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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mack, in his capacity as book-reviewer........

has sent me this this witty and amusing review of what sounds like an equally witty and amusing book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. I don't know about the rest of you folks, but I'm to see if my library has a copy a.s.a.p.!


    The annual shoot at the local estate is by itself worth the price of a copy of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. Lord Dagenham, a worthy variation on P.G. Wodehouse’s eh-wot-oh-rather-don’cha-know Lord Emsworth, is a somewhat down-at-the-Rolls Royce noble who rents out much of his ancestral home to a private school and who is selling some of his lands to an American real estate developer.
The last annual duck hunt in the doomed countryside ends as a menace to the humans more than to the ducks. 

   The hunters, mostly English and American bankers playing at being squires for a day, are on the firing line when suddenly the field of fire is occupied by: (1) ducks, lots of ducks, (2) the schoolchildren, who raised the ducks as a science project and who rush in to defend them, (3) the gamekeeper and the farm hands, trying to round up both the children and the ducks, (4) environmentalists, and (5) the local Save Our Village protestors.  And, yes, someone gets bashed with a sign proclaiming “Peace.”  The reader sees that coming, and is delighted when it does.

A safe modern writer would have fitted all this into a scripted screed against guns and hunting, all kitted out with global-warming environmentalism and cuddly Disney children and animals.  Miss Simonson will have none of that; she makes fun of everyone involved, sparing not even the children: “’They killed our duckies,’ came a wail from a child holding up a bloody carcass.” 

As Lord Dagenham says, “I had no idea that fee-paying pupils would smell bad.”
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is framed as boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back, only geriatric, but is saved from Famous Greeting Card Company sugar-free syrup by Miss Simonson’s lemony (seldom acidic) observations on socialists, yuppies, environmentalists, the upper classes, the lower classes, country clubs, the sort of people who resent country clubs, the Church of England, Moslems, Americans, Englishmen, artificial Christmas trees, hunters, anti-hunters, parties with themes, “the glass-squashed faces of small, angry children” on school busses, and flavored teas.

    Through all this Miss Simonson develops a delightful love story.  The protagonist is Major Pettigrew, retired from the British Army, and his friend, Mrs. Ali, owner of the local shop.  Both are widowed, and they “meet cute,” as the film cliché goes, but their relationship must voyage from acquaintance through friendship and finally to love through 355 delightful pages of misunderstandings, cultural differences, disapproving relatives, disapproving neighbors, a retired banker “with an almost medical allergy to children,” organic turkeys, neighbor Alice’s organic vegetarian lasagna that smells like plankton, neighbor Marjory, whose sole topic of conversation is her gifted and talented grandson, a dotty vicar, the vicar’s even dottier wife, the aforementioned hunt, an annual club dance that deteriorates into a food-throwing, stage-collapsing, drink-sloshing brawl, a continuing sub-theme about a matched pair of Churchill shotguns, and a knightly rescue of an imprisoned lady.  And ducks.

   The setting is a Wodehouse England that never really existed, flavored by Jane Austen, Kipling, Agatha Christie, the Romantic poets, Alexander McCall Smith, declasse’ climbers, and the occasional cup of real tea (no rose hips or other debris for our hero). Some of the social assumptions are a bit naïf, and in this the novel sails dangerously close to being approved of by famous television ladies, but this is a love story, after all, and one with a happy ending.

   Even so, with lines such as “The major wished young men wouldn’t think so much,” “a group of faded hippies, with ripped jeans and balding heads,” “Old Mr. Percy became so drunk that he threw away his cane and subsequently fell through a glass door while chasing a shrieking woman across the terrace,” and mention of an assistant imam named Rodney, this is a book that even manly men can read without fear of their boots magically dissolving into designer cross-trainers.And there are ducks.

   Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, is published by Random House.

Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A student from Thomas More Liberal Arts College......

and friend of mine, Ian K., has sent me the following essay about the British author, Patrick O'Brian, and his famous Aubrey-Maturin historical fiction novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. I hope you all enjoy his reflections on the subject as much as I did!


