Dead end

They say that there were no atheists on the Titanic as it sank to the strains of “Nearer my God to Thee”. And I can well believe it for the prospect of impending death tends to focus the mind. But it might not be so nowadays. The newspapers this week reported a survey which asked people what their priorities would be for a good death. High in the list were a pain free death and the wish to be in the company of friends and family. 60% ranked religious or spiritual needs as the lowest in the list of priorities from which they chose.

How different from the Catholic view! For us, death is a climax; it is the passage from our times of trial into, by God’s mercy, eternal reward. Not an end, but a beginning. It is the last, and perhaps most important thing, that we do.

But we all know that we have fallen short. And so we have to rely on the fact that God has gone to the extremes – up to the extreme of the Cross – to obtain our salvation. Death may come as a thief in the night, but not before God has taken every possible step to give us salvation. And he did not pay that price to lose us easily.

So, for us, the opportunity to come finally to terms with our relationship with God is one on which we put the highest value. And there is the great comfort of the sacraments of the Church to make up what we lack.

Yet I am uneasy. I can only speak for myself, but perhaps others will recognise something of this. Why am I relying on a future opportunity to square things up with God? I suspect it is because at the very end of my life I will have little or no opportunity to slip back into my old ways. What price a firm purpose of amendment, when amendment only has to be sustained for a few days or a few minutes?

Over the last month I have been subjected to a crash course in insight. My wife had a very bad fall which smashed her shoulder. Not fatal, of course, but extremely painful and debilitating. She has not been able to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time, and necessarily sitting in a chair. The rôle of nurse, on effectively a 24 hour basis, has fallen to me.

Over that time I have experienced a succession of swiftly changing emotions. Love and care, yes. But also impatience, irritability and moments of straight selfishness. I think I can say that my underlying inspiration and determination have remained constant, but my silent, repeated, reminder “in sickness and in health” has often been muttered through clenched teeth. So I have learnt a great deal about myself.

Now I have some work to do to get closer to where I hope to be at the moment of death. In effect I am asking myself how I would judge me if were I God. I want to start off with any good points I can find. That’s not self indulgence but because I believe that God looks for the good points first, just as I used to look for the good points in my children when their behaviour was foul. Then, the rather longer list of bad points. No room for hopeful excuses — God knows, as I really know, the difference between real excuses and the self-serving ones. The Holy Spirit will nudge me here, darn it.

Then I must construct a plan. As I have written before, I don’t think that trying to improve on all fronts is the helpful way. What I need to do is to focus on one area for a period, and then switch to another when I feel I have made a little progress. And around the circle again. It may take me a little time – to the end of my life perhaps. I shall need a great deal of grace, but then we are promised that on tap. And so I dare hope that, when that final moment comes, I will be a little closer to where I want to be. I do not expect my welcome to be phrased as “good and faithful servant” but I shall be content to find a little room somewhere in the servants’ quarters of my Father’s house.

Can I commend to you the idea of trying to judge yourself as God would judge you? And to see how close you are to being the person you wish to be on your deathbed? It sounds like an impertinence even to try to see the mind of God. But in fact such an undertaking is really a form of deep examination of conscience. Painful but healing.

About Quentin

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73 Responses to Dead end

  1. Martha says:

    Quentin, may I express my sympathy to you and your wife for her fall and the very difficult time that you must both be having, with a hope that her injuries will gradually heal.

  2. St.Joseph says:

    Martha’s thoughts are mine too.

    I am thinking about the man on the cross next to Jesus, when at the time of his death.Jesus said to him, ‘This day you will be with me in Paradise’! Even though all his life he was a sinner!
    At least that is what we presume!
    Dont be too hard on yourself as what I know of you on SS, it wont be difficult for you to enter Paradise.

  3. Brendan says:

    Like the above I offer my thoughts and prayers up for you and your dear wife on the lead up to Pentecost – The Beginning. That is the least I can do as part of being Catholic on a Catholic Blog.
    I will because you ask, indulge myself in impertinence , and In our state of .. sic transit gloria mundi …minute by minute , I find the proposition that treasuring every moment with my nearest and dearest is not only good for my soul in finding safe harbour in this frequent ‘ vale of tears ‘ ; but in putting this build-up of treasure where my heart is – resting with God , the source of my being – I find then little by little myself to be conscience-free to listen to and receive Gods grace in baring myself for examination in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
    This gives me undying confidence that God will judge me favourably when the time comes , now and in my final moments. I am not an academic , and therefore have not formed much in the way of patterns of life to ‘ live by ‘ emotionally/ psychologically to help in this endeavour….that’s just my personality. Perhaps I can mention one of my favourite films…. ” Shadowlands ” – about C.S. Lewis ( immaculately played by Anthony Hopkins )
    It is plain that for all his deep intellect and self-constructed ‘ processes ‘ for living ; he finds ‘ himself ‘ surprisingly – as we all at times can – experiencing a redemption in the sword of sorrow and grief , by the deep love – which he had sought and never found as a boy – of a woman he had just lost and in his new found stepson on which he could give this love away. AND THAT IS THE POINT THAT WHEN WE GIVE IT AWAY – WE RECEIVE. This is God-given , and nothing else can serve as substitute. This is as Saint Augustine says is where we belong. In life even if I don’t already have it ; is what I want to experience on my deathbed surrounded I hope by my loved ones.

