it, in sorrow for sin, responsibility for suffering. penance. Because, the Mother of Divine Wisdom, speaking to the modern world has pleaded these things to .stem our anguish. At Lourdes, Fatima, La Salem, Bois Guyotte, “penance! penance! penance!”‘ her reiterated warning and pleading to us, to save ourselves.
We have a choice, each one of us, we can, as the poor apostles did before the Holy Spirit strengthened them, sleep through Christ’s agony. Shut our eyes, and minds, to the real meaning of what is happening in the world, to the responsibility of being both sinner and Christian in the crisis.
Or, we can look facts straight in the eyes, see sin for what it is, accept our responsibility. put on Christ. Christ covered from the crown of His bead to the soles of His feet by the wounds of sin.
We can surrender to our mysterious destiny of Christhood, not ashamed of the human, shrinking from it which we share with Him, and by our own lives answer the strange, hut no longer baffling question of the Risen Christ: “Was it not to be expected that Christ should suffer these things and enter so Into His glory?”
Other recent articles from the archives include Dorothy Sayers Criticizes Rerum Novarum and Chesterton the Prophet: Ronald Knox Remembers His Friend.
Cover image: Workmen using pneumatic drills on a stretch of road in the Aldwych, London, circa 1935. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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