    “The historical novel, as I learnt with some concern after I had written two or three, belongs to a despised genre,”[1]  wrote Patrick O’Brian.   At the heart of his Aubrey-Maturin novels, however, is not adventure for its own sake.  Two characteristics about these books give them permanent value.  The first is that O’Brian believes that this period of history about which he writes holds its own significance for the present time.  The second is that, in O’Brian’s own words, the essence of his books, “is about human relationships and how people treat one another.”  He writes about men, and his novels illustrate two virtues in particular that are at the heart of man and his society with others.  These virtues are duty, and friendship.  Through the particular characters, stories, and settings of his Aubrey-Maturin novels, O’Brian explores what is universal in Man and in society.

    O’Brian believed that for an author to be creditable, he had to understand the period about which he wrote inside and out.  If he lacks the knowledge, his characters and story suffer, and this distracts the reader.  Reading the Aubrey-Maturin novels, however, is an education in itself of the era of the Napoleonic Wars.  One learns not only what a t’gallants’l is, but how to pronounce it correctly.  Yet O’Brian is not a heavy-handed instructor; he teaches his readers subtly, often through dialogue or a character’s reflections, in the music, politics, and even the philosophy of the time.  Sophie, Jack Aubrey’s sweetheart once says in bewilderment,
Of course, I do know it is the French who are so wicked; but there are all these people who keep coming and going – the Austrians, the Spaniards, the Russians… and not only the very day before he left, Jack mentioned Pappenburg…  I was despicably false, and only nodded, looking as wise as I could, and said, ‘Ah, Pappenburg’…”[2]
Stephen Maturin then briefs her on the current alliances, intrigues, and happenings, from all of which the reader gains just as much as Sophie.

    O’Brian’s books are not histories of the times as a whole, however, but are histories told from the point of view of sailors.  O’Brian wrote that, “When one is writing about the Royal Navy of the eighteenth and early 19th centuries it is difficult to avoid understatement; it is difficult to do full justice to one’s subject; for so very often the improbable reality outruns fiction.”[3]  In his interviews and essays, O’Brian highlighted many reasons why he felt the period one worthy about which to be written.  One reason is that this culture is permeated with civility.  Even the most brutal officer gives the majority of his orders with an, “if you please,” and people take greatest pains to prevent discomfort in even small talk.  At the same time, O’Brian notes that it was also a time of high ideals, of strong passions, and of great deeds. “Even an uncommonly warm imagination,” O’Brian writes, “could scarcely produce the frail shape of Commodore Nelson leaping from his battered seventy-four gun Captain through the quarter gallery window of the eighty-gun San Nicolas, taking her, and hurrying across her deck to board the towering San Josef of a hundred and twelve guns.”[4]

    The ideals of the Royal Navy, in fact, and of the British people at this time, can be summed up best in what the same Lord Nelson famously signaled to his fleet before the Battle of Trafalgar:  ‘England expects every man to do his duty.’  Duty is a theme that arises again and again in the Aubrey-Maturin novels, but it is most prominent in the first of them, Master and Commander, and in two characters in particular.  After inspecting his first command, Captain Jack Aubrey reflects, “He was no longer one of ‘us’: he was ‘they’.  Indeed, he was the immediately present incarnation of ‘them’...”[5]  The men in this time naturally respected one such as Capt. Aubrey, because they respected an office of authority.  Those in authority were also aware of the duty owed to those under them.  For the captain of a ship on which conditions were hard and the work was difficult, this duty consisted largely in knowing how to reward and how to punish, according to the merit.  Captain Aubrey, training his men in gunnery, explains to his lieutenant, “Every forem’st jack is richer by a year’s pay, all won in a sunny morning.  They must be made to understand that by teaching them their duty, we are putting them in the way of getting more.”[6]

