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.'