Sunday, 12 July 2020

' Pope John XXIII - Journal of a Soul' - November 1940

Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in Bergamo, Italy, in November 1881. Ordained to the priesthood on August 10, 1904. Consecrated Bishop, March 1925, titular Archbishop of Areopolis. November 1934 transferred to the Apostolic Delegation to Turkey and Greece, and appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Istanbul.

Mgr. Roncalli, far right, Papal Nuncio to Istanbul, with some of the clergy. (c. late 1930s early 1940s)

The following notes were recorded by Mgr Roncalli who was on Retreat between 25 November - 1 December 1940, at Terapia on the Bosporus, at the Villa of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion.

Monday evening, 25 November, 1940.

Yesterday our Holy Father Pius XII invited the whole world to join him in the sorrowful singing of the Litany of the Saints and the penitential psalms, the Miserere.
                We all from the West and from the East, joined with him in his petition.
                In my solitary retreat I am making the Spiritual Exercises, as the Holy Father himself is doing just now in the Vatican, and in this way I begin the sixtieth year of my humble life. For myself and for the good of all, I think I cannot do better than return to the penitential psalm (Psalm 50/51) dividing the twenty verses into four for each day and making them the subject of religious meditation.
                As a starting point I am using Father Segneri’s exposition of the Miserere, but with considerable freedom of inspiration and applications.
                To understand the profound meaning of the Psalm, I find it a great help to bear in mind the figure of the royal prophet himself and the circumstances of his repentance and grief.  It is a king who has fallen; it is a king who rises again.

First day, Tuesday, 26 November.

VERSE 1:  ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.’
1..      The mourning of the nations This cry reaches my ears from every part of Europe and beyond.  The murderous war which is being waged on the ground, on the seas and in the air, is truly a vindication of divine justice because the sacred laws governing human society have been have been transgressed and violated.  It has been asserted, and is still being asserted, that God is bound to preserve this or that country, or grant it invulnerability and final victory, because of the righteous people who live there or because of the good that they do.  We forget that although in a certain sense God has made the nations, he has left the constitution of states to the free decisions of men.  To all He has made clear the rules which govern human society; they are all to be found in the Gospel. But He has not given any guarantee of special and privileged assistance, except to the race of believers, that is, to Holy Church as such. And even His assistance to His Church, although it preserves her from final defeat, does not guarantee her immunity from trials and persecutions.
         The law of life, alike for the souls of men and for nations, lays down principles of justice and universal harmony and the limits to be set to the use of wealth, enjoyments and worldly power.  When this law is violated, terrible and merciless sanctions come automatically into action. No state can escape. To each its hour. War is one of the most tremendous sanctions. It is willed not by God but by men, nations and states, through their representatives.  Earthquakes, floods, famines, and pestilences are applications of the blind laws of nature, blind because nature herself has neither intelligence nor freedom. War instead is desired by men, deliberately, in defiance of the most sacred laws. That is what makes it so evil. He who instigates war and foments it is always the ‘Prince of this world’, who has nothing to do with Christ, the ‘Prince of peace’.
And while the war rages, the people can only turn to the Miserere and beg for the Lord’s mercy, that it may outweigh his justice and with a great outpouring of grace bring the powerful men of this world to their senses and persuade them to make peace.
2.       The mourning of my own soul.  What is happening in the world on a grand scale is reproduced on a small scale in every man’s soul, is reproduced in mine.  Only the grace of God has prevented me being eaten up with malice. There are certain sins which may be called typical; this sin of David’s, the sins of St Peter and St Augustine. But what might I not have done myself, if the Lord's hand had not held me back? For small failings the most perfect saints underwent long and harsh penances. So many, even in our own times, have lived only to make atonement; and there are souls whose lives, even today, are one long expiation of their own sins, of the sins of the world. And I, in all ages of my life more or less a sinner, should I not spend my time mourning? Cardinal Federico’s famous reply is still so eloquent and moving: ‘I did not ask for praises, which make me tremble: what I know of myself is enough to confound me.’
          Far from seeking consolation by comparing myself with others, I should make the Miserere for my own sins my most familiar prayer.  The thought that I am a priest and Bishop and therefore especially dedicated to the conversion of sinners and the remission of sins should add all the more anguish to my feelings of grief, sadness and tears, as St Ignatius says.  What is the meaning of all these flagellations, or having oneself set on the bare ground, or on ashes, to die, if not the priestly soul’s continual plea for mercy, and his constant longing to be a sacrificial victim for his own sins and the sins of the world?
3.       The great mercy.  It is not just ordinary mercy that is needed here. The burden of social and personal wickedness is so grave that an ordinary gesture of love does not suffice for forgiveness. So we invoke the great mercy. This is proportionate to the greatness of God.
4.     ‘For according to His greatness, so also is His mercy’(Eccles. 2:23) It is well said that our sins are the seat of divine mercy. It is even better said that God’s most beautiful name and title is this: mercy. This must inspire us with a great hope amidst our tears. ‘Yet mercy triumphs over judgement.’(James 2:13) This seems too much to hope for. But it cannot be too much if the whole mystery of the Redemption hinges on this: the exercise of mercy is to be a portent of predestination and of salvation, ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.’