    James Dillon, Aubrey’s 1st lieutenant, is a foil to his gregarious captain.  Whereas Aubrey is a man undivided, entirely devoted to his country and wholly suited to his profession, James Dillon, a serious and passionate man, is a highly competent sailor as well, but one with conflicting loyalties.  He is both Catholic and a former Irish rebel, and over the course of the novel, Dillon becomes more and more sullen and violent.  Stephen Maturin diagnoses Dillon’s disease: “So much pain, and the more honest the man the worse the pain… the moral law, the civil, military, common laws, the code of honour… to say nothing of Christianity for those that practice it.  All sometimes, indeed generally, at variance… and a man is perpetually required to choose one rather than another.”[7]  Duty, though necessary for society, and for organizing men to meet threats such as that of Napoleon’s power, must nevertheless be founded on true convictions, or else it tears a man, and a society, apart.

    Inasmuch as O’Brian’s novels are, in essence, about relationships, it is the friendship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, which lasts through all of the novels and gives them unity and coherence, that is the measure of all the others.  It is through this unlikely pair who meet when Maturin elbows Aubrey in the ribs for beating the time at a concert in Minorca that O’Brian chooses to illustrate what is important in a friendship.

    Equality is the most fundamental quality.  While Aubrey and Maturin’s differences are obvious, the two being, as O’Brian wrote “as unlike as men could be, unlike in nationality, religion, education, size, shape, profession, habit of mind,” nevertheless they share similarities; they share love for music, enmity of Napoleon and of oppression, and most importantly respect for one another.  O’Brian writes, “Stephen’s confidence in Captain Aubrey’s seamanship was as entire, as blind, as Jack’s in the medical omniscience of Dr. Maturin.”[8]  Maturin and Aubrey come each to the other’s aid innumerable times over the course of the novels, and they each delight in the other’s conversation and musical ability, but their friendship is founded neither on utility nor on pleasure, but in mutual respect of the other’s great qualities.

    This same respect and love that binds Aubrey and Maturin together is the same love that, from time to time, drives them apart.  Dean King writes, “The two are best friends, but O’Brian never lets the friendship grow flabby.  Instead, it feeds on its own tension, the pair sometimes struggling to abide each other, to communicate, to convince.”[9]  Even when the two are not particularly pleased with each other, yet they understand that each is better, indeed whole, with the other.  For both men, the world in which they live often tempts them to become something less than human, whether it be, as in Aubrey’s case, by the abuse of authority, or as in Maturin’s by the despair and cynicism that afflict him.  The ‘particular friendship’ that the two share proves over and over to be the preserver of their integrity and humanity in the face of perils both outward and inward.

    Dean King wrote that in the years during which Patrick O’Brian first began to publish his books, the early 1970s, his novels seemed, “antediluvian,” for writing novels about a world, and about characters, so traditionally moral.  Yet, while he did not shy away from either the noble or the ugly side of human nature, O’Brian was not writing, as he said, “to encourage virtue and lash vice.”[10]  He wrote for the delight of telling the stories of a time that he believed held, “its particular, time-free value,”[11] and also to explore, “the condition humaine,” about which he had, “some comments, some observations… that may be sound, or at least of some interest.”[12]  The stories by which he made his ‘observations’ explored much more than the workings of a ship or the navigation of the seas.  They illustrate what is most important for a man, and for a society, when faced with the dangers and challenges that will surely come.


[1] Patrick O’Brian, Black, Choleric, & Married?, pg.21
[2] Patrick O’Brian, H.M.S. Surprise, pg.20
[3] Patrick O’Brian, Master & Commander, pg.5
[4] Ibid. pg.5
[5] Ibid. pg.33
[6] Patrick O’Brian, The Mauritius Command, pg.63
[7] Patrick O’Brian, Master & Commander, pg. 319
[8] Patrick O’Brian, H.M.S. Surprise, pg. 187
[9] Dean King, Patrick O’Brian: A Life Revealed, pg. 309
[10] Stephen Becker, ‘Interview w/ Patrick O’Brian
[11] Patrick O’Brian, Black, Choleric, & Married?, pg.21

[12] Ibid., pg.21

Patrick O'Brian, author of Master and Commander

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick's Day......

is here, and may shamrocks of tenacity and the roses of grace spring up plentifully in your heart! Below I'll be posting "St. Patrick's Breastplate" and the lyrics to the song "Golden Rose", written by Dana and sung by Frank Patterson in honor of Our Lady of Knock. All ye Irish saints, ora pro nobis!

