Search This Blog

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Recusants of Middle Earth"......

is a poem contrasting and comparing the themes and elements J.R.R. Tolkien (a devout Catholic) brought forward in his fantasy works and the persecution of the Catholic Recusants in his own native England. Since today is the feast of St. Margaret Ward, my confirmation name-saint and inspiration (the original "Pearl of Tyburn"!), I dedicate the following poem to her.
    Before getting to the main poetic event, I  wanted to mention that today is also the death-date of my late sister, Filomena Marie, who was born prematurely in Italy while my parents were on pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Philomena. She lived for only fifteen days and then passed away soon after being baptized in a hurried emergency procedure. Although I do think it would have been lovely to have had a living sister (or even a brother, really.....), I do believe that she is in heaven and that she will pray for us here on earth. Plus, I'm happy to report I feel like I have adopted a lot of my friends as the siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. that I don't have. So where God closes a door he opens a window.

   And one final digression I have to make is......Happy birthday, Mary D. and Ellen Virginia!!! I wouldn't be writing this brand of poetry to begin with if it wasn't for you and yours, with your die-hard electrifying Ringer-ism! ;-)

Recusants of Middle Earth

Hobbits of the country Shire
(Pilgrims with crude farming tools)
Servants of the Secret Fire
(Priests concealed in stifling holes)

Ring of Power from Sauron’s hand
(Becket’s ring King Henry claimed)
Darkness falling o’er the land
(More and Margaret’s parting pain)

Evenstar of an elfin maid
(Relics torn from Catholic breasts)
Secrets in a broken blade
(Swords that severed martyrs’ necks)

Enchanted string The Bearer climbs
(Brave Pearl of Tyburn with her rope)
A cape that can both warm and hide
(Bold Lady Nithsdale with her cloak)

Tokens from an elfin queen
(Gifts from Mary, full of grace)
Spider’s Cave pierced by the gleam
(Tower cell turned sacred space)

Crawling o’er Mt. Doom’s debris
(Dragged through London’s muddy lanes)
Through hellish ash no one can see
(Vision dimmed by bitter rain)

Ugly beings with deadened eyes
(Crowds are jeering all around)
In course Black Speech their insults rise
(Hot blood is splattered on the ground)

Ageless Middle Earthen lay
(“Te Deum” sung at Campion’s trial)
Water Silver, Havens Gray,
(Hearts torn out, lips in a smile)

"Through Hellish ash no one can see....."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

James Gardiner.......

was born in Scotland in 1688, the same year that the Glorious Revolution took place. He joined the British Army at age 12 and saw active fighting by age 14. During the Battle of Ramillies in the War of Spanish Succession, he was almost killed when a musket ball flew into his mouth and pierced through the back of his neck. Oddly enough, he felt numb to pain and thought he might have swallowed the ball, until traced the bullet’s path through his neck with his finger and fainted from loss of blood. Concerned about his money almost more than his life, Gardiner put his gold pieces in his hand, spit up some blood on them, and clenched them in a fist to hide them from plunderers. He was almost robbed and killed where he lay by a French soldier, but the Frenchman mistook him for a compatriot and let him alone. He was eventually rescued and recovered from his serious injury in England.

    Gardiner was chosen to accompany the Earl of Stair to France on a diplomatic mission in 1719, and relished in the morally depraved climate of Parisian night life. He was young, rakish, daring, and handsome, and he filled his days with romantic misadventures and illicit affairs. One hot summer evening in July, he prepared to rendezvous with a married woman for a midnight fling. Having left a drinking party at 11 p.m., he had an hour to wait for more hedonistic pleasure to come his way. So he decided to read. His mother and aunt were very pious, and had slipped a religious book entitled The Christian Soldier by the Puritan author Thomas Watson into his baggage. With nothing else on hand, Gardiner decided to breeze through it just to pass the time. He took little notice of the contents, being bored, distracted, and not in the mood for a long sermon. But then he noticed a bright light fall across the open book. He turned towards the candle beside him, assuming that it was the cause of the sudden illumination, and then froze.
    There, before his eyes, was a vision of Christ outstretched on the cross, ablaze with radiance and contorted with pain. A voice seemed to come from the image and pierce Gardiner’s soul: “O sinner, did I suffer all this for thee, and are these the returns?” With that, the terrified soldier fainted in an armchair. When he regained his senses, he was filled with horror, not so much because he feared Hell as because he realized the excruciating pain he had caused to the man hanging on the cross. For two months, he struggled with inner turmoil, not sure what he should do next. Then he came to read Roman 3:25-26:  “Christ Jesus: whom God hath sent forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins.” He abandoned his sinful lifestyle and became a devout Christian, so much so that some of his friends questioned his sanity. When he returned to England, he arranged for some of his friends in high society to host a dinner party for him and his friends. Then, to prove that he was indeed in possession of his senses, he told them the story of his conversion and won their grudging acceptance of his newly reformed lifestyle.