  4. Ignatius says:

    Very pertinent this,
    A close colleague at the University I work at recently died young and around the same time I had quite a health scare myself. I look at the thing a bit differently than Quentin, there are many possible approaches to this subject. The death of my colleague brought out discussion of attitudes to death and it became obvious that most people fear the process of dying more than anything else. Against the difficult reality we have little defense but to hope for a pain free passage and so I think most persons, religious or otherwise, will have this perfectly rational desire at the forefront of their minds, I do.
    But death loses its overwhelming sting for us because we know there is the other side of it, also we have good company along the way. For me I learn increasingly that trust is the issue. When I kneel before my little shrine, which consists of an olive wood statue of Christ carrying his cross with the image of the divine mercy propped against it, I realise that my own suffering allows me access to a greater reality. During those times of prayer I am able to draw sustenance to face whatever may come with increased grace…or at least I get a rest from those inner demons of fear/ self criticism/doubt etc long enough to remember who I am. Yes it is necessary to do our best..the best we in fact wish to do but find ourselves incapable of..”.wretched man that I am”, cried the apostle Paul, ” who will set me fee from this body of death? Thanks be to God inn Christ Jesus..”
    All this stuff is completely and utterly real. The failure of our bodies teaches us that.

    • Brendan says:

      I too Ignatius , have knowledge of the nature of personal pain allied to The Cross of Christ , leading to that infinitely greater reality – our home – through experiencing moments of the grace of complete trust in Divine Providence ( sometimes while I’ve reached out in despair. )
      The Church gives us concrete examples over 2,000 yrs . of people like ourselves who have sought and been given moments transformed into eternity , while living and dead ; and too whom we are united to and helped while here on earth.
      ” We adore you O Christ and praise you ; for by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the World . “

      • St.Joseph says:

        Ignatius and Brendan.
        What you reveal is what we call enlightenment a Gift from The Lord..We thank Him for it.
        We pray for those we have it not.
        The world lives in darkness.

  5. St.Joseph says:

    The Holy Spirit is the Comforter the Spirit of Truth, He is sent to teach us all things,
    so we ‘Do not be afraid’!

  6. Vincent says:

    In theory, I should be OK. Round about the age of ten I did the “nine first Fridays” — which required going to Communion on successive first Fridays in honour of the Sacred Heart. The promise was made to St Margaret Mary Alacoque (17th century): “I promise the Grace of final perseverance. They will not die in My disgrace, but will receive the Sacraments (if necessary), and My Heart will be sure shelter for them in that extreme moment.”

    In practice, I’m not sure I should rely too much on this. I hear the echo of the pre-conversion Augustine “Lord, make me pure, but not yet.”

    • St.Joseph says:

      I believe It takes more than that to save us.’it promises the Grace of perseverance,, the rest is up to us to keep it!.
      Then we can be assured of the promise. It must be earned.
      The Lord does not always give us what we want,but what we need.!

    • milliganp says:

      I’d love to believe the promise of the Sacred Heart; my wife made each of our children do the 9 first Fridays after First Holy Communion and at least 2 are resolute atheists.

  7. milliganp says:

    Quentin, you seem to love to plan and manage. My “plan” for the latter years of my life is to become more passive, by just accepting each day, week, month or moment that happens in my life. The willingless to live contingently seems to be embodied in the Lord’s Prayer. I trust in the grace of God that having followed Christ (with varying success) all my life my faith will accompany me to death.

    • Quentin says:

      Milliganp, I envy you your peace. One of God’s better points is that he approaches us as we are. Thus each of us is saved through different routes. I hope we will get more descriptions from contributors of how they personally respond to preparation for death.

      • Martha says:

        Without making too much of a public examination of conscience, I can say that I think about the various choices I have made in life, and the effect they have had on other people. I ask God, in His mercy, to forgive the selfish choices, and the times I have rejected His grace, and not to blame those affected, to sort out the tangles and complications, and in His goodness, to magnify any good I might have done. I certainly appreciate the renewed emphasis in the Church now on God’s mercy, and I think I understand the concept of trusting in Him more than I used to. Taking part in more prayer activities seems now to be a necessity, rather than some kind of pious extra, which sometimes has to be explained to those who appear to be impressed, or irritated.

      • milliganp says:

        Quentin, don’t kid yourself; satan has a thorn for every side. I choose trust and resignation because I know that if I tried the path of perfection he’d assail me with doubt and self recrimination.
        Like yourself I am caring for a wife with a shoulder out of action (her’s was a replacement). I’m probably ‘half a generation’ behind but the experience is still a ‘taste of old age’ and similarly we’ve had some really difficult moments. The best indication that love persists is that I can’t remember what caused the last row for more than half an hour. I feel like a compete fraud having told couples that marriage reflects the inner life of the Trinity.

      • Quentin says:

        Glad I’m not alone! Half a century ago I wrote a booklet called ‘My wife and I don’t agree’. In it, I revealed our formula: we decided that whoever apologised first would be taken as winning the argument. Worked like a dream. Still does.

