Poems Every Catholic Should Know

I am teaching a high school level course for Homeschool Connections this summer on “Poems Every Catholic Should Know”. I am passionate about the need for young people to be taught the value and wisdom to be found in great Christian verse. Anyone wishing to register for the course should check out this link:

Revisiting England on Pilgrimage

Back in 2015 I led a pilgrimage to England with my good friend, Fr. Dwight Longenecker. One of the pilgrims who accompanied us was Linda Putman who has just sent me this wonderful summary of some of the highlights of our journey in the footsteps of the English saints and martyrs.

Linda Putman writes:

Reflections on a Pilgrimage to England in June 2015

My husband and I had never considered going to England, but we changed our minds when an opportunity arose for a trip hosted by Fr. Dwight Longenecker and Joseph Pearce. Here are some of the highlights.

Tyburn Tree

Tyburn Tree is not a tree.  “Tree” is a euphemism for “gallows”.  Erected in 1571, the structure was actually a triple gallows – the crossbeam was in the shape of a triangle, perhaps for stability, perhaps for the efficiency of being able to hang several people at a time.  Its location was in what is now London.  The structure was built in 1571 after Queen Elizabeth I of England, who somehow received the unseemly nickname “Good Queen Bess”,  in a vengeful response to the bull of excommunication issued by Pope Pius V, issued a law making it an act of treason for anyone in her realm to be a priest or to harbor or help one.  The penalty for those convicted was to be hanged, drawn and quartered, “[t]hat is, the condemned criminal, after being drawn to Tyburn on a hurdle or rough sledge by a horse, at Tyburn was first hanged on the gallows, then drawn or disemboweled, and finally quartered, his quarters being placed high in public places as a warning to others.” [1].  Over 100 Catholics died there during Elizabeth’s reign.  A brochure published by the nuns of Tyburn Convent indicates, “In the early 19th  Century, all the place names associated with Tyburn field were changed … the little stream Ty was built over and Tyburn was forgotten …” The English government is a master of rewriting history.

The stone in a traffic island that marks the location of Tyburn gallows:

The “monument” in situ

The Tower of London

Once a residence for royalty, the Tower of London became a prison during the 16th century, generally to hold high-profile prisoners for a short period of time. [2] Among the Catholic martyrs imprisoned at the Tower of London during the reigns of King Henry VIII and his illegitimate daughter and heir to the throne, Queen Elizabeth I, were:

·         St. Thomas More, Lord High Chancellor of England

·         St. Edmond Campion, priest

·         St. Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel

·         St. Nicholas Owen, Jesuit layman and priest hole builder

·         Henry Walpole, priest

·         St. John Fisher, cardinal

·         Blessed Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, (mother of Cardinal Reginald Pole, the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, who played a role at the Council of Trent) who was martyred at age 67.

A portrait of some of the English martyrs (St. Philip Howard is pictured with the dog that was his companion in prison):–duuYVHNmsU/Usr_SdSVvTI/AAAAAAAAJDg/xVuM8Tj54BM/s1600/EnglishMartyrs.jpg

Priest Holes

Priest holes were built into secreted areas in the homes of those who were brave enough to commit the high crime of hiding a priest.  St. Nicholas Owen, mentioned above, was particularly talented at constructing these hiding places, not only because of his carpentry abilities but also because he was a dwarf.  Depending on where they were located and who financed their erection, the holes varied from very rough, little spaces to elaborate, well-hidden rooms.  The priest hole at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk was built under a toilet seat (the waste, thankfully, was diverted to spill into the moat below). Climbing into a priest hole as I did can make you appreciate, more than anything you might hear or read, the courage of the priests who risked their lives to minister to the Catholics in England.  There’s barely room to turn around.  Considering the size of them, I will never be able to figure out how Fr. Longenecker and Joseph Pearce both managed to get into this hole.

A selfie by Fr. Dwight Longenecker of Joseph Pearce and himself in a priest hole at Oxburgh Hall in England (they used the occasion to sing the Salve Regina):

The hole from the exterior:

Oxburgh Hall is itself a remarkable legacy.  It was built in the late 15th century by Sir Edmund Bedingfeld and, despite being owned and inhabited by a Catholic family, they somehow managed to keep hold of the beautiful property and live there till this day.  Although a private residence, it is open to the public.  The link below provides a timeline of its distinguished history:

The Stolen Church Properties

During those terrible years of the English “reformation”, the monarchy confiscated vast amounts of Church buildings and land.  It brings tears to the eyes to tour these once-magnificent holy places.  Westminster Abbey now looks more like a cross between a museum and mausoleum than a house of worship, with countless tombs and memorials to military men, royalty and government leaders that litter the entryway.


