Wednesday, 10 December 2014

'Bab Ballads' by W.S.Gilbert - not all light and joy.

Sir William Schwenck Gilbert  (18 November 1836 – 29 May 1911) was an English dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator best known for the fourteen comic operas  (known as the Savoy operas) produced in  collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan. The most famous of these include H.M.S.Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and one of the most frequently performed works in the history of musical theatre, The Mikado. These, as well as several of the other Savoy operas, continue to be frequently performed in the English-speaking world and beyond by opera companies, repertory companies, schools and community theatre groups. Lines from these works have become part of the English language, such as "short, sharp, shock”, "What, never? Well, hardly ever!", and "Let the punishment fit the crime".
    Gilbert also wrote the Bab Ballads, an extensive collection of light verse accompanied by his own comical drawings. His creative output included over 75 plays and libretti, numerous stories, poems, lyrics and various other comic and serious pieces. His plays and realistic style of stage direction inspired other dramatists, including Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. According to The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Gilbert's "lyrical facility and his mastery of metre raised the poetical quality of comic opera to a position that it had never reached before and has not reached since". (Wikipedia)

William S Gilbert

The ‘Bab Ballads’ appeared originally in the columns of “Fun”, and were subsequently republished in two volumes viz. ‘The Bab Ballads’ and ‘More Bab Ballads’. The author, WS Gilbert, was not satisfied with the finished product, and after withdrawing certain Ballads which he felt were not up to standard, arranged for those remaining to be re-published in one volume.
     ‘At a Pantomine’ is taken from the revised volume ‘Fifty Bab Ballads’, which is prefaced by W.S.Gilbert, 24 The Boltons, South Kensington, and dated August 1876. The numerous caricatures illustrating the Ballads were drawn by Gilbert, and signed ‘Bab’, a childhood nick-name.

‘At a Pantomine’,    by A Bilious One.

An Actor sits in doubtful gloom
His stock-in-trade unfurled,
In a damp funereal dressing-room
In the Theatre Royal, World.
He comes to town at Christmas-time, 
And braves its icy breath,
To play in that favourite pantomime,
Harlequin Life and Death.

A hoary flowing wig his weird
Unearthly cranium caps,
He hangs a long benevolent beard
On a pair of empty chaps.

To smooth his ghastly features down
The actor’s art he cribs, -
A long and a flowing padded gown
Bedecks his rattling ribs.

He cries, “Go on – begin, begin!
Turn on the light of lime –
I’m dressed for jolly old Christmas, in
A favourite pantomime!”

The curtain’s up – the stage all black –
Time and the year nigh sped-
Time as an advertising quack –
The Old Year nearly dead.

The wand of Time is waved, and lo!
Revealed Old Christmas stands,
And little children chuckle and crow,
And laugh and clap their hands.

The cruel old scoundrel brightens up
At the death of the Olden Year,
And he waves a gorgeous golden cup,
And bids the world good cheer.

The little ones hail the festive King, -
No thought can make them sad.
Their laughter comes with a sounding ring,
They clap and crow like mad.

They only see in the humbug old
A holiday every year,
And handsome gifts, and joys untold,
And unaccustomed cheer.

The old ones, palsied, blear, and hoar,
Their breasts in anguish beat –
They’ve seen him seventy times before,
How well they know the cheat!

They’ve seen that ghastly pantomime,
They’ve felt its blighting breath,
They know that rollicking Christmas-time
Meant Cold and Want and Death, -

Starvation -  Poor Law Union fare –
And deadly cramps and chills,
And illness – illness everywhere,
And crime, and Christmas bills.

They know Old Christmas well, I ween,
Those men of ripened age;
They’ve often, often, often seen
That Actor off the stage!

They see in his gay rotundity
A clumsy stuffed-out dress –
They see in the cup he waves on high
A tinselled emptiness.

Those aged men so lean and wan,
They’ve seen it all before,
They know they’ll see the charlatan
But twice or three times more.

And so they bear with dance and song,
And crimson foil and green,
They wearily sit, and grimly long
For the Transformation Scene.


