Sunday, 31 August 2014

'Letter to Charles Peguy' from Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, on the subject of Hope.

Charles Peguy, French author, born 1873 died 1914 fighting at Villeroy in the Great War. A fervent Catholic, he was editor of the 'Cahiers de la Quinzaine', and wrote long religious poems, among them 'Le Mystere de la Charite de Jeanne d'Arc' and 'The portal of the Mystery of Hope'. One of the foremost Catholic writers, he took the part of Dreyfus in the Dreyfus affair and was outspoken against social injustice.


      Charles Peguy

Letter from Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, to Charles Peguy, published in the popular Christian paper 'Messaggero di S.Antonio'. One of a collection of letters written to all kinds of persons, historical and mythical, from all sorts of places and periods, reproduced in book form as 'Illustrissimi' after the author's death in September 1978. Cardinal Luciani was elected Pope in August 1978, choosing the name of Pope John Paul 1.  After only 33 days in office, he died suddenly of a heart attack during the evening of 28 September, 1978.

To Charles Peguy.

Dear Peguy,
I’ve always liked your enthusiastic spirit, and your passion for arousing and leading souls.  But I
like rather less your literary outbursts, which are sometimes bitter, sometimes ironic, and sometimes too ardent in the fight against the mistaken men of your time. Your religious writings contain some poetically successful passages (this is not to say that they are religiously successful). Here is one in which you have God talking of hope:-
‘The faith of men does not surprise me, God says, it is not a surprising thing; in my creation I am so dazzling that these poor people would have to be blind in order not to see me. The charity of men does not surprise me, says God, it is not a surprising thing; these poor people are so unhappy that unless they had a heart of stone they could not help loving one another. Hope – that is what surprises me!’
I agree with you, dear Peguy, that hope is surprising. I agree with Dante that it means waiting in certainty. I agree with what the Bible says about those who hope.
Abraham didn’t know why God had ordered him to kill his only child; he didn’t see from where the many descendants he had been promised would come, if Isaac were dead, and yet he waited with certainty.
David, going towards Goliath, knew perfectly well that five pebbles, even when flung by someone as
expert as he was with the sling, were not enough in the face of an iron-clad giant. And yet he waited with certainty and told the huge man in armour: ‘I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into my hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee.’
Praying with the Psalms, I also feel transformed into a man who waits with certainty, dear Peguy:-
‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear ……Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this shall I be confident.’