    In 1745, Colonel James Gardiner commanded a dragoon regiment known as the 13th Hussars and was made the second in command of Sir John Cope’s expedition to destroy "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and his Jacobite Army outside of Edinburgh. As the British army moved on to Aberdeen and from thence to the East Lothian Coast, the Jacobite force marched out of Edinburgh and headed south.  Determined not be intercepted by Charles, General Cope advanced from Dunbar to intercept the Jacobites first. He halted at the town of Haddinton and sent out the two Edinburgh Volunteers to act as scouts and ascertain the enemy’s position. Unfortunately for the government general, his ever-reliable “eyes and ears” stopped off at a nearby tavern, settled down to a refreshing meal of oysters and sherry (emphasis on the latter!), drank themselves into a state of unwarranted euphoria, and were subsequently captured by a young attorney’s clerk with Jacobite sympathies. Still in the dark as to the location of the Royal Stuart army, Copes’ forces made camp outside the castle at the village of Prestonpans.

    Cope, always cautious and a bit jumpy, waited impatiently for reinforcement from England. But the Duke of Cumberland was preoccupied fighting the French on the Continent, and the Jacobites didn’t wait docilely for more government troops to make their appearance. Instead Prince Charles and his army marched on Prestonpans, declaring to his soldiers, “Gentlemen, I have flung away the scabbard!” His men let out a hearty cheer in response. They were then guided through the fens surrounding the castle under the cover of night by a local Jacobite and crept up on the Hanoverian troops while they slept. Just before the crack of dawn on September 21, Lord Murray led his troops around the south side of the castle. As the first rays of the sun pierced through the through a dense hanging fog, the Jacobites attacked from the rear.

    Barking dogs had already roused the government soldiers, but they were still bleary from sleepiness and the morning mist when they had heard the eerie sound the enemy rustling through a nearby cornfield.  Now that the sun had risen, they came face to face with the horror of a Highland Charge, complete with hacking broadswords and blood-curdling screams from the attackers. The weaker flanks collapsed immediately. Cope’s Dragoons didn’t even try to withstand the first assault, but broke ranks and ran like frightened rabbits. It was such a sudden withdrawal, the Jacobite officers were sure the move must be a feint.

    Lieutenant-Colonel Whitefoord’s artillery fired five hast rounds before being overwhelmed by the charging Camerons and Stewarts of Appin. The Hanoverian guard then made a brief attempt to hold the position behind the cannon, but soon they too dispelled with ceremony and ran for their lives. Whitefoord himself, along with Master Gunner Major Griffith, boldly fought on side by side until Griffith was severely wounded and taken prisoner. The lone Whitefoord was then approached by a Jacobite officer, Stewart of Invernahyle, who ordered him to surrender. Whitefoord lunged at Invernahyle with his sword in response, but the Jacobite managed to defer the point of the blade with his targe.

    One of Invernahyle’s clansmen prepared to bash in Whitefoord’s head with a battle-axe, but Invernahyle interposed and offered to make the Hanoverian officer his personal prisoner and protect his belongings, in recognition of his steely courage. Whitefoord, realizing that further resistance would be futile, finally surrendered. Invernahyle kept his word and treated him with the greatest courtesy, later securing his parole, and visiting him at Ayrshire when the war was still in effect. Later, after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, Whitefoord would go to the Duke of Cumberland personally and plead for a pardon for Inverhayle. He even threaten to resign his commission unless the Jacobite's family and property were granted government protection.

    Meanwhile, General Cope and his fellow officers tried their best to rally the fleeing men, crying out, “For shame, gentlemen, behave like Britons!” But it was all in vain. After fifteen bloody minutes, the route was complete. Realizing that nothing further could be done, Cope fled the field while the courageous Colonel Gardiner led the remaining seventeen government soldiers in a pathetic last-ditch effort to hold ground. Receiving up to five wounds but still refusing to get off the field, Gardiner was finally dragged from his horse by a Farguhar McGillevrey, a Catholic servant of the Duke of Perth and later baron officer of the Earle of Nithsdale, who struck him in the back of the head with his Lochaber axe. Without Gardiner’s tenacious leadership, this last burst of Hanoverian resistance dissipated.