The Breastplate of St. Patrick

I arise today 

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today

Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through

The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through

God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today

All these powers between me and those evils,

Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;

Christ to shield me today

Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,

Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Golden Rose (English version):

There were people of all ages

gathered ‘round the gable wall
poor and humble men and women,
little children that you called

We are gathered here before you,

and our hearts are just the same
filled with joy at such a vision,
as we praise your name

Golden Rose, Queen of Ireland,

all my cares and troubles cease
as we kneel with love before you,
Lady of Knock, my Queen of Peace

Though your message was unspoken,

still the truth in silence lies
as we gaze upon your vision,
and the truth I try to find

Here I stand with John the teacher,

and with Joseph at your side
and I see the Lamb of God,
on the Altar glorified

And the Lamb will conquer

and the woman clothed in the sun
will shine Her light on everyone

and the lamb will conquer

and the woman clothed in the sun,
will shine Her light on everyone

(Gaelic version)

Bhí seandaoine is óige ann

Balaithe timpeall balla na binne bhí
Fír's mna umhail, leanaí óige
ar chuir tú ghlaoch,

Táimid balaithe anseo romhat

agus ár gcroíthe mar an gcéanna,
lán d'áthas ar a leithéid d'aisling
Feadh molaimíd t'ainm.

Róisin Oir, Banríon na hÉireann

Mo chúraim 's trioblóidí uile gan staonadh,
Is muid ar ár nglúine romhat le ghrá.
Bantíarna a' Chnoic, mo Bhanríon na hÉireann

Mar a raibh bhur scéal gan lua 

Fós, ta an fhírinne faoi thost
Is muid ag breathnú ar bhur radharc
Is iarraim an fhírinne anseo

Táim im sheasamh le múinteoir Sheán

agus le Seosamh ar taobh
Cím Uan Dé
ar an altóir dhlóirithe bhinn

Is beidh an bua ag an Uan

Is an bhean atá feistithe le'n ghrian
Is loinneoidh sí chách len a solas

Is beidh an bua ag an Uan

Is an bhean atá feistithe le'n ghrian
Is loinneoidh sí chách len a solas 

"Christ to shield me today......"

Thursday, March 13, 2014

“Regnum Defensores”......

is a title meaning “Defenders of the Realm”, and it could well be applied to Bishop Alexander MacDonell and his Catholics for King and Country. But before elaborating on their courageous story, here’s a little background on the subject of Catholica Britannia in general.

    Some would be inclined to believe that Catholics are natural enemies of the Union. After all, from the time of the Protestant Revolt, those who lived in the territories now making up The United Kingdom found themselves persecuted and marginalized for clinging to their faith. The Act of Settlement and The Act of Union included all sorts of anti-“Papist” clauses, and many Catholics felt rightly threatened by this new “British” identity and sided with the Catholic Stuarts in their repeated attempts to reclaim the throne and restore the independence of the individual kingdoms.

    That having been said, as time progressed, many Catholics began to realize that there were benefits of being a part of the new Union and sought to find their place within it. One larger-than-life example of this was an extraordinary man from the Scottish Highlands who set out to prove that Catholicism and Britishness really could intertwine to change the world for the better and create a unique sub-culture that is alive and well in Britain today. His story should also have particular interest for Catholic Unionists when confronted with Nationalist historical spin.

