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I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

 

Here’s a helpful video that someone put up with subtitles. 

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

It’s a good day to download a free e-book on Mary – Mary and the Christian Life, which I wrote a few years ago, and is now out of print…you can have it!  Go here for the pdf download.

You can also get a Kindle version through Amazon – normally it’s .99 – but today it’s free. Go check it out!

Now for the good stuff, from someone who actually knows what he’s talking about…a few selections from “Father Benedict” – on this feast.

 

2012

The light that shines from the figure of Mary also helps us to understand the true meaning of original sin. Indeed that relationship with God which sin truncates is fully alive and active in Mary. In her there is no opposition between God and her being: there is full communion, full understanding. There is a reciprocal “yes”: God to her and her to God. Mary is free from sin because she belongs entirely to God, she empties herself totally for him. She is full of his Grace and of his Love.

To conclude, the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary expresses the certainty of faith that God’s promises have been fulfilled and that his Covenant does not fail but has produced a holy root from which came forth the blessed Fruit of the whole universe, Jesus the Saviour. The Immaculate Virgin shows that Grace can give rise to a response, that God’s fidelity can bring forth a true and good faith.

 And for even more substance from a homily he gave in 2005 on the feast – it was also the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  It’s lengthy but SO worth it, an excellent reflection of what he has written elsewhere on it (for example, in this book):

But now we must ask ourselves:  What does “Mary, the Immaculate” mean? Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates the content of these words for us in two great images.

First of all comes the marvellous narrative of the annunciation of the Messiah’s coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel’s greeting is interwoven with threads from the Old Testament, especially from the Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is “the holy remnant” of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness.

In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm are fulfilled:  “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67: 7).

She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary’s time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness.

God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled tree trunk Israel’s history shone out anew, becoming a living force that guides and pervades the world.

Mary is holy Israel:  she says “yes” to the Lord, she puts herself totally at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.

The second image is much more difficult and obscure. This metaphor from the Book of Genesis speaks to us from a great historical distance and can only be explained with difficulty; only in the course of history has it been possible to develop a deeper understanding of what it refers to.

It was foretold that the struggle between humanity and the serpent, that is, between man and the forces of evil and death, would continue throughout history.

It was also foretold, however, that the “offspring” of a woman would one day triumph and would crush the head of the serpent to death; it was foretold that the offspring of the woman – and in this offspring the woman and the mother herself – would be victorious and that thus, through man, God would triumph.

If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what redemption is.

What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God’s love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God’s level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom:  only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God’s will. For God’s will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

If we live in opposition to love and against the truth – in opposition to God – then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.

We call this drop of poison “original sin”. Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life:  the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles – the tempter – is right when he says he is the power “that always wants evil and always does good” (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception:  the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.

For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness.

In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.

As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God’s goodness came very close to us.

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Repost from last year, but Newman is always worth revisiting. 

The first Sunday is Advent is coming, so let’s prepare for the preparation.

The Scripture readings speak to us of what God promises his faithful ones, and of the need to prepare, for that is what we do during this season: prepare for his coming.

There is no lack of resources for keeping ourselves spiritually grounded during this season, even if we are having to battle all sorts of distractions, ranging from early-onset-Christmas settling in all around us to  the temptation to obsessively follow the news, which seems to never stop, never leave us alone.

Begin with the Church. Begin and end with the Church, if you like. Starting and ending your day with what Catholics around the world are praying during this season: the Scripture readings from Mass, and whatever aspects of daily prayer you can manage – that’s the best place to begin and is sufficient.

I found this wonderful, even moving homily from Newman, centered on worship as preparation for the Advent of God. The spiritual and concrete landscape that is his setting is particular to England in the early winter and might not resonate with those of us living, say, in the Sun Belt or in Australia, but nonetheless, perhaps the end-of-the-year weariness he describes might seem familiar, even if the dreary weather does not. I’ll quote from it copiously here, but it deserves a slow, meditative read. 

YEAR after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season. The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befall us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out: spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life. The days have {2} come in which they have no pleasure; yet they would hardly be young again, could they be so by wishing it. Life is well enough in its way; but it does not satisfy. Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future, and in proportion as its conscience is clear and its perception keen and true, does it rejoice solemnly that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand,” that there are “new heavens and a new earth” to come, though the former are failing; nay, rather that, because they are failing, it will “soon see the King in His beauty,” and “behold the land which is very far off.” These are feelings for holy men in winter and in age, waiting, in some dejection perhaps, but with comfort on the whole, and calmly though earnestly, for the Advent of Christ.

And such, too, are the feelings with which we now come before Him in prayer day by day. The season is chill and dark, and the breath of the morning is damp, and worshippers are few, but all this befits those who are by profession penitents and mourners, watchers and pilgrims. More dear to them that loneliness, more cheerful that severity, and more bright that gloom, than all those aids and appliances of luxury by which men nowadays attempt to make prayer less disagreeable to them. True faith does not covet comforts. It only complains when it is forbidden to kneel, when it reclines upon cushions, is protected by curtains, and encompassed by warmth. Its only hardship is to be hindered, or to be ridiculed, when it would place itself as a sinner before its Judge. They who realize that awful Day when they shall see Him face to face, whose {3} eyes are as a flame of fire, will as little bargain to pray pleasantly now, as they will think of doing so then….

