By FATHER JOHN CATOIR, CNS | Published March 4, 2004
C.S. Lewis died Nov. 22, 1963. He was a Christian writer who had no peer when it came to challenging skeptics. Though he was a brilliant defender of the faith, it may come as a surprise to learn that Clive Staples Lewis was an atheist most of his adult life.
His mysterious conversion from nonbelief to exemplary faith was a miracle of grace. Such miracles give hope to many Catholic parents who have seen their sons and daughters fall away from the church.
The number of lapsed Catholics is growing, and we need to invite them back. We also need to be mindful of the 100 million secular Americans who never had any connection with the Catholic Church. Our goal is to proclaim the reality of the kingdom of God’s love and joy.
But how do we do this? The secular culture has lost its sense of God, its sense of sin and its sense of the sacredness of family life. Evangelization is more a matter of prayer and personal holiness than of making proclamations from a soapbox.
Lewis wrote in his book “Mere Christianity”: “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most about the next.”
The Lord’s Prayer contains the words “deliver us from evil.” Lewis believed that we should pray with conviction to be delivered from evil powers. The liberals dismissed Lewis’ concept of diabolical influence as “medieval” superstition. But Lewis was realistic. He would not have blamed 9-11 on the devil. He believed that evil is man’s doing, but he insisted that it is not man’s destiny.
He said, “The power of choice makes evil possible, but choice is also the only thing that makes possible any love, goodness or joy worth having.” He urged us to choose love and joy. Pray that your loved ones will be delivered from evil so they may come to the knowledge of God’s love and joy.
Joseph Laconte, writing about Lewis in the New York Times, Nov. 22, 2003, had this to say: “Unlike the cynic, Lewis refused to blame the faith itself for the shortcomings of the church. Instead his writings offer bright glimpses into the moral beauty of divine goodness, what Lewis called the weight of glory. It is the vision of the holy that has produced many of the masterpieces of art and music. This same vision motivates the faithful to risk everything to relieve the world’s suffering: caring for plague victims, defending the rights of children, guiding slaves to freedom, breaching war zones to feed the poor.”
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta comes to mind in this context. Unceremoniously, she did all of the above. I met her three times. When she asked me to give a retreat to her novices in New Jersey, I was thrilled. The thing I remember most about her was her joy.
“Joy is prayer,” she wrote. “Joy is strength. Joy is love. Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. God loves a cheerful giver. One gives most who gives joy. The best way to show gratitude to God and people is to accept everything with joy. Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen.”
“I tell this to my sisters,” she continued, “and I tell this to you.”