The Ball & the Cross & the Bread

[In Chesterton's novel The Ball and the Cross, old Turnbull, the atheist] starts falling in love with a young Catholic woman named Madeleine. . . she finally talks to him not only about his duel, but about the sacraments:

He advanced upon Madeleine with flaming eyes, and almost took her by the two shoulders. “I do not love God,” he cried, . . . “I do not want to find Him; I do not think he is there to be found. I must burst up the show; I must and will say everything. You are the happiest and honestest thing I ever saw in this godless universe. And I am the dirtiest and most dishonest.”

Madeleine looked at him doubtfully for an instant, and then said with a sudden simplicity and cheerfulness: “Oh, but if you are really sorry it is all right. If you are horribly sorry it is all the better. You have only to go and tell the priest so and he will give you God out of his own hands.”

“I hate your priest and I deny your God!” cried the man; “and I tell you God is a lie and a fable and a mask . . . I am sure there is no God.”

“But there is,” said Madeleine, quite quietly, and rather with the air of one telling children about an elephant. “Why, I touched His body, only this morning.”

“You touched a bit of bread,” said Turnbull . . .

“You think it is only a bit of bread,” said the girl, and her lips tightened every so little.

“I know it is only a bit of bread,” said Turnbull, with violence.

She flung back her open face and smiled. “Then why did you refuse to eat it?” she said.

In his own personal experience, Chesterton referred to the Eucharist as “that tremendous Reality.” It was so real, he was so in awe of it, that he only approached it in true fear and trembling. It is fitting that in his fiction he respects it even through the character of an atheist and blasphemer.

Excerpted from Dale Ahlquist’s Common sense 101; Lessons from G.K. Chesterton, which I am enjoying and will be revisiting here throughout the weekend. The above reminds me of this:

We have obliterated the stars with our artificial light – but perhaps we’ve blinded ourselves, too. Without the wonder, the greatness of the galaxies in our sight, we’ve lost the ability to believe in, or expect, miracles. When you cannot see the glory of God’s creation, how can you wish to glorify the Lord? No longer seeing anything greater than ourselves, we turn inward, we worship our own thoughts, our invention, our desire.

This generation thinks of itself as the most enlightened, most informed, most aware, but how can that be? We see the world through 19 inch computer screens, and 40 inch television screens. We melt the sand to create 36 inch windows, and we think that’s as big as the world gets. We’ve narrowed our perspective – made it boxed sized and so have boxed ourselves in. And then we blame God for not giving us miracles anymore – and we blame religion for making us expect them. We are such fools. Thomas Merton had it more right than I had realized when he wrote:

The devil is no fool. He can get people feeling about heaven the way they ought to feel about hell. He can make them fear the means of grace the way they do not fear sin. And he does so, not by light but by obscurity, not by realities but by shadows; not by clarity and substance, but by dreams and the creatures of psychosis. And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about everything The devil does rob us of clarity by casting us about in shadows. But he fools us into thinking that the shadows are light. Our illumination is only illusory.

And this is why we need the Eucharist. As Merton said in The Seven Storey Mountain,

I tell you there is a power that goes forth from that Sacrament, a power of light and truth, even in to the hearts of those who have heard nothing of Him and seem to be incapable of belief.

And too he said, of the Eucharist:

…that tremendous, secret and obvious immolation, so secret that it will never be thoroughly understood by a created intellect, and yet so obvious that its very obviousness blinds us by excess of clarity; the unbloody Sacrifice of God under the species of bread and wine.

Blinds us by excess of clarity. Yes.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Maria Byrd

    Fr. Hardon SJ : Can you speak more about the New Age Movement?

    “The New Age Movement is about, I would say, forty years old, in the United States. It is an importation from Asia and especially from India. And what has happened is that certain Catholic leaders and writers have begun to bring out, what I would call, the non-Christian, oriental, mysticism. Non-Christian, oriental, mysticism. The New Age Movement, as they call it. There is no definite pattern. However, the New Agers, as they are also called, have become deeply influenced by those Christian writers who have adopted non-Christian philosophy into Christianity. And I think the leader of the New Age Movement, who has since died, was a Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton. The name sound familiar? Thomas Merton. I could talk for many hours about the New Age Movement. But concretely, it was Thomas Merton who, in the late forties, that would be over fifty (50) years ago, became a convert to the Catholic faith, and he published a widely circulating book called the Seven Storey Mountain. Thomas Merton, I do believe was never intellectually converted to Christianity. He became a Trappist Monk, became a priest and wrote many books. So his conversion is Seven Storey Mountain. He became very famous, mainly because of his writing. But also, because his ideas, it goes back already to the fifties and sixties. His ideas were very sympathetic with oriental thought. Well, Thomas Merton entered my life when my Jesuit Provincial Superior told me to go to this Trappist’s monastery, which was quite some distance. I was teaching theology and I was told to talk to Thomas Merton, which I did. Our relationship lasted about six months. Thomas Merton had organized a campaign for the movement of what we now call the New Age Movement – meditation. Oriental meditation. At the Monastery of Gethsemene, his Abbot Superior either changed his mind or never gave Merton permission in the first place to start his meditation center – at the monastery in Kentucky. Then his Abbot simply told Merton, you cannot build this meditation center. In the meantime, a great deal of money had been collected for this meditation center. Thomas Merton had left the United States and he died suddenly in Asia by giving lectures on Oriental Mysticism. Thomas Merton’s writings, his New Age writings, have been published after his death and without his Abbot’s permission. In fact, the manuscripts were given to a lay person who has been publishing his books ever since.

