Ask a Question
Paul Fitzgerald: my spiritual journey
Paul Fitzgerald has painted more people of distinction than any other living Australian artist. When away from home for painting commissions he usually lived with his subjects and has done so in fifteen countries. While overseas he painted six royal portraits, including Queen Elizabeth II's Official Silver Jubilee Portrait, as well as a Duke, a Marquess, four Earls, and a Viscount.
The Australian commissions have included two prime ministers, two governors general, six governors, two premiers, four chiefs of the air staff, fifteen Supreme Court judges and numerous sportsmen, including Allan Border, Lew Hoad, Neale Fraser, Bib Stilwell, Lionel Rose and John Nichols.
The following is a brief account of my spiritual journey from being a good Catholic lad to becoming firstly an agnostic and finally a very fervent Catholic.
I attended Xavier College in Melbourne where in those days religious knowledge was a compulsory subject. The boarders attended Mass every morning and we said a prayer before every class. We were taught enough about our religion to keep and practise our faith through a normal life.
However, when I attended Art School, where there was much discussion amongst the students and I was confronted by a great variety of religious beliefs, I found my Catholic knowledge unequal to handling many of the arguments put forward.
These arguments came from three main sources: atheism, which denies the existence of God; agnosticism, which states that God might or might not exist (there is no proof one way or the other); and on the other side of the scale, Christian Scientists who believe that humanity and the universe as a whole are spiritual, not material. They see this spiritual reality as the only reality and believe that all else is illusion.
I think it must have been the prayers of my two sisters who were nuns in the Sacré Coeur Order, or my mother and father, or both, that I decided before completely dropping my faith to see if the Church had any answers to these different arguments. So I would choose a book from the Central Catholic Library in the City covering the aspect of religion about which I had my doubts and see if the Church had any answers to them.
I was able at least to do two hours reading a day back and forth in the tram, and as there was no television in those days I did quite a lot of reading at night. Not only did I find that the Church indeed was able to refute the troubling arguments, but I learned that they had been refuted, sometimes centuries ago, by such early writers as St Jerome, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas and others.
Eventually, therefore, I decided in future to drop my interest in religious matters, just accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and get back to reading non-religious books, mostly on art and politics, as well as the occasional novel.
One thing that did strike me was the observation of Bishop Fulton Sheen that people who hate the Catholic Church - more often than not lapsed Catholics - do not hate the teachings of the Church, but rather what they think are the teachings of the Church.
A good example of this would be the Church's teaching on homosexuality. Many people think that the Church is against homosexuals, which it is not. The Church teaches 'hate the sin, but love the sinner'.
Incidentally, I once painted a Supreme Court judge - Sir Reginald Sholl - who was noted for his painstaking thoroughness in preparing his cases. He once had a case involving homosexuality. Having studied all the aspects of it he was convinced that there are few who are genuinely born homosexual. Rather it is the case that most, but not all, young males who during the age of puberty come under the influence of a proselytising homosexual become homo- sexual.
This judgment was corroborated in a book I read by a barrister who practised in San Francisco. Unfortunately I lent it and it was never returned.
I must admit that my Catholic faith was still not particularly strong; but when I was involved in what seemed to me to be a genuine religious miracle it was greatly streng- thened.
It so happened that our son Fabian had to undergo a serious operation for a large growth on his coccyx. A friend of my wife Mary from our parish church gave her a relic of Padre Pio which she said would help towards his recovery.
As it was a fragment of Padre Pio's habit attached to a photo of him, Fabian could not wear it around his neck as you would the scapular, but rather he kept it beside his bed. One night there was a fire in the house which he shared at that time with a mate and the relic was burnt.
On my next trip to England, as company for Mary while I painted, we took her twin sister Susan Duffy with us. One weekend we spent with Mary's cousin who lived in a little seaside town on the south coast near Southampton called Hythe. We went to Mass at the local church.
At the start of Mass, although there were other places for him to sit, a fellow came in and I made room for him beside me. He was just an ordinary looking man and I didn't take any notice of him until he leaned over, handed me something and said, 'this is for you'; and pointing to Mary, 'and for her'. It was a complete replica of Fabian's relic.