     The gallant Colonel was later found lying in agony under a thorn tree. His servant placed him in a cart and had him taken to the nearby Tranent Church manse where he was cared for by none other than Beatrix and Mary Jenkinson, two young ladies whom Prince Charlie had called "the bonniest lasses I have seen in Scotland" when he met them on his march to meet the Hanoverians in battle. While victorious Highlanders poured into the downstairs rooms of the manse seeking shelter and provisions, the Jenkinson sisters nursed Gardiner upstairs until he died of his wounds the following morning, leaving behind a wife and five surviving children.

    Ironically, at the same time, Gardiner’s own nearby home, Bankton, was being used as the general field hospital for the wounded of both sides. From the time of his vision of Christ to his death, Gardiner had kept up the practice of praying and reading his Bible for 4 to 6 o’clock in the morning, even during military campaigns. He also was known for taking to task those who took the Lord’s name in vain, whether they were lowly privates or high-ranking nobles. He deeply believed that the Christian should not fear danger or death but rather focus their sights on a heavenly crown. Perhaps this goes far in explaining his valiance on the field of Prestonpans.

Colonel James Gardiner, RIP

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rainbows and Last Stands.......

feature in this set of poems from Katherine Anne (author of first) and Mack (author of second). Check it out:


My heart leaps up when I behold
     A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
     Or let me die!
-          William Wordsworth

One day is ever bright in memory,
Yet had not crossed my mind for many years,
Much like today: when all the world was wet,
And heavy showers streaked the window-panes,
And, breath fogging the glass, as droplets glad
Danced for my eyes, and pine trees tossed their limbs,
A child peered out, and wondered at the world.
The sun came out, while still the rains were falling;
She tamed the winds, and calmed the thrashing trees.
Chilled droplets met the sun-kissed summer pavement,
The air was warm as spring and crisp as autumn.
The sun was bright, and we came running out,
Bare feet touched by warm pavement and cool grass,
Crying aloud in wonder at the world,
Pointing with little hands towards the sky.

Down to the street I ran; I ran, and looked.
Stood in the rain and listened to the sound
Of water ever dripping from the trees,
Of water ever flowing in the gutter,
Dipped my toes in the river that was born.
O laughing, merry river in the street!
Bearing grass clippings and leaves on its way.
Drainwater – yet, how glorious to me!

I stood there in the drizzle and the sun,
My hair was wild as I splashed in the street.
Laughing and crying to the windy world,
Wet in the wild, and wondering, and glad.
Called to my siblings, wished to stay forever;
Splashing warm water rushing round my toes,
Dripping feet tickled by soft blades of grass.
Hearing the droplets tinkle in the treetops,
Yet most of all, delighting in the rainbow.

O rainbow, queen of storms, ‘twas she that drew me!
Toes in the stream, my dreams still in the sky!
Elusive sign, a glowing, glinting glimmer,
Pale, bright, ethereal vision of the heavens,
Delicate, airy image of a dreamland,
And yet, real as the raindrop on my finger –
A fairy-tale is shining in the sky!

O wonder of all wonders, smile of heaven!
O fleeting sign of God’s eternal blessing!
Bright glory raining hope upon the earth,
Telling me of that rainbow long ago,
When God said – “I set my bow in the clouds,
And you shall see – a sign to stand forever,
A covenant,” – and now I know ‘tis true.

And – just now – a soft raindrop kissed my cheek,
And, looking up, I see the shining promise.
For – even now – this sight forever calls me
Back to that tale, that promise, long ago.
And even as it softly, slowly fades,
Still I gaze, seeing all that I once saw.
For, all at once, I am that child again,
Crying aloud in wonder at the world,
Standing in the street looking at the sky.

“This is the sign I am giving for all ages to come…
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
Genesis 9:12-13

The Little Bighorn

A mist, but not of memories or ghosts,

And not a silent mist - a noisy one

Drifts darkly over this altar to the past

The docent pauses for each motor home

Gear-growling up the unexpected slope

Along the road from that point to this one

Well-paved and posted: fifteen miles per hour

For cell-‘phone shots where each historic death

Is marked with stones among the sunlit grass

The docent speaks of her peoples: Cheyenne,

Arapaho, Sioux, and soldier boys blue

With frequent and reflective pauses as

A Winnebago circles Last Stand Hill

"O Rainbow, Queen of Storms....."