….We cannot have fitter reflections at this Season than those which I have entered upon. What may be the destiny of other orders of beings we know not;—but this we know to be our own fearful lot, that before us lies a time when we must have the sight of our Maker and Lord face to face. We know not what is reserved for other beings; there may be some, which, knowing nothing of their Maker, are never to be brought before Him. For what we can tell, this may be the case with the brute creation. It may be the law of their nature that they should live and die, or live on an indefinite period, upon the very outskirts of His government, sustained by Him, but never permitted to know or approach Him. But this is not our case. We are destined to come before Him; nay, and to come before Him in judgment; and that on our first meeting; and that suddenly. We are not merely to be rewarded or {4} punished, we are to be judged. Recompense is to come upon our actions, not by a mere general provision or course of nature, as it does at present, but from the Lawgiver Himself in person. We have to stand before His righteous Presence, and that one by one. One by one we shall have to endure His holy and searching eye. At present we are in a world of shadows. What we see is not substantial. Suddenly it will be rent in twain and vanish away, and our Maker will appear. And then, I say, that first appearance will be nothing less than a personal intercourse between the Creator and every creature. He will look on us, while we look on Him.

….Men sometimes ask, Why need they profess religion? Why need they go to church? Why need they observe certain rites and ceremonies? Why need they watch, pray, fast, and meditate? Why is it not enough to be just, honest, sober, benevolent, and otherwise virtuous? Is not this the true and real worship of God? Is not activity in mind and conduct the most acceptable way of approaching Him? How can they please Him by submitting to certain religious forms, and taking part in certain religious acts? Or if they must do so, why may they not choose their own? Why must they come to church for them? Why must they be partakers in what the Church calls Sacraments? I answer, they must do so, first of all and especially, because God tells them so to do. But besides this, I observe that we see this plain reason {8} why, that they are one day to change their state of being. They are not to be here for ever. Direct intercourse with God on their part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to their meeting Him suitably hereafter: and direct intercourse on His part with them, or what we call sacramental communion, may be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing their very nature to bear the sight of Him.

Let us then take this view of religious service; it is “going out to meet the Bridegroom,” who, if not seen “in His beauty,” will appear in consuming fire. Besides its other momentous reasons, it is a preparation for an awful event, which shall one day be. What it would be to meet Christ at once without preparation, we may learn from what happened even to the Apostles when His glory was suddenly manifested to them. St. Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And St. John, “when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead.” [Luke v. 8. Rev. i. 17.]….

…. It is my desire and hope one day to take possession of my inheritance: and I come to make myself ready for it, and I would not see heaven yet, for I could not bear to see it. I am allowed to be in it without seeing it, that I may learn to see it. And by psalm and sacred song, by confession and by praise, I learn my part.

And what is true of the ordinary services of religion, public and private, holds in a still higher or rather in a special way, as regards the sacramental ordinances of the Church. In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now. A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next. We mortal men range up and down it, to and fro, and see nothing. There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed; it remains, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face. We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. {11} Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it spake of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave. Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged,—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready….

…And what I have said concerning Ordinances, applies still more fully to Holy Seasons, which include in them the celebration of many Ordinances. They are times {12} when we may humbly expect a larger grace, because they invite us especially to the means of grace. This in particular is a time for purification of every kind. When Almighty God was to descend upon Mount Sinai, Moses was told to “sanctify the people,” and bid them “wash their clothes,” and to “set bounds to them round about:” much more is this a season for “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;” [Exod. xix. 10-12. 2 Cor. xii. 1.] a season for chastened hearts and religious eyes; for severe thoughts, and austere resolves, and charitable deeds; a season for remembering what we are and what we shall be. Let us go out to meet Him with contrite and expectant hearts; and though He delays His coming, let us watch for Him in the cold and dreariness which must one day have an end. Attend His summons we must, at any rate, when He strips us of the body; let us anticipate, by a voluntary act, what will one day come on us of necessity. Let us wait for Him solemnly, fearfully, hopefully, patiently, obediently; let us be resigned to His will, while active in good works. Let us pray Him ever, to “remember us when He cometh in His kingdom;” to remember all our friends; to remember our enemies; and to visit us according to His mercy here, that He may reward us according to His righteousness hereafter.

From a 1945 9th grade religion textbook, Our Quest for Happiness: the Story of Divine Love

 

Expectation or waiting is a dimension that flows through our whole personal, family and social existence. Expectation is present in thousands of situations, from the smallest and most banal to the most important that involve us completely and in our depths. Among these, let us think of waiting for a child, on the part of a husband and wife; of waiting for a relative or friend who is coming from far away to visit us; let us think, for a young person, of waiting to know his results in a crucially important examination or of the outcome of a job interview; in emotional relationships, of waiting to meet the beloved, of waiting for the answer to a letter, or for the acceptance of forgiveness…. One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.           -B16, 2010

 

 

 

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

-Anne Ridler (1912-2001) , who introduces the poem: 

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Links to good commentaries on the readings of Advent are at the blog called The Dim Bulb. Excellent. 

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amy_welbornWell, good morning. I’m going to have a couple of other posts up this morning, so this truly will be a digest without rabbit trails. I’ll force the rabbit trails onto the other posts.

Let’s start with:

Writing: I put the finishing touches on a longish short story called The Absence of War that I’ve posted for sale as an Amazon Kindle ebook – it clocks in at 7000 words or so, so you might get your .99 worth! 

Steve McEvoy has kindly reviewed it here. Go to Steve’s site and enjoy his many many reviews of books. It’s an invaluable site.

