FROM time to time there have been references to hymns in this column. Not all of these have been written in terms of ecstatic praise. And in every case, someone has loved what I have been patronising or dismissive about.
Someone once wrote that he did not care who made his nation's laws as long as he could make their songs. The only remark to equal this in deep-down silliness that I can think of is Dr Johnson's "A man is never so innocently employed as when making money". And he probably said it to annoy. I have been sent some pages of an American magazine call
ed The Critic. It seems to have something to do with the Thomas More Association of Chicago, and so it must be all right.
Well, one of its writers, a Mr Datchery, quotes an American priest who had declared: "We need a rebirth of religious poetry." This priest, a Fr Donald Happe, has one of his couplets quoted. It runs if that is quite the right word:
The Devil slipped into my reverie And offered to make it reality.
It then prints a selection of hymns and religious poems lest they be forgot.
Printed in the heaviest type is: "Full in the panting . . ." This it attributes to someone called A. Edmonds Tozer rather than to Cardinal Wiseman.
There is a frightful one called, "The End of a Nurse's Day" and another called "The
Beautiful face of the Celibate Priest". This, it writes, is by Sister Mary Effie Louise Hill, TOSF.
Clearly it is a magazine dedicated to taking the mickey out of the Institutional Church. Its cover has a strip cartoon by, I think, an English cartoonist not, I hasten to say, by our own John Ryan. It covers the adventures of two Mexicans who cover a thousand miles on their knees to look for work, They are spared by bandits, lightning, snakes and scorpions. They are blessed by "the flying bishop", thundering in full canonicals on his horse across the desert. This must have been difficult since he is carrying his crozier in the wrong hand. They succeed without food or water and are met by a priest who says "Grab a hod, boys" and puts them to work on a new cathedral, It made me laugh and there is not quite enough nowadays to laugh about, inside or outside the Church.
brain-washi▪ ng THERE seems to be an odd proliferation of fringe religions. The Guardian this week had a strange story about a "do it yourself" manual which sets out in detail "how to brain-wash people," including, ap parently, members of the Catholic Church. The grammar is not mine.
This manual describes how to detach members of fringe cults and bring them back to "rationality". It suggests the use of starvation, sleep withdrawal, "physical correction", which, I suppose, means a hiding, verbal stress and aggressive sex which sounds like rape to me.
The trouble seems to be that some children of indeterminate age quit home and family and join some eccentric sect which in a spiritual sense consumes them utterly. This means that they reject their parents and give all they have got to their faith.
As I write this, I am honestly disturbed by the fact that this sort of behaviour corresponds with some of the sterner im peratives of our own ancient and demanding religion.
There are several of these sects, and they satisfy some sick hunger in theyoung. I have had some letters from parents who have "lost" their children to them. And this, for the most part, means that parents are rejected as manifestations of evil or that marriages break because one partner regards the other as the equivalent of Satan.
These sects, at their most extreme, seem to derive their power over people as a result of a form of brain-washing to which the victim must, presumably, voluntarily submit himself or herself.
There is a longing for a short cut to the divine. People are ready to gobble up miracles, while the wisest priest I ever knew always insisted that he had never seen any physical evidence of the supernatural.
Fringe religion among Catholics
And there are plenty of sins that this sort of fringe religion comes and goes within the Catholic Church itself. Anyone on a newspaper-orientated mailing list will know what I mean.
St Michael the Archangel appears to be busy in Canada. There is a seer in Holland who is getting very cross with the Bishop of Haarlem for not taking notice of her. There is a shrine of Our Lady in Spain which was in the charge of a Vietnamese prelate who is reported to have apologised to the Pope for ordaining bishops without authority. And yet there are most honourable men who believe in the place as strongly as others do in Lourdes. All of those seem devoted to condemning the Second Vatican Council.
Perhaps the difficulty lies in the new, coldish sort of intellectuality of our religion. Perhaps we have removed too many of its decorations.
We have got too logical and people have gone off hunting for emotion and illogic and mystery and the private pleasures of religion which do not rate much of a place in the new order.
I remember a distant Irish cousin, a woman, who turned up from the United States to stay for a few days. We then had a small semi-detached cottage which stood in rolling downland of such excellent design that it was a pleasure just to hang out of the window and admire the conscious artistry of God and the unconscious brilliance of the English when faced with His handiwork.
Anyway, she thought the place poor and dreadful. I though it pretty close to earthly perfection except for the moles. The cottage was in our present parish and we took her to Mass on Sunday when Bishop Warlock was making a visitation.
