All posts by mariedudzik

The Garden of Bright Images

In Dorothy Sayer’s 1937 novel Busman’s Honeymoon, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane finally tie the knot and decide to spend their honeymoon in the country neighborhood of Harriet’s childhood home. Peter buys a house called Talboys and, and the couple move in to start their wedded life. This being not just any couple, but the first lord and lady of detective fiction, they find that the previous owner has not vacated the premises, but instead lies dead in the basement. The local police are called in, and Peter finds not only a fellow detective, but a fellow poetry lover:

     “So,” said Peter, “Galahad will sit down in Merlin’s seat.”

     Mr. Kirk, on the point of lowering his solid fifteen stone into the chair, jerked up abruptly.

     “Alfred,” said he. “Lord Tennyson.”

     “Got it in one,” said Peter, mildly surprised. “You’re a bit of a student, aren’t you, Superintendent?”

     “I like to do a bit o’ reading in my off-duty,” admitted Mr. Kirk, bashfully. “It mellows the mind.” He sat down, “I often think as the rowtine of police dooty may tend to narrow a man and make him a bit hard, if you take my meaning. When I find that happening, I say to myself, what you need, Sam Kirk is contact with a Great Mind or so, after supper. Reading maketh a full man—”

     “Conference a ready man,” said Harriet.

     “And writing an exact man,” said the Superintendent. “Ah well, I suppose we’ll have to get down to business.”

     “As another great mind so happily put it, ‘However entrancing it is to wander through a garden of bright images, are we not enticing your mind from another subject of almost equal importance?’”

     “What’s that?” said the Superintendent. “That’s a new one on me. ‘Garden of bright images,’ eh? That’s pretty, that is.”

     “Kai-Lung,” said Harriet.

     “Golden Hours of,” said Peter. “Ernest Bramah.”

“‘Bright images’—That’s just what you get in poetry, isn’t it? Pictures, as you might say. And in a garden too—what you’d call flowers of fancy, I dessay.”

     Kirk and the Wimseys spend the rest of the book solving the mystery and trading lines of poetry. What does Superintendent Kirk, country bumpkin policeman and uneducated yokel, understand that many Harvard MBAs, media moguls, and world leaders not understand? The importance of taking the time to meet with a Great Mind, and the idea of poetry as bright images in words. Moreover, Sayers believed that her readers would enjoy listening to Wimsey’s exchanges with Kirk, maybe even pitting their own poetic knowledge against those of the characters, as many of them also understood the value of spending time with Great Minds.

Would such dialogue work in a novel today? Unlikely. So what? Life today is fast and complicated. Who has time to memorize poetry? What’s the loss? It would be difficult to find someone who would count an inability to quote Tennyson a loss; yet it is a great loss. It is unplugging our culture from Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead,” the treasury of knowledge and beauty and wisdom, the tradition, that created Western Civilization and kept it running until the present.

Plato understood the power of poets and poetry. That’s why he wrote of banning poets from his Republic. Dante spends most of the Divine Comedy grappling with the fact that it was not only virtue and the renunciation of sin that would get him to Paradise, but also taking his responsibility as a poet seriously and using his talents and power to glorify God and not himself.

The problem with poetry is that it takes time. Reading poetry is a relationship. The reader must take in the words, the context, and all the associations those words may have. That means the reader must have a grounding in the tradition of the poet so that meeting of minds can take place. Multiple readings of a poem at different times of life bring new meaning to the work. Inspector Kirk was right: all work and no play does narrow a man and make him hard. But since we live in a world that glorifies specialization and competition, narrowness and hardness have become the goal of the education establishment and poetry is tossed away as being of no use or too hard for the modern mind. Losing access to that garden of bright images closes us off from our heritage and creates, as a great poet once said, hollow men.

A Prophet New Inspir’d

Francis Cardinal George of Chicago is credited with saying that he expects to die in his bed, his successor to die in prison, and his successor to die a martyr. In other words, the persecution of American Catholics is coming, and it’s a matter not of if, but of when.  In a recent column in the Catholic New World, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal George writes that “when” is “now”.

Cardinal George is in declining health, past the retirement age of 75, and in a position in which he has nothing to gain by clinging to the church of nice. In his column, “A Tale of Two Churches” he pits the Church founded by Christ against the religion of the current American establishment and states that the two are completely incompatible.

The column is refreshing in its honesty and troubling in its conclusions. His Eminence sounds a bit like John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II, “a prophet new inspir’d” citing the sins of a corrupt regime and ruin of a once-great country. Like Gaunt, the Cardinal is not afraid to tell it like it is:

“There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the country. It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence. It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class.” This is resulting in a situation where “those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers. Nor will their children, who will also be suspect. Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined”.

