WHY do honest people write anonymous letters? Personally I find them as distasteful and sad as bad behaviour in a public park.
I get quite a number of them. Some of them bear the familiar stigmata of religious mania the underlinings, the several coloured inks, the promise of a special Hell waiting ready for me.
I got one this week. It was not one of those dotty ones: but no address and no signature. Therefore I have no compunction in publishing the curious little thing. It ran:
"Dear Patrick O'Donovan, It is obvious from the content of your Charterhouse Chronicle that you are unaware of the organised putsch going on at present to discredit the Roman Catholic Church by infiltrators and fellow-travellers.
"By lending your column to their propaganda, faked photographs and poor jokes at the expense of the Blessed Eucharist, you are helping them drive the true Church to the Catacombs. Is this what you want?"
Now, I have never been down a catacomb, though I am told they are warm and dry and quite good against nuclear explosions. But they are
But about this infiltration, perhaps the person has something. I have always laved the conspiratorial theory of history. It makes everything so easy. What if she or he were right?
There arc certain questions and facts which have to be answered and explained. Why did Cardinal Humc get the job?
It is common knowledge that the Cardinal Secretary of State is a Frenchman. Cardinal Willebrands looks as inscrutable as Brezhnev.
Could Archbishop Benelli whom Vatican watchers say is the real power behind the Sedes Gestoria be a "sleeper"? Perhaps I should explain that "sleepers" are" enemy agents planted to grow normally into a society and only to be used when the need is urgent.
A clear example of a dangerous and identifiable part of this conspiracy is the Catholic Herald itself. The Editor has a beard. There is a baronet on the staff, and we know about baronets.
There cannot be anyone real
with a name like Norman St John-Stevas and in politics at that. Kevin McNamara is a Socialist. There is a nun a Sister of St Anne who comes in occasionally to help out. She is jolly and friendly and has a desk to herself, which is more than I have. What is her real purpose? The only trouble with the idea that Communists and Masons of various sorts are infiltrating the Church is that they would have to accept an almost intolerable life in the priesthood, even in the Cardinalate.
These "sleepers" could not be the priests who quit, because those would be the ones who desert their role as infiltrators.
No, the little old lady, in gym shoes, who wrote the letter is probably wrong. I do not believe that everyone who disagrees with me is evil or even silly. They are too often right,
And much as I delight in its ramifications, 1 do not really believe in the conspiratorial theory. Things can go perfectly wrong by themselves.
I also love, but do not believe in, such conceptions as Father Christmas, the idea that King Arthur will return when England needs him (he has left it too late!), non-plastic gnomes or that it is possible to grow peaches on a South-facing wall in a warm part of England.
A stranger in a strange land
THE other day an American friend of mine went to Ireland, An elaborate tour had been arranged for her by the Irish Tourist Board. Its boss -in London is Terence Sheehy, who sometimes writes in the Catholic Herald, but he was away. Nonetheless, his secretary, Peggy, went to extravagant lengths to help.
My friend got to the noble city of Galway. My encyclopaedia tells me that its chief manufactures are hats, woollen goods, chemicals, artificial manures and ammunition.
But amid its great warehouses she found she had lost her wallet. This contained her American passport, her return ticket, her International Driving Licence, her travellers' cheques, her cash, her Barclaycard, her Alien Registration Certificate. In fact she suddenly became an unperson.
So she telephoned us, which was good of the hotel, since you cannot reverse the charges from Ireland to England which many a journalist has found, too late, to his horror and thirst.
So we telephoned Peggy in London. She was suitably distressed. She telephoned Galway where she had a friend in the Tourist Office. They bustled round at once.
A bank was informed and was ready to help. Even the airline helped out. It was a splendid operation which restored legal existence to a stranger in a strange land, and it took Peggy long after her proper working hours to fix it.
But she did more. She telephoned to say that she would stop off at the church on her way home and light a candle for my friend. Tell me any other travel service, national or private, that could provide such a service!
Alas, the wallet has not been found. And that reminds me that 1 must nip downstairs and turn the statue of St Antony of Padua (or Lisbon if you are so inclined) face to the wall. I was told as a child that this was an infallible way of finding that which was lost.
Indefatigable servant of God
I VISITED Fr Martin D'Arcy during his last days at Farm Street. The people there were rightly careful about him. I lunched with the community, who are singularly kind to and understanding of journalists, After careful consultations I was allowed upstairs in this not uncomfortable house.