Towards the end of Mass I noticed he wasn't there. I thought this a bit odd as I hadn't noticed his leaving. Although it would not have made any difference to what had happened, but just for the sake of our interest, we thought perhaps the parish may have had a special devotion to Padre Pio.
With this in mind Mary accosted the parish priest who said that most of his parishioners had probably never heard of Padre Pio. That was miracle number one.
Although my faith was very firm I must admit that I was still having quiet doubts about the actual body and blood of Christ being present in the sacred host after the priest's words of consecration.
Our local parish priest, Fr McCarthy, was a saintly man and in those days we'd kneel at an altar rail and he would walk along and distribute the hosts. On this occasion, while administering the host to the person next to me, he dropped it and instead of falling flat, amazingly it rolled over upright on its side to squeeze down in front of me into a tiny gap between the carpet and the facing board, but further enough down to appear irretrievable.
It so happens that I always carry with me in my wallet a kit containing a pair of little scissors, a small knife and tweezers. I was certainly the only person in that church who could lay his or her hands on tweezers the use of which would be the only way the host could be retrieved without dismantling the whole face board.
I was able to manoeuvre the tweezers and without pushing it down into the cavity below - a distinct possibility - withdraw the Blessed Sacrament to Fr McCarthy's very great relief.
My faith was considerably stronger after what I believe were miracles - but it was still a bit weak in some respects. It was then, and I am sure again it was the prayers of my two sisters and the rest of the family, that God put in my path a book by Dinesh D'Souza, What's So Great About Christianity?
I defy anyone with an open mind to remain a sceptic, agnostic or atheist if he or she thoroughly reads and understands this book.
D'Souza takes every argument of the atheists and, without bringing any hint of the spiritual, on their own terms nullifies them. He goes to considerable lengths to give a very fair presentation of the arguments he proposes to challenge.
As an example, he demonstrates how every aspect or development or situation on earth is very accurately set up for the benefit of mankind. He could have quoted Chesterton who pointed out, in response to the atheist's claim that life on earth came about by chance over millions of years, that the odds of the world being brought about by chance are the same as if you took a barrel full of letters of the alphabet, shook them, tossed them onto the floor and they ended up a dictionary.
He could also have cited the fact that all matter on earth contracts when it freezes except water which expands. If water followed the same pattern the seas would all freeze up and man could not exist.
By taking arguments from history, theology, philosophy and science, without bringing in religion but by employing the atheist's own method of arguing, D'Souza clearly demonstrates the truth of God's existence and that He was the creator of the world and life on it.
D'Souza, by the way, believes in evolution, seeing it as the method of God's creation. The atheistic or Darwinian theory leaves God completely out of it. In fact Charles Darwin, who was a most charming person, was obsessed with demonstrating that God played no part in creation.
He was a great adventurer, very brave and gladly put up with living in the most primitive and sometimes most disgusting of conditions in an endeavour to collect specimens. He always believed that future paleontological discoveries would verify his predictions.
Of course the opposite has happened. What they appear to have shown is that the Bible describes human progress to the letter.
Darwin's theory of evolution was by no means original since his grandfather Erasmus, amongst other scientists, had expounded it much earlier. However, because Charles Darwin had acquired a distinguished reputation as a scientist and purposely and deceitfully let it be known that he had recently been forced by the scientific proof to change his mind on evolution, his books The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man have become effectively bibles for atheists.
In his final chapter D'Souza makes an interesting point when he says that it is more sensible to believe in God than not, since the rest of eternity is involved in the choice. Which would you chose?
While obviously there is always room for us to increase our faith, I now firmly believe in the power of prayer and have a strong belief in God and His Church.
Dinesh D'Souza's book 'What's So Great About Christianity?' can be ordered through Freedom Publishing.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 23 No 2 (March 2010), p. 12
|AD2000 Home | Article Index | Bookstore | About Us | Subscribe | Contact Us | Links|
Page design and automation by
Umbria Associates Pty Ltd © 2001-2004