Canterbury Cathedral, site of the martyrdom of St. Thomas à Becket, was depressing mainly because of the removal of a shrine at the spot of his death.  All that remains is a small lit candle.

(Photos from the Putman private collection.)

At Ely Cathedral, most of the priceless stained glass windows were destroyed and the statues of saints beheaded.  Here is the statue of “Mary” that now adorns the Lady Chapel:

Fortunately, the resolution in the picture is not very good; if it was, you would be able to see the image’s nipples protruding from beneath her bodice.  Another opportunity for Jesus to weep.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, a major pilgrimage site for people all over Britain since the 11th century, was demolished in 1538 at the order of Henry VIII. You can read its history here:

Oddly enough, after razing the original holy place, the Anglicans erected a reproduction there in the early part of the 20th century.  The site of the true shrine continues to attract pilgrims from all over the world, Catholic and denominational alike.

It is arrogant that, after confiscating our properties, the Church of England now charges us a fee to view them.  I have never been made to pay to enter a Catholic Church.  Of course, this is the main means of maintaining the properties – little comes into the coffers from the worshippers as there are so few of them.  See the graph below for the religious demographics of England:

General Impressions

In addition to the theft and desecration of our holy sites, one of the things that most impressed me about the journey was that the people of England are largely clueless about what happened in the 16th century.  We Americans knew far more about their history than they did.  Our English tour guide and bus driver were having continual “a-ha” moments as they learned, from Fr. Longenecker (who, born and raised in the US, lived in England for 25 years) and Joseph Pearce (who was born and raised there), much they had never heard before.  Even the tour guides at the various sites, such as Westminster Abbey, toed the party line by prattling the “politically correct” narrative. The tour books (Fodor’s, et al) were no better at disclosing the real history of Catholicism in England and all the horrors our brothers and sisters withstood.  40 Catholic martyrs were canonized and 85 were beatified from the reign of terror called the English Reformation. One thing England excelled at was sowing the blood of martyrs.  Slowly but surely seeds will begin to sprout.





Seeking Jesus with Greeks

The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in Cycle B is according to Saint John (12:20-33), and it contains sayings by Jesus that preachers from the days of the Church Fathers until the present have found important for their homilies.  There is Jesus saying that unless a grain of wheat dies in the soil, it cannot live again; later on, Jesus says that when He is raised up, He will draw everyone to Himself.

In the late seventh and early eighth centuries, this text from Saint John, evoking John 3:14-15, had special significance for the Venerable Bede and his brother Benedictines of the abbey of Saint Paul’s, Jarrow.  In his history of the abbots of his monastery, Bede recorded that their founder abbot, Benedict Biscop, returning from his fifth trip to Rome, brought back books and paintings.  While the books were for the monastic library, the paintings were for the church.

Those paintings were in pairs, one depicting a scene from the Old Testament, the other depicting a corresponding scene from the New Testament.  One pair, said Bede, was of the brazen serpent raised on a pole, its parallel being Jesus raised on the Cross.  Thus, the visual arts adorning their abbey’s church reinforced for those monks what they had learned from reading Saint Augustine:  “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, the Old is made manifest in the New.”

It is an exegetical approach the Church still maintains as not only valid, but essential.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 117, it states, “We can acquire a more profound understanding of [biblical] events by recognizing their significance in Christ.”  As for these signs and symbols, commentators like to point out that the serpent and the lion are the only animals in the Bible that stand both for Christ and for Satan, since evil is not a separate creation, but a perversion of the good.

In a monastic context, this passage from Saint John’s Gospel offers a rich source for meditation upon a monastic commitment to seek Christ, and in so doing, to seek God’s grace for pursuing the monastic vow of ongoing conversion.  What follows are suggestions for how to begin that sort of meditation upon this part of the holy Gospel.  If these remarks can help someone who lives outside the walls of a monastery, so much the better.

At the start of this text, Saint John said that at Passover some Greeks were in Jerusalem, and they asked Philip if they could see Jesus.  Church Fathers such as Saint Cyril of Alexandria and Saint Augustine of Hippo took these Greeks to have been Gentiles, since the word used by Saint John, Hellenes, refers simply to Greeks, not to Hellenistai (as in Acts 6:1), Hellenized Jews.  In the twentieth century, this nuance was understood by Scripture scholars such as William Barclay and Raymond Brown.

These Greeks are part of a pattern that occurs elsewhere in the Gospel.  Saint Matthew recounted how Wise Men from the East, Magi, that is to say, Gentiles, sought out the Christ child.  Like the Greeks in this passage from Saint John’s Gospel, they had to ask someone else to show them where Jesus is.  When we seek Jesus, we need the help of others.  In that search, God’s mysterious providence can use either a saint like Philip or a sinner like Herod.

