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28 September 2014
posted by Canon Dakin on 30-09-2014

Have you heard of Joseph Pearce?  You will have heard of the National Front, that stormy group of Little Englanders who caused disturbances in the 70s and 80s.  Joseph Pearce was a leading member, chairman of the Young National Front and editor of its newspaper. For inciting racial hatred he was twice imprisoned, first for six months and then for twelve months beginning just before Christmas, 1985. He grew up in a home without religion, he was tainted by East End gang culture, he was blindly anti-Catholic, joining the Orange Order because of its belligerent Britishness.

In prison, because of his sparky politics, he was kept in solitary confinement for his own safety. Fortunately he was a keen reader, He explored the prison library - and there he discovered two great Catholic writers - Chesterton and Belloc.  They first of all punctured his politics. He was drawn to their kind of socialism. But it was Chesterton who made the greater impression. His broad common sense brought the agnostic in Pearce to his knees; whilst his goodness and his humour gradually dissolved the racist hatred in Pearce’s heart. He writes: “It is clear to me now that I was attracted as much by Chesterton’s goodness as I was by the truth that he espoused... He was a man alive to love as he was alive to truth... He thought clearly and loved truly.”

Chesterton brought Pearce into the Church. In thanksgiving for his conversion and in homage to Chesterton, whilst working for his living from 9.00 to 5.00, he spent his evenings, over four years, researching and writing a life of Chesterton and found a publisher. Meantime he was attracted by the work of that other great Catholic writer, a man of our time, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of The Rings. Pearce wrote a biography of Tolkien also and that brought him to the attention of a Catholic University in America where now he is a lecturer.

So there you have an example of conversion, broadly treated in the readings today.  Notice that Joe Pearce was drawn not by clever argument - the main attraction was the simple goodness he was aware of in another man.

I have been reading a book about the spread of Christianity in the early centuries. The verdict: “For the most part the gospel must still have had its greatest impact on the level of personal witness and in the practical evidences of good works expressed within the immediate social networks of families, friends and neighbourhoods.” There’s a lesson there for all of us.  

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