• July 30th, 2014When Nice Turns Nastyby Joseph Pearce

    Is nice nasty? Is it nasty to be nice? All is revealed in my latest piece for the Imaginative Conservative:

    http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/nice-turns-nasty.html

  • July 30th, 2014The Mysterious Grace of Conversionby Kevin O'Brien

    I was an atheist at age nine.  I was spiritual but not religious at age 18.  I had a surprising and profound conversion experience when I was 36.  And on July 30, 2000 - fourteen years ago today - my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church.  I was 39 at the time.

    I later learned that that was the same date that G. K. Chesterton was received into the Catholic Church, 78 years prior, in 1922.  More than any other person, Chesterton, by God's grace, and his writings, had made me a Catholic.  So the fact that Divine Providence arranged for me to come in, unwittingly, on his anniversary was a great and humbling honor.

    ***

    I founded Theater of the Word Incorporated, my acting troupe which travels the country evangelizing through drama, in 2007.  Since then, we've performed hundreds of shows, and, while our impact on audiences has been unknowable, our impact on our own actors has been profound.  Until today, three of our actors had converted, either from Protestant to Catholic, or from Nothing to Christian.  Today I was honored to see the reception of our fourth, David Treadway, and to act as his sponsor.

    You'll notice that Dave, too, has come in on the anniversary of Chesterton's reception, and the anniversary of the reception of my wife Karen and me.  This was not planned!  

    Dave has been taking private instruction from Canon Ueda - a very devout and caring priest of the Institute of Christ the King here in St. Louis - for many months, and back in April, with Canon Ueda's blessing, we arranged for Dave to be received and confirmed at the Vigil Mass of the American Chesterton Society's Annual Conference, held this year at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.  In fact, a group of us are heading to the Conference, primary to see Dave received and confirmed.  Chesterton and the Chestertonians have been very instrumental in Dave's conversion, as well, and this is why Dave chose to do this.

    But at the last minute a monkey wrench was thrown into the works, when the archdiocese of Chicago flatly said that Dave could not be received at Mundelein.  But God works in mysterious ways - even through the impenetrable mysteries of chaneries and bureucracies.  

    And so, with the help of some of my friends here in the archdiocese of St. Louis, we found a solution.  Dave could be received here in town before heading to the Conference, make his first Confession to a priest this weekend while at the Conference, and take his first communion at the Conference's Vigil Mass on Saturday, Aug. 2 - thus keeping the plan more or less in place.  We'll all be honored to be present at Dave's First Communion (his confirmation will take place later).

    And the kindly priest here who agreed to receive Dave (Fr. Johnson) at St. Justin Martyr church in St. Louis, scheduled it for today, July 30.

    Divine Providence continues to work in our lives, and, now that he's in, David Treadway will make a better Catholic than I am, by far.

    David, a very devout Christian, has dealt with more obstacles to his conversion than anyone I've ever known.  Maybe he, like my actress Maria Romine, and me can someday go on EWTN's The Journey Home and tell his amazing conversion story as Maria and I did - though it make take two hours, rather than one, for Dave to describe it!

    Dave Treadway (left), Timothy Quigley and me with lots of beer on a Theater of the Word tour to North Dakota, 2013.



    ***

    So, David, allow our patron G. K. Chesterton and me to welcome you into the Catholic Church.

    My advice to you, having been in now for fourteen years, would be the following ...

    • The Church is filled with sinners as well as saints, and you'll be dismayed to discover how you'll be sinning right there along with them, despite the tremendous sacramental grace that's now available to you.  But just keep repenting, praying, and seeking Christ in the sacraments.
    • The Spirit of Unreality is the greatest threat to devout Catholics these days - the temptation to make God and His Church into a kind of idol, something that we can control and make use of for our own narrow ends.  We see this in factionalism, contrived and bad music and homilies, the reluctance of the Church realistically to value services received and to pay for them, and in a general fear-of-the-Fear-of-God and of the workings of His Holy Spirit in our lives.
    • Keep a sense of humor and pray for humility.   
    • Listen to Pope Francis.  Don't become insular, paranoid or closed-in.  Bring people to Christ and bring Christ to people.  Your days as an Evangelical are just beginning.

    G. K. Chesterton, pray for us.

    ***

    I'll see many of you this weekend in Chicago.  Make sure you come up and congratulate Dave.

    David Treadway, welcome home!