It is worth noticing that these Greeks who approached Philip, like the Magi before them, were on a spiritual journey seeking Jesus.  Lost sheep notwithstanding, Jesus was not out searching for them.  Whether as a baby in a cradle or as an adult in the Temple, Jesus was the fixed point to which they must go.

Here what Saint John related connects with one of the most disturbing scenes in the Gospel.  According to Saint Mark (1:30-45), after a leper in Galilee had come to Jesus for healing, and Jesus healed him, Jesus could not come to where people lived:  “But he [the healed leper] went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to Him from every quarter.”

It is chilling to consider that all our chattering about Jesus keeps Him from coming to people.  After all, a lot of times when we are so eager to talk about what Jesus has done for us, it is really yet another way for us to talk about ourselves.  A lesson comes from Philip.  When the Greeks asked him to see Jesus, he took them to Andrew, who then took them to Jesus.  It was a role Andrew had played before, taking his brother, Simon Peter, to meet Jesus.

Those Greeks were not seeking Philip or Andrew, they were seeking Jesus.  Both Philip and Andrew were wise enough to know that their role was as a guide or an usher, or like a butler answering the door.  No one makes vows to seek Philip or Andrew or us; a Christian’s vow is to seek Christ.  Our own testimony is best kept in silence as we lead others to our Lord.

By the grace of God, though, our inadvertent, self-absorbed blocking of Jesus from going to other people does not stop them from seeking Him.  When the Greeks that Saint John recorded do meet Jesus, He tells them, “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If any one serves me, he must follow me; . . . if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.”

When our seeking finally brings us to Jesus, His message to us is not a bear hug and the exclamation, “Dude, welcome to my awesome ministry!”  Instead, Jesus cuts right to the heart of our quest:  Get over yourself, and follow me, which means becoming God’s servant, like a butler answering the door.

There we encounter true Lenten austerity and asceticism.  Forty days in the wilderness of Lent, a long desert sojourn seeking Jesus, leads us to the fixed point where He is raised up, raised up first by us men in torture and death on a cross, then raised up by the Father from the death that by our sins we rightly deserve.

The Orientation of Man

My latest article for the Imaginative Conservative looks at the orientation of Man. Who are we? Where are we in relation to others? And how do we relate to our neighbours, and equally importantly, how do we relate to ourselves? In short, how do we get our bearings? How do we orient ourselves? My endeavour to answer these axiomatic questions can be read here:

Misfits & Mystics: Flannery O’Connor and Friends

Misfits & Mystics:

Flannery O’Connor and Friends


The March/April issue of the St. Austin Review is hot off the press. Focusing on Flannery O’Connor and her world, highlights of the new issue include:

Veronica A. Arntz sees “Grace and the Grotesque” as signifiers of “Redemption in the Southern Literature of Flannery O’Connor”.

Jessica Pipes focuses on “Flannery O’Connor and a World Off-Balance”.

Jacob Terneus examines “How the Violent Bear it away and Bring it Back Again”, exemplifying “Prophetic Violence” in Flannery O’Connor’s work.

Mark Deavin sees “Racism as Shadow Projection” in Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge”, revealing “Catholic and Jungian Symbolism”.

Dan Rattelle delves into “Flannery O’Connor, the Christ-Haunted South, and Sundance TV’s Rectify”.

Kevin O’Brien, playing the misfit, insists that “Every Blood that Wises Must Bear it Away”.

Donald DeMarco admires “The Unsentimental Southerner”.

Samuel Goldenburg, in the full colour art feature, showcases “The Special Needs and Extra Special Gifts” of artist Bruce Gillespie.

K. V. Turley’s regular “Faith on Film” column focuses on Grizzly Man and its misguided “Longing for Eden”.

Samantha Reynolds is “Razing Giants”, musing on the fact that “Only Love and Prayer can Vanquish the Goliath Despair”.

Susan Treacy’s music column examines the place of “Hymns in Catholic Life and Worship”.

John-Paul Donlon praises the music of the Hillbilly Thomists.

Mitchell Kalpakgian reviews Ecce Homo: On the Divine Unity of Christ by Aaron Riches.

Thomas Martin reviews Political Philosophy and Revelation by James V. Schall, SJ.

Kenneth Colston reviews Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed by Roger Buck.

Portia Hopkins reviews The Arts and the Christian Imagination by Clyde S. Kilby.

Stephen Mirarchi reviews Benedict’s Daughter by Philip C. Kolin.

Thomas Banks reviews The Mystery of the Magi by Fr. Dwight Longenecker.

And, last but not least, there’s new poetry by N. S. Boone, Casey J. Chalk, Pavel Chichikov, Thomas Banks, Conor Gallagher and David Lyle Jeffrey.

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