 Ack  ‘Fifty Bab Ballads’ by W S Gilbert
Although famous for his wit and light-hearted humour, Gilbert had a darker side to his character which I think is well illustrated by the above Ballad. He was a realist and was not afraid to express views which could be socially and politically unpalatable. He received his early education in France, and his later education at Kings College, London. In 1856 he joined the Civil Service employed as an Assistant Clerk in the Privy Council Office, remaining there for nearly four years, apparently hating the job. From 1859 to 1874 he joined the Militia – a military organisation formed for the defence of the realm, as a part-time volunteer, ending up with the rank of Captain. At the same time and for only a few months, he practised as a Barrister, after which his ability as a writer, reviewer, and illustrator, brought him increasing patronage. In 1863 he professionally produced his first play, and during the following six years he produced opera burlesques, farces, and pantomimes. From 1869 to 1875 he, with Thomas German Reed, was fully involved in theatrical reform, producing family entertainment and comedies 'suitable for young ladies', in contrast to the then current vogue in Victorian burlesque. In 1875 his operetta Trial by Jury was performed in London as a back-up to a major opera, and proved a great success. In 1877 the theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte founded the D’Oyly Carte Comedy Co., and during the next twelve years the Savoy Operas, comprising all of Gilbert’s major operettas, were performed to great acclaim, both national and international. In 1889 Gilbert was responsible for the building of the Garrick Theatre in London. His long standing professional relationship with the composer Arthur Sullivan, with whom the Savoy Operas had been so successfully created, deteriorated in the early 1890s. His operettas continued to flourish and grow in popularity, and whilst new works were few, Gilbert was fully occupied in directing and advising on new productions of the Savoy operas. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace, and in 1907 was knighted. He died in 1911 having suffered a heart attack whilst trying to rescue a young woman who had fallen into the lake adjoining his house.

Memorial to SW Gilbert
on Victoria Embankment,London.
by George Frampton 1914.
(photo ack. lonpicman GNU free documentation licence)


In contrast to the rather somewhat depressing effect of the above Ballad, I would like to finish on a rather lighter and brighter note with a short poem by Joyce Falkner. 

Christmas Poem

A Star for the Christ Baby's birthday,
The Moon for His Mother the Maid,
And the Sun for the light of God's mercy
As the new dawn disperses night's shade.

Today is the day of the children,
The feast of the wonder of birth,
Of the innocent, weak, and dependent
Brought forth to replenish the earth.

And how will our children be living
In the world we're now helping to plan?
Do we teach them not grabbing, but giving?
To praise God by caring for man?

Have we faith that these little ones, maybe,
By the Star and the Moon and the Sun
Will create in the name of that Baby
A world fairer, more kind than we've done.
                                                      Joyce Falkner 1979.

Christ is born! Give Him glory! Christ came from Heaven! Greet Him all!

****  ALLELUIA   ****

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Synod - clearing the cobwebs!

Just a few thoughts.......... 
(This post is reproduced from the Black Biretta blogsite - with acknowledgement and thanks.)

Synod Cynicism not necessary 

The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas often said: Concede parum, nega frequenter, distingue semper (never affirm, seldom deny and always distinguish). This is prudential advice we can and must apply today as we digest what the Synod of Bishops is doing, what is claimed to being done and what will be done afterwards.

First of all, using the via negativa, a Synod is not an Ecumenical Council. Only an Ecumenical Council and/or an ex cathedra papal decree on faith and morals are considered Extraordinary Magisterium.

Synods are considered Ordinary Magisterium just as are papal encyclicals. Their teachings are infallible ONLY when they affirm a teaching on faith and morals that has been consistently and perennially taught by Holy Mother Church over the centuries.  Humanae Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis are ordinary magisterial documents which contain infallible teachings since they reiterate what the Church has always believed and held quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (everywhere, always and by all).

That being said, the current Synod of Bishops, being an exercise of the ordinary magisterium, would only issue infallible teachings if those teachings were already what the Catholic Church has always taught. They cannot undo or create doctrines. Non-infallible statements would fall into the category of non-definitive, theological speculations and pastoral prudential judgments.