  • July 30th, 2014Word on Fire and Beauteous Truthby Joseph Pearce

    I'm pleased to announce the publication of my interview with Jared Zimmerer for Fr. Robert Barron's website, Word on Fire:

    http://wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/July-2014/Beauteous-Truth--An-Interview-with-Joseph-Pearce.aspx

  • July 28th, 2014Beauteous Praise from the Heart of Belloc Countryby Joseph Pearce

    I have been greatly heartened by some fulsome praise for my latest book from the very heart of Belloc country, i.e. Sussex in England. I hope that visitors to the Ink Desk will permit me the self-indulgence of sharing it:


    At last! My copy of Beauteous Truth arrived today. I seized it from the postman, took it off to a corner, like a dog with a particularly juicy bone, and devoured it in one sitting, growling ferociously at every interruption. I shall now spend the next week or so re-reading it before finding it a permanent place on my shelves, next to Literary Converts and Literary Giants, Literary Catholics.

    What a pleasure it is to read someone who cares for truth and not for cultural fads and fashions! Your excoriations of postmodern 'kulchur' reminded me of a line from (I think) Wyndham Lewis's One-Way Song (Chesterton-like, I quote from memory so the words may not be exact):- 'Ours is a little age, when the blind pygmy treads in hypnotized crusades against all splendor'. Quite. But, for precisely that reason, it is good to be reminded of the splendor, and, time and again, your essays did just that. Belloc and Baring, Chesterton and Dawson, Lewis and Tolkien, Greene and Solzhenitsyn, sprang vividly to life from your pages. Criticism was both fair-minded and robust, as criticism should be: a welcome change from the mealy-mouthed platitudes and anodyne observations that so often pass for criticism these days.

    Anyway, I couldn't resist writing to thank you for these splendid essays, and to second Cardinal Burke's hope that we may look forward to further volumes of essays in future. In the meantime, I intend to recommend this volume to all my friends. I shall be meeting some of them in a Sussex pub next week, so we'll drink your health in a pint (or three) of Harvey's!
  • July 28th, 2014Beauteous Truthby Joseph Pearce

    Having just returned from a mini-speaking tour of northern California which culminated with my participation at this year's Napa Institute Conference, I'm delighted to find this review of my latest book on Randy Hain's Integrated Catholic Life website: http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2014/07/randy-hain-joseph-pearce-and-beauteous-truth/

  • July 25th, 2014A “Gay Catholic Romance Novel”?by Dena Hunt

    I’m particularly gratified with this review of The Lion’s Heart from Aletia. The novel is new, and while reviews have been good, it’s always a pleasure to hear from a reader who just seems to “get it,” regardless of how they title their reviews:

    http://go.aleteia.org/SPlL0PJ

  • July 24th, 2014Parsing Tolkien’s Letter on Love and Romanceby Kevin O'Brien

    Tolkien's amazing letter to his son Michael deserves a closer look.  Here it is again, with some commentary by me in boldface.  

    ***



    A man's dealings with women can be purely physical (they cannot really, of course: but I mean he can
    refuse to take other things into account, to the great damage of his soul (and body) and theirs); or
    'friendly'; or he can be a 'lover' (engaging and blending all his affections and powers of mind and body in a complex emotion powerfully coloured and energized by 'sex'). 

    Tolkien is setting up here three possibilities in relations between men and women: 

    1. A man can relate to a woman merely for the sake of physical pleasure (though really this can never happen, for we can never separate our bodies and our souls, and great harm of some sort comes to those men who try to do this; great harm also comes to the women involved)

    2. A man can be "friends" with a woman (before old age, this is almost impossible on any intimate level without the complications of love or attraction, as he points out later)

    3. Or a man can be a woman's "lover" - this love being something which engages his whole self, but which still tends to be primarily an emotional experience, "energized by sex".

    This is stunningly perceptive stuff, loaded with common sense - as is the rest of the letter.  Read on!

    This is a fallen world. The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been 'going to the bad' all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the 'hard spirit of concupiscence' has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell. 

    What beautiful prose, right to the point and very evocative.  "The hard spirit of concupiscence" is our innate predilection to sin, especially sexual sin.

    We will leave aside the 'immoral' results. These you desire not to be dragged into. To renunciation you have no call. 'Friendship' then? 

    He is giving advice to his son.  Michael does not want to give himself to "immoral" relationships with women (fornication).  But he's not called to "renunciation" (celibacy and the priesthood).  Is friendship then the only option left?