  8. Brendan says:

    I see the Church throughout its history providing by its God-given mission the means by which the uniqueness of every individual soul can be satisfied on its way to achieving joy in Gods presence ( wholeness/holiness ) . St.Joseph in recognising that Ignatius and myself have opened ourselves, in but two unique ways among an infinite number of ways to Christian ‘ enlightenment ‘ to suit our state of conscious understanding in searching for this same wholeness ( God ) available to all – where baptised and risen with Christ , we are given the Spirit of enlightenment to hold fast to the Eternal Truth that Redeemed and saved the world from self-annihilation, to rise again in Him.
    I have just heard that Ireland has voted to allow ‘ same-sex marriage .’
    ” If you believe what you like in the Gospels, and reject what you don’t like , it is not the Gospel you believe but yourself .” – St. Augustine of Hippo.

  9. Brendan says:

    Thinking about your current ‘ predicament ‘ Quentin ; you like most of heaving humanity like to believe we are in control of everything whether or not it be plain to ourselves or others that we are patently not ! Christianity ( Catholicism ) is directly counter-cultural to this pervasive world view…. and yet in our redeemed but fallen state we continue to misinterpret the signs and delude ourselves into believing we are in charge. To shake us out of this delusion/ human comfort zone we need our received gift of faith along with our ‘ crosses ‘ to enable us to grow in the knowledge of God and to eventually find Him. That’s why for the Christian , ‘ faith ‘ is such a down to earth practical thing , but needs nurturing in growth to realise maturity ( strength ) in union with Christ – our ultimate joy. I finish with one practical Christian lady.
    ” Holiness is not for wimps and the Cross is not negotiable , sweetheart, it’s a requirement .”
    – Mother Angelica.
    No one least of all Our Lord , said it will be easy.

    • Quentin says:

      Brendan, I’m not sure I understand your drift. Are you suggesting that an examination of conscience followed by a resolve to improve means that we believe ourselves to be in charge? Perhaps I’ve missed your point.

      • Brendan says:

        Quentin – No, the opposite is quite true. In the mechanistic sense I think you meant, it would seem ‘ logical.’ However ,logic is defied ! This unique way ( of many ) each of us finds ( as Ignatius and I have sought to describe made clear to us through Holy mother Church ) which befits our own personal ‘ search ‘ for God by the twin Faith and Cross ‘ journey of our souls in this life – the sure way of finding and encountering God through Jesus ( the one who sacrificed himself for us and is alive in and with us NOW ) we lose that sense of being in charge, overtaken by the overwhelming belief in trust in His divine Mercy ( the core of his grace-filled emptying to us which he won for us by his sacrifice and resurrection from seeming annihilation in death ). In His hands then , we are secure in the knowledge that being ‘ in charge ‘ is something which loses the human intensity of fear , apprehension , doubt and is directed by God who is palpably , the one taking charge. This does take prayer and practice ( mechanistic ) but not in a purely self- conscious sense . Remember hubris… it will kill it stone dead !
        The Cross prompts us ; that we continually reconcile ourselves with Him from our sins and is the means by which we move towards that state of perfection hopefully in this life , on death. Our loved ones share in this ,being both observers and recipients of this ‘ change ‘- sometimes bearing their own crosses – by LOVE in which the Church is eternally joined to Him.. St. Paul expresses it simply and beautifully ……. ” It is not I that live but Christ that lives in me “.

  10. St.Joseph says:

    We as children our mother reminded us often to always be prepared to meet our Maker.
    We understood the loss of Heaven.
    There are two kinds of love Imperfect which we love God for our own sake and perfect love of God for His own. sake.
    As we mature in life through all our ups and downs and knowing God more and more-we love Him more and more. He becomes our friend through knowing Jesus.He has been with me all my life in all my ups and downs,I can not imagine living without Him and Our Blessed Mother and all the Saints and Choirs of Angels..
    Therefore I ask The Lord as I do everday whether it be this life or the next, where will you send me, I come to do your Will! Even though, I dont know the time He will call me.As my Scan on Thursday was not how I hoped it to be.I place myself in His Hands.

    • Nektarios says:

      St. Joseph
      Sorry to hear your scan was not what you expected – drop me an e-mail will you?
      You remain in our prayers.

  11. Nektarios says:

    I was sorry to hear of the accident your dear wife has had, and the shock for you too.
    You are very much in our prayers.

    On the subject of the topic: Isn’t death such an extraordinary thing? We only know what it is by association, a dead leaf, or animal or a corpse, something that once was alive, moving, breathing
    now still and the breath has gone out of it. Death lies beyond our thoughts

    Spiritually, we can ask similar questions: Are we alive spiritually, or are we dead? Is our soul alive or dead? Are we full of light or full of darkness?
    As Our Heavenly Father knows all things about us, He will indeed judge us in righteousness.
    As we make our journey in this world are we aware we are not of it, but belong to the Kingdom of God and His dear Son, Jesus Christ? This will in part tell us whether or not we have life, or not?
    I will stop here for now.

  12. Brendan says:

    Come , O Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful ; enkindle in us the fire of your Love !

  13. John Candido says:

    I hope and pray that your wife will make a speedy recovery from her accident. All of the best.

  14. Nektarios says:

    It’s Pentecost Sunday folks and I trust you are being blessed with the joy in the Lord, as some of our forebears were. Choose your own tune to this:

    O the Holy ghost will set your feet a dancing,
    The Holy Ghost will fill you through and through,
    O the Holy Ghost will set your feet a dancing,
    And set your heart a dancing too. (chorus)

    Now out of Egypt long ago the Israelites we led,
    By a might miracle they were all kept and fed,
    Through the Red Sea they were brought,
    the waters stood apart,
    And God gave sister Miriam a dance down in her heart.