                                                                        Pope Benedict XVI
When Pope Benedict XVI was still Cardinal Ratzinger and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) he clarified that synods are by their nature (defacto) advisory and consultative. They are not synonymous with Ecumenical Councils presided over by the Bishop of Rome. Synods are not parliaments, either. They are opportunities for open discussions and sharing of opinions but truth is not defined nor determined by majority rules even if it among successors of the apostles.  (Questions about the Structure and Task of the Synod of Bishops’, in Joseph Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism, Politics: New Essays in Ecclesiology. New York: Crossroad, 1988)

Hence, Synodal decrees do not possess the same magisterial authority as do statements from an Ecumenical Council or from formal Papal decrees, either. No need to worry that any doctrines or dogmas are in jeopardy no matter what any particular cardinal or bishop says.

                               Resurrection of Christ - Gerard Seghers (1620)
When you read the actual relatio of the Synod as opposed to what the secular press claims the episcopal body said, you see a more than subtle difference. While discussions and dialogues have spanned the gamut of theological opinions (from archconservative traditional to ultra-liberal progressive) most of what has been decided (to be suggested to the Roman Pontiff) has been PASTORAL RESPONSES instead of doctrinal and moral teachings.

The Synod is NOT asking the Holy Father to permit cohabitation, divorce and remarriage without annulment nor for same-sex unions. What it is suggesting is that a pastoral approach be used to encourage people in these relationships to repair their irregular and sinful situations while at the same time providing spiritual encouragement for them to persevere in that journey. In other words, just as we often have divorced and invalidly married couples attend Mass and register in parishes, likewise, we have cohabitating couples do the same. If a homosexual couple were to register and attend a local parish, they would be under the same moral and doctrinal norms as everyone else. 

The sacraments, especially Holy Eucharist and Matrimony are reserved to those who are canonically free to receive them. It is not a denial of Holy Communion, rather a postponement until such time as the individual person and couple are in full communion with all the Catholic Church’s moral and doctrinal teachings and disciplines. Persons in such circumstances, though, deserve mercy and attention whenever and wherever possible. We should be approachable for counsel and advice without any fear of altering Catholic faith and morals.

Pastoral responses are precisely that. They are not a denial nor dilution of dogma. They are medicinal, remedial and therapeutic ways to assist people who have made imprudent or even immoral judgments have a conversion of heart. Just as Our Divine Lord never condoned sin, He likewise loved the sinner. His love was Divine Mercy. That also entailed a call to conversion: “go and sin no more.”

The Synod statements found online at the Vatican are significantly different from what most of secular press claim has been said and worse yet, what is being officially taught. They are not magisterial decrees per se.  Homosexual marriage and homosexual activity, pre-marital and extra-marital sex, divorce and remarriage without annulment are NOT being tolerated nor approved. The pastoral approach, however, to evangelizing and ministering to these folks, is what is being contemplated. Not carte blanche but something practical and achievable.

                        Image of Jesus, Divine Mercy, with Sister Faustina

Streamlining the annulment process by eliminating or circumventing the automatic appeal to the court of higher instance is a prudential suggestion but one that is not necessarily prudent. No one wants to return to the situation where lower tribunals granted decrees of nullity only to have a higher court overrule them. Instead of emphasizing the end of the process we need to examine the beginning instead.

A better strategy is to BETTER PREPARE couples for Holy Matrimony.  Twelve months Pre-Cana is only a starting point. Mentoring with couples in the parish who have a valid and healthy marital relationship is also beneficial. Emphasizing the marriage above and beyond the ceremony is also needed. Too many weddings are elaborately planned but the lifelong covenant of marriage is placed on the back burner.  Recent studies have shown a phenomenon where most married couples who split up do so before the fourth or fifth year of marriage. Providing accessible, affordable and practical counseling is a goal every diocese should embrace.

There will always be marginalized, lukewarm and part-time Catholics who attend Mass occasionally or infrequently, who may be in an invalid marriage or living together. Persons with same-sex attraction may have succumbed to the invalid civil union and civil marriage recourse. Pastorally seeing and treating all of them as children of God and as brothers and sisters in Christ in need of moral and spiritual guidance is what the Church is about. Not denying or watering down the faith, but with mercy, encouraging them to amend their lives and rectify their relationships.

Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery - Peter Bruguel the Younger c.1600

The Synod is nothing to fear nor is it something to worry about. Suggestions will be made after discussions have ended. Implementation will be at the discretion of the Pope and how he responds is his prerogative. Prudential judgments are not doctrine or morality but the fullness of authority resides with the Bishop of Rome. We Catholics believe the Holy Spirit will prevent any false teaching to ever be imposed upon the faithful. Only Sacred Scripture has the guarantee of divine inspiration. Human beings, even those who shepherd the church, are not perfect and some can even be influenced by politics and other factors. Synods do not demand an assent of faith nor do they require complete obedience. They do deserve respect and consideration, however, and this can only be done when we the faithful read the actual documents and keep them in their proper context alongside all that has already been formally taught and held.

(Tuesday October 14, 2014.  Posted at 12.07p.m. by Rev Dr John Trigilio) - link below

Synod Cynicism not necessary

Monday, 6 October 2014

'Martyrs to the Catholic Faith' by Bishop Challoner

Extract from ‘Martyrs to the Catholic Faith’, Memoirs of Missionary Priests and other Catholics of both Sexes’ by Bishop Challoner V.A.L. (first published in 1741)
                                                             Bishop Richard Challoner
         ‘Our memoirs of the sufferings of our English Catholics begin with the year 1577, the nineteenth of Queen Elizabeth; because from this year  may properly date the beginning of the great persecution, but little blood having been shed by her before, at least for matters purely religious. 
          And it is very remarkable that this same year, a few months before the execution of the proto-martyr of the seminaries, Mr Cuthbert Maine, God Almighty seems to have warned the nation against this spirit of persecution, by a judgment (for I can call it nothing else) which can scarce be paralleled in all history; and as to the substance of the matter of fact, is attested by all kinds of records, and acknowledged by Protestants as well as Catholics.

           This was in the case of the memorable trial of Roland Jenks, a Catholic bookseller in Oxford, who, for speaking some words against the Queen’s religion, was condemned, in the Assizes held at Oxford in July 1577, to have his ears nailed to the pillory, and to deliver himself by cutting them off with his own hands.  Which sentence was no sooner passed, when immediately upon the spot, a strange mortal distemper, the like of which, as to symptoms, has never been heard of before or since, seized upon the judges, justices on the bench, sheriffs, jurymen, and hundreds of others that were present at the trial, and carried them off in a very short time. Let us hear Mr Wood, the Protestant historian of the University of Oxford, in his account of this history, in his ‘Historia et Antiquitates Universitatis Oxoniensis'.
His words translated from the Latin, are as follows:-

          ‘It was ordered therefore, in the convocation held on 1st of May 1577, that the criminal Roland Jenks, should immediately be apprehended, and being put into irons, should be sent up in order to be examined before the Chancellor of the University and the Queen’s Council. In the meantime, all his goods are seized, and in his house are found bulls of Popes and libels reflecting upon her Majesty.
          He was examined at London, in presence of the persons aforesaid, and then was sent back to Oxford, there to be kept in prison until the next assizes, which began on the 4th of July, in the Old Hall in the Castle Yard, and lasted for two days.
          ‘He was brought to the bar, and was arraigned for high crimes and misdemeanours; and being found guilty, was condemned by a sentence in some manner
capital; for he was to lose his ears. 
          At which time (though my soul dreads almost to relate it), so sudden a plague invaded the men that were present (the great crowd of people, the violent heat of the summer, and the stench of the prisoners all conspiring together, and perhaps also a poisonous exhalation breaking suddenly at the same time out of the earth), that you might say Death itself sat on the Bench, and, by her definitive sentence, put an end to all the causes. For great numbers immediately died in the spot; others, struck with death, hastened out of the Court as fast as they could, to die within a very few hours. 

          It may not be amiss to set down the names of the persons of greatest note who were seized by that plague, and breathed out their souls. These were Sir Robert Bell, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and Nicholas Barham, sergeant-at-law, both great enemies of the Popish religion; which perhaps the Romanists will lay hold on as an argument for their cause; but I desire them to remember not to search too narrowly into the secret judgments of God, when we are at a loss to account even for those things which the Almighty has revealed in Holy Writ. 
          To the above named must be added Sir Robert Doyley, the High Sheriff of Oxford, Mr Hart his deputy; Sir William Babington; Messieurs Doyley, Wenman, Danvers, Fettyplace, and Harcourt, Justices of the Peace; Kirley, Greenwood, Nash, and Foster, gentlemen: to whom are to be joined, to say nothing of others, almost all the jurymen, who died within two days.’