                  Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice

How wrong are those who do not hope, dear Peguy! Judas was terribly wrong the day he sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver, but he was much more wrong when he thought his sin too great to be forgiven. No sin is too great: a finite wretchedness, however enormous, can always be covered by an infinite mercy.
And it is never too late; God calls himself not only Father, but Father of the prodigal son.  He sees
us when we are still far away, he is moved, and runs to us, throwing his arms around our neck and kissing us tenderly.
The fact that we may have had a stormy past should not frighten us. Storms that were bad in the past
become good in the present if they encourage us to reform and to change; they become jewels if they are given to God, so that he may have the consolation of forgiving them.
The Gospel records four women among Christ’s ancestors, three of them not entirely commendable: Rehab was a courtesan; Tamar bore a son, Perez, by her father-in-law Judah; and Bathsheba committed adultery with David.  With mysterious humility Christ accepted these relations into his family, but also, I believe, into the hand of God, as a way of saying to us: you may become saints, whatever your family history, your temperament, your heredity and your past.
Dear Peguy, it would be wrong to wait and keep putting things off continually. ‘Later’ is very often another way of saying ‘never’. I know some people who seem to make life into a perpetual station waiting-room. The trains come and go and they say; ‘I’ll leave another time! I’ll confess at the end of my life!’
Visconti-Venosta used to say of brave Anselmo, ‘A day goes by and then another, but brave Anselmo never returns.’ Here we have the opposite: an Anselmo who never leaves. It is a risky business. Just suppose, dear Peguy, that the Chinese were invading Italy, advancing destroying and killing. Everyone would run away; aeroplanes, trains and cars would be seized. ‘Come along!’ I’d shout to Anselmo, ‘there’s still room on the train, get on quickly!’ ‘Are you really sure the Chinese will kill me, if I stay here? he’d reply. ‘Well, I’m not absolutely sure, they might just spare you, and before they come another train might just go by, but these are outside chances and it’s a matter of life and death. It would be crazily risky to wait!’
‘Can’t I be converted later?’ ‘Of course, but it may be harder than it will be now. Repeated sins
become a habit, they become chains that are harder to break. Do it now, at once, I beg you!’
You know this, Peguy. Waiting is based on the goodness of God, which appears especially in the behaviour of Christ, who in the Gospel was called the friend of sinners. The extent of this friendship was well known: when he has lost a sheep, our Lord goes looking for it until he finds it: having found it, he puts it happily onto his shoulders, carries it home, and says to everyone; ‘Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.’
The Samaritan woman, the woman taken in adultery, Zaccheus, the thief crucified on His right, the
paralytic and we ourselves, have been sought, found and treated like that. There’s another astonishing thing!
And there’s another one again: the waiting with certainty for future glory, as Dante puts it.  What is surprising is certainty set in the future, that is, in a dim distance. And yet this, Peguy, is the situation of those of us who hope.
We are like Abraham, who, having been promised a very fertile country by God, obeyed and left, the
Bible tells us, not knowing where he was going, yet certain and in the hands of God. We are like those John the Evangelist described: ‘We are now the sons of God, but what we shall be has not yet been shown.’ We find ourselves with Manzoni’s Napoleon, ‘carried along the flowery paths of hope’, even if we have little idea of where the paths will emerge.
Do we know it, at least vaguely? Or was Dante mad when he tried to describe it as light, love, and
Intellectual light’, because our minds up there will see perfectly clearly what down here they have scarcely glimpsed: God
Love of true goodness’, because the good we love here is a single form of goodness, drops and crumbs and fragments of it, whereas God is the good.
 Joy that transcends all pain’, because there is no comparison between it and the sweetness of this world. 

                           'Allegory of Hope'  -  Francesco Guardi (1747)

Augustine agrees when he calls God, ‘beauty that is always old and is always new’. Manzoni agrees: 'up there former glory is silence and darkness’. Isaiah agrees in the famous dialogue: ‘The voice said, cry. And he said, what shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth.’
We agree with these great men, dear Peguy. Some may call us ‘alienated’, poetic and impractical. We shall reply, ‘We are the sons of hope, the surprise of God’.

Ack.  ‘Illustrissimi’ by Albino Luciani – ‘The letters of Pope John Paul 1’ published by Collins ‘Fount

The Portal of the Mystery of Hope’ was one of Peguy’s greatest but, at the time of writing, most neglected poems. For Péguy, fidelity and hope are dynamic, living forces, and not merely static habits or concepts. By contrast real hope is the forward thrust of life; someone who is in despair, literally without hope, cannot be argued back into another attitude. Hope can only be received from God; it reconnects the hopeless person “to the source, to a reawakening in him of the child.”
 Coronation of the Virgin Mary- Ridolfo Ghirlandaio (1483-1561)
                 ('Hail holy Queen, our life, our sweetness, and our hope')
In the poem itself, hope is portrayed as a little child, but a child of greater immediate urgency than her serious older sisters, faith and charity. Besides, says Péguy (or rather, says God: Péguy is not afraid to put words in the Deity’s mouth), hope is one of the most remarkable things in the world: -

‘A Better Tomorrow’
‘The faith that I love best, says God, is hope.
Faith doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
I am so resplendent in my creation. . . .
That in order really not to see Me, these poor people would have to be blind.
Charity, says God, that doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for one another?
How could they not love their brothers?
How could they not take the bread from their own mouth, their daily bread, in order to give it to the unhappy children who pass by.
And my Son had such love for them. . . .
But Hope, says God, that is something that surprises Me.
Even Me.
That is surprising.
That these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better.
That they see how things are going today and believe that they will go better tomorrow morning.
That is surprising and it’s by far the greatest marvel of our grace.
And I’m surprised by it myself.
And my grace must indeed be an incredible force.’
 (taken from the poem 'the Portal of the Mystery of Hope')

