The marriage of Joseph and Mary

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under the patronage of St Joseph and St Dominic

By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion;
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St Dominic


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Professor Solomon's Introduction to Philosophy

11th September 2001


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“The Faith is never truly held unless it is held in challenge…  The young man must get rid of what he has been merely taught and then rediscover it for himself.  If he doesn’t do that it isn’t really his.  It’s not worth having.”[1]

Like so many other Catholics, I owe a great deal of my conviction about the Catholic Faith not to any priest or theologian, but to a Catholic layman, the English essayist and poet, Hilaire Belloc.

There were others, notably G. K Chesterton, C. S. Lewis—though he was never a Catholic—and Gerald Vann, the English Dominican, who came to influence me.  But Belloc was the first who lit the spark of enthusiasm for that gift which is the greatest thing after life that Almighty God has given me.  I left school after failing to matriculate at the end of 1961 and languished for two years, at my father’s insistence, in a bank—an enduring humiliation for a proud spirit.  Towards the end of this period of servitude, I met again my friend of school days, Ted O’Halloran junior, who invited me to a discussion group that gathered around the Marist priest Frank Callanan of a Friday evening at the home of wealthy Catholic businessman, Ted Beck, in Sydney’s Hunters Hill.  Mr Beck would greet us at the door and see us settled in his lounge room.  On the first or second of these occasions, he spoke of Belloc and of what he called ‘the finest essay in the English language, Belloc’s The Mowing of a Field.’

I bought a copy of the Penguin edition of Belloc’s Selected Essays not long after and read the volume from cover to cover.  Here I grasped the breadth of Belloc’s world view and of the centrality in that view of the Catholic Faith.  Or rather, I grasped that ultimately the world only made sense in the light of the Catholic Faith: as Belloc said elsewhere: “It is the possession of perspective in the survey of the world.”[2]

To anyone disillusioned with the cynicism that passes for profundity in this modern age and who contemplates the possibilility—no matter how remote—of embracing the Catholic Faith, I would commend the study of these words Belloc addressed to Gilbert Chesterton more than 80 years ago—

“The Catholic Church is the exponent of Reality.  It is true.  Its doctrines in matters large and small are statements of what is.  This it is which the ultimate act of the intelligence accepts.  This it is which the will deliberately confirms.  And that is why Faith through an act of Will is Moral.  If the ordnance map tells me that it is 11 miles to Wookey Hole then, [in] my mood of lassitude as I walk through the rain at night making it feel like 30, I use the Will and say: ‘No.  My intelligence has been convinced and I compel myself to use it against my mood.  It is eleven and though I feel in the depth of my being to have gone 20 miles and more, I know it is not yet 11 I have gone’.

“I am by all my nature of mind sceptical, by all my nature of body exceedingly sensual.  So sensual that the virtues restrictive of sense are but phrases to me.  But I accept these phrases as true and act upon them as well as a struggling man can.  And as to the doubt of the soul, I discover it to be false: a mood: not a conclusion.  My conclusion—and that of all men who have ever once seen it—is the Faith.  Corporate, organised, a personality, teaching.  A thing, not a theory.  It.

“To you, who have the blessing of profound religious emotion, this statement may seem too desiccate.  It is indeed not enthusiastic.  It lacks meat.  It is my misfortune.  In youth I had it: even till lately.  Grief has drawn the juices from it.  I am alone and unfed.  The more do I affirm the Sanctity, the Unity, the Infallibility of the Catholic Church.  By my very isolation do I the more affirm it as a man in a desert knows that water is right for man: or as a wounded dog not able to walk yet knows the way home…

“But beyond this there will come in time, if I save my soul, the flesh of these bones, which bones alone I can describe and teach.  I know without feeling (an odd thing in such connection) the reality of Beatitude: which is the goal of Catholic Living.

In hac urbe lux solennis
Ver aeternum pax perennis
Et aeterna gaudia.”[3]

Michael Baker
16th September 2006—Sts Cornelius & Cyprian

[1]  Hilaire Belloc to the young Christopher Hollis (The Seven Ages, London, 1975); quoted by Joseph Pearce in Old Thunder, A Life of Hilaire Belloc, London, 2002, p. 209.

[2]  A Letter to Dean Inge in Essays of a Catholic, London, 1931.  My edition a reproduction by Books for Libraries Press, New York, 1967, p. 305.

[3]  Quoted by Maisie Ward in her Gilbert Keith Chesterton, London, 1944, pp. 403-4.  Reproduced by Robert Speaight in The Life of Hilaire Belloc, London, 1957.  My edition a reproduction by Books for Libraries Press, New York, 1970, pp. 374-5.  See also, Pearce in Old Thunder, op. cit., p. 190.