Becoming Catholic means embracing the mysterious

The Resurrection (1457-1459), by Andrea Mantegna

There is much that is mysterious about our Faith – mysterious, but not mystifying nor magical. One such feature is the Christian belief in the Resurrection of Christ which we celebrate every Easter. I have just been reading the little CTS booklet on this subject in their Heritage series, written by the famous Dominican preacher, Vincent McNabb, in 1922. He makes the point that “It would seem that if reason can accept the dogma of the body of Jesus Christ existing with all its accidents under the accidents of bread, there is no great mental hardship in accepting the resurrection of our identical body.”

That says it all. In opening oneself to the Catholic faith it is not a question of overcoming ever more formidable obstacles to reason; it is a question of opening oneself to grace – the grace of humility; a recognition that, as Hamlet remarks, “There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

McNabb provides a useful summary of what the dogma of the Resurrection means, showing how it is “the essential revelation of our resurrection” and how it is both central to the Acts of the Apostles and to all the urgent passion behind the writings of St Paul. We can ponder what it would be like to have a glorified body, to be able to pass through solid objects like doors but also able to be physically touched, and to eat and drink like Christ in his appearances after his resurrection, but in reality it is beyond our merely human comprehension. “He saw and he believed” is the Gospel summary of St John’s response to the empty tomb. He didn’t need to investigate further, to ask questions, to balance probabilities, to weigh up the circumstantial evidence. That his beloved Master had risen from the dead was mysteriously true and that was that.

In the Herald magazine for March 30 there is a fascinating article by Simon Caldwell on the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who became a Catholic aged 70. What I hadn’t known until I read the article was the delightful true story of the conversion of his then 21-year-old niece, Jessica Gatty. A youthful atheist at the time, she met her uncle by chance soon after his conversion. Describing this meeting in the Guardian recently, she commented “I knew he had something. Part of him seemed to connect to something much deeper.” Walking in a garden, Sassoon showed Gatty a petal and said, “You have to believe that someone created that.” His niece reflected later, “I recognised at that moment that, yes, someone had. Siegfried was right.” Indeed, this dramatic conversion led her not just into the Church but, some years later, into joining the Sisters of the Assumption.

I fear that if I attempted a similar gesture with an atheist friend, he would instantly start explaining the botanical origins of petals and their place in the evolutionary cycle of life. Yet I further think that sometimes you have to jettison the arguments and invite the sceptic to make that leap of faith, a leap of humility and trust towards the invisible reality that lies beyond the visible.