    Repeat chorus)
    Now David danced before the Lord to magnify His name,
    In God’s Almighty presence he felt no sense of shame,
    Michal through the window looked to criticize did start,
    She didn’t know that David had got a dancing heart.
    Repeat Chorus)

    Now many folks feel cold and bound by unbelief today,
    They want the blessing of the Lord, but worry what man may say,
    O let the Lord have full control from dead traditions past,
    And He will set you free within, You’ll have a dancing heart.
    (Repeat Chorus).

    God bless all contributors and readers of the SS blog this Penecost Sunday.

  15. Ignatius says:

    Here’s something apt which came from our 8am mass for Pentecost, I found it profoundly moving:

    Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along the Way

    It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
    The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

    We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
    enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
    saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

    No statement says all that could be said.
    No prayer fully expresses our faith.
    No confession brings perfection.
    No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
    No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
    No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

    This is what we are about.
    We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
    We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
    We lay foundations that will need further development.
    We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

    We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
    This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
    It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
    opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

    We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
    builder and the worker.
    We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
    We are prophets of a future not our own.

    Be at peace all

  16. Nektarios says:

    I can concur with much that has been said so far, But I cannot judge myself as God judges, but if as a Christian I am to have a right view of the Christian life and end, we can do no better than look what God says.
    In the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians 1:4 he says: ‘According as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.’

    Let me remind you, this is written to Christians, those who had come to believe in Christ. Are you a Christian really – well this is for you.
    God the Father, has chosen us in Him, Christ, before the foundation of the world.
    We all know the story of the Fall which we have all inherited, but before that, before the world ever was, we who are Christians were chosen by the Father in Him.
    Our Salvation was not some after-thought by God on how to deal with man who had fallen from his first estate and become an enemy or at emnity with God; those who are His, were chosen in Him from before the foundation of the world.

    As God is holy, He calls us to be holy even as he is holy. Like Abraham, we are called to walk before God. How can two walk together except they be agreed? So God calls us to be holy, that is wholeness or perfection and without blame, that is, without any blemish, spot, or stain of sin.
    The whole plan of Salvation, justification sanctification is that the rebel, the sinner, the hopeless
    man, could be redeemed in Christ Jesus, so that we too, will walk before God holy and without blame.

    Yes, we presently have not reached perfection, and such holiness as exists in God is a mystery, and such Holiness of Godliness in man who was a sinner and a rebel, reconciled with God is a mystery.
    Lastly, He has chosen us…. So I rest my all in Christ, in love. What is there to judge when God
    has chosen us in Him. We know we are not yet perfect, but God will make it so. We may rebel from time to time, we may lose our way, but God who has chosen us in Him in love, and will never die or be lost, but walk before Him in holiness, perfect in love.
    That work goes on in us, the desire and love of God is active in us, the desire to be holy and perfect goes on in us, the desire to be without sin is active in us, the desire to walk with God in holiness and without blame is active in us – if it is not, we are not Christians. If it does, then the work of God continues in us till we meet Him face to face, perfect and blameless fefore Him in love.

  17. Brendan says:

    In past readings on Christian Orhodoxy Nektarios ; I have sensed a different , almost ‘ other worldly ‘ ( apparent to me in your last post ) approach to ‘ Christian living ‘ in the present ; which I believe is broadly different from Western Christianity. I understand that you are Orthodox . Can you say a little about the subtle differences between Catholic and Orthodox view of approach to ‘ last things ‘ and our pilgrimage towards what we call Parousia ( Second Coming of Christ ) ?

    • Nektarios says:

      Oh my goodness, you ask a lot within the scope of words allowed on the blog.
      You have stated faith and Christianity as other-worldly correctly. It is, in the sense that it is spiritual and heavenly.
      The main difference between RCC and the Orthodox is more to do with its history geographically. One remained Eastern, and the other progressed Western. There are many similarities and agreement between the two of course, for example we share the same Holy Tradition and the early Christian Fathers. The RCC met as it went Westward with many different cultures that were very different from the Holy Tradition. But they accommodated other cultures and even to a point mixed it up with their Christian position. This in turn lead eventually to a philosophical change they called they called Reason. The RCC has proceeded down this road and created many problems for itself.
      The Orthodox Church went to the West and North into Russia. It was not till much later did they come to West in large numbers, mostly being a Diaspora fleeing from Communism.
      The Orthodox kept mostly to an Eastern mystical view of things, and so much is not gone into, as they could, but leave it as a mystery.

      As to Eschatological matters, there is agreement about many things at least theologically. I suppose the main difference would be in the view of the RCC with regards to setting up an administration for a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth. A careful reading of Scripture would tell one that that literal position is not going to happen like that. This has led to the RCC building up a monolithic structure being both a religious group and also a state and a host of other earthy atttachments to serve Christ when He comes.

      Lastly, Ones pilgrimage as a Christian towards the Second- Coming.
      What I posted above is in part at least, our pilgrimage with our fellow believers in Christ
      until our death or the Lord’s coming again.
      Please read it again. It should be encouraging to a soul that is Christian.
      I hope that is enough, Brendan?