VERSE II:  ‘And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity. 

                                The Lord is said to be 'merciful and gracious’.  His mercy is not simply a feeling of the heart; it is an abundance of gifts.
                                When we consider how many graces are poured into the sinner’s soul along with God’s forgiveness, we feel ashamed. These are: the loving remission of our offence; the new infusion of sanctifying grace, given as to a friend, as to a son: the reintegration of the gifts, habits and virtues associated with the grace; the restitution of our right to heaven; the restoration of the merits we had earned before our sin; the increase of grace which this forgiveness adds to former graces; the increase of gifts which grow in proportion to the growth of grace just as the rays of the sun increase as it rises, and the rivulets are wider as the fountain overflows.

VERSE III: Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin’:  holy confession.
                                Three verbs: to blot out, to wash and to cleanse, in this order.  First the iniquity must be blotted out, then well washed, that is, every slightest attachment to it is removed; finally the cleansing, which means conceiving an implacable hatred for sin and doing things which are contrary to it, that is making acts of humility, meekness, mortification, etc., according to the diversity of the sins These three operations follow one another but to God alone belongs the first. To God, in cooperation with the soul, the second and the third: the washing and the cleansing. Let us, poor sinners, do our duty: repent, and with the Lord’s help, wash and cleanse ourselves. We are sure that the Lord will do the first, the blotting out; this is prompt and immediate. And so we must believe it to be, without doubts or hesitations. ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins.’ The two processes which depend on our cooperation need time, progress, effort. Therefore we say: ‘Wash me yet more ……. And cleanse me.’
                This mysterious process of our purification is perfectly accomplished in holy confession, through the intervention of the blood of Christ which washes and cleanses us. The power of the divine blood, applied to the soul, acts progressively, from one confession to another. ‘Yet  more’ and ever more. Hence the importance of confession in itself, with the words of absolution, and of the custom of frequent confession for persons of a spiritual profession, such as priests and Bishops. How easy it is for mere routine to take the place of true devotion in our weekly confessions! Here is a good way of drawing the best out of this precious and divine exercise:  to think of Christ, who, according to St Paul, was created by God to be ‘our wisdom, our righteousness, sanctification  and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30)
                So, when I confess, I must beg Jesus first of all to be my wisdom, helping me to make a calm, precise, detailed examination of my sins and of their gravity, so that I may feel sincere sorrow for them. Then, that he may be my justice, so that I may present myself to my confessor as to my judge and accuse myself sincerely and sorrowfully. May he be also my perfect sanctification when I bow my head  to receive absolution from the hand of the priest, by whose gesture is restored or increased  sanctifying  grace. Finally, that he may be my redemption as I perform that meagre penance which is set me instead of the great penalty I deserve: a meagre penance indeed, but a rich atonement because it is united with the sacrament to the blood of Christ, which intercedes and atones and washes and cleanses, for me and with me.
                This ‘wash me yet more’ must remain the sacred motto of my ordinary confessions.  These confessions are the surest criteria by which to judge my spiritual progress.

