A dear friend recently emailed me and the opening sentence read as follows:
This may seem like a trick question to you, but would you like to read Chesterton with me?
He asks in this fashion because I have a bad habit in our men’s group of rather incessantly quoting the great Gilbert. My response was, of course, quite positive and in fact I was so invigorated and inspired by his request, that my resulting letter to him ended up being a bit of a tome. Through the urging of my wife, I decided to post it, in case it inspires any other men out there to begin a similar study.
What a delightful email to have received, for a number of reasons:
First, it is a continuing testament to the importance of Catholic men supporting each other in the faith. I appreciate so heartily that in our group we have fellowship with other guys who take the their vocations to holiness and family life so seriously.
Of course the real test of such seriousness is that when it becomes clear that some new action is needed, we respond to the call. Our men’s group has shown that seriousness by challenging each other to greater accountability and weekly resolutions. And now, this suggestion of yours I do think is yet another important step.
Second, a few years ago the thought of having a “Chesterton” group seemed a little narrowly focused to me. Though even then I had read some of Gilbert’s writings and knew generally of their importance, he as yet seemed to be simply an important figure to be read and learned from among others.
But in the last few years I have steeped myself in his writings, particularly those that pertain to the vocation of the family, and have only just finished reading the long and definitive biography by Maisie Ward. I have lived and breathed Chesterton.
I can truly say now that I understand why there is a push to open a cause for his canonization.
Like one of the great saints or doctors of the Church, he really is one that you could steep yourself in, learn from and imitate. In fact I have taken to asking for He and his wife’s intercession, for in them I find a wonderful model of marital fidelity and love, and in his writings one of the most compelling visions of the full richness and glory prepared for us, even this side of Heaven, in the family.
It is hard to put fully into words, but though I hitherto identified Chesterton more with philosophy and politics, his writings more important “out there” on the level of the culture wars, I have discovered more and more that his greatest triumph, the most distinct and transcendent threads of thought that run through his writings, all lead back to the family – the wonder of the basic human experience of this gifted universe, the glorious call to holiness of every man and woman, and the pre-eminence of the family as both the pillar and peak of human society and the primary place – there in the domestic Church – that God comes to meet man.
Thirdly, to reiterate the first point and your own sentiment: a test of seriousness is whether we take action. However, in the spirit of Chesterton here, in a time of history in which everyone is perpetually tempted to the futility of focusing on that which is beyond their sphere of influence and should be beyond their sphere of the better part of their concern – national politics, the culture wars, the economy, etc – how glorious, how radical, how chivalrous is it for a few, or even two, good men to reject this siren call and to rise to the far greater and ultimately more efficacious challenge of simply sanctifying themselves and their own families? What our world needs is, simply, saints, and saints come properly and primarily from Holy Families, and those striving for Holy Families, methinks, will find no better patron than G.K. (and Frances!) Chesterton.
So, thanks again for this email, and a hearty “yes!” is my answer. Early morning would be best, I’d be happy to host and provide fine and fresh (local!) coffee for discussion. The three books I’d recommend we begin our study with would be “Orthodoxy”, “Heretics”, and “ What is Wrong with the World”, the last of which, as you’ll see, is Chesterton’s great guidebook for the modern family (and upon which I am writing a book about). There are also a couple short fictional works we might read too, particularly “Manalive”.
And lest ye think I have, in my Chestertonian revelry, lost sight of the point and purpose of this study: It is to seek out and carry back to our homes (and to the other men in our group!) whatever will sanctify and enliven our families, for the Glory of God. In a sense one can rarely if ever discover anything new in this regard, and yet in an important way Catholic families must break new ground, for we have few models for how to fully live the Gospel in the family in this overwhelming and distressing age. Like Innocent Smith, the protagonist in Chesterton’s “Manalive”, we set out as husbands on pilgrimage around the world, in our case into Chesterton’s writings, our only purpose being to end up back where we started and there to see our wives, children, and homes anew, in all their glory and wonder.
God be with you brother!