CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 September 2018

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Can a cigar-smoking overweight literary scribbler become a saint?

MINNEAPOLIS (SE): Can an overweight literary scribbler like British journalist and apologist Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton, often characterised with a pen in one hand and walking cane in the other while perennially chewing on a cigar, become a canonised saint in the Catholic Church?

While it remains to be seen, at least Dale Ahlquist, the president of the American Chesterton Society thinks it would be a great inspiration to many people.

Coming to the Catholic Church from a Baptist background, Ahlquist told the Catholic News Agency that the idea that someone like Chesterton could be a saint attracted him to the Church in the first place.

“The fact that a 300-pound, cigar-smoking journalist could be a saint of the Catholic Church made me understand what the communion of saints is all about. They’re not just one particular type of person,” he reflected.

Across the world fans of the English writer and Catholic apologist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are overjoyed at the news that Bishop Peter Doyle, from Northampton in England, wants to open a formal investigation into the possibility of the bulky, cigar-smoking journalist for sainthood.

Chesterton was born in London in 1874. He studied as an illustrator, but did not finish his course and began working for a publisher, Redway and T. Fisher Unwin, in 1896.

It was there be began his lifelong career as a journalist, art and literary critic.

At times a superstitious man, who had brushes with and worried profoundly about the movements of the Ouija Board, his marriage to a devout Anglican, Frances Blogg, in 1901 did much to settle his anxiety and develop a more rounded spirituality.

He later joined the Catholic Church in 1922, mostly through the influence of his great friend and often ideological sparring partner, Hilaire Belloc.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of enthusiasm for the move to put his cause for sainthood forward.

“A lot of people have been hoping for this for a long time,” Ahlquist told the Catholic News Agency.

“Chesterton inspires a huge devotion around the world, particularly here in America. There are people who have long believed that he is someone who should be raised to the altars and have already privately started asking for his intercession,” Ahlquist continued.

He made the news public on August 1 during the American Chesterton Society National Conference at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts in the United States of America.

He cited Martin Thompson, the head of an English Chesterton group, as his source of information.

Kevin Jones reported on the Catholic News Agency that Thompson said Bishop Doyle is sympathetic to those who want to see Chesterton canonised and is “seeking a suitable cleric to begin an investigation into the potential for opening a cause for Chesterton.”

Ahlquist added that the announcement caused huge cheering and applause and great emotion at the conference.

“People jumped to their feet, they started cheering. People were crying. It was a great moment,” he explained.

Chesterton lived from 1874 to 1936.

Known for his witty writing and love of finding truth in apparent paradox, Chesterton authored literary essays, novels, poetry, plays, philosophical works and Christian apologetics.

His short stories include the Father Brown mystery series and he influenced the thinking of many converts and writers, including C.S. Lewis. The intriguing conversations of the priest in the series form a complex study of the interplay of good and evil in human nature.

Ahlquist described Chesterton as “an articulate defender of the Catholic faith... very prophetic.”

He added, “He definitely saw what’s going on in our culture with regard to the attack on life, the attack on marriage and the huge economic disparities that exist. Chesterton seems to get it right about all those things. But he does it with joy, with charity and with goodness, without banging the table of condemnation.”

Chesterton was continually at odds with some of his greatest friends, including George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells over economic disparity. He rejected both all out capitalism and socialism, and wrote extensively about what he called distributivism.

Ahlquist believes that the Chesterton cause for canonisation may have received a boost from the election of Pope Francis.

A March 10 letter to Thompson from Miguel Angel Espeche Gil—an Argentine ambassador who heads a Chesterton group in his own country—noted that the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, “Encourages us in our aspiration to see the initiation of the cause of Chesterton to the altars.”

Cardinal Bergoglio, who was elected as Pope Francis on March 13, approved the text of a private prayer for the canonisation of Chesterton. 

Pope Francis was also a member of an honorary committee of a conference for the Argentine Chesterton Society and celebrated a Mass for the delegates. He owns several books by Chesterton.

The first stages of a canonisation cause include collecting evidence of heroic virtue. Ahlquist said that Chesterton’s personal character shows this abundantly.

“There’s a goodness that just exuded from him,” he explained. “The biographical accounts of Chesterton always portray him as being very joyful, and humble and good, so that everyone was just drawn to that, including his intellectual and philosophical enemies. The people who violently disagreed with Chesterton on the issues were drawn to him as a person, because of his charity.”

Ahlquist cited stories of Chesterton emptying his pockets for the poor and showing great love and appreciation for children.

“He would always stand in the presence of a woman, no matter how old or how young she was. He would always make the sign of the cross over a room before he would enter it,” he said.

Chesterton would receive the Eucharist with great emotion, explaining, “I am afraid of that tremendous reality.”

Still, Ahlquist points out that the apologist is not the stereotypical saint, citing his profession as a writer, which he described as being “right in the midst of the heartbeat of London journalism.”

 

Any investigation for sainthood can take many years and not all causes succeed. A Vatican investigation and two recognised miracles attributed to the candidate’s intercession are necessary for the declaration of sainthood.