IT IS A fearful thing to go on holiday. Other people come back from foreign beaches as sick as dogs. Those who can still walk are loaded with artifacts that are going to look dead taudry as soon as they are taken into the home, house or nat. (All those disintegrating sombreros and that glass thing with a spout for pouring w ine down your front in the Spanish manner). And then they go, be you never so rich, through that shadow of death that is called Heathrow Airport — both ways, again and again, in the hopeless. secular search for something less perfect than Basingstoke.
Holidays are a little death. They are riddled with guilt and angst. Will the travellers cheques last out That balcony does not look safe. Why are all the churches dosed and why has that priest on the altar not heard about the daily miracle of Gillette? Why have the tea bags got strings on them? And why does my husband get drunk here and not at home?
Anyway I went on no such holiday. All that happened was a fearful succession of Charterhouses by other people to prove that no-One is essential or irreplacuble. In another way, it ss as a comforting display of atholic talent. none it is true, as flamboyantly Catholic as mine. For them, I thoug,ht, the quiet library sweetly smelling of old hooks and enormous cheques and the quiet visit for tea of the Monseigneur who knew more about Trehisond than anyone else on earth.
For them the little dinner parties on the right side of the Park, the entree into the gazebos at the bottom of bishops' gardens, the mentors of actually reading a page or two of Aquinas. For them there were dinners with Cardinals in cool halls above Rome. And to them the Archbishop of Dublin was actually. polite.
All of them were friends, except one! I would love to nurture great hatreds as did one or two of those who wrote with a horrid and vcnemous relief about the death of Ken Tynan I did not like him at all myself and he thought me a ludicrous reactionary who propped his inadequacies on altars — but hatred is more difficult to sustain than love. And it takes two to make a feud.
But the boring fact is that I have never met, to my knowledge, Mary Kenny. So she
is the exception .among the interlopers. And she is one of that bunch of writers who happen to he Catholic and, in the course of what is called the consultation of the laity, seems, like me, to have been ignored or rejected. She is on another paper for which I have great love and respect. My friends must fend for themselves.
But all of them — it is a pleasantly disturbing• fact that they are like pcddlars who are artists in the cells behind their stalls in the souks called variously the Foreign Office, Fleet Street. and that world without frontiers which deals with books. were of a certain splendour, of the sort that bishops do not use.
The Church in Britain has always been rich in writers, poets and scholars. It has also been a firework show of journalists.
But look again at us little minority — the Catholic lay splendour, Although quietly, we have kept our heads down for centuries. We have made a contribution to the splendour of Britain. In poetry. in architecture, in music, in making honest writers uneasy about their premises. Above all, there has been humility where others expected pride, a love of this kingdom where black souls expected hatred and treason. and a quiet sense of prayer where others expected rage and intolerance and an over-reaction to deprevation.
Tres Reverend Pere and wife
IT IS GOOD news to me that some married non-Catholic clerics are going to he allowed to be ordained Catholic priests in the United States. (No recognition of their Episcopal orders there). It has all a slightly unappetising air of taking advantage of a local situation since the Episcopal Church in America is not split, but chipped a hit on the question of the ordination of women.
I believe this "concession" has been made in Germany a few times to married Lutheran priests. It was not exactly bruited from the house tops. And the priests got taken into administrative rather than parochial work.
But the Orthodox do it and it works a treat. It is sometimes said that we cannot afford to pay for a priest's wife. (It is simply not true that two can live as cheaply as one). But — hah! — could this not he a way of cutting expenses? Priests' housekeepers have to he paid at least what passes for a wage. There would be no need to pay a wife. Has this not occurred to the authorities? And then the great St Acldred of Rievatilx was the legitimate son of a priest.
Of course, I am not going into the serious arguments. And I am mildly uneasy to find myself in this on the same side as Fr Hans Kling. And he. to me, is one of those unnerving people who carefully select and pile the faggots and then climb upon them and scream bloody murder when some obliging person puts a light to them.
I cannot believe he is a martyr
for losing his This% canonica. And I saw the other day in these pages that he has fired another Luther style broadside of demands towards Rome.
Rather a long time ago. in fact, Trouble is — Rome is not reacting in a really satisfactory 16th Century manner. Is it not about time that some faithful son of the Church says that he has not got his trousers on?
So Charterhouse is all for the ordination of married men. Married priests don't get to he bishops, even in the Orthodox Church. But they do in the Anglican and Episcopalian. I have met several of the wives of bishops and they tend to he clever, long suffering and rather serious and to disappear, like early 19th Century sprites, when anything serious is happening. (ie, they go down to the kitchen and do the Martha bit).
But they present a great problem. The wives of Anglican prelates have no precedence. Mrs Proudie and her insolent assertions in the Barchester Towers novels are explained. She had to assert herself like a motorcyclist at a car rally.
