Saint C.S. Lewis?
Today is the 48th anniversary of C.S. Lewis' death which makes it his unofficial "feast day". Though he never converted to Catholicism, Lewis was very instrumental in my own journey to the Catholic Church. His apologetical books like Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, and The Problem of Pain deeply shaped my understanding of God while his Chronicles of Narnia baptized my imagination.
And I'm not the only one. Many other Catholics cite Lewis as a signpost toward Catholicism even though Lewis remained an Anglican. His beautiful and convincing arguments for Catholic doctrines like the Real Presence of the Eucharist, the existence of purgatory, the communion of Saints, the value of the liturgy, the need for confession, and the value of Church authority have made him a "Catholic Moses", one who has led scores of others into the Catholic promised land though he never entered himself.
Yet why, if Lewis was Catholic in mind and spirit, did he stay away from the Church? Many biographers chalk it up to his harsh Ulster Protestant upbringing which ingrained an early anti-Catholicism. Also, the social difficulties of such a conversion would have been immense. Joseph Pearce has an excellent book on this titled C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church.
But today's memorial begs another important question: assuming he was Catholic, is C.S. Lewis a saint? Well he's not Catholic, so he's already out of contention. And of course a canonically recognized saint needs two attributed miracles, which nobody can predict. But what about the other requirements for canonization? Was his life venerable and filled with virtue? I think the answer is 'yes'. His autobiography, Surprised By Joy, reveals a man pierced all the way through by God's love; his personal letters, with their gentle pastoral care, display the compassion you'd expect from a lifelong priest; and stories from his post-conversion life show how he was completely saturated with the Gospel.
In many ways, he was cut from the same mold as St. Therese of Lisieux who once exclaimed, "My God, I choose all! I don't want to be a saint by halves." Once Lewis became convinced that Jesus was Lord, he knew this truth demanded an "all-in"; it required every part of his life to be re-oriented toward God. As a logician, this complete surrender didn't strike Lewis as odd. He simply saw it as the natural, logical conclusion of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
One episode sums this up. Lewis and a friend were walking down a road when a beggar called out to them. Lewis turned, saw the beggar's outstretched hand, and without hesitating, he rummaged through his pocket and gave him all the coins he had.
After the beggar walked off, Lewis' friend shouted, "Why did you do that?! He's probably just going to waste it on beer!" Without skipping a beat, Lewis calmly replied, "Well if I kept the money, that's exactly what I would've done with it, too."
So is he a saint? Not officially. But his life was certainly filled with sanctity. The simplest definition of a saint is "one who is close to God" and Lewis modeled this as well as anyone after his conversion. Whether it be through Aslan, Screwtape's "Enemy", or the Jesus of Scripture, Lewis always moved "further up and further in" to the Divine. And for the last half-century, Christians from every tradition have been following him down that path.
(One interesting fact: Lewis died in his home at 5:30pm (GMT) on November 22, 1963. About two hours later, President John Kennedy was assasinated in Dallas, TX at 1:21pm (CST) and exactly six hours later, at 5:21pm (PST), Aldous Huxley, author of "Brave New World", died in Los Angeles, CA. Dr. Peter Kreeft has written a delicious fictional dialogue among these three men titled Between Heaven and Hell. The whole conversation takes place shortly after their deaths.)