    In this fallen world the 'friendship' that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones. This 'friendship' has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a 'friendship' quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by 'falling in love'. 

    This has to be qualified a bit, lest Tolkien sound too harsh and hypercritical.  

    And the qualifier is this: of course, all of us have friends of the opposite sex.  But those are more acquaintances than examples of deep friendship, and the level of emotional and spiritual intimacy is generally tepid or restrained.  It has been my experience that any "friendship" I have with a woman is either

    1. At a level of cordiality and restraint: a pleasant acquaintanceship of mutual affection and limited "sharing";

    2. Or fraught with "erotic" complications (meaning complications of the love known as Eros, which is more than just sex) - where emotional and spiritual sharing, once past a certain level, invariably leads (quite naturally) not only to attraction but to the building up of mutual obligations, which must ultimately go unfulfilled and renounced by one or the other party - unless the friendship is a courtship building toward marriage.  This is true whether the "friends" add on "benefits" or not.  It's not so much sex that complicates such relationships, but Eros.

    But a young man does not really (as a rule) want 'friendship', even if he says he does. There are plenty of young men (as a rule). He wants love: innocent, and yet irresponsible perhaps. Allas! Allas! that ever love was sinne! as Chaucer says. Then if he is a Christian and is aware that there is such a thing as sin, he wants to know what to do about it.

    So the problem is love.  How do we love without sin?  Quoting Chaucer leads Tolkien into a penetrating analysis of "courtly love".

    There is in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition still strong, though as a product of Christendom (yet by no means the same as Christian ethics) the times are inimical to it. 

    Note that chivalry grew out of Christendom, but that chivalry is not the same thing as Christian ethics.  Tolkien proceeds to show how chivalry and "courtly love" differs from Christian ethics, and he gives a very mature and balanced treatment of the subject.  

    One might wonder, "What does chivalry have to do with the modern world?  How does this affect a young man - or even a mature man - trying to love without sin?  Chivalry is dead, isn't it?  The times are inimical to it, as Tolkien said."  Well, no, chivalry is not dead; it lives on in the Romantic tradition of literature and art, and its notion of Romantic Love can be seen in every movie or novel of the modern age (except very recent pieces of trash like Hangover).  It's a tradition that tugs deeply at our souls, as it is very evocative of Eros and Agape - of our call to love with great passion, interest, devotion and surrender: it takes what Christ has revealed about love and applies it (imperfectly but very effectively) to the secular world.  It is love of God applied to the opposite sex - which has its problems, as Tolkien proceeds to point out.

    It idealizes 'love' — and as far as it goes can be very good, since it takes in far more than physical pleasure, and enjoins if not purity, at least fidelity, and so self-denial, 'service', courtesy, honour, and courage. Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake without reference to (and indeed contrary to) matrimony. 

    The tradition of courtly love originally began as the building up of what might be called elaborate rules of adultery.  Later, it took on more dignity - but it originally focused on the problem of Eros for the married man or woman who was not finding Eros in his or her marriage.  

    Its centre was not God, but imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady. It still tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding star or divinity – of the old-fashioned 'his divinity' = the woman he loves – the object or reason of noble conduct. This is, of course, false and at best make-believe. The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was, producing much of that beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God's way of refining so much our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion) it can be very noble. Then it produces what I suppose is still felt, among those who retain even vestigiary Christianity, to be the highest ideal of love between man and woman. Yet I still think it has dangers. It is not wholly true, and it is not perfectly 'theocentric'. It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a 'love' that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts).

    This is one of the most stunning and beautiful paragraphs Tolkien ever wrote.  In it, he manages to criticize the romantic notion of "The Lady" in a way that is so fair and comprehensive that one marvels at the wisdom and perspective of this man.  The chivalric tradition of "The Lady" and the romantic quest she moves us to, can both inspire a man to a nobility of love, and also fool him and hurt him (and others) badly.  For we poets tend to forget that women are "companions in shipwreck and not guiding stars".  This can lead to cynicism on the one hand (there's nothing more ugly and angry than a disappointed lover, whose ideals have proven to be bubbles that have popped) or to "the squalor of the divorce courts" on the other.  "My wife is not My Lady!  My Lady calls to me from afar!  My Lady is hot and sexy and understands me!  My wife is dumpy and crabby and knows me too well to adore me like her knight in shining armor that I long to be!  But my secretary understands me - or my dental hygenist does - or that young thing over there does!  Oh, stars!  Oh, fate!  Why do I have a wife and not My Lady!" (picks up phone, dials 1-800-DIVORCE).

