Re-reading Pilgrim’s Progress, prompted by the series here, I am struck by its continued relevance. That’s a word of which, like many, I am wary, as too often it is used as a stick with which to bear those of us who oppose what to use seems like change for its own sake, but which in this context has much to be said for it.
The pilgrimage of the Christian is attended by all the perils encountered by Bunyan’s hero, and I can see why the book has attracted so many readers. It is, at one level, a very strongly Protestant ethos – not least in its anti-Catholic references. I suppose that only a century or so since Cranmer was burned, and a time when Nonconformists were being persecuted, was not one where one could have expected any other tone. But if you put those things aside, then (and I am on part five) there’s not a lot there which any orthodox Christian could object to.
That led me to reflect on what I wrote yesterday, and raised the whole question, left unanswered by Bunyan, of what inspires Christian’s conversion. That’s a hard one at one level, not least in the context where someone else might well be inclined to say (rightly from where they are) that that’s all very well, but whatever it is you’ve been converted to is not the fullness of the Christian Faith. A Catholic, or an Orthodox Church member might say that each of the other, and once you’ve gone there, what then? However elevated the tone, it amounts to no more than saying my lot are better than your lot and you are not in as good a church as mine.
It is here, as in so many other areas, that the Catholic Church under its Popes have actually shown the whole world the way forward, and, although not a Roman Catholic, I am profoundly grateful to Rome – and as disappointed in others. The impulse that ‘all should be one’ is not optional to the Pope, it is an essential part of his mission. One of the places he shows himself to most advantage is in insisting on talking about something many of his own congregation don’t want to talk about.
One easy way of getting anyone going on the Internet is to quote some of the medieval Popes, usually out of context, saying that unless you are a Catholic you’re bound for hell. Well, those who do that need not only to read the context, they need to read something like the Blessed John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sit. ‘To believe in Christ is to desire unity’.
And so it must be. For each of us meets Christ where we are set, and none of us can tell the reason for where that is. If I had been born in Mesopotamia in the seventh century, and I was a Christian, I would most likely never have heard tell of the Church in Rome. Its adherents had never gone where I would have been, and I might have passed a life without knowing its ways.
Where He finds us is where we are – if our hearts will open and receive Him.