What touched me most, and to be honest will have a lasting impact is the sense of other. Or to be more specific the recognition of other, not our impression, and kindle covermemories, but a true encounter. It is not said, but what it reminds me of is the passage ‘Lord open my eyes to see.’. And that is what the story has done, helped me to see differently. 

An excellent story. More than worth the price and time to read. And I can only hope that Mrs. Welborn decides to share more of her fiction with us, If it is as good as this it will be a treat indeed!

Thanks, Steve!

(Steve has also reviewed my son’s short story collections and novel here.)

Over the next week, I’m probably going to put up a novel I wrote a few years back. I’ve gone back and forth about what to do with this book. I actually had an agent agree to represent it and she worked hard to sell it, but obviously without success. But why not just self-published and get it, too, out of my brain and into yours?

I’m also working on another short story. And I have a project due in early January that I finished a solid first draft of mid-summer that it’s time to pick up and revise- that’s what I told myself I’d spend December doing, and wow…it’s almost here.

Reading:  Besides post-election and USCCB stuff, mostly J.F. Powers short fiction, and re-reading for the fifth time or so David Lodge’s Souls and Bodies. Read all the bloggers you want, if you really want to even begin to understand the Church (in the U.S. and England at least…) over the past fifty or sixty years and didn’t live through it yourself, these two are really the way to go.

(Along with Frank Sheed’s The Church and I.)

Oh, also reading TripAdvisor forums on a destination to which we’re traveling this weekend. It will just be for the weekend, and we’ll be in town most of Thanksgiving break, but I’m taking advantage of new direct fares from a discount airline to a place we’ve never been – it will be a quick trip, but, since it will be new to all of us and cheap, hopefully worth the time and money spent! Check out Instagram this weekend for the updates on that. 

Watching: Almost halfway through the last season of Breaking Bad with the guys. Not anything besides that for me.

Listening: Since last we spoke, the daily watch/listening of We are the World has continued apace for some reason, along with other random 70’s and 80’s music videos.

I listened to my son play his Beethoven at his recital – Instagram selection here – and listen to practice organ at various churches around town (we’re up to three different practice venues now – 2 Catholic and 1 Methodist) and to him play with his jazz assignments on his keyboard.

Kind of boring, but it’s 7:21 and so thanks for participating in my early-morning writing exercises….

 

 

 

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All right, folks, here’s a story for you.

We can call it a “short story,” but it clocks in around seven thousand words, so maybe not.

kindle coverWhen I finished this a few weeks ago, I wondered what to do with it. I thought I might submit it to a journal or competition. I did send it out to a few friends, most of whom have read it, I believe.

But then, I decided, eh. Just publish it. Get it out there. Move on. 

Which I have – now working on something which will be much shorter and hopefully a little sharper.

Of course, I can probably use an editor. It could use fine-tuning and questions and honing.

But guess what? I’m not 25 or 32, just starting this stuff. I’m 58 – fifty-eight –  and when I trumpet my advanced age so emphatically, it’s not because I’m suggesting that I’m beyond help and that I know all. No – I’m saying that I just don’t have time to sit around and wait for a year to see if this might perhaps catch someone’s eye and make it to print. Life proceeds apace and I have a great deal I want to say, and who knows how long I’ll have to say it?

(No – no Walter White scenarios here. Everything’s fine as far as I know. I’m just morbid realistic.)

Now remember – it’s fiction. And fiction is not supposed to be prescriptive, although much of it ends up being just that, especially if someone is writing about anything vaguely related to religion. I don’t know if I succeed, but I’m trying to describe a moment in history as well as a couple of dynamics as I’ve witnessed and experienced them – personal and spiritual dynamics – and how they relate, which I’m firmly convinced they do. You may not agree. It may anger you – but it might strike you as true, even if you disagree with the characters and their choices and opinions. It’s all I can hope for, I think. Something that strikes you as true.

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Sorry for the initial mis-dating. I started this yesterday…

Good morning. Of course lots has happened since we last met, all of which I spent much time following and thinking about, but for today I’ll stick mostly to my formula in this digest. Maybe another post in a bit on something else.

Watching: As I do every two years, I watched some cable news on election night. You Thursdayknow, when you only see a group of people once every 700 days or so, you can really track the aging process and note how everyone just gets….older and fatter. Except Wolf Blitzer, who hasn’t changed in decades. And Laura Ingraham? What is the deal there? If I had the sound turned off, I would have thought, Huh, another cable news blonde. I didn’t  recognized her at all until she started speaking. What has she had done with her face? I spent the whole time she was on camera, every time, trying to figure it out  – lips? Eyes? General facelift? We’re almost the same age…uh…amazing.

Listening: The Edith Wharton episode of In Our Time. An interesting discussion in which the fraught and shifting views on Wharton as a female writer – feminist or no? – were fairly covered.

The thread that was introduced but not really tied up, though, involved an aspect of her background I’d not known about. She was tutor and self-educated (coming from a wealthy family) and when asked about her reading, one of the panelists emphasized the importance of the works of evolutionists from Spencer to Darwin and others. A few minutes later, as they discussed her predominant themes, they sketched a picture of a changing world, yes, but also a deeply hierarchical world in which the “lower” classes and non-Europeans were given scant attention and that, mostly dismissive. That is to say – a world very reflective of social Darwinism, although no one ever explicitly made that link.

