Monday, 19 August 2019

'Mathew Speaks' by Caryll Houselander (1901-1954)

  



 'Frances Caryll Houselander was born in Bath, England, on Sept 29, 1901, the second of two daughters.  She was not expected to survive for more than a day, and was immediately baptized,  given the name ‘Frances’ after her uncle, a gynaecologist who helped deliver her, and ‘Caryll’,  after the yacht on which her mother had spent the last months of her pregnancy!
     She went on to survive her first day, and indeed many more after that, though her health continued to be poor throughout her life.
     When she was 6 years old, a family friend persuaded her mother to have the children baptised in the Catholic faith. Although little formal religious education followed her reception into the Church, her mother encouraged a deep sense of piety and devotion in the home, and Frances, a devout child,  made her first confession and Holy Communion when she was just seven years old.
     Two years later, her world was shattered when her parents  separated. Though they were never  divorced, the separation was to be a permanent one. For the next several years, she changed homes and schools, never fully settling in one place before she was moved to the next.
     Her erratic health led her doctors to advise that she avoid all class work, and,  by the time she returned home in 1917, her formal education was virtually non-existent.  During her years in the convent schools, she experienced three religious visions, which led to a personal and absolute conviction that she had been called by Christ to give recognition to the reality of His loving Presence and Image in all people, particularly the suffering and poor of this world, and to convey the realisation and awareness of this to all those with whom she came into contact, personally and through her writings. Frances had a great affinity with young children, and during her life wrote and illustrated children's books, always revealing a simple delight in the love of God and His creation.
     When the war ended, she attended art school and it was during this period that she drifted from the Catholic Church. She explored the Orthodox Church among others, but found them all wanting, and craving for peace of soul and longing for the Sacraments, she returned to the Catholic Church; she was then twenty-four years old.
     Advised to concentrate on her writing, she  began to write articles and illustrate for the ‘Children’s Messenger of the Sacred Heart’, often on an unpaid basis. Her work ultimately led to her making the acquaintance of the Catholic publishers, Sheed and Ward, who were subsequently to  become the major publishers of her many books.
     Always willing to open her home and her heart to those in need, she was frequently physically and emotionally  overwhelmed by those who sought her advice, yet she remained reluctant to turn people away.
     Msgr. Ronald Knox, a contemporary, and admirer of Houselander, recognized her tremendous gift of insight, and was later to say, "She seemed  to see everything for the first time, and the driest of doctrinal considerations shone out like a restored picture when she had finished with it." 
     Her popularity and success in healing the hurts and the hearts of many can be measured by the support of such eminent physicians as Dr. Strauss, later President of the British Psychological Society, who sent patients to her. His explanation was that "she loved them back to life".
     Her impact, both literary and personal, was due above all, to the intensity of her vision of the suffering Christ, a vision she expressed with utter sincerity and immediacy and, on occasion, with breathtaking luminosity. Indeed, she can best be described not just as a writer, nor even just an artist, but as a mystic and a visionary, even in the tradition of Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, or Teresa of Avila, which would explain how she was able to communicate so directly and movingly to her large reading public, and accounts for her extraordinary success in counselling British and foreign children who had been traumatized by the war.
     Not gregarious by nature, she nevertheless radiated gaiety and a  sense of fun; her wickedly funny tongue often provoking as much hilarity among her intimates as it caused her remorse.
     She was unquestionably a genuine mystic whose frailties were transformed into real strength and whose neuroses became the means whereby she was able to join her sufferings with Christ on the cross. It was as though her burning love of God overflowed for the refreshment of all who came in contact with her.
    "She seemed to possess a well that never ran dry for anyone but herself. She gave of her food to feed the hungry, her time to counsel those in need, her energy to write countless letters, articles and books, and ultimately her health for the health and well-being of others. She spent years attending to the rigorous demands of her ailing parents, and, having been plagued by ill health her entire life, had become accustomed to pain and slow to address her own physical ailments. Her lack of self-concern, however, which extended to everything from her looks, to her diet, her sleep, her health, her living quarters, etc., took its toll."
      During her last years, she worked tirelessly to complete books, write letters, strengthen the works of charity she had begun, and minister to the many mentally ill children who were sent her way'            
      She died on October 12, 1954, from breast cancer. 
"The wonder of Frances Caryll Houselander is found in her humble willingness to suffer with Christ, to let Him transform her flawed and sinful nature into a divine work of art."


Ack.  Karen Lynn Krugh / Catholic Culture.org

Ack.  Margot H. King - currently working on biography for Peregrina Publishers.
Ack.   Robin Maas - Caryll Houselander, an appreciation.
www.ewtn.com/library
 









Frances Caryll Houselander
- mystic, poet, artist, writer
         (1901 - 1954)


















In 'Mathew Speaks', Caryll Houselander reveals a deep spirituality enveloping a sympathetic and sincere humanity. Through the thoughts and words of  Mathew, the tax collector, she reveals the hopes and aspirations of his Jewish community who hear and see Jesus, probably for the first time, when he visits their township. The expectations of the young and the older people concerning the coming Messiah, are of this world rather than the next. They believe that the Messiah will restore worldly power and glory to the Jewish people, although Mathew knows that this will not be the case. Caryll Houselander, through the mind of Mathew, gently explores the fears and expectations of the ordinary people, gradually introducing the overwhelming concept of Christ's love for all mankind. The concept of 'Christ being in all men' is one which Houselander preached and practised throughout her life. A similar poem by her, 'Philip  Speaks', explores the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, as experienced through the mind of  Philip, who Jesus made responsible for distributing the loaves and fishes to the multitude. This is a most moving poem which I recommend, and I leave a link at the end of this post for those interested.

