By Patrick O'Donovan
I WENT recently to one of those Saturday Masses which count as Sunday Masses in an upper room in Moscow. (I hope to write about it at length next week). The priest whose job it is to serve the diplomatic corps said Mass in French and preached in both French and English. Perhaps because of the heightened emotion of the occasion, I remember the sermon.
Now the Gospels are almost invariably unkind about the rich. (Some of my best friends have lots of money.) That Sunday's Gospel was from St Luke, the horrid story of Dives and Lazarus and Abraham's bosom,
And when he preached he quoted some very practical suggestions on how a Christian should live in accord with such strictures on the use and possession of wealth.
They came from the Bishop of Peoria, which is a boring but doubtless virtuous town in the State of Illinois. It is certainly not famous for the lavishness or irresponsibility of its lifestyle. This is what the good bishop suggests: 1. You should have fewer and smaller motor cars and only use them when necessary.
2. You should cut down drastically on booze and tobacco.
3. You should abstain frequently from eating meat. It is over luxurious, and cattle production wastes the resources of the earth. 4. You should not spend a lot of money on recreational equipment "sporting goods" to you. 5. You should live in a house which merely fits the size of your family. 6. You should wear practical rather then elegant or sexually planned clothes. It is not often that you conic across a counsel of perfection reduced to such down-to-earth terms. Good on you, Peoria! But is it not odd when put out in such a way how little of it applies to oneself? And is it not easy to resist mocking it a little? The Duke should leave Chatsworth, father should not buy that new putter with the Christmas collection, drink South African not Spanish sherry and that in inhospitable quantities. Eat more noodles. Cram your portly shape into jeans and get rid of the other Jag.
Peoria begins to sound like the New Babylon. It was disturbing to think that the Russians had already and for a long time practised these excellent virtues.
Rising rate of falling churches
AS WELL AS the other sort, Britain suffers from a sort of ecclesiastical inflation too many churches chasing too few people. There are 12,000 medieval churches in England alone and I have never been able to find a figure for the countless chapels and churches that followed especially in the Victorian age of faith when a church was not only thought good for the poor, but considered as socially necessary as a hat. Well, populations move and congregations dwindle. And chuches go unwanted, unused, with not enough curates to go round. We now appreciate the splendour of Victorian gothic and strenuous efforts are being made by an excellent organisation called SAVE to see that they are not wantonly destroyed for the value of their sites or because no-one uses them. (SAVE is my sort of thing. It's at 3 Park Square West, London NW I 4LJ.)
In fact, even non-church goers, (there are few classical anti-clericals in England) seem to treasure their local churches. A village is naked without a church tower and a town unthinkable. The visit to the village church to look, not to pray is as much the part of the English weekend as a visit to the pub and a free beer for the village simpleton who knows a good thing when he sees one. But the churchly mortality is severe and our times may well be remembered with those of the Reformation, the Commonwealth and the overconfidant Victorian restorers as one of the most architecturally destructive periods in our history.
The Methodists have closed 5,000 chapels in the last 40 years; Wales has felt the blight most keenly. The Chuch of England has, on the whole, behaved with a noble responsibility and since 1968 has had an elaborate procedure by which a church is declared "redundant" and then an alternative use is found for it or else it is restored, perhaps used once or twice a year. This last happens usually to enchanting, lonely, forlorn and unrestored churches with no one near to use them.
It is a considerable problem looking for an alternative use for a church. There is a small aisleless church close to where I live. It was built by its incumbent for £7,000 in 1866. It is a masterpiece of a pastiche of French Gothic. Goodness, how rich the detail, how bright and shining the encausic tiles in the sanctuary, how expensive the Californian marble and the bronze of the font. how dark and ruby red the stained glass, how massive the pews and how charming the pulpit which you have to enter up a staircase from the vestry. 1 his has been declared "redundant" and accepted as worthy of preservation.
The locals don't use it. The Church of England has not enough staff to serve it, though there is a good and practical home for the incumbent. What do you do with it? It's too dark and dank for a house. It's not wanted as a theatre or an exhibition hall. But they are restoring it (the Victorians seem to have used cheese rather than stone for their walls) and making it sound and there it will stand until the tide turns. The locals don't even much like it, but then they find it altogether too dramatic, French and unEnglish. Dash it, it looks Papist. But at least it's going to be safe for another half generation and the vandals, who are always with us, prefer tinkering with dilapidated rather than sound buildings.