Someone dropped a comment during the discussion about Catholicism, though, that sent me on a rabbit trail, which transitions us to….

Reading:  Aside from the very hot stream of  Super Hot Takes on the election, a close read of the great J. F. Powers story, “The Lord’s Day” – this was about all I managed:

So, as I mentioned, one of the In Our Time scholars mentioned that the Church had condemned or at least criticized Wharton’s work. The impression I got from the discussion was that any Church criticism must have had to do with sexually-scandalous material.

Well, the rabbit trails indicated that was only partly so.

The main critique is related to a poem Wharton wrote on Margaret of Cortona. You can read it here, along with an accompanying Howard Pyle illustration.

Reminder: Margaret of Cortona lived with a man outside of wedlock for nine years and bore him a child. The man was murdered, and upon discovering his body, she converted to a life of penance and charity, eventually becoming a Franciscan tertiary.

In Wharton’s poem, published in Harper’s Monthly in 1901, we meet Margaret on her deathbed, confessing to a friar – is it her son? I don’t know.

The gist of the poem, and what got Catholic readers up in arms,  is that Margaret is torn between her love of Christ and her love of her dead lover – and perhaps even not so torn, since she makes it clear that what she had found with the earthly lover seemed pretty close to heaven. Here on her deathbed, she has prayed and prayed, but has been met with silence, while she knows that if her lover were alive, at least he would respond to her.

I have lain here, these many empty days
I thought to pack with Credos and Hail Marys
So close that not a fear should force the door –
But still, between the blessed syllables
That taper up like blazing angel heads,
Praise over praise, to the Unutterable,
Strange questions clutch me, thrusting fiery arms,
As though, athwart the close-meshed litanies,
My dead should pluck at me from hell, with eyes
Alive in their obliterated faces!…
I have tried the saints’ names and our blessed Mother’s
Fra Paolo, I have tried them o’er and o’er,
And like a blade bent backward at first thrust
They yield and fail me—and the questions stay.
And so I thought, into some human heart,
Pure, and yet foot-worn with the tread of sin,
If only I might creep for sanctuary,
It might be that those eyes would let me rest…

You can see how this would make people unhappy. From an article on “The Catholic in Fiction” from a secular journal called The Reader:

It is incredible that a writer of Mrs. Wharton’s refinement and ability should have taken a canonized saint as the subject on which to exercise such an unseemly flight of fancy….Mrs. Wharton makes this holy woman, after years of repentance, avow on her death-bed a preference for her lover’s caresses and the comfort his impassioned ardor, to the divine love of the crucified Lord whom she had so diligently served for years. Mrs. Wharton is entitled to no consideration for this affront, unless on the ignoble ground of ignorance.

Of course, I understand this objection, but I did read the poem from a slightly different angle as well.  The contrast between Christ and the earthly lover is certainly the major theme – in which Christ comes out less favorably – but there’s also, it seems, some grappling with an irony of the spiritual life which must strike any thinking person: you might even call it the irony of conversion. She’s asking: if I hadn’t been living a sinful life, would I have met Christ?

As well as, in a general way, the questions all of us have about the direction our life has taken as we look back on it:

 

Ah, that black night he left me, that dead dawn 
I found him lying in the woods, alive 
To gasp my name out and his life-blood with it, 
As though the murderer’s knife had probed for me 
In his hacked breast and found me in each wound… 
Well, it was there Christ came to me, you know, 
And led me home—just as that other led me. 
(Just as that other? Father, bear with me!) 
My lover’s death, they tell me, saved my soul, 
And I have lived to be a light to men. 
And gather sinners to the knees of grace. 
All this, you say, the Bishop’s signet covers. 
But stay! Suppose my lover had not died? 
(At last my question! Father, help me face it.) 
I say: Suppose my lover had not died – 
Think you I ever would have left him living, 
Even to be Christ’s blessed Margaret? 
– We lived in sin? Why, to the sin I died to 
That other was as Paradise, when God 
Walks there at eventide, the air pure gold, 
And angels treading all the grass to flowers! 
He was my Christ—he led me out of hell – 
He died to save me (so your casuists say!) – 
Could Christ do more? Your Christ out-pity mine? 

No, the poem is not anything great, and I certainly understand the reaction against it, but still. There’s a glimmer of truth in there.

I just spent a lot of time on that, but, of course, it wasn’t my intention when I began writing this to go as much into the poem as into the reaction to her novel The Valley of Decision. This was Wharton’s first published novel: a historical novel of 18th century Italy that, it seems from plot summaries, positions free-thinkers against Church and tradition, etc. I have zero interest in reading it, but when I searched for “Edith Wharton” and Catholic Church condemned – this was, besides from the poem, what popped up.

So initially I thought, “Oh the early 20th century American church criticized this content for sexual-related content it deemed immoral, obviously.” But..maybe not?

What I found was, of course, no “official” condemnation, but a strong critique published in Catholic World, which, in turn, reprints a critique from the Chicago Chronicle.

And what’s the basis of the critique?

The answer will surprise you!

The focus is the treatment of the primary female character, Fulvia, and specifically the role of education in her life. The critique takes on Wharton for, the author claims, indicating that higher education corrupts a woman’s character.  I’m going to reproduce this section at length, because I want you to participate in one of my favorite activities: Dispel myths about the past.

In this case, the myths are: No one believed that women should be educated before 1970 or so. In particular, the Catholic Church was opposed to women’s intellectual development.