      • Brendan says:

        Thank you for that Nektarios. i wanted to here from the Orthodox mind what I believe , having read about its general belief… ” The Orthodox kept mostly to an Eastern mystical mystical view of things , and so much is not gone into, as they could, but leave it as a mystery. ” As far as ‘ millinerianism ‘ is concerned I take to be settled ( I suppose for the West ) the Boethian logic pointed out to me by Quentin a few ‘ blogs’ ago……… ” [ To God ] one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years to be like one day…” 2 Peter: 3,8.
        I know Orthodoxy has its internal differences ; I was very moved when attending a Divine Worship of the Orthodox Copts in Sharm – el – sheikh a few years ago. Personally, I find this thought comforting, in that the interminable tyranny of time WILL END for ‘ believers ‘ – un like a kind of ‘ waiting for Godot ‘ scenario for those who have nothing to fill the endless void of unbelief – when Christ will be all-in-all.
        I live in prayerful hope that Christ wills our two Traditions into visible Unity.

  18. Alan says:

    Sorry to hear about your wife’s accident Quentin. I hope she is getting better and makes a full recovery.

    I’ve not had much experience with death until fairly recently. My thoughts were almost entirely focused on the person’s life rather than any sadness over their passing. I felt other people’s suffering, but little or none of my own with respect to them dying. For their sake, and for others in the family, I was grateful it wasn’t as prolonged as it might have been. Their life brought back only good memories. With no belief in an afterlife what more could I hope for?

    Not sure where to begin in judging myself by God’s standards!

    • Nektarios says:

      You mention that you have no belief in an afterlife.
      The afterlife is a euphonism for life that continues after one is dead.
      I say, a euphonism because it is not biblical or Christian. It is very much a pagan idea.

      What Christianity speaks of is the spiritual life – we are afterall spiritual beings having a body,soul and spirit and that lives eternally – the point is where?
      After the Fall of Adam,something died within him and the spiritual life was of no use to him as he was alienated from God and his mind was darkened.

      The life he had before the Fall, which we inherit in our nature, man walked with God and communicated with Him. All that was lost.
      I was discussing earlier how God planned man;s Salvation. It was not an after thought to deal with man who had Fallen and become a rebel, but planned from before the foundation of the world.

      When the fullness of time arrived, God in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ was born.
      Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life – that is, He is the way back to God, He is the Eternal truth, and He had come to give man back the life He had lost at the Fall,
      to restore the broken relationship with God. That man, who had become unholy, subject to the wiles and temptation of the devil and helpless, He had come to bring man this Good News, that,” whosoever believed in Him would not perish, but have Everlasting Life.” John 3:16.
      God the Father had planned, before the world ever was, our Salvation. Your salvation, mine, and all who would come to believe on Him as Lord and Saviour.
      When we look into this spiritual life Christ gives, It is an everlasting life, glorious, holy, in Christ, full of joy and peace and where every stain and effects of our sins have been blotted out.
      This life does not start when one is dead, it starts, and must start in this life. If one does not receive Christ in this life, he cannot receive Him in that which is to come. One will remain a rebel from God, remain alienated, and lost forever. Choose Alan, choose!

    • Alan says:


      I don’t doubt the intentions of your post but I don’t know what you are asking me to do. Are you suggesting that I believe something that I don’t believe? Or are you suggesting that I do something practical to “receive Christ” given that I currently don’t believe him to be more than an influential historical figure?

      • milliganp says:

        Alan, it is part of Christian belief that God is knowable both from the inner yearning of the heart for meaning, purpose and justice and the external evidence of creation and that anyone who rejects this evidence has wilfully chosen to reject God. To quote Augustine in paraphrase “God has made us for God-self and we are restless till we rest in God”.
        Pope Paul VI was the first to admit that the cloudiness of human experience could mean that not all would experience this call and Vatican II admitted that those raised in another faith system (including atheistic and agnostic systems) are not necessarily susceptible to hearing the Gospel message as understood by the Catholic Church. The technical term for this condition is “invincible ignorance” which sounds like an insult but is not intended as such.
        Thus as a Christian I believe all are called to know Christ as Son of God. What is at issue for many is how we convince others of the validity of our belief and help others to know Christ as we do.

      • Quentin says:

        Alan, I think we need to be clear here. If you were to acknowledge Christ as saviour despite your lack of belief, you would be at fault. God requires us to follow the dictates of our individual consciences, whether they are objectively right or wrong. Fortunately we have been assured that those who love their neighbours are in fact loving Christ — even if they do not recognise him. As I have written before, the Bernard Shaws and the Bertrand Russells of this world could well be ushered into Heaven (because of their concern for the truth and their fellowmen,) before a holy nun continuously at her prayers. Indeed I look forward, should I make the grade, to some interesting debate with Professor Dawkins. And you and I will have some interesting chats.

      • Nektarios says:

        I gave you a little of the Gospel in my last post to you, obviously you believe your view is standing on solid ground of your unbelief. Then according to God’s word you are, if you continue in unbelief, heading for a lost eternity, separated from God with no hope of recovery.
        Also, Alan, I am amazed at your cocky self-assurance that you are right, and every thing will be ok in the end? Don’t to so sure.
        Let me tell you a true story, that happened in the early 1970s, God is my witness.

