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G. K. Chesterton on “Why I Am a Catholic”

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The first in a series of “Lights in the Darkness”

In a modern culture that is adrift, it is good to be reminded of the true, the good and the beautiful. Each week it is my humble privilege to offer one selection from an indispensable canon of essays, speeches and books that will light a candle in the darkness. It is a canon I have assembled over many years that I hope will challenge and inspire each reader. But most importantly, I hope it will remind us of what is true in an age of untruth. And if we know what is true, we are more apt to do what is right.

Why I Am A Catholic, by G. K. Chesterton

“It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it, they feel a tug toward it. The moment they cease to shout it down, they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it, they begin to be fond of it.”

It was 1926 when the mirthful, insightful British writer G. K. Chesterton penned these words. And he meant them. Because four years earlier, in his 48th year, Chesterton became a Catholic. After being raised in an ostensibly Unitarian household dedicated more to living the golden rule than worshiping the Triune God, Chesterton felt the tug, began to listen and then became fond of the Catholic Church. But what did he find? What did Chesterton encounter once within the Church he described as “larger on the inside than it is on the outside.” And what exactly made this brilliant and enlightened thinker join an institution maligned as being outdated and dogmatic?

In his 1926 essay, Why I Am a Catholic, Chesterton would tell us.

The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, “It is the only thing that …” As, for instance, (1) It is the only thing that really prevents a sin from being a secret. (2) It is the only thing in which the superior cannot be superior, in the sense of supercilious. (3) It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. (4) It is the only thing that talks as if it were the truth; as if it were a real messenger refusing to tamper with a real message …

The Church does often set herself against the fashion of this world that passes away; and she has experience enough to know how very rapidly it does pass away …

Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over again forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves …

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