VERSE IV: ‘For I know my iniquity and my sin is ever before me.’
                The advice of the ancient philosopher: ‘know thyself’, was already a good foundation for an honest and worthy life. It served for the ordinary exercise of humility, which is the prime virtue of great men. For the Christian, for the ecclesiastic, the thought of being a sinner, does not by any means signify that we must lose heart, but it must mean confident and habitual trust in the Lord Jesus who has redeemed and forgiven us; it means a keen sense of respect for our fellow men and for all men’s souls and a safeguard against the danger of becoming proud of our achievements. If we stay in the cell of the penitent sinner, deep in our heart, it will be not only a refuge for the soul which has found its own true self, and with its true self calm in decision and action, but also a fire by which zeal for the souls of men is kept more brightly lit, with pure intentions and a mind free from pre-occupations about success, which is extraneous to our apostolate.
                David needed the shock of the prophet’s voice saying: ‘You are the man.’ But afterwards his sin is always there, always before his eyes, an ever-present warning: ‘My sin is always before me.’
                Father Segneri wisely points out that it is not necessary to remember the exact form of every single sin, which would be neither profitable nor edifying, but it is well to bear in mind the memory of past failings as a warning, as an incitement to holy fear and zeal for souls.  How often the thought of sins and sinners recurs in the liturgy! This is even more true of the Eastern than of the Latin liturgy: but it is well expressed in both: ‘My sin is always before me’, just as the sins of men were before Jesus in his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, as they were before Peter at the height of his authority as Supreme Pontiff;  before Paul in the glory of his apostolate, and before Augustine in the splendour of his great learning and episcopal sanctity.
                I pity those unhappy men who, instead of keeping their sin before them, hide it behind their backs! They will never be free from past or future sins.             (to be continued)

Ack.   ‘Pope John XXIII  -  Journal of a Soul’ – translated by Dorothy White.  Published by Four Square Books, New English Library, 1966.


Friday, 15 May 2020

'Holy Mary, our most Blessed Queen and Mother'


                                        'Our Lady of Walsingham'

Song to Our Lady

Medieval:  Author Unknown

Of one who is so fair and bright

Velut Maris Stella

Brighter than the day is light,

Parens et puella.

I cry to thee to turn to me:

Lady, pray thy Son for me,

Tam pia.

That I may come to thee,


In sorrow, counsel, thou art best,

Felix fecundate:

For all the weary thou art rest,

Mater honorata:

Beseech Him in thy mildest mood,

Who for us did shed His Blood

In Cruce,

That we may come to Him

In luce.

All this world was forlorn,

Eva peccatrice,

Till Our Saviour Lord was born

De te genetrice;

With thy Ave sin went away,

Dark night went and in came day


The well of healing sprang from thee,


Lady, flower of everything,

Rosa sine spina,

Thou borest Jesus, Heaven’s King,

Gratia Divina.

Of all I say thou borest the prize,

Lady, Queen of Paradise


Maiden mild, Mother

Es effecta.

 Well He knows He is thy Son,

Ventre quem portasti:

He will not refuse thy bone,

Parvum quem lactasti:

So courteous and so good He is,

He has brought us to our bliss


Who hast shut up the dark foul pit


Bone, request.

The alternate Latin lines mean:

            As the star of the sea

            Mother and maid

            So loving


            Happy and with offspring

            Honourable Mother

On the Cross

In light

From Eve a sinner

Of thee mother

Of salvation

Of virtue

Rose without a thorn

Grace Divine


Thou art become

Whom thou didst bear in the womb

Whom thou didst suckle as a baby

Of heaven

Of hell.

                                 Medieval: author unknown.         

                                    (ack.’The Mary Book’ – Sheed and Ward 1950)



‘The May Magnificat’             by   Gerard Manley Hopkins

May is Mary’s month, and I

Muse at that and wonder why;

            Her feasts follow reason

            Dated due to season--------

Candlemas, Lady Day;

But the Lady Month, May,

            Why fasten that upon her,

            With a feasting in her honour?

Is it only its being brighter

Than the most are must delight her?

            Is it opportunest

            And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother:

Her reply puts this other

            Question:  What is Spring?

            Growth in every thing --------

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,

Grass and greenworld all together;

            Star-eyed strawberry- breasted

            Throstle above her nested.

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin

Forms and warms the life within:

            And bird and blossom swell

            In sod or sheath or shell.

All things rising, all things sizing

Mary sees, sympathising

            With that world of good,

            Nature’s motherhood.

Their magnifying of each its kind

With delight calls to mind

            How she did in her stored

            Magnify the Lord.

