Ring" was an address given by C.S. Lewis to graduates about to embark on
their careers. In it you will find a challenge to the common assumption that
sex is the strongest of all human drives. Lewis writes that in all situations
in life there is a circle of people who are "in" and that the deepest
temptation is to want to be one of them. He correctly identifies the desire for
intimacy and belonging as far more powerful than erotic or materialistic
desire. "We hope, no doubt, for tangible profits from every Inner Ring we
penetrate: power, money, liberty to break rules, avoidance of routine duties, evasion of discipline. But all these would not satisfy us if
we did not get in addition the delicious sense of secret intimacy."
Anyone who has spent any time at all in a human organisation whether it be a school, law firm, medical practice or toddler group, will know how right Lewis is. But why should this matter? Lewis poses a crucial question;"I will ask only one question-and it is, of course, a rhetorical question which expects no answer. In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most."
He explains; "Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care. That will be the natural thing-the life that will come to you of its own accord. Any other kind of life, if you lead it, will be the result of conscious and continuous effort. If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will
in fact be an "inner ringer." I don't say you'll be a successful one; that's as may be. But whether by pining and moping outside Rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in-one way or the other you will be that kind of man".
Whatever our aspirations of life, falling into this temptation to go with the flow and to drawn in will never make us happy. "Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring
is most skilful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. .. [also] The torture allotted to the Danaids in the classical underworld, that of attempting to fill sieves with water, is the symbol not of one vice but of all vices. It is the very mark of a perverse desire that it seeks what is not to be had. The desire to be inside the invisible line illustrates this rule. As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left."
But not only will it make us continually dissatisfied. If we go with the flow, spending time only with those who give us social advantage or who make us feel comfortable, we will fail in our vocation as Christians. This is so,
whether the Inner Ring towards which we are attracted is composed of Death metal fans, mothers organising charity fundraising events, a small group of other doctors, a group of government ministers or members of a Church organisation such as Opus Dei. (Ruth Kelly ought to read Lewis before it is too late, it seems to me ).
As Christians we are called upon to struggle continually against this most insidious, commonplace and destructive of all temptations. We are called upon to love and include all people, to build a community based on the love of Christ which is blind to ethnic and social background, in which we are motivated not by social advantage but rather by a desire to spread the Good News and to support each other. As Lewis points out, the call of Christ runs absolutely counter to the call of the world and requires of us "conscious and continuous effort." Without this effort, to proclaim the Good News to all comers, to invite all to join us in prayer and fellowship regardless of where they came from and whether or not they are "our sort of people", to make our Parishes homes from home for the whole community where all comers can experience fellowship and the love of God, we will find that all we have left is cliques. There may be no malice intended in this; the people involved may well only have intended to spend time with others they liked, but the net result is an absence of true fellowship and the death of the Catholic community.