For many, the path to Christ is not straightforward or simple. Even those who grow up knowing an experience of Christ often experience doubt or confusion in regards to their beliefs at one time or another. For those who convert or become Catholics later in life, the process of discerning faith can be a deep and complex process, much like it was for C.S. Lewis, whose relationship with Catholicism was as critical to him as it was confusing.
Lewis, the author of the wildly-popular book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, was born and raised as a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland. Growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Lewis saw firsthand the divisiveness that religion could cause and became an atheist at age 15, though he described himself as “paradoxically angry at God for not existing.” He could not understand how such a perfect God as was purported to exist could allow the creation of a world with as much pain and suffering as he saw.
In his thirties, however, he struck up a deep friendship with another notable (and very Catholic) author, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose influence together with the writings of G.K. Chesterton re-opened the door to faith for Lewis.
In Surprised by Joy, a semi-autobiographical account of his journey to faith, Lewis writes that he was the most unwilling convert to ever exist —“picture me alone . . . night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet . . . in 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”
Lewis became a member of the Church of England, much to the disappointment of his good friend Tolkien, who had hoped that he might become a Catholic. Interestingly, though, many scholars qualify Lewis as semi-Catholic due to his largely unorthodox Anglican beliefs, including the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (which he referred to as the “Blessed Sacrament”) his belief in (and attendance of) auricular confession (confessing one’s sins to a priest, who has the power to absolve in the name of God), and his certainty that he was destined for purgatory.
He advocated especially for an ecumenical approach to faith, writing a book called Mere Christianity, where he described the core beliefs tying all Christian denominations together as filling a large hall, and that the specific denominations were like doors one entered through from the main hall. He disliked the official worship of the Anglican Church, initially only attending in order to receive Communion and repelled by the music and the low quality of the sermons; instead, he found companionship with the working men who came in work boots and sang all the verses of the songs.
Lewis never became a Catholic, which many see as an extension of the deep-seated anti-Catholic prejudice he grew up with in Belfast. But his conflicted, complicated relationship with God and the Church can teach us so much about the coexistence of God and suffering, and serve as a beautiful reminder of the reality of faith as a work in progress for each one of us.
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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