Well but there was more than this:

Spring’s universal bliss

            Much, had much to say

            To offering Mary May.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple

Bloom lights the orchard-apple

            And thicket and thorp are merry

            With silver-surfed cherry.

And azuring-over greybell makes

Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes

            And magic cuckoocall

            Caps, clears, and clinches all -----

This ecstasy all through mothering earth

Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s  birth.

            To remember and exultation

            In God who was her salvation.

                                                                       Gerard Manley Hopkins

                                                         (ack. ‘The Mary Book’ Sheed and Ward  1950)




File:Our lady of Walsingham I.jpg

'Our Lady of Walsingham'   (ack. Saracen 78 at Wikipedia)


“But He, taking her by the hand, cried out, saying:  Maid, arise.

And her spirit returned,  and she arose immediately.  And He bid them  to give her to eat”  (Luke viii.  54/5)

A friend of Our Lord’s in Galilee

Had a dear little girl who died.

Her mother was sad, and her father was sad,

And everybody cried.

Our Lord was coming to make her well,

But she died before He came,

So they told Him not to bother,

But He bothered all the same.

He took the little girl’s hand in His,

And said:  “Little maid, arise!”

And the little girl came to life again,

Sat up, and opened her eyes!

Death must come to stay at last

And sorrow hard to bear,

But it doesn’t really matter,

So long as Our Lord is there.

            So we ask Our Lady

            To pray for us then

And come to us and bring her Son

At the hour of our death.


    Taken from ‘The Hail Mary’  by  Margaret Hunt.

                 (Ack. The Mary Book  Sheed and Ward 1950.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

'The Rosary' by Caryll Houselander - a prayer of love.

Many years ago I posted a copy of this beautiful poem on this blogsite. I have been wracking my brain to find a suitable subject as a post which is  sufficiently positive and affirmative to overcome the negativity and godlessness of our current 'coronavirus' media saturation. I have been drawn yet again to this lovely poem, overflowing with love of God, of humanity and God's Creation, instilling  peace and divine hope in our hearts


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

The Rosary

In the doorway of a low grey house,
built of stones as old as the Crusades,
a woman of Bruges sits in the sunlight,
among the flowers, saying her Rosary.

She seems to be carved out of season walnut

and polished smooth
by the constant touch of the hand of God,
and the beads that twine her crippled fingers
are scarlet berries on the thorny twigs.

The running rhythm
and the repetition
of the Paters and the Aves
is like the rhythm that in nature
moves through the seasons
from seed to harvest
with the unity
and the pause and stress
of music;
like the bloodstream of Christ,
that flows through the seasons
from Advent to Easter
in the Liturgy of the Church,
the ebb and flow of the tide of love
in the Mystical Body of Christ.
God has given His children strings of beads,
as we give strings of beads to our children,
to teach them to count.

We do not say,
“Learn from these the doctrine of numbers,
the measure of human life,
the dream of Pythagorus,
counting the pulse of the world.”

We do not say
to a child with a string of beads,
“learn the perfection of reason in mathematics.”

We say,
“Learn to count on the beads,
small for your hands to hold,
bright for your eyes to see.”
And he begins,
with one, two, three:
the spark is kindled
to light the flame of philosophy.

God has counted in fifteen Mysteries,
on the fingers of human creatures,
the singleness of the Undivided Love,
the simplicity
that we cannot comprehend
because our hearts are divided.
We are not all vessels of gold,
lifted up in virginal hands,
empty chalices to receive
from the perfect vine
and complete.

But the old woman of Bruges
is a round bowl,
lifted up to be brimmed
with pure wine.
and the Mysteries of the Rosary
concern familiar things
known in her own life.

Her mind, like a velvet bee
droning over a rose,
gathers the honey of comfort
from the story of God,
familiar as the things in her kitchen –
the shining pots and pans,
the milk in the jar of earthenware,
and the flags of the scrubbed floor.

The story told by the Rosary
is the story of primitive beauty,
true as the burden of folk- songs.
It is a song piped on the hills,
by a shepherd calling his sheep.
The cradle of wood,
the wood of the cross;
from cradle to cross,
like a lullaby;
the wail of an infant,
lost on the wind –
the arms of a girl
in a circle of love,
rocking to rest;
a woman’s arms
in a circle of love,
the young Man dead
on His Mother’s breast.

