It’s a delight to have had two posts from Jessica, and if I might so say, two such good ‘uns – it’s like she’s not been away. She’s always made us think, and these two aren’t an exception to that. As I read her one yesterday it was patently clear that I was in the presence of one who has walked closely with her God. To anyone reading her posts that’s not an occasion of surprise. There was a point when the trajectory of her journey seemed clear enough. I came to this blog from following her progress on the Telegraph blogs, and thought it a clear example of a journey to Rome. Then, in July 2012, in a moving post, Jessica shared with us that she was encamped on Mt Nebo. Now, to those of you familiar with your Old Testament, you’ll recognised her reference. Nebo was the mountain from which Moses was able to see the Promised Land – but he was never to enter it. After long and prayerful discernment, Jessica could see the Roman Catholic Church, but she could not enter it.
It was about then that I began following. I recognised her point of view. My own journey began is the most Orange of Ulster Protestant traditions, and if I’m hard on young Bosco, it’s because he repeats much of the pile of old rubbish about the Church which I inherited and, God forgive me, believed for a while. Back then there was no Internet, and getting hold of reliable information, and of the books written by the Church Fathers was far from easy. It wasn’t until I was a trainee teacher and met my first Catholic friend that the scales began to lift. Without any discernible effort, my friend was the best evangelist for his church I ever met; anyone so patently good and holy could not be a ‘spawn of Satan’. He bore with my fierce anti-Catholicism with more good humour than I should have, had the positions been reversed, and he had a well-argued answer of my every objection. By that, I don’t mean he refuted everything, I mean that he directed me to reading which helped educate me. I came to realise that the early Church had been far more liturgical than I had imagined, and that the traditions which I’d been taught were later additions, were there as far back as the historian could go. Above all, there was his example. He’s dead these three years now, so he’ll not be embarrassed by my saying that his example did more to dispel old hatreds and prejudices than any book I ever read. We took to praying together, and he gave me something I treasure to this day, his own favourite Rosary. When I pray it, as I do from time to time, I remember him; he was a good man.
If my prejudices faded in the light of reason and history, that was not accompanied by any thought that Rome was my destination. In the good old plain English tradition to which I had come by then, I had found God in the way He meant me to find and serve Him. Politics of any sort has never attracted me, and from what I saw in ecumenical gatherings, there was a good deal of it with my Anglican and Roman Catholic friends; they were for ever complaining about what this or that hierarch was doing, and the faction fighting seemed unappealing. None of that was to say that my own little community didn’t have its tensions, but we had our Confession of Faith, and we had the Creed, and we talked things through as the Apostles of old had. We’d no need to wonder what the Latin original of anything said, or whether some grandee in some palace somewhere would lead the faithful astray.
My own journey has remained with the Lord as it has pleased him to lead me. I long ago gave up confessional arguments. Those who have crossed the Tiber, well I have sometimes wished I’d your conviction, but then if wishes were real, beggars would be kings. In fact the closest I’ve come to leaving my own tradition was a long flirtation with Eastern Orthodoxy, with which I find myself in substantial agreement. But my friends there were Russian, and I am not Russian, and cannot turn myself into something I’m not, so, as with the insights I had from Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, I have endeavoured to benefit from them. So, like Jessica, I am on Mt Nebo, and having been camped there these many years, extend hearty welcome to all pilgrims who pass through. Yes, I know you are certain you are on the right path, so are all who pass through – and in so far as all are with Christ, then on the view that he who is not against us is with us, welcome.