        Three young lads turned up at my flat, one whom I had met and talked with before.
        I shared something of the Gospel with them. Two of them thought it funny, and the chap I had seen before stayed silent. They took there leave some time later.
        Two days later, the chap that had stayed silent turned up at my door, his face was ashen.
        I could see He was in shock. I asked him what the matter was?
        He told me the three of them had gone searching for gull eggs on the cliffs near here.
        Two of them fell off and were dead.
        The only point I will make here is this, these young lads who died were given only one opportunity to hear the Gospel, to trust the Lord and believe Christ had died for their sins so they could be redeemed. They never got another chance before they were ushered into a lost eternity.

      • Martha says:

        Nektarios, your most recent reply to Alan, 1.25

        I firmly believe that none of us can know what is in the heart and mind of another. We do not know what experiences, or what type of personality, cause a young man to react by scoffing, with indifference, or with politeness or real interest. Only God knows all these things, and will mercifully and justly receive him or not at the end of his life cut short, It is not for us to judge, appearances can be very deceptive. There are many reasons why teenagers laugh at what they hear, as I am sure you know, embarassment, fear of losing face with their companions, I don’t think God expects them all to know how to cope acceptably with their feelings when they are young and maybe they have not been taught how to do so. As a child I remember a tragedy where a group of lively young men drowned locally. The mother of one of the boys was very much helped by the knowledge that her son had been to Confession earlier the same day, but I didn’t hear any judgements about the spiritual fate of his companions, and we prayed for them all.

        I agree very much with Quentin’s thoughts, 8.59, and that this way of thinking is the real meaning of “no salvation outside the Church.” Many people belong to God and His Church without realising it, because they do the best that they know within their own circumstances, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, and gave you to eat?”

      • Alan says:


        “Also, Alan, I am amazed at your cocky self-assurance that you are right, and every thing will be ok in the end?”

        I’m surprised that you take that away from my posts. I expect, along with everyone that I know and love, to die never to return. In what way is that “ok in the end”? Also, that isn’t something that I am sure of, it just seems much more likely to me than any of the proposed alternatives. It feels as if you are viewing this as a choice between pros and cons rather than one based on credibility.

        “The only point I will make here is this, these young lads who died were given only one opportunity to hear the Gospel …”

        You are trying to impress upon me the possible urgency of making the “choice” or worry me about to consequences of my lack of belief? I don’t understand what that has to do with how believable I find the idea. I might be down to the last few seconds of my life … why should a time limit make Christianity more convincing? I imagine that “sinking ship” encouraging a rush of desperate and hopeful theists rather than a surge of more thoughtful and considered ones.

      • Ignatius says:

        The longer I live the less I pay attention to my own beliefs, they squabble like children and are prepared to fight each other to the death over such great issues as bars of chocolate. Yes it is possible to take action into Christian life….many do. You simply say to yourself:
        “Ok, I know you don’t believe this or that or the other.. but who cares, lets go take a look…”
        The search for truth is a pursuit pretty much independent of ‘belief’ which is so contingent. We believe less and know more as we go on in Christian life and for man the whole thing begins with a leap of faith.

    • Brendan says:

      The fact that you are on this ‘ blog ‘ Alan , tells me you may be searching for something ……. perhaps to fill a void in your life , or a recurring emptiness – or is that too presumptuous ? You seem to have a spontaneous concern for others : a prerequisite to openness in any search . Jesus said…. ” Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find ; knock and the door will be open to you…” Mathew 7:7
      The Holy Bible ( The New Testament ) holds the key to opening that door .

      • Alan says:

        Probably too presumptuous I think Brendan. I am certainly interested in searching for the truth, so if my curiosity about religion and belief leads there than that would be a bonus, but in all honesty I find such beliefs very puzzling. I feel no particular void or emptiness except that of not understanding something which is so compelling/convincing to others.

        I’m content with the things we have learned to date and reconciled to the fact that some things will probably remain unknown. I would like us to answer more of the great mysteries before I’m gone, but can’t realistically expect us to. I could always be surprised though – by science or God.

      • milliganp says:

        One of the greatest problems faced by Christians is our inability to understand the nature of faith. Most of us have been born into our faiths (and a distinct faith tradition) or raised in cultures which presume faith and therefore are incapable of seeing through the eyes of those who have never had faith. It is amazing the number of times on this blog a person of faith has posted scripture as “proof” in an engagement with someone who has no concept of scripture being revealed truth.

      • Quentin says:

        I wonder whether it helps to replace the word ‘faith’ with ‘trust’. Example: I believe my wife to be faithful because all the evidence is there. But it is ultimately possible for her not to be. But I actually trust her to be faithful. That involves choosing or committing myself to her fidelity. So, finding evidence satisfactory to believe in God’s existence etc, I then choose to trust that this is so. And to act upon it. If ‘trust’ and ‘faith’ are interchangeable we can understand how faith is not a passive acceptance but an active commitment beyond simple belief, notwithstanding that it requires grace.

      • Vincent says:

        Personally I think that Alan’s search to explore the great mysteries put him ahead of those who say: “no problem — the answer’s in the book”.

