Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Illustrissimi - letter to GK Chesterton. 'Our Lady Vulnerata' at Valladolid

 Here is a further short extract from 'Illustrissimi',  the letters of  Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, written in the early 1970s for the Italian Christian paper 'Il Messagero di Sant' Antonio'.In 1978 Albino Luciani was elected Pope, taking the name John Paul I. After only 33 days in office, he died of a heart attack.In these letters the author addresses well-known persons, both real and imaginary, expounding on their lives and experiences, and using these to illustrate God's love for mankind in spite of our weakness and sinfulness, and the need to live our lives in accordance with His laws and the laws of His Church. This letter is to G.K.Chesterton, English journalist and author (1874-1936), a convert to Catholicism in 1922. He wrote many novels and was a brilliant polemicist, who longed for an ideal society without social inequalities, based on good sense, religion, and humour. His works include 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill','The Man WhoWas Thursday', and the 'Father Brown Stories'.

                   GILBERT KEITH CHESTERTON (1874-1936)

Dear Chesterton,
       On Italian television during the past few weeks we have been seeing Father Brown, your surprising detective-priest – a character who is typically yours. A pity we haven’t also had Professor Lucifer and the monk Michael. I’d very much liked to have seen them as you described them in ‘The Ball and the Cross’, sitting beside each other on the flying ship.
               ' When the flying ship is above St Paul’s Cathedral, the Professor gives ‘a shriek indescribable’ as they pass the 'cross on the ball' set on top of the dome.
    “I once knew a man like you, Lucifer,” says Michael, "this man also took the view that the symbol of Christianity was a symbol of savagery and all unreason. His history is rather farcical. It is also a perfect allegory of what happens to rationalists like yourself. 
     He began, of course, by refusing to allow a crucifix in his house, or round his wife’s neck, or even in a picture. He said, as you say, that it was an arbitrary and fantastic shape, that it was a monstrosity, loved because it was paradoxical. Then he began to grow fiercer and more eccentric; he would batter the crosses by the roadside; for he lived in a Roman Catholic country. Finally in a height of frenzy, he climbed the steeple of the Parish church and tore down the cross, waving it in the air, and uttering wild soliloquies up there under the stars.
       Then one still summer evening as he was wending his way homewards, along a lane, the devil of his madness came upon him with a violence and transfiguration which changes the world. He was standing smoking for a moment, in front of an interminable line of palings, when his eyes were opened. Not a light shifted, not a leaf stirred, but he saw as if by a sudden change in the eyesight, that this paling was an army of innumerable crosses linked together over hill and dale. And he whirled up his heavy stick, and went at it as if at an army. Mile after mile along his homeward path he broke it down and tore it up For he hated the cross and every paling is a wall of crosses. 
      When he returned to his house he was a literal madman. He sat upon a chair and then started up from it, for the crossbars of the carpentry repeated the intolerable image. He flung himself upon a bed only to remember that this too, like all workmanlike things, was constructed on the accursed plan. He broke his furniture because it was made of crosses. He burnt his house because it was made of crosses. 
     He was found in the river.”
      Lucifer was looking at him with a bitten lip. “Is that story really true?” he asked. “Oh no,” said Michael, “It is a parable. It is a parable of you and all your rationalists. You begin by breaking up the Cross; but you end by breaking up the habitable world.”
    The monk’s conclusion, which is yours, dear Chesterton, is quite right. Take God away and what is left, what do men become? What sort of world are we reduced to living in?
    ‘Why, the world of progress!‘ I hear someone say, ‘the world of affluence!’  Yes but this famous progress isn’t all it was once cracked up to be. It contains other things in itself:  missiles, bacteriological and atomic weapons, the process of pollution, all things that unless they are dealt with in time, threaten to plunge the whole human race into catastrophe.
    In other words, progress that involves men who love one another, thinking of themselves as brothers and as children of the one Father, God, can be a magnificent thing. But progress that involves men who don’t recognise a single Father in God, becomes a constant danger: without a parallel moral progress, which is continuous and internal, it develops what is lowest and cruellest in man, making him a machine possessed by machines, a number manipulated by numbers; he becomes what Papini calls ‘a raving savage, who to satisfy his predatory, destructive and licentious instincts, no longer uses a club, but has the immense forces of nature and mechanical invention to draw upon.’
    Yes I know there are plenty of people who think the opposite of this, who consider religion a consoling dream invented by oppressed people ….. who consider God as dead or dying…. ‘yet, dear Chesterton, you and I go down on our knees before a God who is more present than ever. Only he can give a satisfactory answer to the questions which, for everyone, are the most important of all; Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?
    The sense of justice that lies in every man, whatever his faith, demands that the good we do and the evil we suffer should be rewarded, that the hunger of life found in everyone should be satisfied. Where and how, if there is no other life? And from whom, if not from God? And from what God, if not the one of whom St Francis de Sales wrote: ‘Do not fear God, who wishes you no harm, but love Him a great deal, who wishes you so much good.’
    What many people fight is not the true God but the false idea they have made of God. A God who protects the rich, who only asks and demands, who is jealous of our growing prosperity, who spies continuously on our sins from above to give himself the pleasure of punishing us.
    Dear Chesterton, you know God isn’t like that; you know that He is both good and just; the father of prodigal sons, who wishes them all to be, not sad and wretched, but great and free, and creators of their own destiny. Our God is not man’s rival, He wants us to be His friends, He has called us to share in His divine nature and in His eternal happiness. And He does not ask anything excessive of us: He is content with very little, because He knows quite well that we  haven’t got very much.’
 I found the following interesting information on the website of the Royal English College, Valladolid, Spain, an English seminary founded in 1589 by the famous Jesuit priest, Fr Robert  Persons, to train priests for the English Missions. Twenty-seven former students are recognised as martyrs for the faith. The College is no longer used as a major seminary, due apparently to the decline in vocations, but it organises a 'propaedeutic' year ie. a preliminary year for priestly aspirants,  before they begin their full seminary training elsewhere.


The image of Our Lady venerated in the College Chapel, is that of La Vulnerata, or The Wounded One. The story of the Vulnerata goes back centuries; but in 1596, as Spain was recovering from the defeat of the Armada and was gathering another fleet in the city of Cadiz, the Earl of Essex together with Sir Walter Raleigh led an English fleet into the harbour, defeating the Spanish fleet and taking possession of the city. Some of the English troops started a riot and dragged a statue of the Virgin Mother and Child from a church to the market square, where they desecrated it. They broke off both arms, and all that remained of the child were parts of his tiny feet on his mother’s knee. The mutilated statue was later retrieved, taken to Madrid, and given a place of honour in a private chapel of a Countess. 
               The priests and seminarians of the English and Welsh College in Valladolid asked the Countess if they might make reparation for the behaviour of their fellow countrymen who had desecrated the statue. She agreed and the statue was brought to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600. Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge 'paso' or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period--then the Vulnerata comes back to the College.

Prayer to Our Lady Vulnerata

Dear Mother, as I gaze on your wounded and mutilated image, I humbly beg your pardon for the grievous insults to you, great Mother of God. Help me to notice the wounded children of the world, and see your beauty in the faces of the poor and disfranchised. Let me love them better, as your Son commanded. I praise you through the faith, loyalty and blood of the missionaries who prayed for courage before your image, and I ask you to keep today’s missionaries in your loving care as they, too, carry the Good News throughout the world. Amen

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us, and guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.