    Fr. Alexander MacDonell, later Bishop of Kingston, Ontario, was born to a lower-to-middle class Catholic family near Inverness in 1762. As a young man, he studied to become a priest in Europe and was ordained in 1787. One interesting occurrence in this period of his life took place when a group of French Revolutionaries stormed the seminary he was attending and tried to force MacDonell to dance around a liberty pole. Being a staunch royalist by nature, he feigned lameness so he could escape the indignity.

    He returned to his native land as an outlaw "priest of the heather", enduring the harsh climate of living outdoors in the Scottish Highlands and subsisting off meager rations in order to minister to his flock. During the Highland Clearances, he boldly tempted fate by leading his clan into Glasgow in search of work and refusing to leave them after they had found it. He even said mass in a building with no guards posted, allowing Protestants to come and watch at will. Considering that this was only a few years after the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots and other fanatical mob attacks throughout British cities, the man obviously had guts.

    Eventually, he petitioned King George III to allow him to raise a regiment comprised of Catholic Highlanders to serve in the British army. The king and the priest probably would have found that they had a lot in common if they ever met. Both were very religious; both were fiercely against revolutions; both saw duty as one of the foremost principles that guided their lives; both loved the military.

    But George believed, with woeful narrow-mindedness, that Catholicism was fundamentally opposed to the interests of the Crown and the British state, and continually opposed movements to put his Catholic subjects on equal footing with his Protestant ones. Nevertheless, George was capable of showing favor to individual Catholics, and by hook or crook, Fr. MacDonell’s request to raise a Catholic regiment for the British army was granted. The determined priest even got the go ahead to serve as the chaplain for the regiment, officially called “The Glengarry Fencibles”.  
    During their service in Ireland during the Rising of 1798, they were one of the few regiments to come out of the war with no war crime charges, thanks in great part to Fr. MacDonell’s insistence on accompanying them on the battlefield. He would encourage the terrified Irish civilians to come out of hiding so he could say mass for them, and he made sure that the wounded rebels were cared for by British surgeons. He was very much a Unionist, and saw the great potential that a united Britain and Ireland could achieve, providing that the deep-seated anti-Catholicism ingrained in the British Isles could be overcome.
    When the regiment was later disbanded, MacDonell approached the government and sought compensations for his clansmen in the form of a land grant in one of the British colonies overseas. Ungratefully, the officials tried to pawn off some poor property in the mosquito-infested West Indies. MacDonell was not impressed, and continued to petition for land elsewhere. Finally, they were given land in the territory of Upper Canada and made their homes in what is now Ontario. The chaplain continued to serve as a tireless spiritual shepherd, traveling long distances by horse and canoe to visit the scattered settlements and Indian villages. Since he spoke their native Gaelic and English, he was often used as the collective voice for his people.

    When the War of 1812 broke out and Canada was threatened by an America invasion, the Glengarries were reformed to combat the assault. Once again, MacDonell was always in the heat of the action, proudly proclaiming that all the men of his clan were either “priests or soldiers.” A strapping, tall man with a booming voice, he seemed every bit a man-of-the-cloth and a man-of-the-sword. He made great strides in ecumenism in the region, working alongside Anglicans and Presbyterians as comrades-in-arms and making lasting friendship with Protestant clergymen. Some of his connections were even members of the Orange Order who learned to overcome their prejudices through interaction with the soldier-priest.

    After the war, MacDonell was eventually raised to the position of Bishop of Kingston and enjoyed his years of retirement by participating in the creation of a local Tartan Society to preserve traditional Gaelic culture. Again showing his Unionist sentiment, the society changed its meeting date from the anniversary of Bannockburn to the anniversary of Waterloo to promote unity and own up to the realization that Napoleon had been more of a threat to the free world then Edward II ever had been. In commemoration of his countless services to British and Canada alike, King George IV sent Bishop MacDonell a ring which he proudly wore as a badge of honor. It was a symbol that Catholicism in Britain and her Empire had come a long way.