  19. John Nolan says:


    Interesting to hear an Orthodox take on the Catholic Church. Is this the received opinion? If so, it is misleading on several counts.
    1. The Catholic Church is not, and never has been ‘a monolithic structure’. Her apostolic authority is exercised by the bishops in communion with the See of Peter.
    2. Her administration was based on Roman provincial administration and enabled the Church to survive the collapse of the Roman Empire and then evangelize peoples who had never been part of that Empire. Where did you get this nonsense about ‘a literal reign of 1000 years of Christ on earth’?
    3. What do you mean by ‘a religious group and also a state?’ Leaving aside the obvious and insulting connotation of ‘religious group’, the former Papal States were an attempt to maintain the independence of the Holy See when Italy was being fought over by the European powers. The present Vatican City State serves a similar purpose.
    4. Talking of ‘earthly attachments’ the identification of Orthodoxy with the secular power (whether it was the Byzantine Emperor or the Czar of All the Russias) gave rise to the term Caesaro-Papalism. In the 8th and 9th centuries the Emperors Leo III and Leo V ordered the destruction of images (Iconoclasm) which thoroughly compromised the Greek Church. It was the Latin Church which held fast to orthodoxy.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan,
      Yes, we can pick and choose how we see things, what the history actually was and what we believe it was. I won’t debate this with you, as this is not the time or place for it. Only to agree there were many faults on both sides.

      • Brendan says:

        Yes, both of you ; East and West see essentials through a different spectrum of history , language and culture. There is a tendency to ‘ make fit ‘ the facts however lacking in understanding or authenticity. I see in Nektarios and I; while we both ‘ believe ‘ in the same things we ‘ think ‘ differently about ‘ things ‘ ( ? scholastic West v. mystic East ). As always in these situations , both sides need to admit faults either of omission or commission.

    • milliganp says:

      A more recent example of an obvious failing in Orthodox Catholicism was the “canonisation” of those responsible for the genocides in former Yougoslavia by the Serbian Orthodox Church. This does not prove Orthodoxy to be wrong but does point out a serious defect in the link between Orthodoxy, Nationalism and Totalitarianism.

  20. John Nolan says:

    All the same, I can’t imagine a Latin Christian dismissing the Orthodox Church as a mere ‘religious group’, claiming that its sacraments were invalid, or that it is heretical. Yet that is the Orthodox position. Bishop Athanasius Schneider said that in Kazakhstan he encountered more hostility from the Orthodox than he did from the Moslems.

    • Nektarios says:

      Yes, there are some hardliners everywhere, and great damage they do to the Church too.
      The historical relationship between the RCC and the Orthodox has been a rocky road.
      Where one stands in Christian denominations, and Christians have to be together somewhere is important, but of greater importance is that believers inwardly know
      they are in Christ. From that the rest follows.

      • RAHNER says:

        The Russian Orthodox Church is a cesspit of xenophobia and the Greek Orthodox Church is corrupt beyond words…..

    • Brendan says:

      John Nolan – As Catholic I share your annoyance sometimes when our fellow Christians in U.K. in all spheres of life, address us with the heavily loaded term ‘ Roman ‘ Catholic . I slip into it quite easily myself from time to time. Nektarios’ point about ‘ hardliners ‘ is well met ; and of course there are contentious historical documents , no doubt casting each others Traditions in a poor light , lurking in the background after any ‘ schism ‘. Ironically, I would feel more appreciated and appreciative if the term ‘ of the Roman Church ‘ were more widely used – such as may have been used in the not so distant past in High Anglican circles. At least WE would understand the modern nuance and significance today post – Vatican ii ; even if the addressor might not ! I understand that the would Rite is no longer appropriate to address a particular tradition of historical difference within The Holy Catholic Church.e.g. Maronite Church, Roman Church, Greek- Melkite Church ….etc. Of course Rite is continued, to express liturgical difference within Traditions.

  21. tim says:

    Quentin, I am very sorry to hear of your troubles, and will pray.

  22. Nektarios says:


    Now you have to put flesh on the bones of your bold statement.

  23. Brendan says:

    Nektarios – Rahner of course must answer for himself. A brief sweep of ‘ google ‘ does show news outlets from The Guardian to Al Jezeera with of course American input ; on the various alleged corrupt practices ( some admitted to ) by clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church. Also, similar allegations ( not as far as I can see altogether proved ) of a rising , latent xenophobia given at the least , tacit support for The Putin Administration by some of the hierarchy and clergy of Russian Orthodoxy.
    My point is this Nektarios. In the case of Greece ; could it be that the Greek Church has identified too much with The State , and now finds itself in such a ‘ cosy ‘ position that it has lost track of its Divine Mission in society at large. Would it not be desirable for the Greek Church to disestablish itself from the State ? A while ago I compared The German Church with its ‘ cosy ‘ financial arrangement ( derived from past political expediency ) with its Government , as perhaps being detrimental now to its Divine Mission.
    Realising the close links between Orthodoxy and Nationalism ; is the Russian Church allowing itself ( or is in some areas complicit in ) to be manipulated by ‘nationalist ‘ forces intent on isolating Russia from the European political mainstream ,post- Communism ?

    • Nektarios says:

      I too have access to various websites in Russia and Greece and have to agree with you to a certain extent that both have in the past, and presently do identify with the State too much. I see the same in various National Churches, the C of E and the C of S. but the situation in Russia and Greece is very serious.
      Though modified somewhat, Russia is still communist, and it will take a fe generations to change it and the communist mindset that still exists. For example it is easy in Russia for the leaders Church of State to manipulate the masses, they are used to being told what to do without question.
      Greece is now in the hands of a Communist Government administration and it is yet to be seen how that will pan out, though indications so far do not look good.
      While this to us looks obvious, it is less obvious in Africa and Europe and the USA. I wonder if we see any pattern developing in the Christian Churches?