He was sitting alone before a few bars of an electric fire in an armchair. He himself seemed as thin as the legs of sparrow birds. A lunch grown cold was on a tray beside him.
There were suitcases piled on one side of the room as if he were still going somewhere where physical luggage was required. I got the idea that he was not only ready for death, but ready to welcome it as a friend in a world that had cooled around him.
But then, death can seem a trivial and improbable thing to the bravely young and it can seem decent and proper to the tired and disciplined old. And he was very old.
We talked for almost half an hour. He came brilliantly alive again. Cackling with his special laughter when I gave the gossip. Waving his exquisite, claw-like little hands, saying one curt and dismissive sentence about one who had once been a friend and colleague.
But, above all, shining out welcome and love and we both pretended that 1 had not come to say goodbye. Well, we did not pretend, but we obeyed the conventions and did not mention it.
For a while it was as if nothing had changed. It was like the time at Oxford when he
read the sprung rhythms of Fr Hopkins better than anyone else in the world, or talked about the Devil as a real person across my table in Washington, in a way that held people, who did not even believe in God, rigid with interest.
We used to concelebrate birthdays. Mine -was the 13th and his the 14th of June. But I always tried to attend his Mass on one of these days. Last time was at my home, on a low table. Bishop Worlock gave his leave and it was almost Tridentine. He made it clear that I was not to join with him in the Latin Creed.
Going home that day, a very old man, he tripped and fell heavily on Waterloo Station. Porters rushed to his help and did not ask for money. In fact this tiny, indefatigable servant of God, was as tough as old boots and as wiry as the stays of a great flagstaff. And that staff would have been flying the Union Jack, He loved God and the Society of Jesus and the Mass and beautiful things and decorum and gentleness and exquisite food and drink, which last he used as sparingly does a bird at an over-abundant table.
Himself, he put up with the most appalling dusty discomforts all over the world. Despite the splendours of their baroque facades, Jesuits do not cosset themselves, nor in their working hours do they, in the Benedictine manner, have novices to ease the old.
I am told that Fr D'Arcy had a gentle death. lie was certainly ready for it. I am told someone
was saying Mass in his room in Latin, I am sure as he died. But then he had trained himself to welcome death as a necessary and practical colleague.
The Society of Jesus has lost three great seniors recently in the course of the unavoidable decay of humanity. There was Archbishop Roberts, who was as honest as a man can be and as humble as a 14th century priest without hope of preferment.
There was Tom Corbishley who was a holy bear of a man, potato-faced and Lancashire, wise and kind and learned and a friend of the rarest vintage.
And now, inevitably, there is Fr D'Arcy, that diamond-hard jewel of a man who yet was one of the sweetest people I have ever met.
There should be a way of feeling joy at the inevitable deaths of such men. Somehow, I cannot quite put my hand to it.
Time, please, Holy Family!
I FOUND a small item from the United States which had nothing to do with the Presidential Election. It announced that Bing Crosby was going to give a benefit concert to help a priest move his congregation out of a Los Angeles saloon.
He is going to do it in November to 'help build the Holy Family Catholic Church.
The parish priest has been holding five services every Sunday in a local saloon. He, Fr Ben Franzinelli, said: "What we want to do is to get the Holy Family out of the saloon."
All of which fills me with a very mild indignation. The behaviour of the saloon-keeper seems to have been pretty supererogatory with his premises filling up five times of a Sunday.
And regulars will not relish the murmur of prayer above their Musak. Anyway, the Holy Family made straight for the Inn of Bethlehem but had not made a reservation.
American saloons have long had a raffish reputation which is not shared by the British pub. They are not considered quite respectable.
But the connection between the Mass and the pub is a very real one. They were often Mass centres in the cities. There is a pub behind the old Embassy Church in Kingsway in London which used to be used to this purpose and has a plaque on its wall to say so.
In some way, I think the connection lies in the fact that
keeping a drinking shop or inn used to be considered a less than honourable trade. In
Ireland it was the Catholics who got the drinking places. In Russia, for the same basic and despicable reason, it was the Jews who kept the country inns and post-houses. In this country the connection between tap-room and altar lasted, nobly, well into the church building explosion of the last century. Many an altar server must have got his first whiff of ale while kneeling In the hall for hire or the bar
Of course Fr Ben is right: but he should not suggest that the Holy Family is in an intolerable' or unprecedented situation.