This is grim stuff, but it’s not anything new. Many faithful Catholics have been thinking these things for years. What’s startling is to see it in print, and see it written by a member of the hierarchy.

Cardinal George compares this treatment to non-Muslims living under Sharia laws. But unlike Filipino workers living like slaves in Saudi Arabia, we have our own co-religionists to thank for much of the damage done. How many “Catholic” legislators helped to create this situation? How many “Catholic” voters keep electing them? How many priests and bishops refuse to correct or denounce laws and legislators that continue to make Christians second-class citizens in their own country? How many people in the pews only live their faith for an hour a week and then spend the other six days and twenty-three hours being “good Americans?” How many will agree to live under the restrictions the Cardinal described above, or will comfort trump Truth as we enter our own penal times? In another history play, Shakespeare has King Henry V tell a subject that his duty to the state is important, but limited: “every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.” When it comes to choosing between following laws and saving our souls, which will we choose? This was much on Shakespeare’s mind; he may have watched the great English martyrs such as Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell go to their deaths, traitors in the eyes of the state, but true sons of the Church to Christ.

In a sermon on St. Thomas More preached in 1948 in London, Monsignor Ronald Knox reminded his listeners of how much they have in common with those great saints of English penal times. “We live, like the men of the sixteenth century, in an age of new horizons; and for us, as for them, the old question still presses, How much can we afford to fall in with the spirit of our times? I say, ‘afford’; I am using commercial language, as our Lord used to. There comes a point at which, in reaching out for earthly prizes, we may lose the heavenly.”

Our politicians constantly ramble on about prosperity and opportunity, but they never tell us how much it costs. Perhaps because they are too ashamed to admit how much their own prosperity and opportunity has cost them. Vice-President Biden recently used the phrase “the gates of hell”; perhaps he knows where that it because he has been offered retirement property there by the local landlord. Following the Cardinal’s lead, it’s time for all of us help to explode the “myth of human progress”. Those new horizons of a better day are a false dawn if they take our eyes off the true light of Christ. Our land of opportunity can only be found in heaven; our prosperity is only found through the Cross.

Cardinal George’s complete column can be read here:

The Masculine Mystique

Women love to talk about men, and most often the conversation comes around to the question “Where have all the men gone?” What we are really asking is “Whatever happed to masculinity?”

The author of the article linked below, George Fields, focuses on masculinity, both what it is and what it isn’t. Feminists have used their version of male dominance to push their way into every corner of society. Mr. Fields provides a different version of male dominance. A sampling: “It has nothing to do with the dominance of others; quite to the contrary, those who are most beautiful to our minds and praised for their masculine virtues are those who serve; and the more their service becomes a loving slavery, the more our hearts are touched by their works.”

This is paternity, pure and simple. It is every good father, priest, and male boss we have ever met. It is also the example set by Christ, washing the feet of His disciples and telling them to conquer the world by becoming servants.

So where has all the masculinity gone? One could paraphrase GK Chesterton: it is not that masculinity has been tried and failed; it is that it has been found too difficult and left untried. Evidently it’s easier to get manicures and wax jobs than to curb ones appetites.

What I saw in Quebec

As Americans, the progressive version of history we are taught in schools wants us to believe that our ancestors were glad to throw off the shackles of the Old World. The Pilgrims were forced out of their homeland and the colonists of New England were happy to give good riddance to King George and old England. But the Canadian province of Quebec tells another story, one of a people so proud and enamored of their European homeland that they sought to create an extension of France, a New France, as Quebec was once called. I found this out first hand this July as I travelled to Quebec on a pilgrimage. Our chaplain was newly-ordained Fr. Nathan Caswell, SJC, a priest of the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius in Chicago and Canadian transplant.

     Willa Cather writes in her novel about the early settlers of Quebec, Shadows on the Rock:

When an adventurer carries his gods with him into a remote and savage country, the colony he founds will, from the beginning, have graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit. Its history will shine with bright incidents, slight, perhaps, but precious, as in life itself, where the great matters are often as worthless as astronomical distances, and the trifles dear as the heart’s blood.

     The original settlers of Quebec brought those graces, traditions, riches of the mind and spirit, and have left them behind for the modern traveler to discover. There are the beautiful cathedrals and chapels, the hospitals and schools, and the solid fortress-like wall that still surrounds Quebec City. These are the buildings that make visitors from the United States say going to Quebec is like going to Europe without the jet lag. But for those who are not just visitors but pilgrims, there is more to see, and that takes using more than just the eyes. What I saw in Quebec was a place that was built by those who were proudly French and fiercely Catholic. It is not just the buildings that make Quebec special, it is the people who founded and built the settlements that grew into towns and cities. Their spirit still remains for those who care to see, and it was a French, and therefore Catholic spirit. Willa Cather gives us the source of this spirit:

The Ursulines and the Hospitalieres, indeed, were scarcely exiles. When they came across the Atlantic, they brought their family with them, their kindred, their closest friends. In whatever little wooden vessel they had laboured across the sea, they carried all; they brought to Canada the Holy Family, the saints and martyrs, the glorious company of the Apostles, the heavenly host.