    …Basically, the New Age Movement is, I repeat, Oriental Meditation, Oriental Prayer, or Mysticism that has penetrated many Christian circles”.


    [Maria - a few things to note, please...on weekends, especially, I don't spend much time at my computer, and since comments are modified, they may not always show right away. When you enter them again...and again...and again...and again...(really, 13 times?) all you do is tell my spam filter that you are a spammer, and then I don't see your comments unless I'm in the mood to go through my filter, which I am not always in the mood to do. ONE entry really is sufficient. 2) I guess since I often cite Merton and Deacon Greg loves him, then we must all be a bunch of heretics. You probably shouldn't read me, then. -admin]

  • zmama

    “We have obliterated the stars with our artificial light – but perhaps we’ve blinded ourselves, too. Without the wonder, the greatness of the galaxies in our sight, we’ve lost the ability to believe in, or expect, miracles.”

    This is awesome! I just went back and skimmed your original post. I am going to need more time later to really digest it. Dorothy Day and reading The Long Loneliness senior year of college led me to a Catholic lay community working with runaways in NYC. That experience led me away from a career in academia and ultimately completely changed my life’s course. That same experience led me on a journey to Medjugorje
    at Christmas ’89 where, although I came home with a case pneumonia, I had an unforgettable Christmas Eve on top of Mount Krusevic. I did not see Mary or angels-just the most amazing sky I have ever seen before or since-with shooting stars easily visible.

    Imagine my dismay when just this week on a website devoted to Medjugorje I saw an image of the town at night-now garishly lit up by street lights. Sigh.

  • Maria Byrd

    I think that there is something wrong w/ your computer. My comments don’t post. I accuse no one of being a heretic. It is not busines to juge anyone. I am merely making what I thought was an intersting observation. I am not God, Elizabeth. I am a sinner just like everyone else.

  • Maria Byrd

    I will leave judgement to you, Elizabeth.

    [Not to me, Maria. To GOD. -admin]

  • Sal

    Can’t see the stars too well, as we live in the suburb of a big city- but I garden extensively, and that has much the same effect, in miniscule.
    Seed to plant- it never pales.
    Thank you for the heads-up on this new book.

  • Maria Byrd

    I will leave judgement to you, Elizabeth.

    [Not to me, Maria. To GOD. -admin]

    I think you might want to re-visit your response to my original comments.

    [I stand by them. -admin]

  • Maria Byrd

    Of course you do, Elizabeth.

  • Maria Byrd

    Maria -

    I tried to email this to you, but the email was returned to me, “rejected by the recipient domain.”

    Your extremely long comment is not going to appear on my site; I don’t allow ANYONE to leave comments that large. If you have a link to that discourse, you’re welcome to put the url into your comment, and I will embed it for you, but I’m sorry, no one leaves a 2000 word comment on the site. Perhaps you are not aware of it but in terms of blogs, that’s considered something of a hijacking.

    Let me take this opportunity to explain to you once again that the site is moderated. Anything that strikes my program as “off” gets thrown into moderation for me to approve it. I am not at my computer 24/7 so that means sometimes you have to wait to see your comment appear. Submitting it a dozen times simply identifies you to my program as “spam” and then you get lost in my spam filter, and I am not always in the mood to go through that sludge to find a wayward comment.

    So, the best way for you to see your comments quickly posted is to keep them under 250 words, without open urls and posted only once. Eventually my program will learn you are not spam.

    Since you seem to have a great deal to say, and very strong convictions, you’d probably do well with your own blog. You can put one together for free at

  • Maria Byrd


    You are certainly free to misrepresent what I sent you. I sent you several paragraphs. Also, I submitted my comments once. Have you considered the possibility that there is something wrong with your computer?

    Hijacking? I am not a terrorist. I am a Catholic who thinks about things Catholic and this is not sounding very Catholic, Elizabeth. It was a comment. I am confused as to why you feel the need to discredit me in the way that you are.
    Remarks like :”Let me take this opportunity to explain to you ” only reveal unkindness and does not serve anyone well. Your remarks are at variance with your Catholic sentiments. I think we would all do well to remember that people on the either side of the keys are human beings with feelings. Insulting people does not win not hearts for Christ.

    [Okay, now I am beginning to lose my patience. You sent the thing twice, the second time with a "oh, I made a mistake" note. I put it into my word processor and it was 1990 words. I think you're done, here. -admin]

  • Maria Byrd

    2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.

    So we are clear. I am sending this, but once.