      With that in mind, I come back to the point that I have made previously, we remind ourselves what we are as Christians – whose we are and Whom we serve. Just remember, the soul of man is constituted in such a way it must serve some one or something.
      We are in the world be we are not of it. We understand the world, but the world, does not understand the Christian, in fact, the Christian hardly understands himself, or what God has actually done in him, nor what his glorious end contains.

      • Brendan says:

        Your last struck statement struck me with some spiritual intensity , as ‘ I ‘ reach out to grapple with myself ( as Catholic ). “Be fruitful, fill the Earth… “. St Paul ‘s – ” The whole of Creation is groaning in on act of giving birth..”. as we move towards union with The Creator through the Paraclete.
        As Catholic , this ” someone or something ” is Christ who must be served , and we can ‘ know ‘ His Will for us in so far as we use our God-given faculties to accept the Gift of Grace to expedite His Will ( pleasure ).

  24. Brendan says:

    P.s. Maybe there lies the subtle difference between me and you Nektarios – Catholic and Orthodox.

    • Nektarios says:

      Of course there will be subtle differences, minor differences in theology and religious practice. That should not surprise you at all, perfectly normal, not to be fought over, but discussed and enjoyed.
      The unity of believers is in Christ and nowhere else. The practical out-working of that unity in Christ is, believers must learn to love one another, instead of what we see today, squabbling about our way, our will our, theology and so on.
      We really must learn as Christians to truly love one another in Christ as He has loved us. This made the world sit up and take note, many coming to believe on Christ.
      It matters little the differences between us, what does matter, is what we have in common and share in Christ – it is so wonderful and glorious, it makes such differences pale into insignificance.

  25. St.Joseph says:

    Reply to your comment at 9.30. No reply place.

    Would you say that Baptism is necessary for our salvation.?.

    • Vincent says:

      Baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation, but not for those who, through no fault of their own, have not had the opportunity choose it. And that ranges from central American tribes to sophisticated Westerners. Do we suppose that the faithful Jews who died in the Holocaust were excluded from salvation?

      To find a missing ‘reply place’, cruise upwards until you find the first contribution which does have one. Click on that and your reply will appear at the bottom of the sequence. Try it, you’ll see what I mean.

      • Quentin says:

        Sorry St J. I should have answered this before. Vincent’s explanation is of course correct.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin and Vincent.
        Thank you.
        I know what the CCC teaches.
        If someone said they were interested in Christianity (there are not many in the Western world who have not heard of Jesus although living a christian life.).I would not suggest to them to look at the book , as to find their way around it could be confusing for them.
        . or would I suggest to anyone to be baptized first.
        However I would explain to someone if that is what they seek, to begin with the Baptism of Jesus, And take it from there

        Vincent thank you for the info on the’reply’ I will try it next time.

      • overload says:

        St Joseph,
        “if that is what they seek, to begin with the Baptism of Jesus”
        Can an adult be Baptised in the Church without having also to get confirmed at the same time?

      • milliganp says:

        Overload, RCIA -which is the process by which the unbaptized enter the Catholic church – calls for baptism immediately followed by confirmation after the Gospel and before the consecration (of the Eucharist) so that the newly baptised can receive Holy Communion for the first time at the Easter Vigil.

  26. Nektarios says:

    Church unity as envisaged by the RCC and part of the Orthodox Church, I say part, for that is the truth of those Orthodox that agree with the premise, there are many that don’t.
    I am also well aware that this is just an ecclesiastic unity, and nothing more than that.
    Real unity between Christians is a spiritual matter and exists only in Christ – nowhere else.
    So to answer your question, is it worthwhile pursuing, probably not, but dialog of equals is always useful.

    • St.Joseph says:

      My late husband was Baptised the evening he became a catholic, I think they call it conditionally as he was a Methodist, although never went near a Methodist Church, since we met at 17,he always came to the catholic Church.
      It was thought in those days (,I dont know about now) that the Methodist baptism was not valid, if it did not go over the forehead, so when he became a catholic that is what happened in 2003.
      He was not Confirmed that evening (Easter).
      He was Confirmed 2 days before he died at home in 2006.
      I dont think it was suggested or he may well have chosen to be Confirmed the evening he .converted. Although he was already converted for years but never took the plunge.
      Since then I have wondered if there was a doubt about his baptism how would that have affected our marriage vows. Do you know? Not that it matters now.
      Were we living in sin all those years!
      However they do say ignorance is bliss!

      • milliganp says:

        St. Joseph I was taught that the church regards as valid any marriage by a Catholic in a Catholic Church (with the appropriate dispensation) to a person of any faith. The marriage is deemed to be sacramental if both parties are baptised. The church also recognises as valid any marriage between Christians in their own church (so two Anglicans marrying in an Anglican Church). The ministers of marriage are the two spouses and marriage is effected by the exchange of vows, the presence of a priest is required for Catholics.
        So, in the eyes of the Church your marriage was always valid, if your husbands baptism had not been valid you would still have been married but the marriage would only have become sacramental on your husbands baptism. I suspect that the priest at the time of your marriage would have had to satisfy himself of your husbands valid baptism, so the priest in 2003 was being very cautious.
        Given the many stories you have shared with us about your commiment to family life and the care you have provided for young women, it is impossible for me to think that your married life was every anything other than sacramental form the start.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you for that information.
        I will forget about it now as I often wondered.

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