Not to mention that this contemporary critique adds to the discussion about Wharton. It may or may not be an accurate read of her character, but the fact is that in this case, her narrative was received as anti-woman’s education and moralistic. Interesting.

The severest blow dealt against the higher education of women has been delivered by one of themselves, the author of The Valley of Decision, a somewhat tedious two-volume novel of the spurious “historical” variety.

It has been claimed by the opponents of equal education for men and women that whatever the intellectual results of the attempt, the moral result would be injurious to the family and society. It has been specifically urged that the tendency of the higher education would be to draw women more and more toward the laxer social standards of men, and to make women impatient of those restraints which until now have constituted the bulwarks of the home.

The Valley of Decision supports this theory. The heroine around whom the sympathy of the story is concentrated enjoys from early youth the advantages which other women, at least in the United States, must acquire, if at all, by long years of labor through primary and secondary schools into colleges and universities. A name of evil omen, whether in Roman history or in Ben Jonson’s “Catiline,” Fulvia starts the heroine out on a path of aspiration, independence, erudition, and ruin.

Her learning fails to develop moral or spiritual growth. In full womanhood, having had abundant experience enabling her to see the evils of society in the fullest glare of their malignity, Fulvia voluntarily accepts an unlawful and immoral social status from which all right-minded women instinctively recoil. She becomes the willing victim of a profligate weakling on a petty ducal throne, and feels neither shame nor remorse in her degradation.

The malign influence of such a novel upon the aspirations of American women for university privileges is made by the author the more certain and the more emphatic because the scene of the sinister fiction is laid in the country which was the first to open university doors to women. The poet Alfieri is dragged into the story to heighten the proportions of its all-pervading moral squalor. Sneering at the idea of a woman taking the degree of doctor of philosophy, the poet is made to say: “Oh, she’s one of your prodigies of female learning, such as our topsy-turvy land produces; an incipient Laura Bassi or Gaetana Agnesi, to name the most distinguished of their tribe; though I believe that hitherto her father’s good sense or her own has kept her from aspiring to academic honors. The beautiful Fulvia is a good daughter and devotes herself, I am told, to helping Vivaldi in his work, a far more becoming employment for one of her age and sex than defending Latin theses before a crew of ribald students.”

But Fulvia’s father was a sympathizer with his daughter’s tastes, which he habitually promoted. To make the lesson of the moral failure of the higher education of women still more convincing, the author of The Valley of Decision reserves the bestowal of her final degree upon Fulvia until after the university and the whole town are familiar with her adoption of a shameless life and her open rejection of religious or conventional standards.

In Italy the universities were open to women soon after their foundation in the Middle Ages. At Bologna, which for centuries was one of the greatest universities in Europe, a number of women justly attained distinction as professors of the sciences, languages, and law. Laura Bassi was of a comparatively late time. So great was her reputation for learning, but also for virtue, that her doctorate was conferred under circumstances of civic and academic pomp. She married happily and became the mother of fourteen children.

Two sisters Agnesi were distinguished in Italian higher education. One, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, was an eminent professor and author in the exact sciences during the eighteenth century, and lived to be upward of eighty years of age. A younger sister was distinguished as a pianist and composer. Upon the entire array of the learned women of Italy whose careers have been historically noted there was never a breath of moral reproach.

The injury which The Valley of Decision inflicts upon the contemporary higher education of women is shrewdly designed in the contrast which this repulsive novel makes in its alienation of the higher education from religious and moral control.

The atmosphere which is created for the reader of The Valley of Decision is the most repulsive ever introduced into an American literary production. In the large company constituting the chief participants in a story projected along hackneyed guide-book information there is not from the first cover of the first volume to the last of the second one honest man or virtuous woman.

The moral squalor of J he Valley of Decision is the more surprising because the scene is laid in the land which has given to literature and life the paramount group of ideal womanhood, Dante’s Beatrice, Petrarch’s Laura, Michael Angelo’s Vittoria Colonna; and to Shakspere his two most engaging characters, blending in their mutual devotion of a noble womanhood erudition and chastity, Portia and Nerissa.

The womanhood of the United States may justly deplore that such a volume as The Valley of Decision should have its origin in the United States, in which the experiment of the higher education of women has thus far been courageously carried to an advancement which few of the universities have been able to withstand.

 

And if you’re interested, go to p. 596 in the same volume of the 1902 Catholic World and read an article about Bologna called “A City of Learned Women.”

The universal spread of knowledge and literary culture among women is no doubt one of the boasts of modern civilization. We point to it with pride as emphasizing the superiority of this age over its predecessors; exemplified by the thorough training of mind and body considered equally necessary nowadays for girls as well as boys. Nevertheless, if we go a little more deeply into the matter, we shall find once more at the bottom of all our researches the most discouraging but true old adage embodying the world-weariness of the wisest king of old: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

It is a shock at first to realize that our progress is not so wonderful as we imagined; and that, instead of inventors, we are only “revivalists”; perfecting perhaps what has gone before, with the help of added centuries of experience and science; but still only reviving things dormant, or at best forgotten. In an atmosphere of self-congratulation upon Women’s Colleges and Universities and the Higher Education of Women, can it come as anything but a revelation to find one’s self face to face with a city of learned women of long centuries past, who spread the light of their knowledge through a land which bowed before their intellect while reverencing their true womanhood?