    Women really have not much part in all this, though they may use the language of romantic love, since it is so entwined in all our idioms. The sexual impulse makes women (naturally when unspoiled more unselfish) very sympathetic and understanding, or specially desirous of being so (or seeming so), and very ready to enter into all the interests, as far as they can, from ties to religion, of the young man they are attracted to. No intent necessarily to deceive: sheer instinct: the servient, helpmeet instinct, generously warmed by desire and young blood. Under this impulse they can in fact often achieve very remarkable insight and understanding, even of things otherwise outside their natural range: for it is their gift to be receptive, stimulated, fertilized (in many other matters than the physical) by the male. Every teacher knows that. How quickly an intelligent woman can be taught, grasp his ideas, see his point – and how (with rare exceptions) they can go no further, when they leave his hand, or when they cease to take a personal interest in him. But this is their natural avenue to love. Before the young woman knows where she is (and while the romantic young man, when he exists, is still sighing) she may actually 'fall in love'. Which for her, an unspoiled natural young woman, means that she wants to become the mother of the young man's children, even if that desire is by no means clear to her or explicit. And then things are going to happen: and they may be very painful and harmful, if things go wrong. Particularly if the young man only wanted a temporary guiding star and divinity (until he hitches his waggon to a brighter one), and was merely enjoying the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with a titillation of sex – all quite innocent, of course, and worlds away from 'seduction'.

    Wow.  

    It's politically incorrect these days to assert that men and women are different in any way (even physically).  But Tolkien nails it.

    As to women's natural desire - I can only think of Lola Heatherton whose showbiz catch phrase was, "I want to bear your children!"  



    But back to Tolkien ...

    You may meet in life (as in literature) women who are flighty, or even plain wanton — I don't refer to mere flirtatiousness, the sparring practice for the real combat, but to women who are too silly to take even love seriously, or are actually so depraved as to enjoy 'conquests', or even enjoy the giving of pain – but these are abnormalities, even though false teaching, bad upbringing, and corrupt fashions may encourage them. Much though modern conditions have changed feminine circumstances, and the detail of what is considered propriety, they have not changed natural instinct. A man has a life-work, a career, (and male friends), all of which could (and do where he has any guts) survive the shipwreck of 'love'. A young woman, even one 'economically independent', as they say now (it usually really means economic subservience to male commercial employers instead of to a father or a family), begins to think of the 'bottom drawer' and dream of a home, almost at once. If she really falls in love, the shipwreck may really end on the rocks. Anyway women are in general much less romantic and more practical. Don't be misled by the fact that they are more 'sentimental' in words – freer with 'darling', and all that. They do not want a guiding star. 

    Guys like me who tend to be poets and idealists find this hard to imagine, but it's very very true.  Women are much more practical than men.  Their thoughts tend to hearth and home (unless they're simply vixens, as Tolkien notes above - and vixens themselves are so twisted that they are quite unhappy with who they are, as a rule).  A woman can be idealistic in her own way, but it's usually not regarding love and romance.  Even women who have affairs usually do so to find attention, not to find the ideal man.  Thus the tendency of women to "settle", to marry men who meet minimum standards (like breathing and showing an interest in them).  It's the woman's job to "settle" - to settle down, something that does not come naturally to men.  

    They may idealize a plain young man into a hero; but they don't really need any such glamour either to fall in love or to remain in it. If they have any delusion it is that they can 'reform' men. They will take a rotter open-eyed, and even when the delusion of reforming him fails, go on loving him. 

    Maybe this is why they "settle".  A man believes he can always find the ideal "out there"; a woman believe she can always achieve the ideal "in here".  

    They are, of course, much more realistic about the sexual relation. Unless perverted by bad contemporary fashions they do not as a rule talk 'bawdy'; not because they are purer than men (they are not) but because they don't find it funny. I have known those who pretended to, but it is a pretence. It may be intriguing, interesting, absorbing (even a great deal too absorbing) to them: but it is just plumb natural, a serious, obvious interest; where is the joke?

    This opens up a great mystery.  Sex is always something ridiculous to a man, no matter how obsessed he is with it; thus men are bawdy and enjoy being bawdy.  A man always finds sex somehow humiliating or humbling and therefore funny.  Women take sex much more seriously.  There's no tension between the natural function of sex and the spiritual desires of a woman; in men there is.  Sex is somehow incongruous to us: we love it, but it's not exactly who we are - which is often the source of humor.  Women don't get that joke.

