Tag: Jesuits

Tomato Stakes – II

Tomato Stakes – II posted in Eleison Comments on November 12, 2011

When “Eleison Comments” quoted (Sept. 10, 217) the Russian proverb likening woman and man to a tomato-plant and the stake around which that plant clings and climbs to bear fruit, it used the comparison to expound on the nature and role of woman. A woman reader then asked how it applies to men. Alas, our crazy age is trying to wipe out all these basics of human nature.

On God’s design for man and woman, profoundly different but sublimely complementary, there is of course much more to be said than a mere comparison from the garden can say. At every Catholic wedding Mass, the Epistle compares the relations between husband and wife to those between Christ and his Church. Worthy of note in this passage (Ephesians V, 22–33) is how St Paul lays out at length the consequent duties of the husband, briefly those of the wife. Already we may suspect that today’s men are greatly responsible for the loss of sanity between contemporary man and woman, but let us leave the supernatural mystery for another occasion and return to the garden, because it is above all the natural basics that are being attacked today by the enemies of God and man.

For a tomato-stake to serve a tomato-plant it needs two things: it must stand tall and it must stand firm. If it does not stand tall, the plant cannot climb, and if it does not stand firm the plant cannot cling, or wrap itself around the stake. The firmness, one might say, depends on a man’s wrapping himself around his work, while the tallness depends upon his reaching for God, no less.

As for the firmness, in all times and places where human nature has not been twisted out of all recognition, the man’s life revolves around his work while the woman’s life revolves around her family, starting with her man. If the man makes the woman the centre of his life, it is as though two tomato plants were clinging together – both will finish in the mud, unless the woman takes on the part of the man, which she was never meant to do, and which she should at least never wish to do. A wise woman chooses for husband precisely a man who has found his work and loves it, so that while he is firmly wrapped around it, she can wrap herself around him.

As for the tallness, just as the stake must point to the sky, so a man must reach for Heaven. Leaders need a vision with which to inspire and lead. Archbishop Lefebvre had a vision of the restoration of the true Church. Similarly when the faith of Cardinal Pie (1815–1880) saw unmanliness in the men of the 19th century all around him, he attributed it to their lack of faith. Where there is no faith, he said, there are no convictions. No convictions, no firmness of character. No firmness of character, no men. St Paul was thinking along the same lines when he said, “The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (I Cor.XI, 3). Therefore to recover his manliness, let a man turn to God, put himself in order beneath him, and it will be that much easier for a wife to put herself in order beneath her man, and the children beneath both of them.

But “beneath” is not to be understood as any kind of tyranny, either of husband over wife, or of parents over children. The stake is there for the tomato. It was a wise Jesuit who said that the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother. Men do not run on love as women do, so they can easily fail to understand how women need to love and to be loved. In fact, a teaspoonful of affection, and she is good for another hundred miles. The Holy Ghost says it rather more elegantly: “Husbands, love your wives and be not bitter towards them” (Col.III, 19).

Kyrie eleison.

Interior Cave

Interior Cave posted in Eleison Comments on October 23, 2010

Visiting Subiaco put me in mind of two lines of Latin verse which situate in succession four founders of great religious Orders in the Church. Besides sweeping over three quarters of Church history, the lines also suggest why so many a Catholic soul today is hanging onto the Faith by its finger-tips.

Here are the lines:—Bernardus valles, colles Benedictus amabat,

Oppida Franciscus, magnas Ignatius urbes.

A free translation might be:— Bernard loved valleys, Benedict took to the hills

Francis worked towns, cities Ignatius tills.

In chronological order (slightly upset here by the demands of the Latin hexameter), St Benedict (480–547) sought God in the mountains (Subiaco, Monte Cassino); the Cistercians, galvanized by St Bernard (1090–1153) came down to the valleys (notably Clairvaux); St Francis (1181–1226) roamed amidst the small towns of his day, while the Jesuits of St Ignatius (1491–1556) led the apostolate of the modern city. One might say the modern city took its revenge when Jesuits, with Dominicans, led the collapse that was Vatican II (e.g. de Lubac and Rahner, S.J.; Congar and Schillebeeckx, O.P.).

For is not the progression from hill to city a progression from being alone with God to being only with man? Industrialism and the motor-car make the modern city with its soft life possible, but in doing so they generate a daily environment steadily more artificial and cut off from God’s Nature. With the material comforts increase the spiritual difficulties. In fact big city life is becoming so inhuman that the liberal death-wish may soon bring on the Third World War, to devastate urban and suburban life as we know it. Then if, for a variety of reasons, a Catholic cannot take to the hills, how does he stay out of the mental institutions?

