I am re-reading Patrick Harpur’s book Daimonic Realities–a fascinating study of the other world from a thoughtful author who is not a Catholic. What intrigues me is how vague and ethereal all other religions are when it comes to the supernatural. They deal in myth and mystical and mysterious experiences of the supernatural, but everything remains foggy and fuzzy. Here a prophecy, there a prognostication. Here an apparition there a visit from the dead. Here a paranormal event, there a demonic infestation. Here a ghostly appearance, there a spooky visitation, a co incidence, a curious connection or an out of body experience.
Catholicism, on the other hand, is concrete, solid and substantial, but supernatural and spiritual at the same time. “Here,” as Bl. John Henry Newman said, “is real religion.” Here is a religion that holds in one person like, let us say, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, the heights of mystical prayer and the depths of washing the sores of lepers in the gutter. Here is the universal transcendence of communion with angels and saints on the one hand, and the ordinary rough and tumble of getting on with your family, your friends and the ‘not yet saints’ who you have to deal with every day. Here is the Divine Son of God, the second person of the Holy and most glorious Trinity who is also the Son of Mary, the burning Babe of Bethlehem. Here is the logos, the energy and power by who all things were made and by whom all things consist who is also present in the most humble form in this bread and this wine on this altar in this church right here and right now at the hands of this priest who is most unworthy.
What sort of paradoxical and paradisaical religion is this? Who would every have dreamed it up? What a mass of seeming contradictions which, when put altogether validate each other and confirm the truth of each and every element which on their own could not stand, but together with the others stand as a monolithic and unpredictable truth down the ages. Next to this concrete and solid religion all else seems like fairyland. It seems like a tiptoe through make believe. Next to this concrete and solid, yet universal and transcendent religion the Protestant sects pale into shallow, emotionalism and inconsequential ephemera. Next to this concrete and substantial, yet universal and transcendent religion the New Age Gnostic sects and the airy fairy religions of the East seem abstract, vague and insubstantial.
There is something solid here. Through the sacraments we have connecting points with the vast ocean of the spiritual realm. Through the ordinary rites of the church we have bridges into the unknown, and little portals to the other world.. Here the ladder of Jacob stretches from earth to heaven. Here angels ascend and descend. Here is Bethel–the doorstep–the threshold of heaven at Bethlehem–which means House of Bread.