    In conclusion, Catholicism and Britishness have often had a tense relationship, but also a dynamic one that brought out the best in both. Catholics have provided some of the most loyal citizens Britain has had, and it certainly would not be incongruent for us to continue to have attachments to her now, on the eve of a referendum that will decide her future as a nation. Of course, whatever political changes happen in the British Isles, the Catholic Church will continue to minister to the souls of the inhabitants. That is our strength; we are adaptable. Like Bishop MacDonell, I can say, first and foremost, that my mission is evangelism. Also like him, I can see very clearly the worthy aspects of the British identity and the connectivity between faith and patriotism.

    So to my fellow Catholics in the UK: be patriots and flourish where you are planted. Love your country, who you have given so much to and gained so much from. You have come to far too turn back now. Help hold her together, not tear her apart. Pray for wisdom before you cast your vote.

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

Bishop Alexander MacDonell, "Regnum Defensor"


"An Island's Daughter".....

is a poem I've written for my friend Rae-Rae's 18th birthday, which is today! May you have all the best wishes and blessings on your special day!!! :-)

An Island’s Daughter

The old stories have a rhythm
Like the waves of the sea,
Washing up on the dark sands of time
With the pungent scent of natural elements
And the taste of salt

They sting and refresh,
Bringing back the ghosts of hearty souls
Who lived it, and worked it,
And felt the tides in their blood
Like their own pulse

Vague things, undefined
Like the stars that drown in the wine-dark water
Or that melt into a pale October dawn
Or that grace an Admiral’s jacket
Shine out in memory

The blood in the tides is now unseen,
But it trickled down planks of British oak and tar,
And swords now left to rust in indifference
Once gleamed like shark’s teeth
For the defense of a realm

Who will remember an island’s son
Better than an island’s daughter?
The sea is mute if no one hears it
And the stories fade if no one tells them
But you give them new life

You are a bard of today,
One who treads the line between past and present
To keep the heroes alive who might be dead to us
And to give shape to the consciousness of the future
Through that which is timeless

You have a gift, and are a gift

"....stars.....that grace an admiral's jacket....."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday......

is the day when Catholics and many Protestants identify as the beginning of he Lenten Season. It is the "first fast" in a time of fasting and meditation, and we are bound to strengthen our souls against worldly desires. Today we are "marked" with ashes made from blessed palm. As the priest puts the ashes on our forehead in the sign of the cross, he says, "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return."

    Is all this supposed to be depressing, or some Puritanical demonstration of killjoy religiosity? No, of course not. We're as fun-loving as anyone, and woe be the heathen who claims Christians don't know how to party! But to everything there is a season, and this is the season when we call to mind Christ's own suffering during his 40-day-long fast in the desert, when he was tempted by the devil with power, fame, riches, and even the simple necessity of bread. But Satan makes everything seem simple.

    It may sound strange, but I find the Lent/Easter Seasons uniquely fulfilling in a way that Advent/Christmas does not achieve. But are beautiful, don't get me wrong, but the former has a depth found in its innate paradox that is intrinsically intertwined with the human experience. It's literally "a matter of life and death." There is so much fear involved in the subject of dying, it seems it is only right to ponder on it, and that which comes after it. And how better to do that than through prayer and penance? Really, it is all a celebration of "the real us", given to us by God in the form of our souls and the Free Will we are given.

    We are more than flesh and bones and stomachs and brains. We know that we are, and that proves that we are. It is natural law. It is part of our very nature. But it is a wounded nature, all too often tending towards our base desires, not just of the body but also of the mind. We are given the will and the grace to control both. Christ broke the back of sin and death when he himself became the scapegoat for us and died for to ransom us. It was a surprise ending that his death should bring new life. And that's just the sort of glorious paradox that makes perfect sense. As Chesteron said in his famous Ballad of the White Horse, "By God's death, the stars shall shine/And small apples grow."