    They have, of course, still to be more careful in sexual relations, for all the contraceptives. Mistakes are damaging physically and socially (and matrimonially). But they are instinctively, when uncorrupt, monogamous. Men are not. .... No good pretending. Men just ain't, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of 'revealed' ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh. Each of us could healthily beget, in our 30 odd years of full manhood, a few hundred children, and enjoy the process. Brigham Young (I believe) was a healthy and happy man. It is a fallen world, and there is no consonance between our bodies, minds, and souls.

    Amen.

    However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called 'self-realization' (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that — even those brought up 'in the Church'. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it. When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only —. Hence divorce, to provide the 'if only'. And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances). It is notorious that in fact happy marriages are more common where the 'choosing' by the young persons is even more limited, by parental or family authority, as long as there is a social ethic of plain unromantic responsibility and conjugal fidelity. But even in countries where the romantic tradition has so far affected social arrangements as to make people believe that the choosing of a mate is solely the concern of the young, only the rarest good fortune brings together the man and woman who are really as it were 'destined' for one another, and capable of a very great and splendid love. The idea still dazzles us, catches us by the throat: poems and stories in multitudes have been written on the theme, more, probably, than the total of such loves in real life (yet the greatest of these tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such great lovers, but of their tragic separation; as if even in this sphere the truly great and splendid in this fallen world is more nearly achieved by 'failure' and suffering). In such great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world. In this fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean, heart, and fidelity of will.....

    Note a few things about this man and his writing.

    1. His worldview is profoundly Christian - utterly and totally Christian (i. e., Catholic).

    2. He has a clear-eyed even-handed vision of the reality of things as they are: fallen humanity, the workings of the Incarnation in a sinful world.

    3. And yet he never loses sight of the ideal.  He is able to look at things realistically without denigrating the ideal that things invariably fall shy of.  And he is very fair to both.

    ... and from this fairness, one sees immense Charity.

    ***

    Tolkien's letter continues with the story of his courtship of Michael's mother, and ends with his famous acclamation of the glories of the Blessed Sacrament.

    You can read that part of it - indeed the whole thing - here.  

  • July 22nd, 2014Joseph Conrad’s Prince Romanby Daniel J. Heisey

    Thirty-one years ago in the journal Conradiana, C. F. Burgess had an essay, “Conrad’s Catholicism.”  As Burgess noted, critics tend to dismiss the notion of Joseph Conrad’s Catholicism, preferring to see him as a secular unbeliever.  As with any great artist, Conrad can get projected onto him the image of many of his admirers.

    Born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in a part of Poland then dominated by Russia, Conrad (1857-1924) was baptized Catholic and had a funeral Mass, but for much of his life, he was not a practicing Catholic.  All the same, he identified himself as a Catholic and identified with Catholic culture.  In his fiction Conrad explored moral themes, such as in Victory (1915), where he drew upon the biblical imagery of man and woman in a Garden of Eden haunted and hunted by malevolent forces.

    In his non-fiction work, Conrad also reflected upon Catholic culture and gave a glimpse into his own religious beliefs.  In Notes on Life and Letters (1921), Conrad observed that “What humanity needs is not the promise of scientific immortality, but compassionate pity in this life and infinite mercy on the Day of Judgment.”  He also declared that “Mankind has been demoralized since by its own mastery of mechanical appliances.”  In contrast to those machines, he sketched Krakow by moonlight:  “The unequal massive towers of St. Mary’s Church soared aloft into the ethereal radiance of the air, very black on their shaded sides, glowing with a soft phosphorescent sheen on the others.”

    A scene drawn from his family history became a short story, “Prince Roman,” written in 1910 and first published the following year.  In it Conrad dealt with the theme of patriotism, “a somewhat discredited sentiment,” he mused, “because the delicacy of our humanitarians regards it as a relic of barbarism.”  Nevertheless, he noted, “St. Francis blessing with his last breath the town of Assisi” was not a barbarian.  The prince of the title was Prince Roman Sanguszko (1800-1881); as a boy, Conrad had briefly met him, and the prince featured in the memoirs of Conrad’s maternal uncle.