"Sioux and Solder Boys Blue......"


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A new generation of The British Royal Family.......

has just been born. And so we have it – after all these months of waiting, “we” finally have a baby prince! Granted, a couple of my girlfriends and I were hoping it might be a baby princess, especially now that the eldest daughter would have in direct line to the throne over any younger brothers that might come along (which I think is only fair, in my humble opinion). But I’m certainly not complaining – he’s far too cute!

    As an American, I always find royal events quite enjoyable to follow since it is so delightfully different from our own traditions on this side of the water. The world would be terribly boring if every country had the same type of government, and as much as I am proud to live in the American Republic, I also deeply respect the British constitutional monarchy with its hereditary, apolitical head-of-state who “reigns but does not rule”, while at the same time lending a sense of historical continuity and unity to The United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Yes, it’s expensive, but loads of other governmental institutions are costly as well, and not half so attractive and worthwhile!

    There are many things we can take away from the happy anticipation of the recent royal birth. As a pro-life advocate myself, I would hope it will focus people’s minds of the priceless nature of all human life, whether in the womb, in the cradle, or beyond. As a student of British history and culture, I would hope that greater understanding of the purpose of the Royal Family is brought to the fore on both sides of the Atlantic. It would be a terrible shame to reduce the event to a mere channel for sentimentality or an excuse to make snarky remarks about Marie Antoinette (who didn’t say “Let them eat cake”) and King George III (“Let them drink tea” etc. etc.), or to back-bite about costs.

    I personally find it rather odd how some Americans can be so cynical about the pomp and ceremony of the British monarchy while simultaneously following royal events and enjoying every minute of them. Also, I find it ironic how some Brits get huffy over the fanfare of American presidential elections, while still lapping up campaign coverage for fun. Perhaps it’s high time we both learned to have a little more well-rounded respect for each other’s differences and admit our own instinct to indulge in the exotic and far-flung.
     On the issue of Unionism, the birth of a future king of Britain is a source of common interest throughout the UK, as well it should be. As a matter a fact, it was a Scottish Unionist friend who called me up the day after the birth and informed me that his name was going to be George Alexander Louis! “Well,” he added “You know, Andrew would have made a nice name.” I have to agree with him, especially on the eve of the Scottish independence referendum, but I guess they figured that there was already one Prince Andrew floating around and didn’t want to confuse things.

    Besides, I like the name George. St. George was a heroic Christian martyr; King George III “gloried in the name of Briton” and presided over the national crisis of the Napoleonic Conquests; King George IV was a great fan of all things Scottish (to an extreme, as demonstrated by the extravagant, but also kind of cool, outfits and public productions put together by Sir Walter Scott to celebrate the King’s visit to Scotland); King George VI presided over the national crisis of WWII and dealt with an early surge of Scottish nationalism in the “kidnapping” of the Stone of Scone. In the end, I think Will and Kate (and all others who might have weighed in) picked a good one.

    I just hope that he grows up to inherit a united kingdom instead of a dissected one, or, according to the intentions of some big-mouthed SNP speakers, never reign over Scotland at all. In the end, it is all a very human question, and losing the historical continuity that comes with the British identity would strike at the heart of many people. I would certainly be among them, even though I am not British myself. I can’t help but feel a lump in my throat sometimes when speaking to British friends about the upcoming referendum, realizing the overwhelming cost if they should lose this battle.

    They’re not overtly emotional about it; that’s not in keeping with the British way. But the depth of their concern is self-evident. I told my Scottish friend who called when the prince was named that, although I can’t do much for the cause except write articles, he can be assured of my prayers. “Thank you,” he replied. “Thank you so much. We need them.”

    Comfortingly, I have heard that the numbers of would-be Unionist voters have a healthy edge on would-be Nationalist voters in the poles and things look good so far. Let’s just hope they stay that way, and for pity’s sake, have the “Better Together” Campaign make sure everyone with even an inkling of Unionist sympathy makes it to the polls on D-Day. That being said, maybe this close call in Britain’s history will have happy ending after all, and years into the future, King George VII will be sitting on the throne of a United Kingdom.

(A version of this article appeared on “Open Unionism”:

Will, Kate, and Geordie.....but I didn't need to tell you that, did I?