Ack. 'The mystery of the Passion of Charles Peguy' by Robert Royal  -  ‘Catholic Education Resource Centre’  
 Thoughts from St Alphonsus
'Many Christians submit to great fatigue, and expose themselves to many dangers to visit the Holy Land, where our Saviour was born, suffered, and died.  We need not undertake so long a journey, or expose ourselves to so many dangers; the same Lord is near us, and dwells in the church, only a few steps distant from our houses.'
    'Mary, Mother of God and mother of mercy, pray for us and for the faithful departed, and guide and protect our Holy Father Pope Francis. Amen.'            

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Caryll Houselander (1901-1954) - three short poems

 Three short poems by the English Catholic writer, artist, and mystic, Caryll Houselander (1901-1954) 
 The Parish First Communion
In the church,
there is a smell of flowers,
there are white veils,
and the banners and the vestments are white.
Why are there tears
 in the eyes of the grown-up people?              
Children receiving 1st Holy Communion at Bethlehem (2013)

Had we forgotten
the fragrance of Christ’s first coming?
or the stainless hearts
of our little sons and daughters?
Or is it that we remember,
that we too were young,
and once had a secret with him?
I am back again in the French convent
and the austere lovely morning,
thrilled with the mute mystery
of the day of the First Communions.
The touch of cold water,
the curtains around the beds,
and the clean bare boards
of the floor in the dormitory.

Madonna with Sleeping Child (1465-70) by Andrea Mantegna

I know that sin is something
to be resisted strongly,
with all my heart.
I have the knowledge of innocence,
learned by watching the flame
in the pale-faced nun,
who taught me
the lesson of sacrifice.
She smells of lemon and soap, and linen,
her smile is an inward smile,
and her eyes of radiance,
teach the innocent heart,
beating with austere joy,
that sin is a terrible thing,
redeemed by a passion of love.

1935, Joseph Ratzinger (8 years old) -6th from left front row, with other children during 1st Holy Communion at Aschau Im Bavaria, where he went to school.

There is a smell of flowers                        
filling the cloister.
We are moving slowly in ranks.
We are wearing long white veils,
And  brides’ dresses, down to our feet.
The thin melodious singing,
is the singing of angels,
in the green Paradise
of children in love.
Afterwards there is breakfast,
the breakfast for feasts,
with roses on the table,
and the crimson may outside,
and a bird whose singing
fills my heart.
I think my heart would break,
for joy of that bird singing,
right inside it
were it not that the nun,
restrains it with recollection,
and we must have perfect manners,
and sit up straight at table.
There is a smell of coffee,
and warm new rolls,
and each of us will have a banana,
because of the feast.
I am back again in the French convent,
and the austere lovely morning,
thrilled with the mute mystery
of the day of the First Communions.


The Old Woman
The old woman, who nods by the Altar,
Is plain and ill shapen
and her clothes musty.
She thinks her life useless.
She has scrubbed many floors,
And always she did it, mostly
for God’s glory;
but never with the vision                                                   
that makes the work easy.
Old Woman Praying by Mathias Stom (1600-1649)
                  She is changed to dull copper              
by the light of the candles,
lit at the feet of the saints
by the children.
She is twisted and ugly,
like an old apple tree
that long has forgotten
the sweetness of blossom,
and fruit in the sunlight.
Old black bark
of a tree that is leafless.
She knows that the priest,
with eyes averted,
thinks her a nuisance;
garrulous, tedious,
talking of rheumatics.
The middle-aged mystics pass her with pity.
She fumbles her Rosary and mumbles “Hail Marys”
with tongue that is garrulous
and mind that is drowsy.
“What shall I do?”
She thinks very dully,
“When my rheumatics keep me indoors?
never any more in the kind courts of Heaven
to sit in a corner, content to be nothing.”
Old Woman Praying by Aert de Gelder (1645-1727)
And Christ, in the silence
in the silence of twilight,
with still voice of silver
unheeded answers:
“I will find my Beloved,
the whiteness of blossom,
 the young boughs laden.                                 
Sap in the branches,
The azure above her.

