The Anchorhold of Our Religion

From “Words of Life,” The Pastoral Sermons, 322-324, (ca. 1956)

Imagine, the next time you go to communion, that your Lord coming to you in the Holy Eucharist holds himself back for a moment from you and asks, “Wilt thou also go away?” Others, whose childhood was not less sheltered by religious influences, others, whose lives seemed not less clearly marked by the traces of heavenly guidance, have forgotten their allegiance and denied me before men; wilt thou also go away? No man knows the force of another’s temptations; the doubts, the difficulties, which perplexed one soul yesterday may perplex another tomorrow; wilt thou then go away?

And the answer: the answer is the voice of Peter, the voice of the apostles, the voice of the universal Church: Lord, to whom shall we go? If we turn away from him, we must go somewhere else — where else? We can only give up his revelation for some revelation more satisfying than his. We can only abandon the Catholic Church for some spiritual home that is more of a spiritual home than the Catholic Church. We can only despise his sacraments if we are in a position to compare them with other sources of inspiration which promise more comfort in this life, more hope in the world to come. Where are we to find such a revelation, such a spiritual home, such sources of inspiration? Nowhere; there is no other system in the world which dares even to claim what the Catholic Church claims. Are we to abandon the Catholic faith for something less than the Catholic faith?

Do not be afraid, for a moment, to look over that giddy edge and to imagine what it would be like for you to lose faith in your religion. Oh, no doubt there would be a momentary satisfaction, to the more indolent part of your nature, to find an easing of that sense of struggle which we Catholics always feel… And we might, for the time being, find an outlet for our energies, a center for our energies, a center for our enthusiasm, in some other movement, political or philanthropic; it would carry us along while youth lasted, while the excitement of it lasted. But the whole fabric and structure of our life would be gone. We should have no standards to judge by, no light to walk by, no hope to live by. We see all that, and we draw back, shuddering, from the edge. We cannot contemplate the thought of walking no more with Jesus. To whom shall we go; he has the words of eternal life.

But still he holds himself back from us; this Guest who comes to us in the Holy Eucharist; he has not finished, yet, with his challenge, he wants to try our loyalty still further. His friendship, we have found, is something we cannot do without. It is not the mere routine of living that would make it impossible for us, please God, to abandon our religion; it is not merely that we cling obstinately to a set of opinions because they are our opinions; it is not mere sentimental attachment, such as fades and dies down with the passing of years. Habit and head and heart, they all have something to say to it; but the anchorhold of our religion is something deeper than that, something that affects the whole of us, not just part of us. If then, the religion of Christ is something we could not do without, how is it that most of us use it so little, live it so little?

Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was an English Roman Catholic priest, theologian, and fiction writer, one of the most influential figures in mid-twentieth century English Catholicism. Originally an Anglican priest, he was the Roman Catholic chaplain at Oxford for many years, and became a well-known apologist, preacher, and writer of detective fiction. His sermon “Words of Life” was preached at Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane, London, on the Feast of Corpus Christi.

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