By Father Mieczysław Piotrowski TChr,
“After my conversion,” states André Frossard, “all was joy and simplicity: there was God, bountiful joy, and an ocean of light and delight. I was spellbound, filled with a tremendous gratitude toward the immensity of merciful Beauty. God was love, and that love taught me that it was the cause and destiny of all that existed. Every creature existed not for itself alone, but for the Other, for everyone else, starting with God Himself, from whom all things flowed….Relentless self-gazing ultimately leads us to the brink of nothingness, from which we are plucked by some stupendous goodness” (God and Human Questions, pp. 8-9).
Although they took place almost a hundred years apart, the conversions of atheists Alfonse Ratisbonne and André Frossard had many things in common — the most striking of which were their sudden and instantaneous experience of the mystery of God, their discovery of the truth of the Blessed Trinity together with all the doctrinal truths proclaimed by the Catholic Church. Why did André Frossard, an atheist, emerge from his extraordinary encounter with God in June of 1935 a Catholic, and not a Protestant or a Muslim? Precisely because there is but one God, and He revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. God can be known and encountered only in the Catholic Church, because only in the Catholic Church is the fullness of truth about God and the salvation of the human race proclaimed. God is a God of such great humility that He gives Himself to us entirely — His love and eternal life — in the mystery of the Eucharist.
Frossard states that his extraordinary encounter with God involved absolutely no choice on his part. He did not choose the path of faith for himself; even less did he choose the Catholic Church. He was simply, with absolute clarity, given the certainty that the fullness of truth resided in the Catholic Church alone. Only later, when he underwent catechesis in preparation for baptism, did he realize that he had already received full knowledge of the faith during his conversion and encounter with God. It was with utter amazement that he stated that everything he had then received had already centuries earlier been formulated and proclaimed by the teaching authority of the Church.
When Frossard first gazed on the Blessed Sacrament, he discovered the meaning of the word “God,” whose essence consisted in His purest, unselfish self-giving and bestowal of life and pure love upon us His creatures. God was Love, who offered us the gift of existence. Frossard came to the realization that everything in God’s plan of salvation was a gift. Like a little child, he began to rejoice in the existence of God. By way of answering the question, “What is a Christian?” he turned to God in his prayer: “A Christian is he who finds ceaseless joy in the fact that he is not a god, since You Are Who You Are!” (Istnieje inny swiat, p. 83).
After his conversion, it became obvious to Frossard that those who denied the personal nature of God were profoundly mistaken. Therefore he earnestly appealed to his readers, “Do not believe them!” (Ibid., p. 139). He also warned his readers against the evils of atheism, since people who deny God create a world without love, hope, or freedom; all too soon they turn into murderers of their brothers and sisters. On the other hand, those who strive to love unselfishly witness thereby to the existence of God, even if they have not yet come to know Him fully. Frossard’s conversion and witness to life is a call to all baptized people to value the great treasure of faith and undertake the daily effort of living by it.
What does faith give us?
Frossard states that he received the gift of certainty of God’s existence “in the form of a reality that leaves no room for doubt or uncertainty.” Faith, he explains, effects as radical a change in our life as does the gift of sight in one who has been blind since birth or the gift of hearing in one who has been born deaf. When Frossard read the entire Gospel for the first time, he understood that of all the virtues, Jesus most valued the virtue of faith. The accounts of the Gospel make frequent mention of Jesus marveling at the faith of certain people: “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Mt 8:10). According to Frossard, faith is more certain than mystical knowledge, since it is a gift of God Himself; and it is only through faith that we may come to know Him. When a Christian makes an act of faith, when he overcomes doubt and uncertainty in the absence of any emotion or sense of consolation, he takes into himself the mystery of the unseen God, who then opens Himself up
to him, allowing him to enter into a dialog of love with Him. Frossard observes that the way of faith (especially in the early stages) is fraught with many difficulties. Christians ought not, then, to allow themselves to be easily discouraged. Reason is of no help here, only great humility. Faith teaches us that we need to love before we can know God. Many people mistakenly think the converse to be true: that we must know God before we can love. Faith is inseparable from love and humility. Frossard reminds us that for God to deliver us from death, to free us from our enslavement to sin, to protect us from the destructive influence of Satan — humility is required on our part.
Those who contest the real presence of God in the Eucharist Frossard calls madmen. Rather than abide in a respectful silence in the presence of this mystery, they become the most consummate offenders against the Blessed Sacrament. It was obvious to Frossard after his conversion that since its institution on Holy Thursday the Eucharistic presence of the Savior continues to have an enduring impact on the history of the world and is constantly changing it. When the Eucharist is celebrated, the events of our salvation become truly present, for in God there is no past or future but only an eternal “now.” Thus Christians truly participate in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, since these events are constantly made present in God.
Prayer and Holy Scripture
After his conversion, Frossard’s happiest hours were spent in praying in church. He confesses that he found these moments to be “flights of indescribable delight” (Ibid., p. 79). From prayer, he drew an enduring sense of joy. “God is boundless Generosity,” he wrote. He found lasting happiness in being nourished by the Word of God. Reading Holy Scripture, which meant listening
to what God had to say, instilled in him a delight in prayer.
Once becoming a Catholic, Frossard began to read the Bible with heightened attention and bated breath. Such an attitude to Holy Scripture comes only from a conviction that the Author is God himself, that it is His love letter addressed to us, in which He informs us of all that we need in order to be happy. Frossard treated the Bible as the history of God’s presence among His creatures — as another species of Eucharist. In reading it, he contemplated the Word of God and consumed it. He advised his readers, when reading Holy Scripture, to ask themselves the question, “What does God wish to say to me at this moment?” And he observed: “I read Holy Scriptures in the most literal way possible for this very simple reason: that either they are inspired and thus the work of God Himself, who uses us as His mediators; or, conversely, they are not inspired, in which case it is a historical book, like any other, although considerably older, and more picturesque. But then of course we have the scripture scholars among us, many of whom — poor devils! — have no sense of the godly. Locked away in their studies, they are utterly blind to the splendor of God. I refer to those gentlemen who would “demythologize” the Bible!