I will find my beloved
when all the leaves singing,
are voices of birds
In my Father’s keeping.

The sap in the branches,
the young boughs laden,
and my hand beneath her,
and my heart above her.”

Oh, my Beloved!
Nest of the Pelican.
Basilica of the Most Precious Blood, Bruges
Here are still waters,
And bells
Weaving my thoughts
With the solemn joy
Of the carrilon.
Here are birds
In dark orderly flocks
Crossing the steeple,
                                  Here is The Host,                                              
Nourishing Bread,
Of a devout people

Steeple of Our Lady's Church, Bruges

All-mothering Christ,
Patient Love!
Water and birds and bells,
And flowering steeple,
Shrine of the Gentle God,
Intimate here with man.
Oh, Bruges!
Oh, my Beloved,
Nest of the Pelican!
When I am far from here,
Little city of bells,
Keep my heart
In the shrine
With the Sacrament.
When I have gone,
Keep my heart,
In the peace of the still water.
And my desire Heavenward,
Growing up from the Altar,
With your flowering spires.
Relic of the Precious Blood, housed in the Basilica.
When I am far from here
                                    Little city of love,                                           
Keep my heart
In the measured beauty
Of bells,
Ringing their carillon
In the grey steeple.
Keep my heart in the shrine
With the Sacrament.
In communion
With your gentle,
Devout people.

Ack. 'The Flowering Tree' -selected poems of Caryll Houselander, published by Sheed and Ward.

For a fuller account of the life of Caryll Houselander please see here:-      http://umblepie-northernterritory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/rosary-by-frances-caryll-houselander.html

"How important is the last moment, the last closing of the scene! St Bernadine of Siena relates that at death a certain prince exclaimed, with trembling and dismay: "Behold, I have so many kingdoms and palaces in this world; but if I die this night I know not what lodging will be assigned to me."  (July 21)

'Thoughts from St Alphonsus for every day of the year'


'Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy, pray for us and for all the faithful departed, and guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Amen.'

Monday, 16 June 2014

'whitesmokeahoy' - variations on a theme!

On 7th September 2008, 'whitesmokeahoy' was born. I take this opportunity to reproduce a copy of the first post on that date, which is good for me as it reminds me of the original purpose of this site, and shows me how I may have  wandered off course over the years, although I hope by not too far. 'whitesmokeahoy' was set up in support of the blog-site 'Pro Papa Flagship', which was dedicated to the loyal and prayerful support of the reigning Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI.

Sunday 7th September 2008
Thoughts from St Alphonsus
'Whitesmokeahoy' is humbly dedicated to the aims of 'Pro Papa Flagship', which site is strongly recommended. In this 'spiritual armada', it seems fitting to arm ourselves with appropriate 'holy' armour. 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus' is a collection of short writings by the Saint, whose work was particularly recommended to the faithful by Pope Pius IXth and Pope Benedict XVth, compiled by the Rev C McNeiry CSSR, and published by Burns, Oates & Washbourne in 1927. I hope to post two extracts from this book, on an occasional basis. In the book each extract is allocated to a particular day of the year, and most are quite short.

"If our confidence in God is great, great too will be our graces. St Bernard writes that the divine mercy is an inexhaustible fountain, and that he who brings to it the largest vessel of confidence, will take from it the largest measure of gifts." (16th February)

"If we are true servants of Mary, and obtain her protection, we most certainly shall be inscribed in the Book of Life." (30th May)

Our Blessed Lady, Star of the Sea - pray for us, and protect our Holy Father from all evil.
The name 'whitesmokeahoy' was originally chosen as particularly relevant for a blogsite whose 'raison d'etre' was to support the Pope. As we know, white smoke rising from the Vatican when cardinals are assembled to choose a new Pope, indicates that a Pope has been chosen and is a time of great excitement and rejoicing.
On a rather less important, more worldly, but nevertheless interesting and enjoyable note, you will find  below, numerous photographs which with a little artistic licence, could collectively be summarised as 'whitesmokeahoy - variations on a theme'.
These photographs were all taken by our son Michael, who is both an enthusiastic railway 'boffin' - not sure that is the right word, but you know what I mean, and an accomplished professional photographer. All the photographs were taken in Cornwall and Devon, in which area Michael lives.
Class 52 Diesel Hydraulic D1015 'Western Champion' at Newton Abbot Station. It may be the colour, but what an impressive locomotive!

