Converts’ words on the virtue of charity
This month’s anniversaries include the passings of three remarkable Catholic literary figures who’d once been Anglican clergymen. All three had beautiful things to say about the virtue of charity.
Richard Crashaw, who died on today’s date in 1649, was the son of a prominent Puritan preacher. The elder Crashaw, an author of fiery anti-Catholic tracts, had been among the clerics officiating at the execution of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. The son became a clergyman in the Church of England but converted while in exile during the reign of Oliver Cromwell.
Crashaw’s poetry includes the following lines, in which he addresses religion as if it were a queen:
Open this book, fair Queen, and take thy crown
These learned leaves shall vindicate to thee
Thy holiest, humblest, handmaid Charity
She’ll dress thee like thy self, set thee on high
Where thou shalt reach all hearts, command each eye.
John Henry Newman was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism in 1845. He became a cardinal 34 years later and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
Cardinal Newman wrote a famous autobiography (Apologia Pro Vita Sua) in addition to books on philosophy, verse adapted into hymns, and the major poem “The Dream of Gerontius” (which inspired a symphony). He also wrote a prayer so imbued with the spirit of charity that Mother Teresa instructed her nuns in Calcutta to say it after daily Mass. It ends:
Stay with me and then I will be able to shine as You shine. The light, O Jesus, will be all from You. None of it will be mine. It will be You shining others through me. Let me thus praise You in the way You love best: by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words, but by my example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for You. Amen.
Ronald Knox, who died Aug. 24, 1957, was an Anglican priest and chaplain at Trinity College, Oxford, before his conversion. Like Crashaw, he was the son of an Anglican cleric (his father was Bishop of Manchester). Ordained a Catholic priest, Knox later gained the title of monsignor. He translated the Latin Vulgate Bible into English, and — like that other versatile Catholic convert G.K. Chesterton — became a famed author ofdetective stories.
Here’s Monsignor Knox on charity:
• “If you look at an electric light bulb when it isn’t burning, you will see nothing inside but a rather uninteresting-looking bit of wire; and you might be tempted to say to yourself, ‘I don’t see how anybody’s going to get light out of that.’ But, once you switch the current on, that piece of wire does give light, because the electricity transmutes it into a glowing mass. So it is with suffering in human lives; an evil thing in itself, it becomes a good thing when it is transmuted, by the love of God, into a glowing focus of charity.”
•“Think of a ship outside the harbor at anchor. See how winds and tides drive it to and fro; how it is continually tugging at the chains that moor it. The strain is never eased for long; one faulty link, and at any moment the ship may drive out to sea. That is like a soul that is only moored by the Ten Commandments. Winds and tides of passion sweep it to and fro. And now think of a ship riding at anchor in harbor. … They have hardly any work to do, the strain is so slight. That is just an image of a soul that rides on Jesus Christ.”
• “May our charity burst into flames, and set all around us on fire.”
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