    And so we share in the tiniest inkling of that sacrifice through our prayers and penance. In this, we also become interconnected with the Church in its fullness, across the distances of time and place. I find it particularly intriguing when I stumble across passages from history that deal with people facing death and looking to Heaven for solace. It's often quite unexpected, and I feel an increased attachment to those persons from the past with whom I share the same hope that is grounded in Christ.

    One interesting example is Bishop Bonaventure Giffard, an underground Catholic prelate in England, wrote a letter to James Radcliffe, Lord Derwentwater, a young nobleman who was sentenced to death for taking part in the Jacobite uprising of 1715. In the letter, the bishop compared Derwentwater's coming execution to the passion of Christ:

    "His (Christ’s) fear merited all the courage which appeared in the martyrs, and will obtain for you all that firmness and fortitude of mind which will accompany you to the scaffold. His sadness will raise a holy grief and sorrow in you for your sins, and at the same time settle a most solid joy in your heart. In fine, all the circumstances of His most bitter agony will sweeten to you all that is most terrible in death.....God to your savior in his dolorous garden; kneel down with Him; join in prayers with Him, and shutting your heart up with His, pronounce with Him these great words: - Father, Thy will be done!....(These are) the poor thoughts of me, that truly loved you; who is continually with you in his prayers, and who hopes to join with you for all eternity in a canticle of praise to the infinite mercies of our great God."

    Derwentwater was execution on February 24, 1716, and the crowd was moved to tears to watch him die.  He was beloved for his charming manners and generosity to all, and his loss was lamented in his native Northumberland for years to come. His final speech on the gallows runs as follows:

    “Being in a few minutes to appear before the tribunal of God, where, though most unworthy, I hope to find mercy, which I have not found from men now in power, I have endeavoured to make my peace with His Divine Majesty by most humbly begging pardon for all the sins of my life; and I doubt not of a merciful forgiveness through the merits of the passion and death of my Saviour Jesus Christ, for which end I earnestly desire the prayers of all good Christians.

    After this, I am to ask pardon of those whom I might have scandalized by pleading guilty at my trial. Such as were permitted to come to me, told me, that having been undeniably in arms, pleading guilty was but the consequence of having submitted to mercy; and many arguments were used to prove there was nothing of moment in so doing, among others, the universal practice of signing leases, whereof the preambles run in the name of the person in possession.

    But I am sensible that in this I have made bold with my loyalty, having never owned any other but King James the Third for my rightful and lawful sovereign; him I had an inclination to serve from my infancy, and was moved thereto by a natural love I had to his person, knowing him to be capable of making his people happy; and though he had been of a different religion from mine, I should have done for him all that lay in my power, as my ancestors have done for his predecessors, being thereto bound by the laws of God and man.

    Wherefore, if in this affair I have acted rashly, it ought not affect the innocent; I intended to wrong nobody, but to serve my king and country, and that without self-interest, hoping by the example I gave to have induced others to their duty; and God, who sees the secrets of my heart, knows I speak truth. Some means have been proposed to me for saving my life, which I looked upon as inconsistent with honour and conscience, and therefore I rejected them; for, with God's assistance, I shall prefer any death to the doing a base unworthy action.

    I only wish now, that the laying down my life might contribute to the service of my king and country, and the re-establishment of the ancient and fundamental constitution of these kingdoms, without which, no lasting peace or true happiness can attend them; then I should indeed part with life even with pleasure. As it is, I can only pray that these blessings may be bestowed upon my dear country; and since I can do no more, I beseech God to accept of my life as a small sacrifice towards it.

    I die a Roman Catholic; I am in perfect charity with all the world, I thank God for it, even with those of the present government who are most instrumental in my death. I freely forgive such as ungenerously reported false things of me; and I hope to be forgiven the trespasses of my youth, by the Father of infinite mercy, into whose hand I commend my soul.”

