By Dom Anthony FLANNERY, O.S.B.
NOT all great writers have been great speakers or preachers. Indeed, it would seem that the twofold accomplishment is rarely found in the same individual. Yet, where the Word of God is concerned, it would appear that the Holy Spirit not infrequently blends these gifts, so that His unction is equally effective whether the message be delivered by the human voice or by the pen.
Such, it would seem, was the privilege of one whose name has become a household word in religious circles during recent years: Don Columba Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous.
He was not, indeed, a prolific writer — half-a-dozen moderatesized books form the extent of his published works—yet his spiritual conferences are read and loved throughout the Catholic world, even by many who are not of the Fold.
HOW are we to account for the popularity of these writings'? The query may be answered in a single phrase : they owe their power to the sources whence they derive—the Sacred Scriptures and the Liturgy.
Not that many another author has not gathered his docteine from the same sources, but Dorn Marmion had a peculiar faculty of his own for discovering the hidden treasures of Holt Writ, and when he found what he wanted, his listeners would remain astonished at the coherence of the sacred text with the doctrine inculcated.
Hence the wonderful unity and simplicity of the exposition. and the consequent light and peace it produced in the soul. Yet it stands to reason, that the content needed to be read with care and close attention if its charm was to be enjoyed.
Here it must be added that the Abbot's conferences were not immediately intended for the press: they were originally preached to an audience of monks. whose monastic training and environment had well fitted them to profit by so gifted an instructor. And yet it is a well-attested fact, precisely when dealing with the higher theological truths. and even with mystical phenomena, that his listeners—often simple lay-brothers--would become more particularly attentive and absorbed.
Perhaps it was that the Abbot, like all good preachers, knew how to accommodate himself to his audience. He possessed a large fund of apt illustrations, often derived from his own personal experience: little stories —des perites histoires, which, narrated with his keen sense of humour, prevented even the most serious subjects from ever becoming tedious.
THE present writer, who was privileged to hear such a Retreat preached by Dom Marmion, well remembers one such occasion.
He was speaking of monastic Obedience, urging strongly that the motive of such obedience should be purely supernatural, when he suddenly startled his audience by remarking: "1 would not obey my Ahhpt if I regarded him simply as a man, to be sure I wouldn't! Why should I? One man is as good as another! But—when 1 look beyond the mart and realise that that man represents Jesus Christ—ah, then the whole situation changes: now. no reverence can be too great, no submission too complete, no obedience too entire—it is Christ our Lord Whom I am obeying!" And, thereupon. with enviable candour, the speaker proceeded to tell us that he himself had never found any difficulty whatever in obedience!
It is true that some readers of the conferences fail to appreciate their charm. This is perhaps explained by the fact that in the written translations the discourses do not appear as the author gave them: much had to be omitted— the examples, the quaint expressions. the ingenious metaphors. and. in general. the lighter side of the themes had been reduced or excluded.
!It, messenger' NONE the less it must he fully conceded that the outstanding feature of the discourses is the sound and unimpeachable doctrine that they convey.
Brought up in a deeply Catholic atmosphere, and possessed with a marked propensity for theological speculation, and, above all, richly endowed with that wisdom of the Holy Spirit which leads to the understanding of the deep th:ags of God, Abbot Marmion left a vivid impression upon all who met him or heard him.
One who knew him well was heard to observe that, while preaching. he seemed "like a messenger sent from Heaven to earth in order to announce the 'Good Tidings' of Salvation to a weary and jaded world."
In early life Dom Marmion had aspired towards the foreign mission-field. but his eventual Benedictine vocation showed him that such was not the design of Providence.
His love of souls was to ne gratified in a different way, and among his triumphs in this direction we must notice the noble Abbey of Glenstal, which owes its erection to his seal and courage.
He had long cherished the hope of seeing the Benedictine Order re-established once again in his native country and. though he did not live to see the actual fulfilment of his wishes. yet there can he no doubt that the present flourishing condition of the foundation is a token of his fatherly presence and protection.