 Old GWR rail-motor working the Liskeard to Looe branch line in Cornwall. This locomotive is all-timber construction, and apparently is the last surviving working model.

ex SR class M7 4.4.0 tank engine, painted here in BR black. This image was taken at Buckfastleigh during the South Devon Railway (SDR) Spring Gala this year. It's normally based on the Swanage Preserved Railway and was on loan for the Gala


The same M7 loco running into the shed area at Buckfastleigh

GWR Collett Class 2251 0-6-0 tender loco, seen here at Buckfastleigh departing with a short local working, including milk tanks, bound for Shinners Bridge, near Staverton. The loco is resident on the SDR and is currently painted in late BR green livery.

ex GWR class loco no. 5786, currently painted in London Transport maroon livery, and re-numbered  92 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the opening of the London Underground. This loco was based at Neasden on the underground system for the latter part of its mainline service, used as an engineers train, and was purchased by the South Devon Railway (SDR) in 1971 for preservation. The above photo taken this year during the SDR Spring Gala, shows it approaching Buckfastleigh. 

Another view of the class M7 tank-engine, waiting to depart Buckfastleigh with the last train of the day - very atmospheric, I can almost smell the smoke and steam!

The SDR resident class 122 'Bubble Car' diesel unit. It's in early BR livery with 'cat's whiskers', the fore-runner of yellow end panels.

(1)   'Double-header diesel, class 675, no 67006 (EWS grey livery) and 67024 (EWS red/gold livery)  at Newton Abbot.   (see further photos below)

                           Pullman carriage 'GWEN'  at Newton Abbot

 Two very important gentlemen!

(2) 'Double-header diesel class 675 no 67024 (EWS red/gold livery) and 67006 ' (EWS grey livery) at Newton Abbot (see photo above and below)

(3)Double-header Diesel 'class 675' no.67024 (EWS red/gold livery) and 67006 (EWS grey livery) at Newton Abbot (see photos above)

GWR 4.6.0 no.5029 Nunney Castle, heading-up (leading locomotive of two conjoined locomotives) SR West Country class no. 34046 'Braunton', at Devonport  (see also below)

GWR 4.6.0 no.5029 Nunney Castle, heading-up SR West Country class no. 34046 'Braunton ', at Tavistock Junction, starting the long climb towards Totnes (see also above)

'First Great Western' class 125 high-speed train departing Totnes

Approaching Totnes - EWS double-header returning from Cornwall - in the rain! Yes, this is the same train as shown in the earlier photographs, but taken the following day! What enthusiasm, and what a great photo!

All the above photographs courtesy of, and copyright of,  'Michael Crowe Photography',  www.mcrowe.co.uk   -  many thanks  Michael. Thank you also for the technical details.

                                     And now for something a little different:-

The Vatican 'papal' carriage, built for Pope Pius IX, who promoted the extension of the railway system  throughout the Papal States.  The above railroad-car (circa 1859) was for his personal use on frequent trips through the Papal States. Today, the car remains on exhibition in the Museum of Rome. (ack J Paul Getty Museum)

Finally back on track -
"Perfection consists in conforming ourselves to the will of God in those things which are disagreeable to us.  The Ven Father Avila says, "It is of more use to say once, 'Blessed be God', in any contradiction, than to thank him six thousand times when we are pleased."

ack. 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus' edited by Rev C McNeiry C.SS.R.
 "Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy, pray for
        us and for all the faithful departed, and guide and protect
        our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Amen."

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