Anne Roche Muggeridge:
The secular and the sacral did not occupy separate compartments in our lives. They were completely, operationally integrated. I remember a conversation with my closest school friend. Sitting on a hill near home, overlooking the sea, in the exquisite light of a Newfoundland spring evening, waiting for the mill whistle and the Angelus Bell to announce suppertime, we discussed with equal matter-of-factness what my grandmother would have made for supper (she was a notable cook) and whether we could follow the example of St. Felicity, with whose dramatic history we had been regaled in that day in school. St. Felicity (whose name was recalled at every Mass until she was discarded without feminist protest at the change) was beheaded in the second century for refusing to sacrifice to idols and for encouraging her seven sons to do likewise. "Take pity on your children, Felicity, they are in the bloom of youth," urged her Roman prosecutor. "Your pity is impiety," she told the Roman, and to her sons, before they went to their various cruel deaths, she said, "Look up to heaven, where Jesus Christ with His saints expects you. Be faithful in His love and fight courageously for your souls." They gave up a life in which they had to die and began life eternal. Terrific stuff, very stirring to the feminine imagination. We thought we might have managed to die bravely ourselves, but could we have watched our children suffer? I didn't know then, and I don't know now.
That story did for us what it was intended to do. It impressed on us indelibly the operational principle of Catholicism: that here we have no lasting city, therefore human acts have eternal consequences, and the soul's honor must be valued above the body's. Contrary to present propaganda, that view was the opposite of tragic. In this light, the Catholic life was heroic and dramatic, romantic without being sentimental, at once hierarchical and egalitarian. The stupidest, scruffiest Catholic was presented with the possibility of moral grandeur. Not surprisingly, Catholic education to this world view was long on martyrs, crusades and missions, all the splendid Catholic derring-do. But the real genius of Catholicism was that it managed to invest the private conduct of the humblest Catholic life with all the excitement and danger of the early centuries of the Church. Its greatest achievement was to make being good look as glamorous as being evil. It convinced us all that the person who bridled a passion, accepted suffering and injustice patiently, endured the abridgement of worldly possibilities for the sake of Christian principles was as grand and glorious as St. Thomas More or St. Felicity, and as eternally rewarded.
It pushed us to bring a moral imagination to bear on personal conduct, to accept the consequences of free will freely exercise[d]. "Take what you want," says God, "and pay for it" ...
One doesn't feel virtuous, just stupid and lonely. With the disintegration of the Catholic matrix, it has become impossible to live the Catholic life unselfconsciously. Apart from the unpleasantness of holding positions against a hostile majority, the joylessness of a society, many of whose leaders have put aside their belief in eternity, affects one with despair.
Now that the heart is broken, Catholicism is an act of the will performed out of honor, and out of love, but it is love among the ruins. One keeps on going to the gutted Masses with their antic priests, manufactured excitement and cafeteria casualness at Holy Communion, and one closes one's eyes and prays the desperate prayer of the agnostic believer: "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief!"