Our pilgrimage took us through a relatively small area of Quebec, from Montreal up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, but that area was packed with history and homage to that Church the settlers brought to Canada. When on pilgrimage it is customary to ask before going into a church or building, “What are we going to see here?” But on this journey, the question became, “Who are we going to meet here?” It was not a collection of places, but a collection of saints we encountered, a Canadian litany: St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Jesuit martyrs St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf and St. Charles Garnier, St. Marie of the Incarnation, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, St. Bishop Francois de Laval, St. Andre Bessette, Blessed Catherine of Saint Augustine and Blessed Frederic Janssoone.

There were old friends there too. St. Anne guides sailors safely into harbor, St. Joseph watches over the city of Montreal from the Oratory St. Andre built in his honor on Mont Royal, and the Blessed Virgin is honored as one who helps in time of trial as Our Lady of Bon Secours, as Our Lady of the Cape watching over the St. Lawrence, and as the patroness of multiple churches, cathedrals, and basilicas named in her honor.

With so great a cloud of witness around us, one might think that Quebec is the last bastion of Christendom in North America. Not so. Quebec is still part of the progressive, politically correct experiment that is Canada, and we were told stories of churches being converted into condos or shops. They were not demolished; their architecture was precious in the eyes of the city planners, but not in the hearts of those who should have been worshipping there. In that respect too, it is like Europe without the jet lag: beautiful buildings originally built for the glory of God but now used only for the pleasure of man.

Someone on the pilgrimage commented that Montreal was livable because it was a vibrant city; the sacred and profane seemed quite content together, but Quebec City was too touristy to be taken seriously. Quebec City is, in its way a relic: its UNESCO status has frozen it in time, and many come to look, to walk the cobblestones, to peer over the ancient walls, and muse on it as a quaint souvenir before returning to their plugged-in and plastic world. But despite the losses, the heart of New France is still faintly beating, both in the big city and in the midst of ye olde towne. It is there with the few who pass the tourists in the churches and make their way to the spots cordoned off for prayer. It is there in the smiles and greetings of people who saw Fr. Nathan walking the cobblestones in a cassock, perhaps the first time they had ever seen a priest habited so. It is there in the early-morning procession to an adoration chapel, modern workers singing an ancient Latin hymn, spending time with Our Lord before spending time at the office.

Evelyn Waugh commented that good cigars, fine wine, and beautiful houses are the fringe benefits of civilization. To me that means the enjoyable things of life, of culture, and specifically of Western Culture come only after the heavy lifting of creating, perpetuating, and defending that culture is done. Quebec looks like Europe because that’s what the settlers created it to be. What we see today as tourists are those fringe benefits the French settlers brought with them. What we needed to see as pilgrims was the heavy lifting that went on to create those lovely cities on the banks of St. Lawrence and acknowledge the burden that we need to shoulder today to keep that culture alive.

Fr. Nathan spoke of this in his homily during the last Mass of our pilgrimage. He said we must be missionaries in our own land, just as those saints and blesseds we met spent their lives bringing Christ to those they met. There is still much heavy lifting to do in our own homes and lives. In a real way we are still adventurers living in a remote and savage country, and in addition to the rosaries, the holy cards, and the blessed oil we needed to bring back with us the courage of the Jesuits like Jogues and Brebeuf, the abandonment to Providence of Marie of the Incarnation, and the countercultural witness of Kateri Tekakwitha.

We moderns live off the capital of our ancestors. In Quebec City the horse-drawn carriages carry tourists down the narrow cobblestone streets where they end the day with a luxurious dinner and a pleasant sleep at a quality hotel, enjoying a view an original settler would be at home with. But we can’t expect to spend capital forever. Without paying back into the fund of culture we are destined to usher in a new Dark Age. There is no feasting without fast days. There is no contented sleep without times of watchful prayer. There are no beautiful churches without priests to offer sacrifice and faithful to assist. The pilgrimage is over, but we are all still pilgrims working our way towards our homeland and trying to bring along with us as many as we can. In our modern wilderness, we can use the words of Fr. Brebeuf’s Christmas hymn for Canadian natives to let all know that they are called to share in that homeland that is heaven: “O children of the forest free,/O sons of Manitou,/The holy child of earth and heav’n/Is born today for you./Come kneel before the radiant boy, Who brings you beauty, peace, and joy:/Jesus your King is born,/Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.”

All the saints and blessed of Quebec, pray for us!