Such was the revelation which disturbed my new-world complacency one bright morning in the ancient city of Bologna, in this year of the twentieth century; wandering through stately halls of learning where for centuries women had held intellectual sway. No fair girl-graduates were these, drinking their first draught at the fountain of mighty knowledge; but women whose powers of intellect had placed them in the professorial chair, instructing on equal terms with the men-professors the students who flocked around them.

I keep saying it, in one way or another: My Hot Take on 20th century feminism is that it happened because the Protestant Reformation, secular intellectual currents and the industrial revolution pushed Western women into the confined, defining space of a domestic sphere that didn’t exist in a holistic Catholic context.

There. 

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Well, this has been a week. For those of you just now popping in since last Friday – we spent last weekend in NYC – report here.

Since, we’ve had school, orthodontist, a daughter needing to be taken to the airport at 4:30AM to travel to job interviews, the beginning of basketball practice, which has necessitated some juggling of music lessons, music lessons, and now a day off of school for teacher conferences.

Plus, it actually feels like fall, which means I actually feel like cooking again.

As for me: I didn’t get a ton of reading done this week – only the autobiography of St. Anthony Mary Claret – which I wrote about in several posts on Wednesday (just click backwards for those) and the beginnings of a couple of books – one novel and one historical study. More on those next week, once I finish.

Writing? I finished – I think – the “short” story I’ve been working on for a very long time. It’s over 7K words, which is not unheard of for a so-called “short” story, although the fact that most of my books run around 25k books – just a little more than triple that – does give me pause.

What will become of that story? I have a competition in mind to which I am probably going to submit it, but if I don’t – I will publish it on Amazon Kindle.

— 2 —

I had really not been aware of how much space that story had been taking up in my head until I finally settled on a last sentence and pressed the period key, and then “save.” My brain immediately felt 80% emptier (that might be a bad thing…)

BTW – I’ll be Living Faith on Sunday. Go here for that. 

— 3 —

Halloween’s coming, and wow does it feel great to be past all of that. Sort of like the feeling a post-menopausal woman gets in walking past the feminine hygiene aisle or the parent with no babies in the present or future gets while walking past the diapers.

Been there, done that. 

I mean – one of them will go out trick-or-treating with some friends, I think, but dressed as what? Don’t care, and it’s his job to figure it out. We have had very few trick-or-treaters over the past couple of years, so I’ll just get one bag this year  – and this time, I’ll get a bag of something everyone here actually likes, so the leftovers don’t sit in a bin in the kitchen for…a year.

There will be no lack of commentary on Catholics n’ Halloween – because there never is – but perhaps your most efficient course of action on this score will be to head over to CWR and read Tom McDonald:

— 4 —

Allhallowtide is actually a kind of triduum: three days of commemoration that includes All Hallows Eve (October 31, shortened Hallowe’en), All Saints Day (All Hallows Day, November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2). As with other major feasts, celebration of All Saints Day begins on the vigil, which is why secular culture celebrates Halloween on the night of October 31st, but then does nothing on the actual feast days that follow.

Halloween is a Christian holiday. Some Celtic neo-pagans and fundamentalist Christians claim the Church simply took over the date for a pagan festival of the dead and all its trappings. False. The current dates fall on a harvest festival called Samhain by the Celts, but there is no indication that Samhain was a festival of the dead. It simply marked the end of the harvest season. Festival days were often regarded as liminal time in which the veil between the material and spiritual worlds are considered thinner, but elaborating this into a festival of the dead on par with those found in other ancient pagan belief systems is more than than the textual evidence can support. Since we have no pre-Christian records of its observation, claims about about its observation are speculative.

Bede calls November Blod-monath (Blood Month), which sounds promising. However, the real meaning is mundane: it was the time surplus livestock were slaughtered to save fodder for the long winter. Otherwise, Bede attaches no significance to the season.

— 5 —

I’ll be posting more on this and All Saints/Souls days next week, of course, but in looking to see if the Clerk of Oxford had posted anything on Halloween, I ran across this interesting post on English churches and saints’ shrines:

This is the season of All Saints, Hallowtide, and it seems a fitting time to post a collection of pictures on a theme I’ve been interested in for a while: how English cathedrals and major churches today choose to represent their pre-Reformation history, and especially the history of the medieval saints whose shrines they once housed. In the Middle Ages, these shrines were integral to the life, history, and physical shape of these cathedrals, a tangible embodiment (in every sense) of their shared spiritual life and their collective identity as a community. As at Winchester, these shrines were usually in a prominent and central position in the church, close to the high altar, and the history of most cathedrals was inextricably bound up with the saints whose relics they preserved, who might be their founders, early leaders, or the nucleus around which the community originally grew. The saint was both literally and metaphorically at the heart of the cathedral, and to remove them created a huge gap. When these shrines were destroyed, it left an absence in more ways than the loss of the saint’s holy ‘rotten bones’.

A number of churches today choose to acknowledge and commemorate that absence, and as a medievalist I’m interested in the different ways they find to do that. This post is a brief journey through the shrines of some of England’s medieval saints – or rather, the empty spaces which those shrines once occupied.

Some of these churches are among the oldest surviving institutions in England, with more than a thousand years of tumultuous, yet essentially unbroken continuity, and their saints and their medieval history of pilgrimage are an unavoidable part of their story – unless they are prepared to ignore the first six or seven centuries of their history, and often their own foundation-story, these churches have to find some way of telling that story to visitors. 

