4Charterhouse It Chronicle
IN EVALUATINCi the opinions expressed by the National Pastoral Congress, it is maybe necessary to, consider who the delegates were.
They were an assorted lot. Which was the intention. But if they had a single quality in common it was enthusiasm. This quality weis necessary to sustain them through the long hours of talking and listening in horrible halls and dests classrooms, through booeeless lunches and sleeping in strange houses where you had to be polite even though you could scream with tiredness.
But enthusiasm is a bad word in Britain. Ronnie Knox wrote a huge book called h'whasiasm. It was a word used hy he Established Church to describe those sectarians who got over s excited about their religion.
It was regarded as an almost heretical state — in as far as heresy is possible in the Anglican Church — and as being in exceedingly had taste. For some reason the idea of Enthusiasm did not encompass the quiet and proud and withdrawn .revusunt Catholic Church,
Ronnie put a life time of , reading into the book. It wrote of ,,Donatists, Albigensians. :Quakerism, Jansenism, Quietism, the Convulsionaries of Saint Medard, the Moravians, and of much else that will all be at once familiar to you.
In the course of writing this prodigious thing. he fell, not int() love, but into admiration for John Wesley. And this is not a usual thing for .rt Catholic priest. especially one who was a Protonotury Apostolic who could dress to his profoundly English embarrassment, like a layered, purple lampshade on great occasions. to do.
The book when it came out was not a success. I seem to remember that the reviews were perfunctory and the sales small.
I now find that it is a masterpiece and that, after my
various dictionaries. encyclopaedias and grubby. books of' reference. it is the book I most use to produce the spurious scholarship of this column.
If you ever set a copy in a secondhand bookshop — steal it if you cannot afford it. I am sure the magistrate will understand and the police treat such book thieves with a sort of amazed respect.
Su the delegates at Liverpool were enthusiasts. But the word has been drained of its poison. I don't know how much the democratic process was used in their choosing. Certainly it never came close to me. But then I am nut an enthusiast.
You could not have an assembly of disgruntled. sulky Catholics with a low boring point. But got the impression that the run of the mill, bread and butter Catholics were not there. Not the speechless pew fodder. Not the slight tousled ladies who polish the brass. Not the rather grander ones in tweed who do the flowers.
Not the faithful hut cool expublic school boy who finds confession really too embarrassing. Not the labourer Of Irish extraction who goes on going to Mass because it is part of his dignity and identity.
Not the multitudinous non joiners who even in Communist states make up the majority of mankind.
What we did get was pretty
impress's,: and anything less like the conventional Conventioner it would be hard to imagine. There were a lot of fiercely young people who weren't going to he put upon. There were a lot of nuns and do you begin to feel that nuns rather disapprove of you? There were a lot of serious and ageing men clomping together to talk shop.
I suppose it was a .fair cross section of the most serious and responsible people that England and Wales can produce. The only signs of levity I could find were among the priests. But they all of them looked to me to be Catholic Herald rather than Universe readers. I could be wrong. And perhaps it is rude to write it.
But they were gluttons for sacred punishment. Now I must confess that I am no good at prayer Or discussion groups. I either get embarrassed or cross. I get impatient with the ignorance of some and the opinionation of others. I much prefer the sound .of my own voice to that of others. Not a pretty self portrait!
So I was astonished at the amount of talk they could consume. Alone among the journalists, I was delighted when "they" decided not to let us in, The Press Conferences were swift and to the point and I love just being in Liverpool.
But I do not think that if all the faithful could have been consulted there would have been quite such a sweeping condemnation of even the possession of the nuclear weapon, not quite such a tolerance of the idea of lady priests, nor quite such a Christ like dissipation of Parish funds for the Third World.
But then the sort of old biddy or conventional ex-soldier who sits and stares at the tabernacle while the sermon goes in one ear and out the other and has lc watch the others for when to rise and when to kneel would have been greatly aghast at the langeurs of this dedicated Congress. Brothers. there is a great deal of hope for us still.
Three for the library shelf
VsT. HAVE an excellent page in this newspaper devoted to the reviewing of books. Ifs not that I want any extra work hut reviewers get to keep the hooks sent to them. It is part of their perks universally observed in the booksy world and one which has kept many a poor literateur in But although the literary mafia of The Catholic Herald keep the coffee table nooks to themselves and beat a perfectly respectable path to the shop in Fleet Street that buys such shining things. I depend on the occasional generosity of publishers who send me books on the off chance that I may give them a mention.
Though I would have thought that Herald readers. like me,
could only afford the rarest hard hack. Still I have three rather special ones before The first is called Me Personal prayer Miry. It Vkq0.; compiled and Vs ritten by Catherine Marshall and Leonard Le Sourd and it costs £1.75. It is published by Hodder and Stoughton. the authors are married and appear to sell in millions. It appears to have a Weslyan background. Anyway, each page starts with a quotation and a thought or two. It will do for any year since the days of the week are not mentioned and pros ision is made for leap year.
Underneath there is a large blank space tinkled into two
columns. One is headed "My prayer requestsand the other "God's Answers".
They pn sonic esamples of their own prayers, eg. "that Peter do inure work and less playing around at Yale" and "Thut we get Jeff toilet trained-.