Queen Elizabeth l never liked bishops' wives. (Some sort of slightly more than residual Catholicism?) She is said to have said to one of them, "I will not call you Madame and Mistress I may not call you." I do not know where to look the 'exactitude of that one up. But it was certainly one of the great put-downs in history. And like so much of what that brilliant woman did. unsporting. Then there is a memorial to a splendid lady of the Tudor period in a church near the Charterhouse lair_ I think she was a Mrs Barlow, but Ili not going to trail over all that way to check up.
She had been an Abbess and she married a Prior -without laicisation, I fear. She produced two sons all of whom did very well in the new Church and live daughters. all of whom married bishops. There used to be a subcategory among the gentry Libelled "Sound clerical stock". When we recognise the validity of Antillean orders. this old horror sill have to be recognised as a major channel of the Apostolic Succession.
But the problems of married clergy arc soluble. "Take the Dean of Winchester. His cathedral is "tw inned" yy ith the Benedictine Abbey of St Benedict at Fleury oil the Loire near Orleans.
1 hey were the centre of the I witch celebrations for this. Si
Benedict's y ear. ( I here arc 39 Ben edietims communities for men in France and 60 for women).
Cardinal Hume presided in -a Burry of prelates and abbots. here were great services and singings and the modern fantastic equivalent of feasting which usuall means they have opened an estiii un of plums. 1 hey are hideously austere in but they seem to have risen to the Occasion. Along with Iwo other houses, they claim to hay c the attenuated bones of Benedict.
Such events don't get reported and I was not there. But an abbey like this does not possess a volume. of Crock Ford's Clerical Director) or even Whittaker's Almanac without both of which England would shudder to a halt, for they tell how people should he addressed.
But if you w ere the distracted French guest master of a great abbey, and admittedly foreign. how would you address an ins nation to the Very Res the Dean of Winchester and his wife? No problem. He wrote to -Tres Reverend Kre. Triss Rescrende Mi'sre", I reckon this was some sort of breakthrough and I laughed 1% 1111 pleasure to see it in the Dean's news letter.
A real and proper sort of shrine
ALL 01: WHICH means that I am aghast ;.it the numher of people who could beautifully do Charterhouse. And how alter all that cake, you are hack to bread and butter which Nanny, who was. a lousey dietician, said was good for you. morally and physically .
But Bruce Kent — he is actually a Monsigneur and a national figure v hen it comes to avoiding the horrors of war and indeed war itselt — went overhoard about the splendour of my holiday .
It w as a priestly fantasy, but I hardly left the side of my own cold hearth. 1 got rive months of expense accounts done. I mower.' the garden once a week. I did the shopping and am confused because a rather censorious friend told me in the supermarket that the more expensive loo paper is cheaper in the long run. I read a book about Louis XIV which made him sound like a Soho waiter on a limitless spree and Versailles so dreary that Balmoral, despite the dangerous
furniture made out of antlers, sounds like a disco.
But one Sunday, I went to Mass in Ashford in Kent. Ashford is a pleasant place of quiet streets where the houses bulge with how windows and the people have a regrettable tendency to plant salvias. (Well. they do come up, don't they?)
The Catholic church there is dedicated to St Teresa of Avila. It was built, I imagine, on the edge of the then small town on a good site chosen by a practical priest, but now the town, like a tide. has withdrawn and the church stands, an oasis among parking lots and huge unnecessary roadways and half-hearted factories and places that sell motorcars to strangers.
It must have been built in the 1860s. It is solid and reasonably gothic. It has no tower and no hell. It has a cross on its gable and a porch where, bless them, they sell the Catholic Herald. .
It was clearly the apple once of some old Canon's eye. It is every aspiring, upward clawing. deprived, brave. taken for granted church in Britain. It is more important than any papal or royal foundation. This was built with pain by a poor people. There is nothing more holy than that. Arid to me, at least, such places
have begun to look genuinely beautiful so that I was genuinely distracted during one of their six Masses of a Sunday.
It is not large. The pews are solid and comfortable. There are bits of marble. There arc side chapels. There is a dangerously gothic looking pulpit. There is a loft where the ladies could once let rip ..vith the Stahat Maier. There are Stations of the Cross. Someone does the flowers in a professional manner. The liturgical brass has been polished by guardsmen. It is the sort of place that makes me swell with love and pride and this is the real and proper sort of shrine of our present Catholic England.
Nor were the congregation disappointing. They were in loose summer clothing. They looked young and reasonably happy. I have never had my hand shaken with such enthusiasm as by the two small boys in the pew in front — but then I du look eccentric.
The altar boys behaved unpompously as if each was in a
j private riot of joy. The young priest (a Carmelite?) got pleasantly muddled. It was all a pure delight and the sort of thing we take for granted. But it is places like this that we are about.