Ils me font rigoler! They make me laugh! They would make Aesop’s fables out of the Holy Scriptures. They think they make them more understandable, but in fact they render them incomprehensible, of no use to anyone, unless it be for themselves and their university faculties” (Messori, 1997)).
An unseen spiritual universe
During Frossard’s extraordinary encounter with God, he experienced “a Love never before felt — a Love that enables us to love and breathe. That day I learned that we were not alone. I learned that permeating, embracing, and awaiting us was an unseen Person, and that there existed, beyond the world of the senses and the imagination, another world. Compared to that world, our material world, which is so beautiful and so compelling, is nothing more than a shadowy phantom and thus but the faintest reflection of the Beauty that created it. For there is another world. And I speak of it not on the
basis of hypotheses, logical reasoning, or hearsay, but on that of personal experience (Istnieje inny swiat, p. 9).
“This world eludes situation; it cannot be placed within our own perceptible world. Its laws are not our laws. But it exists nevertheless. I saw it with the eyes of my soul. It was like a silent bolt of lightning — a transcendence that revealed itself! — flashing from the recesses of that chapel on rue d’Ulm, where He — who could possibly know it! — remained mysteriously hidden. In such instances the soul sees, with blinding clarity, what the bodily eyes cannot see, be they ever so keenly attuned and attentive. Later the mind’s eye retains a certain sensuous awareness, which I characterized once as “rather heavenly.” I used this phrase deliberately in order to underscore that we are dealing here with a faintly colored phenomenon. In fact, it is a contradiction to speak of this other world in terms of our presently existing one….That other world exists; it is more beautiful than that which we call beauty, and it would be a great mistake to characterize it as inexpressible and bereft of color, as less substantial than our perceptible world….We can only speak of it in terms of images; admittedly, they fall short of conveying its richness and radiance….The spiritual world commands the power of expression and self-manifestation, and this power is, in the truest sense of the word, nuclear: it is the ultimate reality, causing things to be what they are, for that which is real does not consist wholly in the parts of it that can be seen and counted….
“Toward this other world, which springs from the resurrection of the body, we all make our way. There, in the twinkling of an eye, will be realized that essential part of our personality, which baptism brings to some, spiritual sight to others, and love to all. There we will find those whom we thought we had lost, but who are saved. We will enter there not in some ethereal form but in the full vigor of life. And there at last we will taste that ineffable joy which happiness, spreading in ever wider circles, and the revelation of that final mystery — the radiant splendor of God — will increase beyond conceivable measure” (Istnieje inny swiat, pp. 142-143).
“Mystical experience assures us that there is a God after death; and…this will be a huge surprise to many,” Frossard insists. “They will see with the same amazement which it was my lot to experience on the day of my conversion, and which endures to this day, that there is indeed another world: a spiritual universe consisting, essentially, of a light of extraordinary splendor permeated by a tremendous sweetness. That which but a day earlier strikes them as improbable will become natural. That which strikes them as impossible will become utterly acceptable. That which they deny will be joyously affirmed by the power of the apparent. They will see that all Christian hope, no matter how extravagant, is well-founded; that it is not bold enough to convey an adequate image of God’s generosity. They will claim, as I have, that the bodily eyes are not required to perceive this radiance which enlightens the soul; that, in fact, these
eyes hinder our perceiving it; that this radiance illumines the part of our being, which is in no way dependent on our body. How is this possible? I do not know….All I know is that that what I am saying is the truth” (Bog i ludzkie pytania, p. 182). “For we come out of love and then return to love on the strength of faith and hope by way of suffering and death. And nothing can hinder us in this” (Istnieje inny swiat, pp. 145-146).
Scandals in the Church
Frossard’s experience of Christ’s presence in the Church was so strong that the sins and scandalous conduct of some of its members only further impressed upon him the fact of his own sinfulness. It was this knowledge about himself — he writes — that restrained him from “taking the parts for the whole, St. Peter’s holy water font for the Tiberian Sea, and the theorizings of a cathedral canon for the teachings of the Universal Church. That is why I have never felt the slightest temptation to pass judgment in these matters and be the one to cast the proverbial stone.” Frossard knew that the Church was humanity’s greatest treasure, for in her abided Christ who called all sinners into a community with Himself. that he might free them from enslavement to sin and all manner of addiction, heal them, transform their hearts, and lead them to heaven. Just as one of the twelve apostles proved to be a traitor, so it should be no surprise to no one that new Judases appear in every generation.
On the existence of the devil
Asked if he believed in the Devil, Frossard replied, “I do indeed; for how can you be a Catholic and not take seriously a reality which the Holy Scriptures mention 147 times? Let our so-called experts say what they please. Let them talk about “figures of speech” and ancient myths. They do this most of all for their own peace of mind” (Pytania o chrzescianstwo).
Fr. Mieczysław Piotrowski SChr
Frossard, André: Spotkałem Boga, Editions du Dialogue, 1972 (original: Dieu existe, je l’ai rencontré,1969); 36 dowodów na istnienie diabła, Poznań, 1987 (original: Les trente-six preuves de l’existence du diable, 1972); Istnieje inny świat, Wrocław, 1991 (original: Il y a un autre monde, 1976); (1991) Bóg i ludzkie pytania, Kielce, 1991 (original: Dieu en questions, 1990); Messori, V. Pytania o chrześcijaństwo, Kraków, 1997 (original: Inchiesta sul cristianesimo,1987)
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010