It seems to be On a high level of peacticality and perhaps God has stopped being English and taken sna American citizenship. But what if God doesn't ansv■ What if Jeff continues to be untidy? For example He left
Herself of Avila alone for long periods of time and I cannot honestly say that he even said anything to me that I could put down on paper. A Rather Peculiar Book that might suit the perfervids.
Then there is the .1-Z id. the Catholic Orurch. Its doctrines, its teachers, its personalities and its idiosyncrusises. It costs a fiver in plastic back and is published by Kevin Mahew. It would be fun to have in almost any Catholic house wherc. weird but religious topics crop up and Papa does not know all the answers and thy p.p. has forgotten so much and so m uc h .
This is a handy dictionary of all the subjects that might crop up in U Catholic family or presbytery. It is the most boring thing in the world to criticise the details of such a large conmiletion.
But the th esians ore not an off-shoot of Benedictinism. It does not mention the English Pope and when I wanted to took up Coesenes Fidefiron to find oat SSliUl it rc,dh%. meant or ir it even redlh. cristed. lo! it s‘ as lilt there.
e zire not all perfect. Even Charterhouse has been k itas 1 to make miniscule errors, I lenrs VI l'or Henry IV. for example. And this compilation is fun, is for reference and is for dipping into in moments of abstraction.
The third book is a novel, h could not possihls sound more olf putting. II is written by a Frenchman. Pierre de Ciliate ssho is President of Barchts's Bank in Lrance and a big cheese in French commerce.
It is about a restrained hut terrible drama in and about a Irappist Monastery in France. La Trappe itself. It is devout. serious and not the least bit sopp■.
There monks are a reform oh the Cistercians who ssere theists's'', CS ;I reform of the hlack and elassised Benedictines. The author v.as bought up near this monast e Ty and the physical details seem astonishingly accUrate. It is puhlislu...(1 Collins and it is Lulled Cosmos.
Bet, believe me. the hook is exciting and beautiful and restrained. I have never found anything like it. And it has been tram:kited ssith a rare humilits arid elegance by Peter He bhlethw aite.
Both my wife and I have already read it twice. I realls. believe it to be a masterpiece, hut .111 unpretentious and fascinating one. Most people seem to read it in one sitting.
Liverpool's Irish shire
ON THE way up Mount Pleasant. which is not just before you gel to the great
curved Metropolitan cathedral, there is a handsome building with a curved and pillared porch standing out of
clasical facade. It is labelled —the Irish Centre" and comes as a bit of a surprise.
The 1 iverpool Irish are associated with many things but. under God, elegance is not one of them. 1 um ferocity. friendship, impredidahilit!, and loyalty to their own, yes. I hLL,Ii1ee. no
But it IS an enenimt ins2 building lhat tails on' into austere brick work at the back. It has a curious Ii istory
It was built in 1815 and since the Duke of Wellington held a higher status even than Churchill did alter the war, it was named alter Wellington and was a club for the nobs of the city.
Some of' them had made their fortune out of the slave trade. Some were rich on cotton, rum, property and shipping. Great cities so far from London developed their own local aristocracy and this Was their shrine.
They only had 200 members and each member received an ivory card engraved in gold. One of them had to die and let his sliver of elephants tusk fall from his gouty fingers before another could take his place.
It was an exclusive club for the merchant princes that lived in the likes of Rodney Street and it flourished for a hundred years. It was the local grand Assembly Rooms where dancing to strings and french horns ssould continUe until all the ladies were in a delicious "gloss"
At the annual "Steeplechase the w nines of the grand national had his hooves wrapped in flannel and was led into the ballroom. The local gentry, being horsey, did not applaud him in the confined space,
It was used for further pUrposes until the nuns from it perfectls sast convent opposite
got it. r[hey have just sold this gothic melange for enough to send 50 Reverend Mothers to the South of France for wild and extended holidays.
Usual reasons, alas,
Then in 19M, an Irish society bought it from the nuns and with great care it has been made into an Irish centre. not quite the sort of future that Mr Gladstone's Father, one of its founding members had envisaged. (Prime Minister Gladstone was born in Rodney Street).
I had been intrigued by the place which I passed on my frequent v,alks to the Cathedral Campus-it always seemed to be closed, sometimes with disconsolate Irishmen standing at its &OM. But it is open each evening.
There is a huge ballroom where an Irish band was belting out traditional tunes and the tall and the young and the portly and the old were jigging around in the semi-darkness.
There were too busy but with men silting to their business. there was a rather grand shop that sells all the treasures of Ireland from Waterford glass to those huge white sweaters that every one wears.
There was a snack bar. it does not provide accommodation though there is a welfare officer part of the time in attendance.
Its patron is St Briget. It has engravings oh those executed alter the Easter Rising, the Irish tricolour hangs in the ballroom with the Wedgewood frieze and the coppered ceiling.
Its aim is to provide a place where the Irish can be proud and at home.
I rather gathered that they do not stand much nonsense. The amen at he door were wearing those little Sacred Heart badges which mean that they have taken the pledge. A good, a happy and a handsome place and one that the Liverpool Irish richly diserve in place of some of their deathly arid abandoned pubs.