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Battle of Bannockburn......

has a very  mixed legacy, for better or for worse. As the date of Scottish Independence Referendum draws closer (breathe, Pearl, breathe…..), it is timely for us to take another look at the historic conflict and the larger implications it has for us today. This June 24th marked the 699th anniversary of Robert the Bruce's decisive victory over the forces of Edward II, preserving Scottish independence from England. Indeed, unlike the Jacobite Rebellions this is one of the instances when “England vs. Scotland” is used properly in the context of warfare in the British Isles.

    Well, relatively properly at least, considering that so much of the fighting in the 14th Century had more to do with king than country. But in truth, the courage and dedication of the Scottish freedom fighters did preserve the freedom of the Scots (even if the main benefits were only applicable to the nobility) who otherwise would have been reduced to a subjugated people under the thumb of the English kings.

    Even though there is a great deal of mythology intertwined with history in the story of Bannockburn, I can also appreciate the fact that the most potent myths are almost always initiated by a germ of powerful truth. The fact that the Norman noble of Scotland beat the Norman nobles of England, and drove them south of what historically was a frequently-shifting border, has come to instill a sense of independence among the Scots; and just as Robin Hood and King Arthur symbolize resistance to tyrants so now does Robert de Bruce, in spite of all his own personal issues and the lack of personal freedoms for many in medieval times.

    In spite of the different elements of the time, the Wars of Scottish Independence seem to have served as a “first step” on the road to national identity for the Scots, just as the Hundred Years’ War tended to bolster the national identities of the English and French. The men under Robert de Bruce called themselves people “of the lion”, for lack of a proper definition of the “thing” they were fighting for. However, they seemed to know they were fighting for a new sort of “thing” nonetheless. If anything, they knew they weren’t English, as many Scots today will be only too eager to reiterate!

    In a round-about way, I actually see Bannockburn as being a significant moment for Unionism, certainly worth celebrating, since the Scots fought tooth and nail to prevent becoming the subjects of the English, and Scotland never allowed itself to be taken by storm and reduced to a colony. When the England and Scotland eventually came together it was through mutual consent – but without Bannockburn, perhaps things would have been different.
And yes, even though the famous Arbroath Declaration was certainly not “democracy” as we know it, neither was Magna Charta or any medieval document. It had its good points, though, and is worth quoting on the right occasion.

    In essence, I can appreciate Bannockburn in its historical and legendary context, and I can understand if the Scottish people would like to celebrate the upcoming anniversary with street parties and fireworks and the like. Unfortunately anything can be taken too far, and that is just what is being suggested.

    There are some who attempt, in service to a modern nationalist agenda, to rehash Anglo-Scottish wars from the 14th Century and apply them to the present state of affairs. This is not only unfair to the public, but it also makes those advocating the position look rather ridiculous. The sad situation is made strikingly manifest in the anthem “The Flower of Scotland.”

    There’s no doubt that the song has an infectious tune that stirs the blood, and I personally have no problem with the first verse of the anthem, which basically just recounts the courage of the Scots at Bannockburn who repulsed the English army from their native soil “to think again.” However, things go downhill from there.

    Listening to the rendition by the Clancy Brothers and Robbie O’Connell in their album “Older but No Wiser” (profound title…), I can’t help but grit my teeth at the blatant misrepresentation of the current state of Scotland depicted in the second and third verses of the song. Is Scotland really a “land that is lost now”? And why is it necessary for the Scots to “rise now, and be the nation again” that defeated the English all those years ago?
    As those who take the time to look it up know, Scotland is not “dependent” in the sense of being a colony; she is, and has always been, “a nation.”

In 1707 the countries of England and Scotland were brought together and formed into the Kingdom of Great Britain through mutual consent (the presence of corruption being greatly blown out of proportion by some historians), and both were represented in the Westminster Parliament as they are today.

    Granted, there were sometimes pushes to dilute the traditional identities of Englishness and Scottishness in the early days of the Union, and for a time the terms “North Britain” and “South Britain” came into use (up until the early 20th Century, in some cases). But the Scots and English were in no way ready to abandon their cultures, and Scotland and England remained distinct even after being merged.

    As I have surmised in previous articles, I believe that the beginning of the distaste for the British identity among Scots began when the Empire began to crumble. Traditional patriotism became hopelessly associated with the worst kind of pompous nationalism, and many of the Scots decided to back-track rather than face up to their mistakes and move on. Shifting the blame and associating themselves with the conquered rather than the conquerors became a protective shield. “We’re Scots, not Brits. We want our own parliament. We want independence.” It proved to be a slippery slope.