    Another interesting example is Duncan Forbes, the Lord President in the Scottish Highlands for the Hanoverian government, who died on December 10, 1747. After a life of serving his cause during repeated rebellions and advocating that justice should be meted out instead of vengeance, he lived out his final days impoverished, unpaid for his services to his country. His son recorded:

   “My father entered into the everlasting life of God, trusting, hoping, and believing through the blood of Christ, eternal life and happiness. When I first saw my father upon the bed of death, his blessing and prayer to me was:
    ‘My dear John, you have just come in time to see me die. May the great God of heaven and earth bless and preserver you! You have come to a very poor fortune; partly through my own extravagance, and partly through the oppression of power. I am sure you will forgive me, because what I did was with a good intention. I know you to be an honest-hearted lad. Andrew Mitchell loves you affectionately; he will advise you, and do what he can for you.

    I depend upon Scroope, too, which you may let him know. I will advise you never to think of coming into parliament. I left some notes with the two William Forbses in case I had not seen you. They are two affectionate lads, and will be able to help you in some affairs better thank you would have done yourself. John Hossack will help you in your affairs in the north. My hearts bleeds for poor John Steel; I recommended him to you.  

    When I was in the north I paid some considerably large sums that I never dreamed of before, towards defraying the charges occasioned by the rebellion. There is but one thing I repent me of in my whole life --- not to have taken better care of you. I trust in the blood of Christ. Be always religious, fear and love God. You may go, you can be of no service to me here.’”

      Last but not least, I must refer to one of my personal favorites, Sgt. Roger Lamb, British veteran of the American Revolution, who concluded the narrative of his wartime experience in Occurrences during the Late American War with the following excerpt:

    “When I reflect on the hardships which I endured, the dangers which I escaped from my first setting out from Gloucester, after our army was taken prisoners, in a march of perhaps not less than one thousand miles, through a wilderness interspersed with swamps, I felt (and senseless must I be if I did not feel it) a degree of thankfulness to that Providence, who, not only preserved my life in several hard fought battles, skirmishes, etc., but also guided my footsteps through those desert tracks, and brought me in safety once more among my friends. It is true, I can state the fact in the language of the great heathen poet:

‘From the din of war,
Safe I returned without one hostile scar;
Though balls in leaden tempests rained around,
Yet innocent they flew, and guiltless of a wound.’

    But I must acknowledge, as a Christian, (however I may by some persons be charged with enthusiasm for it) that in all these wonderful events of my past life, I see and adore a higher direction – an arm Omnipotent which has been my safeguard; and penetrated with the recollection of which I may truly say – “O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation; Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle.” 

"I trust in the blood of Christ..."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Dewi Sant"......

is a poem written on March 1st, the feast of St. David, Patron Saint of Wales. It outlines the paradoxes of the power he had to work miracles and the pains of this life he had to suffer. 

Diwrnod Hapus Dewi Sant!

Dewi Sant 

St. David used his power
When his mother was in labor
And soldiers came to slay her
But hailstorms drove them back

But he would not use his power
To stop the warring Saxons
That poured across the country
To plunder and attack

St. David used his power
To make himself a pulpit
From valley turned to hilltop
That rose up from the sod

But he would not use his power
To heat the freezing water
That rushed down from the mountains
Where he would pray to God

St. David used his power
To heal his teacher’s blindness
By laying hands upon him
So dead eyes might see the light

But he would not use his power
To make himself strong liquor
To blur his mind with fancies
That flash, then fade from sight

St. David used his power
To found both church and abbey
Which raised his high in stature
For the people of the land

But he would not use his power
To make the work-load lighter
Nor shirk his main commission,
To toil with heart and hand

His power came from Heaven,
Hinged on wings of angels,
But he could not follow whimsy
Nor make the final call

For the suffering drained his people
And the struggle left him withered
But he blessed the freezing water
And his comrades when they’d fall

For it was his lot to sorrow
And see the world in shadows
But to trudge on, cold and lonely
In a starless twilight bleak

But the dawn would come to Cymru
Through the learning of his brothers
And Welsh warriors found their courage
Through his sign of a golden leek

"Through his sign of a golden leek....."