On Fire for the Faith at Scotland’s Universities
He is 22 years old, on his way to an advanced degree at one of Scotland’s universities. Astonishingly, he also belongs to a small cadre of young Scots ‘on fire’ for the Faith.
This is all the more remarkable against the backdrop of Scotland’s history of anti-Catholicism and its modern elite’s fixation on atheism. So, what is fueling this modern-day interest in Catholicism in Scotland?
At lunch on a grey Scottish spring day, Regina Magazine interviewed this young man. Like many in his generation, he is wary of blowback from social media. Therefore, in the interest of a candid interview, we have presented his remarks anonymously.
Q. Scotland as a whole seems quite religiously indifferent today. What effect would you say this has had on the Scots as a whole? On young people in particular?
A. In Scotland religious indifference has helped to produce a society in which the family is a dying institution. It is no accident that the state increases in size to take on more and more roles that the family, and also the extended family once performed.
It is remarkably telling that the Scottish government is enacting legislation to appoint a state-sponsored guardian over every child, essentially giving them the powers of parents.
It is also a land of great poverty, and the Church, and other ecclesial communities, are at the forefront of tackling that.
I would conclude by saying that, fundamentally, it is a society that lives without hope.
Q. How do young people in Scotland today view the religious atmosphere of their parents’ generation? Would you say they were concerned with Truth?
A. Though I would shy away from saying ‘Truth,’ young people are certainly more concerned with absolutes and ‘extremes’, one might even say.
I have yet to meet a young liberal Protestant, for example, in terms of theology and morals.
In terms of politics, I see increasing polarisation among young people on the various wings of the political spectrum. Those who are Conservative are right-wing free-marketers. Those who are Labour are died-in-the-wool Socialists.
Q. You’re a convert to Catholicism from an Anglican background. Does that seem odd to the Scottish students you meet?
A. Though, I must confess, this doesn’t frequently enter into conversation, on those occasions when it does it is often a source of interest.
Indeed people will often ask me ‘why’ I converted. In answering that question, I must confess I have never encountered outright hostility. The worst I have ever come across is little more than bemusement.
Q. You are an altar server at a traditional Latin Mass. What drew you to that form of the Mass?
A. The beauty, reverence, history. But most importantly the God-centred nature of it.
Q. Are most of the students who are active in your university group cradle Catholics, or are they converts?
A. Though the majority are cradle Catholics, there is a significant minority of converts too, about 25%. However, among the ‘cradle’ Catholics, a fairly decent number are from families whom they themselves would not describe as particularly devout.
Indeed all have made a conscious choice to follow the Faith rather than simply following it because it’s the ‘done’ thing.
This is one benefit of the secular culture’s relationship with the Church; it forces the Church’s members to take the Faith more seriously and thus live it to the full. Confronted with this reality, we realise that the spiritual life is a constant period of conversion rather than one ‘event’, so to speak.
Q. What would you say is most compelling about Catholicism to the converts that you meet?
A. Most assuredly the liturgy, and by this I mean to say beautiful, reverent, God-oriented Liturgy; liturgy that points to the ‘Other.’
Q. This is fascinating. What is it that turns lukewarm young Catholics into real Catholics when they are at a Scottish university?
A. Though it must be confessed that it is a small number who lose their lukewarmness, I believe that these conversions are a product of the secular culture forcing the choice on them.
This is especially true in the decadence of university cultures where disordered sexuality is frequently thrust on them from every direction. The choice is clearly presented to them — or at least to those who realise it — as the choice was presented to those who were given the chance of choosing Barabbas or Christ.
The second aspect is friendship. I have found that often those who are devout, but badly catechised, will make friendships with other more ‘experienced’ Catholics; they will then learn from their friends.
Also, the ‘experienced’ Catholic can also learn much — perhaps not in terms of catechesis, but in terms of virtue — from the ‘novice’ Catholic.
Q. Are there religious vocations happening among these campus Catholics?
A. Yes. This, I have observed, is also an environment in which the reality of vocations is seriously discussed. Fundamentally this boils down to, and is a reflection of, the friendship we are called to with Jesus Christ — this notion of ‘friendship with Jesus Christ’ being a large part of Pope Benedict’s theology.
Q. What books or films would you say have been instrumental in your conversion, and the conversion of other students?
A. Karol, A Man Who Became Pope, is a great film — for its depiction of the life of John Paul II before he took the Petrine ministry.
Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth also helped a great deal. I would also recommend his Sacramentum Caritatis, his Spirit of the Liturgy, and Introduction to Christianity.
In my ‘conversion process’ I was greatly impressed by the audio tapes of the great Jesuit, the late Fr Hugh Thwaites, SJ. In particular, I liked his Catechism of Christian Doctrine, a recording of this great priest reading the penny catechism, with clear explanations. I would also say that his ‘Our Glorious Faith and How to Lose It‘ and his meditations on the cross and his war memoirs are ‘MUST’ listens. His Catechism tapes helped me to enter the Church.
Q. What experiences would you say have been instrumental in your conversion, and the conversion of other students?
The beauty of the liturgy is one; the first Mass I attended was a Traditional Latin Mass. The other would be seeing mercy shown, and seeing others carrying their crosses despite the most abominable pain.