Monday, 20 July 2009

'The Solemnity of The Most Holy Redeemer', and 'Westminster Abbey' by John Betjeman

Yesterday (Sunday) was the feast of ‘The Solemnity of The Most Holy Redeemer’, the Titular feast day of the ‘Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer’ (F.SS.R).

As Fr Anthony F.SS.R is away at present with several of the Brothers, daily Mass for the Community is celebrated by Fr Michael Mary F.SS.R at 'Our Lady’s Chapel', Stronsay. We had a sung Mass yesterday morning, beautifully rendered by the Brothers, in which Fr Michael preached an excellent sermon emphasising that special role of the Redemptorists to bring to souls a real awareness of eternity, with the realisation that each and every one must make a choice for good or evil, for eternal salvation or damnation.
His sermon reminded me of Christ’s words concerning the way to heaven, ‘Enter ye by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad the way that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter thereby. But narrow is the gate and close the way that leadeth to life, and few are they that find it.’(Mathew 7:13)
In his sermon Fr Michael used the analogy of the famous French tight-rope walker, Charles Blondin, who in 1859 crossed the Niagara Falls on a tight-rope, the first of seventeen crossings in all, on one occasion even stopping at one point to cook and eat a meal. Such achievements required a total focus of mind and body on the job in hand, which if found wanting would have resulted in certain death. Fr Michael also mentioned the experience of St Francis of Assissi, who as a young man and before consecrating his life to God, went into the mountains to pray and had a vision of his soul as a tiny bird, fluttering between the light of Heaven above and the fires of Hell below, the way of God or the way of the world. Fr Michael also reminded us of the words of St Thomas More to his wife Alice, when she visited him in prison shortly before his execution. Alice begged her husband to agree to the King’s demands, suggesting among other enticements, 'another possible twenty years of life', to which he replied ‘Dear Alice, what is twenty years compared with eternity? Indeed what is twenty thousand years?’
Fr Michael’s sermon, with its emphasis on the Redemptorist mission, was particularly directed to the F.SS.R Brothers, especially the seminarians currently on summer vacation, but it also had a certain resonance for me.
As I get older it has become ever more clear to me that no-one can enter Heaven by chance, it is only possible by the Grace of God and by living our life in accordance with God's Laws and those of His Church. It is not possible to be half-hearted or luke-warm in our choice, and to stay the course. We cannot resist the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh, without God’s help. For this we must pray and avail ourselves of the grace available through attendance at Holy Mass, receiving Holy Communion, and regular Confession. Of course we will fall far short of holiness, but we must keep trying and not allow ourselves to be deluded by the illusory delights of the ‘wide gates’ and the ‘broad path’ which lead to eternal misery.
You may think it rather late in the day for me to be thinking like this, that I should have been aware of this reality years ago, and you are surely right. My excuse if it can so be called, is that with advancing years my thoughts turn increasingly to eternity. It is true that as a younger man, with a family and a job, time is at a premium, and I believe that Our Lord makes allowance for human frailty when we spend less time on our spiritual life than perhaps we could. In later life with reduced demands on our time, we have a real opportunity to put our priorities into perspective. We only have one life, there is no second chance, and after this the Judgement, with Heaven or Hell for ever. ‘God made us for Himself, and we will never be truly happy until we are with Him.’ From Christ's words it is clear that we will never find the narrow gate leading to Heaven, unless we deliberately seek it. If we do not focus our minds on this objective and actively aspire to it, and I address this to myself, we will not find it, and inevitably we will find that our comfortable stroll along that 'broad path' will lead us to Hell.


I am rather fond of the poetry of John Betjeman, and quite by chance I have very recently been reading a poem of his entitled 'Westminster Abbey'. Much of Betjeman's work incorporates a gentle, tongue-in-cheek humour, often satirical but rarely cruel. Betjeman himself was of 'High Church' Anglo-Catholic disposition, and this poem reflects his opinion of the shallow spirituality of so many, even those who 'pray' in the grandeur of Westminster Abbey. Please remember that this poem was written nearly 70 years ago at the beginning of World War Two, the horrors of which undoubtedly coloured Betjeman's views at that time, as it did all those who lived through those years. In 'Westminster Abbey' is there not some affinity between the self-centred 'spirituality' suggested therein, and that all too evident on the 'broad path' to perdition?

In Westminster Abbey

Let me take this other glove off
As the
vox humana swells
And the beauteous fields of Eden
Bask beneath the Abbey bells
Here, where England's statesmen lie,
Listen to a lady's cry.

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,
Spare their women for Thy sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy mistake
But gracious Lord, whate'er shall be,
Don't let anyone bomb me.

Keep our Empire undismembered
Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And even more, protect the whites.

Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots' and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains.
Lord, put beneath Thy special care
One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

Although dear Lord, I am a sinner,
I have done no major crime;
Now I'll come to Evening Service
Whensoever I have the time.
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,
And do not let my shares go down.

I will labour for Thy kingdom,
Help our lads to win the war,
Send white feathers to the cowards
Join the Women's Army Corps.
Then wash the Steps around Thy Throne
In the Eternal Safety Zone.

Now I feel a little better,
What a treat to hear Thy Word,
Where the bones of leading statesmen,
Have so often been interr'd.
And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait
Because I have a luncheon date.

From 'Old lights for new Chancels' (1940) by John Betjeman.

From 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus' edited by Rev C McNeiry C.SS.R

'The judgement sat and the books were opened.

There will be two books, the Gospel and the conscience. In the Gospel will be read what the accused should have done, and in his conscience what he has done. In the balance of Divine Justice, not riches, nor dignities, nor nobility, but works alone will have weight" (July 19th)


Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for our Church, and guide and protect our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI

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