By Anthony P. Castle
Praising the God of little things.. • Mrost Junior Seminaries disappeared as the eforms of the Second Vatican Council were gradually implemented. Taking young lads at 13, removing them from their families and the malign influences of the World and moulding them for Ordination at 25, was deemed an inappropriate method of preparation for the modern priest. Among other criticisms, it was believed by many that isolation from normal human relationships caused an emotional imbalance and immaturity in the young men. This was my own experience; but the Junior Seminary Course was not all negative.
I can only give a personal view of the spirituality imparted at St Joseph's, Mark Cross, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent; the former Junior Semi
nary of the Archdiocese of S o uthwark (it subsequently became a Ballet School); a spirituality that has proved of lasting value to at least this past student.
It could well have been Corby who set the foundations for my collection and compilation of thousands of short Religious quotations, proverbs, stories and other material for the use of preachers and teachers, published in the two Quotes and Anecdotes books. Monsignor Earnest Corbishley, affectionately known as "Corby", was Rector of Mark Cross for 35 years (1924-1959). He struggled courageously with • ill health for most of those years but gave a firm and determined leadership to staff and the 90 or so aspirants for the Priesthood under his guidance.
Corby's deep spirituality was firmly based upon the importance of little things, the ordinary matter of everyday life; and the faithtul use of the Morning Offering. The Little Flower was his saint and St Francis de Sales received a regular mention in his short daily spiritual talks. These, over the six years, were all very repetitious and full of phrases like 'he who is faithful in that which is least will be faithful in that which is greater'; 'there is nothing small in the service of God'. And in Corby's commentary on the feeding of the five thousand in John 6, much emphasis was placed upon the words, 'gather up the fragments lest they be lost."
This insistence upon the value of 'little things' was the ground rock of the spirituality that Corby passed on to his students. Certainly, over the years, I have appreciated it more and more and realised that it leads to a deeper understanding of the Incarnation, the dignity of the individual and a Pro-life stance. It also points the way to an answer to St Paul's injunction that we should 'pray continually'.
Corby was also famous for his hearty, ringing, laugh that would echo down the long tiled corridors of the Pugindesigned building. He loved children and his hospitality was legendary. Two of my most treasured letters, written to me by Corby forty years ago, convey the strong gentleness and spiritual depth of the man.
The spiritual life, according to Father Corbishley, was based upon the method of 'little and often' in a wellstructured day. This has certainly shaped my own approach to writing. In the compilation of Quotes and Anecdotes and its sequel the material would never have been collected, arranged and edited without the approach that I leamt from Corby.
It was his teaching on the value of 'little things' that made the biggest impact; an influence that can be seen by an inspection of any one of the books I have written or compiled over the past thirty years. The best known Quotes and Anecdotes, compiled nearly 20 years ago, published by Kevin Mayhew and never out of print since it first appeared in 1979, contains a section headed The Value of Little Things. The more recent More Quotes and Anecdotes has a similar part. Along with quotations like "Faithfulness in little things is a big thing" St John Chrysostom; and Bishop Gore's "God does not want
us to do extraordinary things; He wants us to do ordinary things extraordinarily well"; there are longer quotations, proverbs, stories and humour.
My favourite from the longer quotes is this from Evelyn Underhill: I come in the little things, saith the Lord; yea! on the glancing wings of eager birds, the softly pattering feet of furred and gentle beasts, I come to meet your hard and wayward heart. In brown bright eyes that peep from out of the brake, I stand confest.
On every nest where feathery Patience is • content to brood, and leaves her pleasure for his high emprise of motherhood there doth my Godhead rest. Under the heading 'Humour' I have, "Be grateful for little things . It's true that the world is getting crowded, but can you imagine if Noah had taken four of everything!"(Oben) Among the records preserved in the College of Pestology in Bedford Square, London is a receipt for two guineas paid in July 1827 ' to the Bug Destroyer to His Majesty King George IV for destroying bugs in four bedsteads!
My favourite short story, true by all accounts, is of the Man Who Planted Trees.
Over 10,000 people in Provence, France, owe their homes and environment to a little known peasant shepherd. Elezard Bouffier lived alone, in 1910, in a barren region where there were very few trees. While tending his flock in the Autumn the shepherd would pick up acorns, select and store them through the Winter. In the Spring, while watching the sheep, he would prod the earth with his staff and drop in a nut. He did this each year from 1910 to 1947. At his death the barren countryside was covered for miles by trees and undergrowth; teeming with wild lift. It is now the pleasant site of parks and new housing developments.
From his position in the Communion of Saints I am sure Monsignor Corbishley would have approved cf these aids for busy priests and teachers. Although hevvould not have been comfortable with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, his spirituality is as fresh ancl relevant today as when hi once guided and instructed hundreds of Junior Serainarians.