*******************


Mathew Speaks  

His fame had spread through Syria like flame in
dry grass.
From Galilee and the Decapolis and over Jordan
the people came.
Crowds came out of Judea and out of Jerusalem.

In the hearts of the old men
hope for the race smouldered again:
“Oh, that Messiah were come to set us free!”
In the hearts of the women
hope for the children flickered with faint flame:
“Oh, that Messiah were come to set them free!”
The proud heart of youth blazed, suddenly on fire:
“Oh, for our own glory, in the glory of Messiah!”

I was afraid,
I, the tax collector,
who had sat in the Custom house.
I knew men through and through,
having got my living, as it were,
by other men’s despair.

I knew the humiliated,
I knew the oppressed;
I knew the king,
whom they had crowned already
in their desire:
they had created him
out of their bitterness.

Out of their broken flesh,
out of their hunger and thirst,
out of their chains –
weaponless, they had forged him a sword:
ragged, they had woven for him
purple raiment and cloth of gold for a king:
out of the festering wound,
out of the conqueror’s scorn,
in dreams, the son of the race was born –
Messiah, the Son of Dreams.

I knew it all.
How often I had sat in the market place
and seen the women there, rocking to and fro,
like those who sit by the dead to reap-
rocking, rocking, rocking,
to and fro;
trying to rock the cradled nothingness
in the barren womb
to sleep.

As for the young,
they wanted a leader, whose power
would be in his lust for power,
one whose tongue
would utter their dumb pride
in song,
one in whose heart
their frightened hearts would beat
to the sound of drums.

                                 II

I was afraid
that they would despair
when they saw the Lord.

He was very poor.
He had the chiselled features
of one who denies himself;
His hands
were the large hands
of an artisan –
and without a sword;
His eyes,
the eyes of pity and love;
His speech,
the broad, slow speech
of a countryman.

I was afraid.
But when He began to speak
It seemed to each who heard
that the word was spoken to him alone.

He dawned upon the people;
He did not take them by storm:
soft as the blown thistledown’s sowing,
the seed of the Word was sown.

Each who heard
knew the light growing within him,
like morning,
slowly swelling
and filling the empty sky
before the first song
of the first bird.

I understood,
when He began to teach,
why first
He had given light to blind eyes;
and to deaf ears,
the music of water and wind;
and to hands and feet that were numb,
the touch of the delicate grass and the sun;
and speech to the dumb.

For He spoke of the things
men see and taste and hold:
of salt and rock and light
and the wheat in gold;
of winds and wings and flowers
and the fruit on boughs:
of candle-light in the house.

They heard His voice.
Like the voice of a murmurous  sea
a long way off, washing the shores of peace:
but each knew within him
a soundless music,
a voiceless singing,
saying:

“feel the pulse of My Love
with your fingertips;
prove My tenderness
in the tiny beat
of the heart of the mother bird;
lay your hand on the hard bark of the tree –
know Me
in the rising sap
of the green life
In the dark.

“I have strewn the flowers
under your feet:
see if I love you;
see if My love is sweet!”

There was a thawing then,
like the melting of frost
when winter is done
and the warm sun
kisses the world.

There was a thawing then
in the hearts of the women,
and after the hard frost
of the hard years,
their unshed tears
were flowing.

They understood
how the Lord
takes the lowest least
for His self-bestowing.
They would remember,
when they were baking bread,
how He had said
that His grace
works secretly in them,
like yeast.

When they sifted the ash
and blew the spark of the fire,
they would remember
the Breath of the Spirit
that fans the smoking flax.

He spoke of chastity,
the splendour of love;
of desire,
silver purified
in the heart of the fire;
of thought,
white linen spread
for the marriage feast.

Then –
the men knew,
with a great sighing of joy,
that the dead bough
must fall from the living tree;
the fetid thought,
the furtive word,
the seeping lust,
the cloying grief,
the blight on the green leaf,
the hard fruit
with soft rot at the core,
would be no more,
no more.

But the heart would be born again
to a white maying and morning
and first falling in love.

                                                            III

Christ looked at the people.
He saw them assailed by fear:
He saw the locked door;
He saw the knife in the hand;
He saw the buried coin;
He saw the unworn coat,
consumed by moth;
He saw the stagnant water
drawn and kept in the pitcher,
the musty bread in the bin –
the defended,
the unshared,
the ungiven.

He told them then
of the love
that casts out fear,
of the love that is four walls
and a roof over the head:
of the knife in the sheath,
of the coin in the open hand,
of the coin given
warm with the giver’s life,
of the water poured in the cup,
of the table spread –
the undefended,
the shared,
the given –
the Kingdom of Heaven.

Christ looked at the people.
He saw the hard years
graven upon their faces;
He saw the old clothes,
worn to the shape of their work;
He saw their unshed tears;
He saw the labourer’s hands,
hollowed out by the tools
as his own were hollowed out
by the mallet to cup the nail.

He saw the crust of the will,
like the hard crust of rye;
He saw flesh and blood,
the sacramentals of love;
He saw the image of God,
the crystal in the rock.

He lifted
His large and beautiful hands
to bless.

                                                             Caryll Houselander

E saw2 the hard years graven upon their faces:




Ack.  'The Book of the Saviour'

an anthology published by Sheed and Ward

London and New York 1952


************


N.B.    link to 'Philip Speaks'




2 comments:

HDVOGO said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
umblepie said...

HDVOGO
Sorry to delete your comment, and I thank you for your kind remarks.
However, I an not prepared to allow 'commercial advertising' in the published comments section.
It is for this reason that I have deleted your comment.
Kind regards. BC.