    And here we are today, almost one year away from a referendum that will determine whether the United Kingdom will remain true to her name. Ironically, just one year after the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 2014 (which the Nationalists hope will coincide with Scotland’s “independence”), the Battle of Waterloo will be remembered on its 200th anniversary in 2015. Waterloo was one of the most important battles in world history, where the English and the Scots fought together under the Union Jack helped defeat Napoleon, a tyrant far worse than King Edward II of Bannockburn infamy ever was.

   Logically, this conflict should be a source of pride for all Britons and should gain far more publicity than the medieval Battle of Bannockburn. But some people seem to have tragic tunnel vision. All the hyper-active rantings and white-washing only does a disservice to all the brave Scots who proved themselves to be loyal Britons since 1707.

    But in the end, the cultural development that has taken place cannot be stripped. There will always be a part of the Scottish that is British, and it will only be when both Scots and English can come to accept the fullness of their heritage instead of being hopelessly romantic about one period at the expense of the fullness of history that they will be at peace with themselves. As much as freedom fighting, dual identity is part of their lot. In the spirit of whimsy, I’ve jotted down some alternative lyrics that reflect that richer, more complicated spirit (pardon me if my poetic efforts proved to be a little cheesy…it was composed on the spur of the moment!):

* O Flower of Scotland, when will we see your likes again
That fought and died for your wee bit hill and glen,
That stood against him, Proud Edward’s army,
And sent him homeward to think again?

When cannons rattled upon the plain of Waterloo,
Your children battled, with hearts steadfast and true,
And charged against him, Bold Boney’s army,
And chased him homeward to think again

With bullets flying upon the shores of Normandy,
Your sons were dying to make the nations free!
They fought against him, Cruel Hitler’s army,
And forced him homeward to think again

O Flower of Nations, you’ve kept good faith with ancient fame,
Held high the banners emblazoned with your name,
And stood against them, all tyrants’ armies,
And sent them homeward to think again

* First verse written and general pattern created by Roy Williamson; next three stanzas written by Pearl of Tyburn.

(A version of this article appeared on Open Unionism:


Statue of Robert Bruce at the Bannockburn Memorial

Thursday, August 1, 2013

"A Bard's Prayer"......

is a poem comparing the vocation of singer and story-teller to that of the ancient bards who served at the halls of warrior kings/queens. It is also a prayer, asking for the gifts needs to weave yarns beautifully and truthfully.

A Bard’s Prayer

Let me catch the flame
Golden, glittering, glaring,
So my fingers may glow as I hold the pen;
Let me taste the wine,
Sweet, seasoned, simmering;
So my speech is like honey when I tell the tale

Let me smooth the cloth
Crumpled, crude, queer-colored,
So beauty and grace my greet each eye
Let me weave with thread
Silver, star-lit, spider-spun,
So the yarns may flow like a moon-kissed stream

Let my arrow fly
Straight-shot, shimmering, shocking,
To cleave each heart so truth may enter in;
Let my harp strings sound
Merry, moaning, murmuring,
So all may partake in the many moods of life

Let me glimpse the ghosts
Fast-footed, fair-faced, fleeting,
To let the world know of their human hearts;
Let me climb the chain
Twinkling, taught, tenacious,
That connects the present to the haunted past

Let me feel the drums
Pulsing, pounding, puncturing,
So my voice may serve as a battle-horn;
Let my cry be heard
Ringing, roaring, raging,
Above the din of battle and through the soul

Let me harvest jewels,
Unicorn-horns, sword-hilts, and Christ’s hem,
And lay them out in chapter and page;
Let me see it done,
Complete, coherent, concrete,
So this book may bring light to death-darkened eyes

"My speech is like honey when I tell the tale......"

Cardinal Timothy Dolan.......

came to Gettysburg to say an open-air mass for the 4th of July weekend, so my father and I headed off to attend the event. Before the mass, we went to the Gettysburg town square and stopped off at our usual thrift store to hunt for blouses. Outside, a lady dressed in Civil War-era attire was playing period tunes on the fiddle, and I accompanied her by singing “Will Ye No’ Come Back Again?” and “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier”. Reenactors were everywhere to be found. The town was buzzing with tourism and a deep sense of shared history. A euphoric patriotism was also in the air, and an awareness that “We, the People” were still here, daring to live up to the fullness of our American heritage, in spite a war that almost tore us apart some 250 years ago, in spite of modern political turmoil, in spite of everything.

