There is a little quote that changed my life. I’ve written about it before, but the old quotes like the old jokes are the best.
It is F.D.Maurice’s dictum that “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.” I discovered this when I was in my first year of studies at Oxford. I had an attic room in a big old Victorian mansion overlooking the Banbury Road. I was being confronted with a whole range of stuff that was alien to my Bob Jones University world. I was receiving an education in the fullest way–by being plunged into a different country and a different culture.
I was being confronted with modernism and Catholicism as well as a worldly set of values and standards with which I had to cope. The tendency when being confronted with new stuff is to close down, circle the wagons, take out the musket and take aim. But F.D.Maurice’s open minded and truly liberal (in the best sense) little rule change all that in me.
I began to see that much of the Protestant fundamentalist world in which I had been raised was conditioned upon certain negativities. As Protestants they protested. That’s what they do. Too often their views were determined by what they were against more than what they were for. But when they were for something they were joyful, positive good and powerful. When they were against they were negative, sour, condemnatory and it must be said, pretty self righteously foul.
So I adopted this little rule. I would affirm not deny. When presented with something new I would look for what was beautiful, good and true–not the faults. I would give the benefit of the doubt, and I came to realize that even my worst enemies at least meant well. Nobody who is sane gets up in the morning deciding to do evil.
I remember my friend June encouraging me to go to a Benedictine monastery for the first time. What me? A monastery? Surely not. But “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies” so off I went.
It is this which eventually brought me to the threshold of the Catholic faith. Whenever I was confronted with something Catholic like the rosary or Eucharistic adoration I tried to say “yes”.
Does this mean that one lives with one’s heads in the clouds in some sort of naive, delusional mist of optimism?
No. Discernment is needed and a keen awareness of the world’s evil and the work of the Father of Lies in this world.
But it is a pleasant rule of life and it pays rich dividends. If you have this attitude you will not have many enemies because you will have given everyone the benefit of the doubt. If you do not have many enemies you will have many friends and colleagues and this is a good thing that leads to happiness and prosperity. If you have this attitude you will learn to enjoy things you would otherwise have set aside–like Italian opera, Indian food, ice hockey and Bourbon. If you have this attitude you will probably also find that most elusive of treasures and greatest of pleasures: true love.
At this time in our culture and our church I hear of so many who are distressed and discouraged. I see friends drifting in to negativity, becoming hyper critical, retreating into little sectarian groups with their main past time taking pot shots at everyone else “out there”–especially other Catholics.
What a silly waste of time. It does no good. Throwing red meat to an angry crowd only makes them more voracious. At least one becomes discouraged if not deranged and worst of all such negativity may lead in the end to loss of faith.
I believe “Yes” is a pleasant country, and although I do not like certain things in our society and our church at this time, I am not discouraged or downcast. For all this Nature is never spent. “The Holy Ghost over the bent ‘church’ broods with warm breast and with Ah! bright wings.”
God is not done with us yet. The Spirit continues to do God’s creative work in the world. The Catholic Church may be down but it is not out, and if she is being brought to her knees with stupidity, financial corruption, declining congregations, lax liturgy, worldliness, lawsuits and scandals who says being brought to one’s knees is a bad thing in the end?
After all, it is only on our knees that we can make progress in the spiritual battle. It is only when we are lowered that we can be raised up.
So then as now I say “Yes” and am always on the lookout for the good things God is doing.
We’re on the cusp of April, and it is not the cruelest month. T.S.Eliot was just making a joke.
Instead I’ll end with this version of the same thing from that Harvard classmate of his: e.e.cummings
yes is a pleasant country:
let’s open the year
both is the very weather
when violets appear
love is a deeper season
my sweet one
(and april’s where we’re)