          He adds out of the register of Merton College, the following account of the symptoms of this strange disease:-

          ‘Some getting out of bed (agitated with I know not what fury from their distemper and pain), beat and drive from them their keepers with sticks; others run about the yards and streets like madmen; others jump head foremost into deep waters.  The sick labour with a most violent pain, both of the head and stomach; they are taken
with a phrenzy; are deprived of their understanding, memory, sight, hearing, and other senses. As the disease increases, they take nothing; they get no sleep; they suffer none to tend or keep them; they are always wonderfully strong and robust, even in death itself. No complexion or constitution is spared, but the choleric are more
particularly attacked by this evil, of which the physicians can neither find the cause nor cure. The stronger the person is, the sooner he dies. Women are not seized by it, nor the poor, neither does any one catch it that takes care of the sick or visits them.  But as this disease was strangely violent, so it was but of a short continuance; for within a month it was over.’

                                       Oxford Castle and Prison in 15th century.

The substance of this history may be found also in Sir Richard Baker’s ‘Chronicle’, and in Fuller’s ‘Church History’, as well as reports by Catholic writers.  Ypez, Bishop of Taracona, in his ‘Spanish History of the Persecution’ relates similar examples of like judgements upon the persecutors.

           Mr Jenks himself survived his punishment many years, for I find by the same diary he was at Rheims in 1587. But neither this remarkable warning, nor any other ensuing judgements, hindered the unhappy politicians of those days from beginning and carrying on the intended tragedy, which afforded the nation so many scenes of blood for the remaining years of that long reign; and all for fear lest ‘the Romans should come and take away their place and nation’.                                                    

                                                           Queen Elizabeth (c.1575)

It seems appropriate to remind ourselves of just a few of those many Catholic martyrs who gave their lives for their faith. These mentioned were all executed in early October, 1588, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, at different locations throughout England.  Although occurring over four hundred and twenty years ago, reading of these events has the curious effect of minimising the time scale to the extent that we could be reading of contemporary events. Human nature does not change, only the scenario.

Further extracts from ‘Martyrs to the Catholic Faith’ by Bishop Challoner  V.A.L.
         ‘Ralph Crokett was born at Barton-upon-the-Hill, in Cheshire, performed his studies at Rheims, and was an aluminus and Priest of the College then residing in that city, from whence he was sent upon the English mission in 1585. The particulars of his missionary labours, or of his apprehension and trial, I have not found, only that he was prosecuted and condemned upon the penal statute of 27th Elizabeth, and had sentence to die as in cases of high treason, barely upon account of his priestly character and functions. He was drawn, hanged, bowelled, and quartered at Chichester, October 1, 1588.'

           'Edward James was born at Braiston, in Derbyshire, and was for some time student in the college of Rheims, from whence he was sent to Rome, 1588.  Here he was made priest, and from hence he was sent upon the English mission. He was apprehended, prosecuted, and condemned, barely upon account of his priestly
character, and was hanged, bowelled, and quartered on the same day and at the same place with Mr Crokett.'
          Their quarters were set upon poles over the gates of the city, through one of which a Catholic man passing early in the morning, found one of these quarters which had fallen down, which, by the size, was judged to be Mr Crockett’s (he having been a tall man, whereas Mr James was of low stature). This quarter was carried off
and sent over to Douay, where I have seen it.’
           Mr Robinson was born at Fernsby, in the North Riding of Yorkshire.  His character in  Dr Champney, is that he was a man of extraordinary Christian simplicity and sincerity; in a word, a true Israelite, in whom there was no guile. After having lived some time in the world in a married state, becoming a widower by the death of his wife, he went over to Rheims, where the College then was; and thereto applying himself to his studies, was at length made priest, and sent upon the mission.
              He no sooner came to England than he was apprehended in the very port, and sent up to London, where, after some months imprisonment, he was brought to the bar, and condemned to die upon account of his priestly character.  Dr Champney relates of him that he was used to say that if he could not dispute for his faith as well as some others, he could die for it as well as the best. 
            He was sent down to suffer at Ipswich in Suffolk, where he was hanged, bowelled, and quartered, October 1, 1588.