Very generously and happily, the local Anglicans sold the small 1870 organ with green and gold pipes (and an electric motor) to the local Catholics. And each Sunday except when no one can be found to play it it tootles unostentatiously and without triumph at the hymns in a range that is so high that it would need a choir of bats (or Carmelite nuns) confidently to strike the high notes. Why all hymns. except plain song, so ludicrously, so painfully high? But I am sure this organ is quite happy. At least half the English hymns it plays are now of Protestant origin. And it has never yet been asked to play "Full in the Panting." Than God!
A MOST curious American cookery book has come my way. It is called "From a Monastery Kitchen". It is by Elise Boulding who had the help of a monk and a nun and it is vublished in ,this country by Collins at 14.95.
Now the traditional antiCatholic view of monks is that they were idle gluttons, avoiding the proper things of life, like making money. There is a famous pub near Blackfriars • station on the edge of the City of London. It is richly decorated with plaques and friezes of beaten copper in the Art Nouveau manner. It depicts the activities of a number of portly and cheerful friars who appear to be approximately Franciscan, though the Blackfriars were Dominicans.
The legend is "Tomorrow will be Friday". So there are all these men of God bringing in fishes, fruit, vegetables and of course drawing wine out of casks and rubbing their bellies when they have a free hand. All very jolly and it must have cost a bomb. Quite rightly, there is a preservation order on it. But this book gives rather a different picture. Take the first recipe of all. It is called Universal European Soup. It calls for one onion, one carrot, one potato and a vegetable bouillon cube in one quart of water. You boil it for an hour and it serves four. And don't complain to me if you begin to feel faint during Compline.
It Is in fact a vegetarian cook book and some of its recipes look sensible and cheap and good. But one strikes me as quite horrific and it is called Charterhouse Pudding. You need 6 oz of chocolate bits, cup of sugar, 3 cups of milk, 2 tablespoons of instant tapioca, cup of farina, 1 teaspoon of vanilla whipped cream which is optional. This pudding, it says, "is excellent for molds". 1 will spare you the details of how to cOncoct it.
I have visited a couple of Carthusian priories which in English are called Charterhouses. Each monk has a separate little house and garden and it is probably the hardest vocation of all. At the mother house, the Grande Chartreuse, the rations, with wine, are sensible and good. But to the austerities of their lives, the lung offices, the loneliness, silence and the sleep broken for the singing of Matins, they would not add the penance of a pudding like that. Still the book is not boring. The edges of the recipes are rich with pithy sayings like, "You can think as much as you like but you will invent nothing better than bread and salt".
Keep your thumb on the blade
SINCE I live in a small and friendly town and do the shopping, not merely every day (including, 1 fear, Sunday) and indeed, because I am not a planner, several times a day, I meet dozens of people on the street and my trouble is that I cannot remember names.
This can be hurtful to others. Personally whenever I see a flicker of doubt in someone's eyes meeting me, I say my name and they can say "of course". I am so bad that I have even miscalled one of my sisters, and it took a long time for me to learn how to spell my wife's maiden name.
However, a priest faced with the same insoluble problem, suggested a solution. It won't do for the street, but it might just help indoors.
He suggested that when your
mind is as blank as a parade ground at midnight, you say: "Tell me, how do you spell your name?" If he happens to be a Mr Smith and bridles, you say: "There are at least three ways of spelling that and I like to get things right." If it happens to be Jones, you have hap it.
Another way, the priest suggested, was to ask: "And how is the old trouble?" A bit dangerous for priests, I would have thought. It might be thought to refer to something in the Confessional. But usually it releases a flood of autobiographical details which should give some clue.
My own solution is "Forgive me, I can't recall your name." This causes resentment, but then I have always believed in keeping the thumb on the blade and stabbing upwards. And that gem was advice given, it is said,
to an Anglican bishop who
attended a dying Corsican bandit who would not have known the difference or greatly eared about it. It was the last and only thing the bandit had to give to someone who had befriended him.