    The tale is told by a man of late middle age who recalls a day in his boyhood when he had met Prince Roman.  The narrator contrasts his boyish knowledge of princes in fairy tales, “in which princes always appear young, charming, heroic, and fortunate,” with the elderly personage presented to him.  The aged prince was tall, stiff, bald, his face having “harmonious simplicity of lines” yet a “deathlike pallor.”  Moreover, the old man was stone deaf.

    From that encounter emerges a description of the prince’s tragic yet heroic youth.  In 1831, the time of the November Uprising, when Poles rebelled against Russian rule, the prince was newly married and an officer in the Guards.  Prince Roman possessed “something reserved and reflective in his character,” and he was “a rather silent young man.”  Here I will say only that his strength and silence sustain him during his long exile to Siberia.

    As we have seen in the life of Saint John Paul II (1920-2005), a Pole’s love for his native land and literature runs immeasurably deep.  Conrad shared that love, and however far he sailed or imagined himself, his heart returned to Poland.  “It requires a certain greatness of soul to interpret patriotism worthily,” wrote Conrad in “Prince Roman,” “or else a sincerity of feeling denied to the vulgar refinement of modern thought which cannot understand the august simplicity of a sentiment proceeding from the very nature of things and men.”

    It seems that almost every high school student in the United States is required to read Conrad’s story “Heart of Darkness,” and as a result Conrad seems in danger of being remembered for that tale alone.  While it can be interesting to connect the dots between that story and T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” (1922) and the film Apocalypse Now (1979), one might not be getting the best first taste of Conrad.  Besides, some readers are put off by the narrative device of Marlow rambling on for more than a hundred pages; others, of course, are put off by anything mandated by a syllabus.

    It would be better to begin with a story like “Prince Roman,” a sketch of duty and what Conrad called “quiet intrepidity,” or “The Secret Sharer,” a study of loyalty, friendship, and risk.  Novels like The Secret Agent (1907), about the grotesque folly of revolution, or Lord Jim (1900), about a flawed hero, can come next.  Like “Heart of Darkness,” Lord Jim employs the storyteller Marlow, so a mini-course for deeper Conrad studies could be built around those two works.

    All the while, despite a reputation for brooding melancholy, Conrad displays dry humor and clever touches of irony.  The passage in The Secret Agent about the need for an Act of Parliament to order houses to move round the corner to their correct addresses could have come from G. K. Chesterton.  Likewise, the serenely stupid Captain MacWhirr of Typhoon could have stepped out of something by Charles Dickens.

    On his many travels in Africa and the Middle East, the great explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003) had with him volumes of Conrad.  One could do worse than follow his example and spend time with Conrad’s often wry meditations on the complexity of our unchanging human nature.  Thesiger appreciated Conrad for seeing not only that continuity, but also the permanent truths of life that transcend modern fads.

    Both men saw that there is much more to life than “the vulgar refinement of modern thought.”  For them, vitality came from the “august simplicity” of elemental realities.  Tellingly, Thesiger called a collection of his writings Desert, Marsh, and Mountain.  Conrad loved the sea and Poland and his adopted home of England, where he and his family lie buried in the Catholic section of the cemetery outside Canterbury, granite monuments preserving their ancestral name in a foreign land.

     

    Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno.  He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

  • July 22nd, 2014Stratford Caldecott: Go With Godby Michael Lichens

    On July 17th, Stratford Caldecott fell asleep in the Lord after a long battle with prostate cancer. Already, many have written great words of mourning for one of the most powerful voices of Catholic cultural renewal. The author of several books (and a contributor to many more) and the co-founder and editor of Second Spring, a Catholic journal he and his wife Léonie long edited along with the UK/Irish version of Magnificat; it is hard to put into words how much of an impact this man of Christ had on so many. This is especially hard for me, as Mr. Caldecott was a friend who greatly encouraged my own work and how I view Christ in the world. In short, I am of the opinion that we will never be thankful enough for the great work of Stratford Caldecott.

    A Chance Encounter

    I was a Catholic for a mere three years when I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. Caldecott at a pub in Nashua, NH. The meeting was planned by Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, where I was studying, and I was invited along to meet a few G.K. Chesterton scholars. Upon meeting him we were quickly singing the joys of Chesterton and the Inklings. I was impressed with his intellectual calibre and he was kind enough to invite me to Oxford to view the Chesterton Library.

    I twice accepted his invitation and each time I was graciously given a view of Chesterton's personal effects which included his hat, cloak, chair, typewriter, among other assorted books and items that personally belonged to the bombastic journalist and great Catholic writer. It was, for me, like being a reliquary. What I did not expect, was how much the man showing me the items would change my view of faith and my vocation.