           Concerning him thus writes the Rev Mr Haynes:-  ‘Mr John Robinson, a secular priest, being in the year 1588 prisoner in the Clink at London, when the rest that had been there prisoners with him (whom he called his bairns, and they, for his age and sincerity, called him father) were for the Catholic faith sent into divers parts of the kingdom to be executed, the good old man, being left alone, lamented for divers days together exceedingly, until at last a warrant was sent from the Council to execute him also;  the news whereof did much revive him and to him that brought the warrant he gave his purse and all his money, and fell down on his knees and gave God thanks. 
            Being to set forward in his journey, they willed him to put on boots, for it was in winter, and as far as Ipswich in Suffolk where he was to suffer.  ‘Nay’, said the good man, ‘these legs had never boot on yet since they were mine, and now surely they shall perform this journey without boots, for they shall be well paid for their pains.’ 
          He left behind him a son, Francis Robinson, who was also a priest, and a true heir of his father’s virtue.

                               be hanged, bowelled, and quartered

The next that occur in the catalogues of those that suffered this year, 1588, are Mr Hartley and Mr Weldon, of whom Mr Stow in his Chronicle writes thus:- ‘The 5th October, J Weldon and W Hartley, made priests at Paris, and remaining here contrary to the Statute, were hanged, the one at the Mile’s End, the other nigh the theatre; and Robert Sutton, for being reconciled to the See of Rome, was hanged at Clerkenwell.’

          William Hartley was born in the diocese of Lichfield, performed his higher studies in the College of Rheims, from whence he was sent priest upon the English mission, anno 1580.  Mr Stow says he was ordained at Paris, which may very well be, for the superiors at the College had an indult from the Pope to present their alumni for holy-orders to any of the bishops of the province of Rheims or Sens, one of which the Bishop of Paris was at that time.
          Mr Hartley had not laboured above a twelvemonth in the vineyard of his Lord before he was apprehended in the house of the Lady Stonor, and carried prisoner to the Tower, the 13th August 1581, together with Mr John Stonor and Mr Steven Brinkley, lay gentlemen. Here he was confined till September 16, 1582, and then was translated from the Tower to another prison, where he remained till January 1585, when with about twenty other priests, he was shipped off into banishment.
          Upon this occasion he returned to Rheims to the College; but after some short stay there, set out again for England, being more afraid of being wanting to the cause of God and the salvation of souls than of a cruel death, which he was certain to look for if he fell again, as most probably he would, into the hands of the persecutors. In effect, he was again apprehended some time in or before the year 1588, and then brought upon his trial, and condemned to die upon account of his priestly character. 
          He was executed near the theatre, October 5, 1588, his mother looking on, as Raissius relates, and rejoicing exceedingly that she had brought forth a son to glorify God by such a death.

          On the same day John Weldon, priest of the College of Douay, according to Champney and Molanus, condemned for the same cause, was drawn to Mile’s End Green, and there executed.          
          About the same time, some say the same day, Richard Williams, a venerable priest who had been ordained in England before the change of religion, was also for religious matters hanged at Holloway, near London.

          Robert Sutton, layman, suffered on the same day at Clerkenwell. The cause of his death was purely his religion, viz. because he had been reconciled to the Church of Rome. His life was offered him at the gallows if he would acknowledge the Queen’s ecclesiastical supremacy, as I learn from the copy of a letter which I have in my hands, written by Mr William Naylor, who was an eye-witness of his death. ‘I saw’ says he, ‘one Mr Sutton, a layman and a schoolmaster, put to death at Clerkenwell
in London, to whom the Sheriff promised to procure his pardon if he would but pronounce absolutely the word all; for he would that he should acknowledge the Queen to be supreme head in all causes without any restriction; but he, ‘Mr Sutton’ would acknowledge her to be supreme head only in all causes temporal; and for that he would not pronounce the word all without any restriction, he was executed. This I heard and saw.’
Ack. ‘Martyrs to the Catholic Faith’ by Bishop Challoner V.A.L.

               Execution of Fr Garnett S.J.(1606) at St Paul's, London.

‘Holy English Martyrs pray for us, and for the conversion of England’

'Holy Mary, Seat of Wisdom, guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Francis.'

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.'