The jewels that glow
low in the grass
on the feet of Christ,
risen from death,
touching the flowers
and touching the dust,
even in glory.

The dust of the earth
on the feet of God,
walking the soft blue meadows of stars.
In the doorway of a low grey house,
built of stones as old as the Crusades,
a woman of Bruges
sits in the sunlight, among the flowers,
saying her Rosary.

The story of Mary is her own story,
and her son was her life’s joy
and her life’s sorrow;
and for ever
her son is her life’s glory.

In a field in Flanders,
among the red poppies, he is sleeping:
he will sleep soundly
until the day of resurrection.

She has still the patchwork quilt
made, when her hands were nimble,
for the wooden cot:
now he is sleeping, and each year
he has a new coverlet
of delicate young grass,
and at the end of his cot
a wooden cross.

The cradle of the wood,
the wood of the cross:
from cradle to cross,
like a lullaby.

The story of the woman of Bruges
is the world’s story.
it is the story
of human joy and sorrow,
woven and interlaced,
like the blue and crimson thread
in a woven cloth:
the story of birth and death,
of war and the rumours of war
and of peace past understanding,
peace in the souls that live
in the life of Christ.

In the doorway in Bruges,
sitting among the flowers,
her mind like a velvet bee
droning over a rose,
taking the honey of comfort
out of the heart of Love,
the old woman is nodding
over her Rosary.

She has lived her meditation,
like the Mother of God,
living the life of Christ:
let her sleep in Christ’s peace.
Under the loud din
of the tramp of metallic feet
in the armed march of time,
like a river moving
under the dark hills,
the everlasting life
is flowing, eternally.

The measured beat of love,
with pure perfection of music,
timing the life of Christ
in the human heart
goes on.
                   Frances Caryll Houselander

 '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
Ack.  Margot H. King - currently working on biography for Peregrina Publishers.
Ack.   Robin Maas - Caryll Houselander, an appreciation.

Books by Caryll Houselander

"The Reed of God"
"This War is the Passion"
"The Stations of the Cross"
"The Passion of the Infant Christ"

"A Rockinghorse Catholic"

"The Mother of God"
"A Rockinghorse Catholic"

"Caryll Houselander: That Divine Eccentric" by Masie Ward

Friday, 3 January 2020

'Marjorie Wins on Points' by Fr Bernard Basset S.J.


I don't know about everybody else, but I've had more than enough depressing news about the current state of the Catholic Church, particularly the frequently scandalous news from the Vatican . I genuinely feel shocked at saying such a thing, and pray that Almighty God will soon send brave and loyal leaders to restore the Church to its rightful eminence as the one, holy, and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind.

Thus my first post this year does not give the Vatican a mention, and I hope will bring a smile to your face. It is  a short story by Fr Bernard Basset S.J. entitled 'Marjorie Wins on Points', which I suspect he wrote  in or about the 1950s, and which appeared in his delightful book 'The Seven Deadly Virtues, and Other Stories', published by Sands & Co. (Publishers) London, having first appeared in local publications, 'Stella Maris' and 'Southwark Record'. As a matter of interest, in the early 1950s  as a teenage schoolboy at Wimbledon College, I had the good fortune  to attend two Retreats given by Father Basset, which I enjoyed very much, not least due to Father Basset's great sense of humour. This quality is very evident in his short stories, which reveal  a gentle spirituality allied to a deep sympathy and understanding of human nature.