It was done with decorum and some verbal beauty. 1 thought the parish had done itself proud. She thought it dreadful. There was only one statue in the church and that of Our Lady which had no halo on it. There was no crucifix on the altar. But, worst of all, she noticed that all during Mass not a single person was saying the rosary except herself and noisily at that. She was one of the dissatisfied ones with a vengeance. And we really have no right to be as uncharitable as I have just been.
It was in this cottage that the Divine actively and usefully interfered with my life. Well it didn't really, but it was a very odd coincidence.
Our parish priest was then the late Canon Alban Burrett. He was a splendid man who loved the Church and obeyed all its orders.
Despite the fact that he seemed to be so far to the right ecclesiastically as to be almost out of sight, he was in fact both in liturgy and architecture brave and innovative.
He was utterly English, drove dangerously at 25 miles an hour, lived austerely to save money to build our church. He used to come often to lunch and he and I would sit talking about the Church.
His only other subject was Hampshire cricket, and my entire repertoire on that could be exhausted during the nibbling of a cocktail biscuit.
He was a man without doubts, but he certainly had convictions. One cf these was that there was a perpetual conflict between the angels and the devils and that at the present time the devils were leading by several hundred runs with quite a few batsmen left. I used to accuse him of Manichean tendencies, which was unfair.
His other convictions, which were quite as immovable and grand as Gibraltar, included the ideas that no honest man could be a journalist and that the trades unions were part of the manifestation of the Devil at work,
Since I am a journalist and a member of our union, and since he would not let up as he ate at our table in the kitchen, I began to lose my temper. We were devoted friends but the truth came before friendship for him.
I began to find this diatribe at my table offensive. I began to feel old-fashioned. It was becoming an ugly scene and I was preparing to ask him to quit my table and house. That would have been dreadful for both of us and have made life extremely difficult.
At that moment, as I set down my fork of hot-pot to turn him off, there was a tap at the door. There was a large young man in overalls standing there. He apologised. He said he had crashed his glider just beyond our hedge and could he use a telephone. He could, he did, and a blood row was averted.
I do not care if you do not believe this story, but, 'pon such honour as I have, it is true. The Canon's anniversary occurs about this time. I live now in what was his house and cultivate, a bit, what was his garden. If an honourable life of plain fidelity means anything, then count this a prayer for him and an unnecessary one at that.
My favourite ritual
THIS prose has been about different sorts of Catholics. They come, thank God, in many shapes and sizes and are often laced with a rich eccentricity. But, on the whole, I think I prefer convert to cradle Catholics. One of the things about the converts is their tendency to humility.
Now if I had chosen to be a Catholic I would be as proud as the devil. I used to know an adopted child well, I still do who, when twitted at school, would answer: "I was chosen. You were an accident."
Or when once, to a bishop, I mentioned that someone's enthusiasm was typically that of a convert, the Lordship replied: "Yes, Patrick, I know just what you mean. I am one myself." But there is another anniversary of another priest who died too about this time. This was Fr Henry Clarke, who was a gentle, fastidious, highly civilised convert. He trailed Anglicanism as a bishop his train.
He preached with a delicate precision. He said Mass as a work of art as well as a miracle. He was for years the parish priest at Petersfield. He was the antithesis of Canon Burrett, and I fear he was deeply unhappy about the changes in the Church he had chosen to join. But he did not make a fuss and, in the end,
welcomed death as if it were a visitor.
One of the supreme treasures of our Church is its practical and magnificent attitude to death. There are the prayers which have been pruned a bit, there are the oils whose purpose have been changed. There remains that marvellous In Paradisum with its throw-away remark, "with Lazarus, who once was poor." It is a splendid thing to have said over the rich and the poor, and I resent priests who gabble it.
Great funerals over boxes containing bodies are not vanities, but the assertion of the dignity of life. The Communist countries have surrounded the deaths of their great men with an almost religious ritual, Man, as he sees off yet another shell of a friend or relation, demands the dignity that is his right.
My favourite ritual was told me long ago by Fr D'Arcy. In the crypt of the Franciscan Church in Vienna there lie row upon row of the bronze caskets of the Habsburgs. It is a more startling place than Westminster Abbey. It is like a series of overcrowded hospital wards with baroque beds that almost touch one another.
When the Emperor died, his coffin and corpse were taken to the entrance to this great crypt. The Superior would ask who came for burial. A Herald would reel off the Imperial titles, and entry would be denied.
The Superior would ask again and the Herald would give just the family name. No entry, On the third demand, the Herald would say: "The body of a poor soul seeking the mercy of God". And then he would be let into the basement of this curiously humble church.
I have written of two dead priests. They got the imperial splendour of the words of the Church and the prayers of their friends.