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Joy, not Triumphalism

Catherine Pepinster, the editor of The Tablet, offers some thoughtful reflections on Tony Blair's reception into the Catholic Church (in the Sunday Telegraph, via Rocco Palmo);

I would hope that my fellow Catholics will welcome Tony Blair into the Church, just as they welcome other converts.

That someone shares your faith is a moment for joy, but not for unseemly triumphalism.

There may be some, though, within the Catholic Church, who will not acknowledge this reception with graciousness, pointing to Mr Blairs voting record on issues such as abortion.Mr Blair, no longer an MP and having said during his reception: "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God", may of course take a different view today as to what he believes and accepts on controversial life issues.This is not to say that the Catholic Church should, or does, operate its own whip on certain ethical issues.Politicians, including those such as a Middle East negotiator, have to act according to their conscience and negotiate the tricky path between their own beliefs and their work in the public arena.And yet, all of us who are Catholics are encouraged to realise that your belief is not parked to one side when you are not at Mass.Life and faith are a seamless robe. As he prepares for Christmas, a new Catholic, meditating on the Incarnation, I have no doubt that Mr Blair will feel profound happiness at the step he has taken.And I would imagine that this year, if he sings like so many of us, the beautiful carol In The Bleak Midwinter, its final lines:"If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb/If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part/Yet what can I give Him; give my heart", will mean more to him than they have ever done before.

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As former members of the Anglican communion, my husband and I spent a fair amount of time yesterday parsing Mr. Blair's conversion.I'll spare you the details and simply ask that cradle Catholics who go about reducing Anglicanism to a schism over Henry VIII's divorce to please remember that Anglicanism brought Tony Blair to the edge of the Tiber, as it has many of the rest of us.Mr. Blair would not be celebrating this Christmas with you if his faith had not made him open to marrying a Catholic, if his faith had not made him open to the truth of the Church his wife proclaims, and if he had not been prepared for much of its doctrines by Anglicanism.Mr. Blair is a "catch," of course, and there is a lot of jubilation about his "turning."But he is now in private life, and when the congratulations subside, he will begin the hard work of living the Catholic aspects of his faith (I can't call it a "new faith," because so much of what he believed as an Anglican was already Catholic).I wish for him that his Catholic brothers and sisters welcome him with open hearts. I wish for him wise counselors and the humility to seek them out when he fails to live up to the Church's teachings at all times. Because he will fail, as we all do. I wish for him peace among his family and friends who remain in the Anglican Communion and other faiths. I wish for him to be, with other Anglican converts, a bridge between Canterbury and Rome and their common traditions.I wish him Christians a blessed Christmas in Christ, who did not distinguish among any who sought him out, neither Jew, nor gentile, Roman, nor Samaritan.

I cant help imagining Blair going through the process of a typical American parishs RCIA class on this side of the pond.

Jean"cradle Catholics who go about reducing Anglicanism to a schism over Henry VIIIs divorce"I assume that you intend the relative clause to be restrictive, i.e., to pick out a subclass of "cradle Catholics". That would have been clearer if you had inserted the definite article before "cradle". I for one was never a member of the hypothetical subclass.

My bad. I've a recovering ecumenist and sometimes I say things too strongly about the separated brethren, the most professional, iconoclastic and revisionist of whom I've been playing with way too nicely for my own sanity.I do believe the ecclesial communities are instruments of sanctification. They have some, many, even very many of the means of salvation.

Joseph, I think the lack of commas quite clearly indicates I am not indicting all cradle Catholics, by by all means pretend there's a "the" before "cradle" if it makes you think better of me.There's no "hypothetical" about Catholics who believe and have told me how lucky i was to have escaped from a fake church with fake priests. (Note there is no comma before the "who.".) I miss my "fake" church this time of year, and grieve over my separation with Anglican friends in a way I don't think those who are not converts really can understand.Off to deal with Christmas preparations now, and I leave you to your rejoicings over Mr. Blair, triumphal and otherwise.

Nice column by Catherine Pepinster, as usual. I actually haven't seen evidence of gloating--though no doubt it lurks within the heart of every true recusant papist...I wonder if she was trying to head off any such demonstrations of triumphalism, knowing how they would be viewed in English society. I hope Blair will speak freely at some point soon about his conversion.

Some of the fussalorum re Blair's conversion appears to be politically prompted. There is one oft-heard Conservative convert to Catholicism who is holier than everyone and who has stridently questioned the authenticity of Blair's decision. Ann Widdecombe, for it is she to whom I refer, trenchantly enuerates past Labour Govt policies which have been at variance with the "official" line of the hierarchy - abortion, gay adoption, civil partnerships. I doubt if this woman understands that understanding can develop; she came into the Church at the time of the "ordination of women priests" was accepted in the C of E. And let's be honest - does any Catholic exactly believe EVERYTHING? Apart from the Pope presumably who has the misfortune to have to accept the lot?

Many thanks to Jean Raber for her sensible and charitable contribution to the story of Tony Blair's "conversion" -- if indeed the word can properly be used for the transition from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Perhaps it will help remind us of the need to stress our similarities with each other, rather than our differences. And if there are those tempted to be "triumphalist," perhaps they should remember that we have little to be triumphalist about, and that triumphalism is hardly the point of the Christian message. By all means let us pray for the Blairs; and let us pray particularly for what he might do, in his new political position, to bring about a lessening of tensions n the Middle East.

I second Nicholas Clifford, let us pray for the Blairs. Rather than the triumphalism that Editor Pepinster warns against, Mr. Blair seems to have been subjected, at least in the news accounts (even the French ones) to a round of pillorying. It makes me wonder why anyone ever becomes a Catholic, but grateful for most of those who so choose.

Here's a post from EJ Dionne in the WashPost, cheery about Blair's conversion, with a range of comments--a wide range.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/community/groups/index.html?plckFor...

I guess there are different kinds of triumphalism."Yeah for our team" is always an unseemly stance. Even in sports, the winning team is supposed to be humble in victory. "They played a good game but we were able to execute today and I've got to give all the credit to the fans. Hi, Mom."But I think that the Catholic view is that in the end, there are no teams. There's the truth, and the good. There's justice and peace.Blair's conversion to "our side" is not something to be triumphant about. But a step forward on the path to Christian unity--that is exciting!! Which of these does Blair's Catholicism represent?

Many are not feeling triumphal or even particularly happy about Tony Blair's conversion. At least one Catholic priest proclaims he would have no trouble denying Blair communion based on pro-gay and pro-choice policies he embraced as an Anglican politician, which seems quite amazing, presuming there was a free, full and frank confession before Blair's actual reception at Communion.Comments from the Times story here:www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3086753.ece

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.