Get ready:

— 6 —

This is amazing and beautiful (as seen on Facebook)

Staged paintings / paintings:
1. The burial of Christ / the entombment of Christ
2. O êxtase de María Magdalena / Mary Magdalen in ecstasy
3. the crucifixion of Saint Peter / crucifixion of Saint Peter
4. A decapitação de João Batista / Beheading of John the Baptist
5. Judite decapitando Holofernes / Judith beheading Holofernes
6. The flagellation of Christ / Mikko of Christ
7. the martyrdom of saint Matthew / the martyrdom of saint Matthew
8. The Annunciation
9. Rest on the flight to Egypt / rest on the flight into Egypt
10. Narcissus / Narcissus
11.: the resurrection of Lazarus
Saint Francis of Saint Francis of Assisi in ecstasy
13. Baco / Bacchus

— 7 —

All right, as Queen of the Local Educational Field Trip, I cannot believe that after doing this for years now, researching my eyes out, scouring the southeast for day trips hither and yon – I missed the paper museum!

The museum was founded in 1939 at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology by paper expert and collector Dard Hunter, who came from a family of printers and was a follower of the American Arts and Crafts Movement in the early 20th century. Considered one of the preeminent papermakers and printers of his age, his work has been featured at the Smithsonian and the New York Public Library.

The museum was revived in 1989 and moved to Atlanta, where today it is located at the Renewable Bioproducts Institute at Georgia Institute of Technology. 

(Not kidding – it looks very good – on the Georgia Tech campus, for heaven’s sake.)

Speaking of Atlanta – I am hoping we can see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the High Museum. It’s going to be there for three months, and all the regular tickets have already sold out. They are going to make a hundred tickets available every day, first come first serve in the mornings. I’ll wait until Christmas break and see if we can do it.

Photo taken inside a Yayoi Kusama Infinity room filled with black and yellow spotted pumpkins reflected in mirrors.Image result for infinity mirrors high museum

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Heading out for the long weekend, but the weather indicates that rain is going to be a feature of our location, so here’s hoping I do more than sit on a runway on Saturday. As per usual, check Instagram, especially stories, for updates.

 — 2 —

I’ve blogged almost every day this past week about one thing or another, so just click backwards for some more of this kind of thing if you like. In particular, you might be interested in yesterday’s posts on St. Francis of Assisi.

— 3 —

Today’s the feastday of St. Faustina, who’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

 

 

— 4 —

Every other day or so I offer a digest of what I’m reading, watching, listening to and so on. I’ve not read any books since yesterday, but I did read this article – which you should be able to access if you’re interested – on the collapse of early 19th century religious orders in Peru. 

For many years, the sudden collapse of the major religious orders in Peru shortly after independence has interested this author. For the religious orders, Lima had been what it was for the viceroy: the center of the organizational structure for most of the continent with the stately conventos and lavishly endowed churches to attest to the importance of that position. Yet, within a relatively short period, 1826-1830, the grandeur faded and the power disappeared. Why?

And even if you’re not interested…I’ll tell you what interested me. First the tone of the article – published in 1982 and written by Antonine Tibesar, a Franciscan friar and historian – deeply scholarly, but refreshing in its (not surprising) deep understanding of religious life from the inside. Secondly – well, the history – a good thing, since it’s an article about history. What Tibesar is asking is just what the title suggests: in the early 19th century, religious orders collapsed in Peru. Why? Well, the simple and obvious answer is that the Spanish government had been sporadically, but intensely determined to secularize religious orders (that is put the orders out of business and require any man or woman who sought to remain a priest or nun to prove they had a means of support and place themselves under the control of a bishop) and that drive made its way over to the newly independent Peru.

There were other shenanigans, which I can’t quite parse out, perhaps because I’m tired. But in the end, Tibesar blames other religious as much as he does the secular governments for the capitulation.

amy-welborn-1

And I only go on as long as I have about this as a reminder of the complexities of religious history: that if Catholicism is struggling in Europe and South America – well, it has been struggling, off and on, in often profound ways – for centuries.

— 5 –

A couple of local churchish notes. First, the rector of our Cathedral has made available a booklet he’s put together about baptism in the Extraordinary Form – which is happening more and more down here.  You might find it interesting and useful. 

— 6 —

Secondly, the Church in Russellville, Alabama is experience tremendous growth, people-wise, and needs a building to match. Here’s more at our rector’s blog about it, plus a video about the parish. 

The Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen made a great deal of money through his work on television and the talks and special media appearances he did besides. But one of the (surprising?) things we discover upon studying his life is that not only did he donate most of his earnings to the missions, but he also used some of his funds to build churches in poor areas — including in the South. There are churches in Alabama that were built by Archbishop Sheen! In spite of the celebrity he enjoyed, he lived rather frugally and was quite generous where it mattered the most.

I am not aware of a Fulton Sheen-like person who might help with this current project and great need, but it is similar in scope.  In the small town of Russellville, Alabama(pop. approx. 10,000), there is the parish of the Good Shepherd. Or as many of its parishioners know it — “Buen Pastor”. The town has a large population of Hispanic immigrants, many of whom work in the area chicken processing plants (maybe in the past you’ve eaten some chicken that met its fate in Russellville!). In the past, the church was built with great support from Filipino immigrants. With some exceptions, the Catholic population in Russellville has long had a large immigrant component.