    When I returned in the Summer of 2008 I was as a part of TMC's Oxford Programme where I was to study the great works of the Catholic Literary Revival and see the sites of GKC, Newman, St. Edmund Campion, and even Lewis and the Inklings.

    Love and Intellect

    As part of the Oxford Programme, I had the pleasure of being a guest of Stratford and Léonie in their home just outside of Oxford. In our courses, dinners, and walks I got to see first hand what a loving couple they were and how their love for each other and Christ enabled them to accomplish so much. They were partners in everything, from parenting to publishing. No doubt that there were struggles, but they endured them with a rarely-seen grace that allowed them to do so much for the Church in England, the United States, and beyond. Along with running the Oxford Programme, they seemed to have a hand in running dozens of programs that involved sharing and understanding the faith. From that family they created more work for the glory of God than most of us will accomplish in a lifetime.

    In my own work and intellectual pursuits they were encouraging, but honest. They cared about a revival of Catholic culture and the conversion of all, and that meant encouraging writers and editors. The number of writers that they have encouraged and had a hand in developing is staggering, even among the writers here at CE. As well as mentors, they became my friends and were a joy to know.

    StratTheir greatest lesson was the unspoken one of the centrality of the love for Christ in all that we do and how much that love was so badly needed to be shown to the world. For them, Christ was not merely a thing to gaze upon and consider but He was a light that illuminated the world. Literature, art, and even the most everyday pursuits became something beautiful for God and they delighted to show people this joy.

    When Stratford was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, it shook many of us to our core. Even with the battle that he was enduring, he still published a great deal of work and he and his wife continued in their endeavours with editing, publishing, and the fantastic work at the Center for Faith and Culture. Across the world, many prayers were offered and they demonstrated love, charity, and kindness to all who encountered them. When I was going through a rough patch, they even took time to write encouraging messages to me. Seeing their strength amidst their sufferings had given me the resolve to keep carrying on.

     

    #CapforStrat

    A few months ago, with the Caldecott family gathering to offer comfort to Stratford, Sophie, his daughter, launched a hashtag campaign called #CapforStrat with the intention of bringing some comfort to him. The plan was to tweet images in support of Stratford and to hopefully get celebrities involved to allow him to watch The Winter Soldier in his home. Stratford had long been a fan of comic books, especially those by Marvel, but was unable to make it to the theaters to see their latest film. Sophie was successful and Marvel agreed to show the film. So many people gathered in support of one man, some of whom were his friend but many others were strangers who wished to bring some comfort to a good man. It was as if the world was giving him a final embrace.

    As his name went viral and as he came closer to death, Stratford would demonstrate great courage and hope in the face of death. In one of his last articles, Stratford reflected on his love of comics and the mystery of facing death. Realizing this challenge, he still saw the work of Christ in all things, even the tragic. Seeing Christ's hand in all, he wrote,

    God entered deeply into the world—so deeply that we can call it a merging, a uniting of his own nature with the world itself. It is no illusion, but a real uniting. We can participate by joining in the rhythm of life and death. God hides himself deeply within the world, not as an extension of life, such as an experience or two, but as the totality of being. At first it all seems inaccessible and impossible. The Cross seems impossible, incredible. It seems foolish, crazy. But we must join fully, deeply, truly. And we must start as soon as possible.

     

    Go With God

    So it is that we now say goodbye to a good man, a fine scholar, a loving father and husband, and truly one of the most brilliant writers of our era. This is hard for many, but we do not mourn like those who have no hope. Stratford served Christ well, and we now pray that he continues to do so and that he will finally be in a place where there is no pain and where joy quickly replaces all sorrow.

    Goodbye, Stratford, thank you for all the great conversations and good words of wisdom. Thank you for being a reflection of the love of Christ for so many throughout the world. Thank you for all the lessons, especially the lesson that Christ really wants to reveal Himself to us and that all that is required is for us to open ourselves up to Him. Thank you for showing us that God really has united Himself with us to make all things new. Let us never forget.

    This originally appeared at Catholic Exchange and is republished with permission. 

  • July 21st, 2014The Arabic Writing on the Wallby Joseph Pearce

    In between travels. Just back from Florida and soon destined for California. In haste. Here's my latest for the Imaginative Conservative:

    http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/07/arabic-writing-wall-europe-learns-hard-way.html

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