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He wrote an essay that was published in London’s Illustrated News which inspired Mahatma Gandhi to transform all of India. His writings on the Christian faith were instrumental in the conversion of C.S. Lewis. George Orwell wrote the dystopian novel 1984, but the use of that year was inspired by the author of our saint for the day, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, more commonly referred to as G.K. Chesterton.
Chesterton wrote more than 80 books, contributed to hundreds more, he was a poet, novelist, essayist (having written over 4,000) and at his death, Pope Pius XI declared him a Defender of the Faith (although he did not convert to Catholicism until the end of his life, having been raised in the Church of England.).
He was a big man: six foot, four inches tall and some reports have him weighing in at nearly 400 pounds. He once said to his friend George Bernard Shaw, “To look at you, anyone would think a famine had struck England.” Shaw retorted, “To look at you, anyone would think you had caused it.” It is no wonder that he died early, at the age of 62, in 1936 and it was T.S. Eliot who wrote his obituary and remarked, Chesterton “did more than any man in his time … to maintain the existence of the [Christian] minority in the modern world.”
It seems what made him so influential wasn’t necessarily the volume of writing he put out, but the common sense of it all. A few examples:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
“These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.”
“Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.”
“Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.”
And one I hope to be able to work into a conversation some day: “You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion.”
From our Gospel: Philip brought Nathanael to see Jesus. When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” When Jesus saw G.K. Chesterton walking toward him, Jesus said, “Here is an Englishman in whom there is no deceit!”
My friend Stephen King gives advice to writers: “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” “…throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket.” I can say to you, ‘The Rosa hybrida is Japanese carmine,’ and most folks wouldn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about, or I could say to you ‘The rose is red,’ and everyone understands. Chesterton’s gift was that he spoke plainly with a great deal of common sense. We can learn to speak in a similar manner, plainly and truthfully, so that we can come into a deeper understanding of one another.