    Marjorie Wins on Points

When the heroine decided to leave her undoubtedly handsome fiancé and enter a convent, Marjorie began to moisten, and after that she wept pretty continuously throughout the film. Hollywood had seen to it that there should be plenty of excuse for sobbing, for we were treated to a ‘close-up’ in the cloister, a full ceremony of clothing, and a most piteous adieu from behind the convent grille.
          The whole film was of the soul-stirring, nose-blowing sort.  There was Reverend Mother (as unlike a real Reverend Mother as film-land could make her) whispering treacly platitudes in the corridor, and when she was busy, a choir of nuns chanted endless Kyrie Eleisons in the chapel, or a bishop went by administering blessings alternately with either hand. The handsome fiancé was so overcome that he rejoined his regiment and laid down his life for his country, while his beloved sobbed her eyes out on a convent prie-dieu, and the audience sniffed in the stalls.
          It was a great relief when the camera mercifully removed the convent to the other side of the beautiful valley, and the film concluded with the tinkle of the Angelus bell across the sun-swept fields.  As we collected our coats and slowly queued up to leave the cinema, the whispered verdict of the huge audience was, “too beautiful,” though some used the word “elevating” and others could only sob.
          In the bus, on the way home, Marjorie was separated from me, so a discussion of the drama was fortunately impossible, and I had a few moments to read the Evening News. Only a few minutes, mind you, for the very second our feet touched the pavement Marjorie was back at the convent on the sun-swept hill.  Actually she began the conversation with an unknown traveller who had alighted from the bus between us, and who, when asked if he did not think it too beautiful, politely raised his hat and said that he was a stranger here himself.
          After that we were at it hammer and tongs. Marjorie declared that she had never seen such a film before, and, to judge by her expressions, the conversion of England seemed likely to take place before we reached home. She said that it showed the change that was coming over the people that they should flock to a film which was devoid of all worldly appeal and rich in spiritual significance. Meanwhile, I made vague noises which were supposed to signify assent, but Marjorie did not fail to notice a lack of enthusiasm.
          “You don’t sound very gushing,” she remarked vindictively, “especially as you were crying during the parting in the convent.”
          “Maybe I was,” I answered casually, “there are certain things that always make me cry. “Vapex”, for instance, or that bit in the funeral march which goes Tum, tiddle-iddle-um, tum-tum.  “Besides,” I added, “nothing makes me feel more like crying than when my neighbour starts to sob.”
          Marjorie snorted and muttered something which sounded like “What a lie,” though she swore that she had only said, “Where’s the latchkey?” Whatever she said, it was the hunt for the latchkey that ended the first round.
          When we were seated at tea, I resumed the discussion after Marjorie had once more alluded to the question of my tears.
          “I’ll explain myself,” said I, “If you’ll remain quiet for a few moments; have a rock cake.”  I continued suasively, “As eye lotion or wash, the film was most effective,  but as religious propaganda it was deplorable, and I’m afraid it will do a great deal of harm.”
          “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Marjorie, tipping hot water in and around the tea pot, “there wasn’t a risqué sentence in the whole show.  A baby in arms could have seen it.”
          “Some people,” said I, “always imagine that a film has to be indecent to be bad.  This film was certainly proper enough, but that does not make it good.  To judge by what we saw this afternoon, religion consists of beautiful damsels letting down their fiances in order to chant meaningless words in a dim church, and moon about old times when Reverend Mother isn’t looking.  You’d think that all Catholicism had to offer its’ adherents was a good cry.”
          “Rubbish,” said Marjorie tartly, “the audience saw for the first time in their narrow lives the splendid picture of a young girl giving up all for God. That’ll make them think.”
          “Make them think that religion is just sentiment,” I answered heatedly, and then there was a knock on the door.
          Of course, it would be Mrs Hetty just looking in for a moment on her way back from the pictures, to see if she could borrow a cup of tea.  I felt like telling her that she could have the whole tea service, tray and all, on condition that she went away, for I had a ghastly suspicion that she, too, had been to the film.  Her eyes were all red. Sure enough she told us that she had been to the most beautiful show at the Metropole, with Donald Sainsbury and sweet little Madelaine Deisal in a play all about nuns.  Mrs Hetty said that she’d immediately thought of us during the part in the convent, because we were Catholics. Though she herself was a Nonconformist, and thanked God for it, yet she was the last person to be narrow- minded, and she openly admitted that she had cried.
          “Quite lovely,” she whispered, pulling a pious face like Reverend Mother in the picture, “I think I learned so much about your Church.”
