Catholic Herald, 10 August 1990
I don’t know about you but I always begin a book at the back, with the index, bibliography and happy ending.
The same goes for newspapers. The sporting pages and small ads are thoroughly conned before tackling the hard news. Indeed, I seldom get as far front as the hard news; a hockey match or a water-polo game usually proves too diverting.
It is therefore a happy accident of fate that the Chronicle is lodged on the back of the Catholic Herald! Have you noticed what a masculine patch it is? Not that I mind; some of my best friends are men.
It’s a masculine and clerical back page and I’m hanging on in there by my (varnished) finger-nails. At least two of the Chroniclers have more than a nodding acquaintance with holy orders, and Fathers Medcalf and Rolheiser are valued regulars.
Sometimes a huge advertisement crowds us all out, but as often as not there is thunder from Shoreham-by-Sea from below, and consolation from Edmonton on the right flank. Which is a roundabout way of introducing Fr Rolheiser’s lecture delivered in London in July.
The occasion was a sell-out, but disappointed fans will have read the edited version of the text, published in the Herald on July 27.
London, alas, is closer to home than Liverpool, where Fr Rolheiser repeated his lecture, so it was to the capital that I went to hear it. As the bus bowled along the Bayswater Road we passed Tyburn Convent.
One of those financial thermometers is fixed to the building to show at a glance the progress of the convent’s appeal. You probably remember the nuns’ snooker competition for the same good cause.
Now the sisters have released a tape recording of their music for mass and divine office. Called His Holy Place, it costs £6 (inc p&p) and is available from Tyburn Convent, 8 Hyde Park Place, London, W2 2LJ.
Most of the music is unaccompanied singing, composed by the community since the sixties when English was first permitted in the liturgy. The music is simple, serene and very soothing to the savage breast that heaves with the complications of the 20th century.
When some ghastly family crisis threatens, or when some personal controversy causes me to measure the bedroom floor in the watches of the night, I like to think of the nuns at Tyburn. Day in, night out, they pray and watch in their chapel where the blessed sacrament is perpetually exposed.
Try explaining this seemingly pointless lifestyle to the intellectual with enough degrees to wallpaper the kitchen, or to the totally well-meaning person obsessed with dragging the third world into the first.
Was it George Bernard Shaw who declared that if he really believed Christ was present in the blessed sacrament he would never leave the altar? The nuns do: and they don’t.
But I was en-route to the lecture at the Westminster Conference Centre. It was a broiling hot steamer of an evening and the piazza was crowded with tourists, patrons of McDonald’s and that electric knot of gentlemen-of-the-road, tolerated to gather on the apron of Westminster Cathedral.
One of their number had mounted an impromptu guard over the entrance to the centre. Equipped as for an Arctic expedition, this self-appointed Cerberus regaled arrivals in colourful language – leading some to believe they were in for a political confrontation of the most violent nature.
It was quite a relief to get inside and find the softly-spoken Delia Smith. She introduced Fr Rolheiser with her customary charm and modesty.
Fr Rolheiser looks just like his photograph – well, lots of people don’t. In a very small nutshell, his lecture hinged on the erosion of hope; an erosion he recognises in contemporary society. He attributes this to the sense of helplessness many feel in the face of this world’s ills.
Fr Rolheiser posits that a recovery of hope will only come about with a recovery of genuine apostolic’ community. He argues with passion and many examples of personal experience.
It is a very “western” experience, so vividly described you could almost hear yet another bill thudding on the doormat, smell the petrol fumes and take-away dinners, see the weary jostling to catch the 5.40.
The lecture was enthusiastically received and one listener said during question time that reading Fr Rolheiser’s column in the Catholic Herald was like receiving a personal letter every week. A great compliment.
The point that the west has shattered communities almost accidentally in order to enshrine individual rights is certainly worth talking about.
Wary of splinters
One reflects: embattled Catholics in the new pagan era are also keen to promote togetherness. This can lead to the formation of little groups among themselves, not dissimilar to the early House Church Movement.
I am wary of this trend to splinter. Surely all our best efforts and energy should go to support the existing community within our midst – the parish. It is the parish which is the living expression of genuine apostolic community, among us and right under our noses. To me, all other alternatives indeed seem hopeless.
Now for Bookery Nook (There must be a better name!) First, a new arrival from the Chesterton Review stable. They have just published their first book, a reprint of one of their special issues: Chesterton and the Modernist Crisis, edited by Aidan Nichols OP. Many of the seeds sown by modernism cropped up in the Rolheiser lecture quite incidentally. This comprehensive and deeply thoughtful volume is advertised elsewhere in this number of the Catholic Herald.
On the “requests” wing of Bookery Nook, a reader asks for 3 Sheila Kaye-Smith titles which are out of print: Willows Forge and other Poems (1914), Anglo-Catholicism (Chapman and Hall, 1925), Songs Early and Late (Hamish Hamilton, 1931).
Also, has anyone got Converts to the Catholic Church (BOW) or Road to Damascus (Catholic Book Club)? And we’re still looking for copies of Patrick O’Donovan’s A Journalist’s Odyssey.
Fair prices are offered for these books. Write to me c/o the Catholic Herald. I was really lucky and obtained The Hermitage Within inside a week of asking for it! It’s not exactly holiday reading but I shall take it with me anyway. Have a happy one.