    Tromping through the streets and soaking up the atmosphere, we had the opportunity to interact with various denominational groups highlighting their respective involvement in the Civil War, including the Lutherans and the Mennonites. A Lutheran street-sweeper invited us to a Civil War memorial program involving music and reenactments at his church. Interestingly, a pro-Union preacher from that very church is remembered for confronting invading Confederates during the Battle of Gettysburg and being shot dead on the church steps by them. A plaque on the site commemorates his death.

    The Mennonites had there own story to tell about a peace-loving Mennonite farmer who refused to fight the invading Confederates but instead tried to treat them with Christian charity, providing them with the food and medical supplies as needed. One Southerner wasn’t particularly grateful and threatened to shoot the poor man, but one of his comrades intervened and spared the Mennonite’s life in token of mercy he had shown to them. So many stories welling up from such a small town…….

    Getting close to mass time, dad and I drove to St. Francis Xavier School Complex where it was to be held. I was amazed by the crowds of people turning out to see the Cardinal. The best of Catholica America was on display: The Knights of Columbus with their shining swords; The Irish Brigade Reenactors with their emerald harp-embroidered flag; the priests dressed in their long black cassocks; the acolytes and assistants of the Cardinal in their traditional garb; and press agents from as far away as New York with official-looking cameras draped around their sweaty necks. They all were in a state of eager expectation as the Cardinal prepared himself inside the air-conditioned complex to emerge into the blazing summer heat.

    Dad and I went to the front of the building and sat down on a bench about a stone’s throw away from where “conclave” of the Cardinal’s aides and lay assistants were waiting for their leader to come forth. Finally, he did just that. It was so amazing to see him in the flesh and hear his genial, down-to-earth voice in person. Back during Lent, we thought he might even be made first American pope! I had had mixed emotions about that possibility, since I thought he would make a great Vicar of Christ, but I also didn’t want us Americans to lose him on permanent overseas affairs. Even though he didn’t make it to the Big Chair, his even-keel orthodoxy, beaming personality, and live radio show still make him a very well-known and much-loved figure in the Catholic World.

    Anyway, as he came out of the complex doors, I nervously jumped up, made friendly eye-contact with him, and yelped “Hi!” in a high-pitched squeak. He responded with his characteristic warmth and gave me a hug as if he was a parish priest seeing one of his favorite parishioners. “I….I listen to your radio show all the time……” I managed to sputter. “Your Eminence, may we take a picture?” my dad inquired, priming our handy-dandy, out-of-date camera. “Sure, sure, of course!” the ever-obliging Cardinal responded, putting his arm around my shoulder. I blushed and made an embarrassed grin. Flash. We had done it!!!!

    Dad and I returned to the bench as the Cardinal proceeded to pray quietly off the side before the beginning of the mass. Then the grand procession, akin a mini papal event, began. For one who loves pageantry like myself, it really was beautiful to watch. It made me think about the contrast between the present state of affairs and the Civil War period, when Catholics were still viewed with contempt by the “No Nothings” (appropriate title!) and their ilk and treated like second-class citizens. We were mostly made up of Irish and Germans back then, who slaved to earn the dignity they sought to obtain as immigrants to the USA. And now look at us, with all our diversity and dignity and splendor. In spite of all our problems in the Church and in the Country, we seem to have done fair enough in the marriage between faith and patriotism.

    The mass itself was enlightening. Yes, I know, we should be equally enlightened by every mass we take part in, but God does sometimes give us a special burst of understanding at different times. I felt as if I was at the center of the Universal Church, militant, triumphant, and suffering. Looking at the men and women dressed as soldiers and camp followers, I felt as if the ghosts of the past swirling around me. The Cardinal spoke about how many of the soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg probably died with the words of the “Our Father” on their lips, and how we should remember them as we said the prayer once again at that mass. This identification with historical continuity is one of the keys to our faith and our ultimate hope. We dare to believe that death is by no means the end of all, and that the soul never dies. We believe that our predecessors live on and that we are connected to them by an unbreakable chain and obliged to pray for them. We believe that the faithful living and the faithfully departed are different parts of the same body.

    After the mass, I actually managed to get to the Cardinal again, this time to have an antique holy medal of Our Lady and the Angel Gabriel blest by him. This blessing was photographed by one of “the press”, a young man who purposely dressed to look like Clark Kent………well, not exactly Kent per se, but rather a well-dressed reporter from the ‘20s or ‘30s! We chatted for a while afterwards, and I gave him a coffee-flavored hard candy I picked up at an antique shop in town, since I figured he was probably parched from the weather. I already had a butterscotch candy in my mouth to help my own dry throat!