          Marjorie was delighted.
          “I’m so glad you’ve seen it, dear, I’m surprised we didn’t meet you, for we were there ourselves. I? Yes, I just loved every moment of it, though my husband was not quite so impressed.”
          Mrs Hetty gave me the stern look she usually reserves for sinners.  I drew a deep breath.
                “No,” I said firmly, but still patiently, “I thought it was undiluted twaddle and not at all a fair picture of our Faith.”
          Mrs Hetty shuddered delightedly as though she’d heard a naughty word by mistake.
          “Mind you, he cried like the worst of us,” added Marjorie unkindly, forgetting all those salutary Christian lessons she once had learned at a convent school.
          I put my back to the wall metaphorically.
          “I do not like a film,” I answered, “which presents Catholic practice in a sensational way to people who are quite ignorant of the theory that lies behind.  Holy water, incense, flowers, have no meaning away from Catholic doctrine, and vocations to religion appear ridiculous unless you know what religion is. Now the vast majority of Englishmen have only the haziest notion of religion. Church for them is associated with old-age, best clothes, collection plates, and Bible stories.  In times of national crisis they like to sing a hymn and talk of Christian civilisation, but religion, man’s duties to God, plays no real part in their lives. Hence they do not understand what our Faith means to us Catholics, and they do not know what the Catholic Church is at all.  They only know the Catholic Church as they see it on the films and read about it in the papers. Unfortunately, they get hold of the wrong end of the stick.  They read only of those Catholic practices which are ‘news’ to the journalists.  If a priest blesses some motor cars or dogs, if the Carthusians go for a walk in Sussex, or a French abbe forecasts the weather, they are fully informed.  So, too, in this film, they learn what Hollywood thinks of a vocation.  They see a bishop spraying nuns with holy water as though they were rose bushes, and from such an incident they draw the obvious conclusion that the Catholic Church is all superstitious pageantry and magic.”
          I paused, not because I wanted to, but because there was a further interruption as Molly entered with a friend. There followed the usual squeaks of greeting and cups of tea were offered and declined.
          “Not now, thanks all the same: you see, we’ve had our tea in town, in fact we stopped to have it at the Metropole after seeing a film.”
          If I looked like one suffering from blood pressure, Marjorie and Mrs Hetty might have had St.Vitus’s  dance.
          “You haven’t seen it too?” they piped, bobbing up and down on the sofa.  “Wasn’t it just too heavenly?”
          Molly and friend squirmed with joy,
          “Fascinating, every bit of it,” said Molly, “quite a revelation.  It only shows how the modern world is turning to God.”
          “That’s just what I said,” replied Marjorie, “but my husband won’t agree.”
          Molly at once turned her searchlights on me.
          “Didn’t you love every moment of it?” she asked coyly. “For me it will be a treasured moment all my life.”
          So we began all over again, discussing the motives and movements of the film with increasing vigour. Marjorie, Molly, and Mrs Hetty stood resolute in defence of Hollywood, nor could I persuade them to budge an inch.  In vain I pleaded that convents were not filled by weeping damsels, in vain I urged that it was sensationalism rather than religion that made the film attractive.
          “If you want to know what Catholicism means,” I said, “go and watch the Little Sisters of the Poor at work, or pay a visit to St Etheldreda’s, Ely Place, during the lunch hour. There you have the true meaning of religion illustrated.  But if they filmed the life of a Sister of Charity, not many people would go to see it.  I don’t say that the film today wasn’t interesting, but I do assert that it wasn’t Catholic. Like so many films it wasn’t true to life. To judge by the average film half the world is divorced and the other half takes cocaine.  Not every man leaning against a wall, idly, is a detective, and not every damsel weeping on a prie-dieu is a saint.  If films so often fail to depict ordinary humdrum life for us, they are much more likely to give a false impression of Catholicism, which the average producer does not understand. They give a sentimental caricature of our Faith, stressing the wrong points and omitting the right ones, with the result that the average Englishman is highly entertained but comes away more agnostic than before.”
                I ended my harangue with an eloquent gesture which upset my teacup, and while the decontamination squad rallied round with sponges, the women on the sofa had their say.  Mrs etty, as a sturdy NonconformistH Hetty, as a sturdy Nonconformist, bore testimony that she thought better of Catholicism after seeing the film about the convent. Molly and friend denied that the film was a caricature, and Marjorie, busily engaged with a sponge and hot water, still found time to say, “Tosh.”
          So we decided to put our cases to the test.  It all started with a discussion of the average Englishman, and when I suggested Larry as typical of English twentieth-century culture and Christianity, the women were on me like a shot.