The current church seats 200. Each Sunday, Fr. Vincent Bresowar, its pastor, has to put out chairs wherever he can find the space. Under his good leadership the parish has grown. But he is only one priest: he could add more Masses to accommodate the growing community, but priests are only supposed to say so many Masses per day (basically, two Monday-Saturday and three on Sunday, max). Fr. Bresowar routinely has to go over the “legal limit” to accommodate his community. He generously does so — but celebrating so many Masses wears down a priest. I know this from experience.

What they need in Russellville is a new and larger church. Fr. Bresowar has purchased an adjacent property to ensure sufficient space for the new church and a real parking lot that begins to accommodate the crowds. He has had a local architect design a building that actually looks like a church and he has employed a great consultant to help with the interior decoration. Cutting every possible corner while also recognizing that a church building is built first of all for the glory of God, Fr. Bresowar has come up with a plan that will cost in the ballpark of $2.5 million.

Bishop Robert J. Baker, in consultation with the College of Consultors of the Diocese of Birmingham, has approved a Capital Campaign so that Fr. Bresowar and parishioners may begin in earnest to raise the needed funds. Remember: this is a primarily immigrant community. They are very resourceful people and will do their part. But they are not pulling in large salaries. They are open to life and have numerous families. They are often helping their families in their home countries, who live in destitution. Some of them will be able to give “in-kind”, helping with the construction and finishing. They will host many fundraisers. But in the end, we need to go outside this community to raise the money needed.

 

— 7 —

Finally, from the Catholic Herald  – Michael Duggan on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s glimmers of religion:

Leigh Fermor was full of admiration and respect for the role that the monks of the West had played in history, for the centuries in which they were the only guardians of things he loved: literature, the classics, scholarship and the humanities. He also found that the company of the small number of living monks‎ he was permitted to speak with was like the company of any civilised, well-educated Frenchmen “with all the balance, erudition and wit that one expected, the only difference being a gentleness, a lack of haste, and a calmness which is common to the whole community”.

More profoundly, he also came to appreciate the role of monasteries in what is sometimes called the economy of salvation. It was their belief in the necessity and efficacy of prayer – “a principle so utterly remote from every tendency of modern secular thought” – that explains the sacrifices these men made. Vows embracing poverty, chastity and obedience were destined to smite “all fetters that chained them to the world, to free them for action, for the worship of God and the practice of prayer; for the pursuit, in short, of sanctity.”

Leigh Fermor smiled at the fact that the monastic habitat should prove “favourable to ambitions so glaringly opposed”: his ambition, on the one hand, to get a book finished and his publisher off his back, and, on the other hand, the ambitions of the monks. These men, he found, could still embark on those “hazardous mystical journeys of the soul” which culminate in “blinding moments of union with the Godhead”, the very inkling of which, “since Donne, Quarley, Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne wrote their poems, has drained away from life in England”.

In the Introduction to A Time to Keep Silence, Paddy grappled briefly with the question of what his experiences inside the monastery walls might ultimately signify. He wrote that he was profoundly affected by the places he described. Though unsure about what his feelings amounted to, he was convinced that they were “deeper than mere interest and curiosity, and more important than the pleasure an historian or an aesthete finds in ancient buildings and liturgy”. In monasteries, he found “a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world”. Describing himself as no stranger to “recalcitrance or scepticism or plain incapacity for belief”, he implies nevertheless that he had been the beneficiary of a “supernatural windfall”.

In the end, Paddy never fully cashed in this windfall. A Time to Keep Silence was published in 1957, but there were to be no more books on an exclusively religious theme. His life (a quite extraordinary one, in ways I have barely touched on here) was filled with many different interests, pleasures and friendships, some of which would have thrown up serious obstacles to any burgeoning Catholicism.

He had an open relationship with his wife, Joan Rayner, who was also a committed atheist.  While he stayed on in Rome to witness (and “swoon” at) the coronation of Pope John XXIII in 1958, his primary reason for being in the Eternal City in the first place was to conduct an affair with a young divorcee.  Three pages of A Time to Keep Silence are devoted to the conflicts and mysteries of chastity.

I am speculating, of course, but perhaps Leigh Fermor’s temperament – that old, latent religious mania – sometimes led him back towards the threshold of belief, only for his appetites to lead him away again, down the path of least resistance, garlanded with pleasures, adored by friends and lovers, and adoring them in return.

Many of us know some version of this dilemma.  We need a strong motive to turn our backs on the worldly delights which converged on Patrick Leigh Fermor like iron filings on a magnet, in favour of the less certain rewards that emanate from spiritual dread and spiritual joy.  As Artemis Cooper has pointed out to me, Paddy (unlike, say, Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene) “could live without answers to the big questions: what am I doing here, why is there evil in the world, what has God got to do with it.  These big themes didn’t preoccupy him much.”

To those who’ve read the books and letters, this observation has the ring of truth.  But could it be that Patrick Leigh Fermor was able to live a life seemingly unpreoccupied by God because of the knowledge that he had acquired at first-hand in places like Saint Wandrille and La Grande Trappe?

This was the knowledge that, all the while, in those monasteries scattered across the West, which he called “silent factories of prayer”, there were other civilized, well-educated gentlemen just like him who had succeeded in abandoning everything.  And that they had done so in order to help their fellow-men, and themselves, to meet something he had intuited himself during those brief pockets of time spent in monastic cells, woods and cloisters, something which he and most of us push to the back of our minds for most of the time, and to which he gave a name: “the terrifying problem of eternity”.

There is a strange thread of connection between all of these items. I’m not sure what it is, exactly….

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