    Soon after, my father and I drove off in the direction of the Lutheran Church for the Civil War event, but unfortunately we only made it for the last song, aptly, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, and boy, did it have an amazingly powerful ring against the rafters of that historic church! The sound of it was so inspiring it sent chills up and down my spine. Dad and I went outside and indulged in the tray of refreshments, tangy red punch, salty pretzels, and sugary cookies. We then managed to get a picture with a reenactor dressed as General Lee who was in the process of exiting the church with a Southern Belle on his arm. Deciding a change of scenery was in order, we headed across the street for a peek inside Lord Nelson’s Gallery.

    Now, the funny thing about Lord Nelson’s is that it has absolutely nothing to do with Lord Nelson, and was apparently named after the owner’s dog as opposed to the Victor of Trafalgar. However, it does dabble in a different aspect of British history: The French and Indian War, with General Braddock as the star player! In keeping with their chosen theme, they make available some really interesting paintings, figurines, knick-knacks, and books having to do with Colonial times, which is a welcome relief for one feeling overwhelmed by Civil War apparel and needing to get back to British basics. Plus, I wanted to get a business card for my Nelson-loving friend……she knows who she is! ;-)

    As we meandered at the Gallery, we weren't expecting anything super-galactic, and an employee of the gallery only casually mentioned that there was an author in the back room signing books with another tray of refreshments laid out, the latter being what enticed us into the room to begin with! (And the refreshments were really tasty.....cheese, crackers, and carrot cake. What could be better?) Then, surprise of surprises, who should we find behind the folding table hawking piles of historical novels but Jeff Shaara of Gods and Generals fame! I greatly enjoyed the films based on his and his father’s writings about the Civil War, Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.

    However, I must add in my historically nerdy way that I was disappointed by the way Shaara portrayed King George III in his book Rise to Rebellion. He was depicted stomping around, shouting for tea, and bullying General Gage like some sort of maniac during a royal audience. This would have been totally out of character for King George in his years of sanity, and we know he was sane during the early days of the American Revolution. He was usually quite dignified at meetings, and he was particularly sympathetic to Gage, leaving no logical reason why the king would have given the general such a hard time. But nevertheless, I think Mr. Shaara does try his best to give good coverage to both sides in the American Revolution, as he did when dealing with the Civil War, and I admire him for his prolific historical authorship.

    Realizing this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I went up to the table and introduced myself to him. It was the end of the night and Mr. Shaara was in a bit of hurry to pack up his material and be off, but I managed to mention that I was working on a historical fiction book about the American Revolution myself and that I had been in contact with Dysart, Scotland where Major Pitcairn grew up. He responded that he’d been to Edinburgh, but never Dysart. I must admit a slight smirk of satisfaction on my part. No wonder he had portrayed the Pitcairn as being emotionally bent out of shape at every twist and turn in his book! He had never interacted with the real “never-say-die” Dysartians! Mr. Shaara did inform me that Margaret Gage lost her reason to some extent after the death of her youngest child and that she would go down to Boston Harbor and wait the ship bearing her child to come in…….which of course never did. I plan on integrating this bit of information into my own story now.

    Before parting ways, Mr. Shaara’s assistant tried to hawk me one of his very expensive hard-cover books which I politely declined, and Dad managed to snap a picture of me standing alongside the famous author to add to the day’s photo album. Then I took the liberty of writing down the titles of a few books for sale involving General Braddock’s March and the Highlanders in the French and Indian War. I also took down the names of some very striking paintings and their painters. One, called “The Wounding of General Braddock” depicted Braddock, shot through the lung, slumped against a tree, with Washington and several others gathered around him as he gave a final command, the light shining through the trees and casting shadows across the scattered British and American troops caught in the French and Indian ambush in the background.

    Another painting that I found particularly touching showed a little girl in 18th c. attire, apparently adjusting the collar of redcoat officer. It was entitles “A Daughter’s Love”, and it struck me as symbolic of a powerful I try to put across in my own writing. The fact is that many of the hardened veterans in powdered wigs and scarlet jackets who shouted orders and oaths and thundered their way into the history books were also human beings, many of them with a softer side that is rarely exposed. And this holds true for the soldiers of the Civil War, who died with the “Our Father” on their lips. And it holds true for the famous and talented among us in our modern day, whether they be cardinals or authors or reenactors or fiddlers. Human contact is a universal need of mankind, planted in each of us by the hand of our God.

Cardinal Dolan Shaking Hands with a Civil War Reenactor