          “Take him to the Metropole,” said Marjorie, “and see what he thinks of the film.”
          “By all means,” I replied curtly, “I’ll suffer the agony of another performance just to show you what I mean.”
          “Mind you don’t prejudice him beforehand,” said Molly sharply, while Mrs Hetty made twittering noises indicating assent.
          So we fixed it up.  I phoned Larry the next morning and in a few brief sentences explained the invitation and asked him to fix a time.
          “There’s a film on at present,” said I, “which I’m interested in, and I’d like to hear what you think of it.”
          We settled a time, and decided to go on the following Thursday, the first occasion on which both of us were free.
          “What’s it all about?” asked Larry, when we met outside the cinema. “I hope it isn’t a trick!”
          “Heavens, no,” I replied hastily, and briefly explained the situation. “It’s a film which has some bearing on Catholicism, and Marjorie and I would like to have your opinion of it as a normal man of the world.”
          “Not trying to convert me, are you?” asked Larry, laughing, “because I’m a bad candidate for Papistry. I spend six days a week in the Bank of England, and the seventh in the Church of England.”
          “Don’t worry about conversion,” said I with conviction, “this film won’t convert you. Buit Marjorie thinks it gives a very fair idea of the spirit of Catholicism, so we want to hear your view.” I left it at that, luckily.
          We took our seats in the crowded cinema. As the show began, Larry was obviously interested, whereas I was definitely bored. We had a news-reel first, which, happily, was new to me so boredom was postponed. There followed a Walt Disney symphony which I had not seen before.
          “For a religious show this is all very agreeable,” said Larry in a whisper, and I agreed, adding in an undertone, “you wait.”
          We waited. Walt Disney gave way to a glorious knock-about comedy with much egg-and-flour throwing, heads popping out of coal holes, confusion in a swing door and hilarious happenings on a tram. All very good while it lasted, but as I laughed I prepared myself for the worst. It came to an end too soon I thought, and the big film was about to begin.
          “Here you are,” I remarked to Larry, “This is the thing now. Keep your eyes open and tell me just what you think at the end. Be quite open about it, because we both want to know your view.”
          “Sure,” said Larry, settling himself comfortably in his chair.
          From the very first I began to suspect that something was wrong with the programme, for in the film about the convent there had been no sergeant-major in the dramatis personae.  At least, I thought there hadn’t been, but quieted my conscience by suggesting that I might have missed him through my tears. A few feet of the film soon made the mistake pretty plain.  We found ourselves in the American army with the hero, a funny man, messing about on parade. I cannot remember all that he did wrong, but I began to laugh. He turned left when he should have gone to the right, came on parade with his braces trailing behind him, and eventually squeezed the General’s arm by mistake, thinking it was his daughter’s.
          There followed endless ridiculous incidents, a court martial, desertion, and our hero dressed up as a sick nurse to avoid arrest. In this disguise he turned up in a hospital and actually began to nurse his own General, who, amidst shrieks of laughter, appeared to be falling in love.
          You know the type of thing. There were bewildering scenes in the hospital before the great man’s daughter called to bring flowers and consolation to her august parent, and recognised the nurse.  Eventually the bogus Florence Nightingale strapped her commanding officer up with plaster of Paris, poultices and ice-bags, thrust a thermometer into his mouth, and then tore off her headgear and demanded his daughter’s hand. I was nearly ill from laughing and, to judge by the noises he was making, Larry’s condition must have been slightly worse.
So Marjorie won on points.  That we had gone to the wrong
Metropole made no difference to Larry who, as a typical man of the world, refused to hurt the feelings of the weaker and fairer sex. Apparently he told her that he had never enjoyed a film so much in all his life, and that if that was the Catholic spirit she might expect his conversion any day. Marjorie told me this with much gloating and ended up with a eulogium of the convent film.
          “It just shows,” she said, “how much such films are needed. Poor Larry was obviously extremely ignorant about our Faith. When I asked him which part of the film he had most appreciated, he said that he had liked the bit about dressing up as a nurse. I suppose he did not know the difference between a nurse and a nun,” she added pensively.
          “I’m surprised at Larry mixing up nurses and nuns,” I answered casually.
          “I’m not,” said Marjorie, “he tells me he has mixed up cinemas before now.”

"Without the divine assistance we cannot resist the might of so many and such powerful enemies; now this assistance is granted only to prayer;  therefore, without prayer there is no salvation." 

(Thoughts from St Alphonsus - compiled by Rev C McNeiry C.SS.R)                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Wishing all readers a very happy New Year  - 'umblepie'