One answer is logical. He must live with God, inside himself, in an interior cave, leaving the world to rush all around. He must turn his own heart into a hermitage and at least his home, if he can, into something of a sanctuary, while respecting all natural family needs. That does not mean living in an unreal world of one’s own, but in the real world of God within, as opposed to the fantastical world of the Devil without, pressing on us from all sides.

Similarly, the Newchurch has closed countless monasteries and convents since Vatican II, which leaves rather fewer openings for a soul which may think that it hears an interior call from God. Has he led them up a blind alley, or has he let them down? Or is he maybe calling them to lead a religious life within, turning their little flat in the big city into a hermitage, and their godless office into a field of apostolate, by means of prayer, charity and example? Our world is in grave need of Catholic souls that radiate outwards their inner peace and calm with God.

Kyrie eleison.

God’s Grandeur

God’s Grandeur posted in Eleison Comments on February 21, 2009

To celebrate the return of a native to his English homeland after 35 years of wandering abroad, let us take a brief look at a famous sonnet of the 19th century English Jesuit priest and poet, Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins. Most suitably the sonnet commemorates the greatness of God. Let anyone who has never met with Hopkins prepare for a bumpy ride, but let him stay with it, because the ride is worth it. Here is “God’s Grandeur”:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Hopkins was born in 1844, the first of nine children of a High Anglican couple. A bright schoolboy, he obtained a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he became the star scholar in classical studies. Coming under the influence of John Henry Newman, famous Oxford convert to Catholicism 20 years earlier, Hopkins became Catholic one year before leaving Oxford, and at the age of 23 entered the Society of Jesus. In the course of his studies he came across the theology and philosophy of Duns Scotus which revived his interest in writing, and there rose up from within him a wholly personal vision of unchanging nature and English poetry. In 1877 he was ordained priest and did parish work in England. In 1884 he was moved to Dublin, where in 1889 he died of typhus, saying, “I am so happy.”

Therefore Hopkins’ life was wholly framed within the 19th century, hey-day of English Liberalism and Romanticism. However, that within him which made him convert to Catholicism and become a priest made his Romanticism quite different from that of his contemporaries, who could mostly hear only “the melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of faith, of God, of hope. “God’s Grandeur” is full of God, and full of hope.

Cast in classic sonnet form, the poem’s first four lines tell of God’s greatness flashing and oozing forth from all Creation. Then how (line 4) can modern man be paying him so little attention? The answer (l.5–8) is that centuries of living for money (“trade”) have cut man off from nature (“nor can foot feel”), and stripped both man and nature (“soil is bare”) of God. Yet (l.9–14) God is still there, deep within natural things, as ever. Man may be putting out the lights of Western civilisation, still God is constantly recreating the world with brightness and warmth.

On a first reading, the originality of Hopkins’ language and imagery may be off-putting. Who ever heard for instance of the Lord God being compared to tin-foil or to oil? But inside Hopkins is a new wine which will not go into old bottles. To get his message across, the lifelessness of modern man, he resorts to repetitions (“trod . . .trod . . .trod”: “seared . . . bleared . . .smeared”), and in 12 of the 14 lines he uses old-fashioned alliterations (“smudge,smell,”“foot, feel,”etc.).

As for the rhythm, instead of the classic English iambic pentameter (te-tum,te-tum,te-tum,te-tum,te-tum), we have a variety of feet and a varying number of beats to a line, from three (L9,13), to five (l.10), mostly four (e.g. the first line).

However, let nobody think Hopkins is indisciplined. He has chosen the Petrarchan sonnet form which allows of only four different rhymes for the 14 lines (here:— od, – oil, – ent and – ings), which for an English poet is quite demanding. And notice how carefully crafted is the last line of the sonnet, its climax:— “World broods” matches “warm breast” and balances “bright wings” (wb, wb, bw), while the spondees (tum, tum) “World broods” and “bright wings” at each end frame two anapaests (te-te-tum) “with warm breast” and “and with ah!.” Read the line slowly aloud, and see if you do not get a kick out of Fr. Hopkins!

Clearly he has no interest in being original for its own sake. Rather from within the liberal 19th century, decadent and growing tired, the convert-priest has a fresh vision of Creation and its Creator which calls for fresh language and rhythms. In truth, whoever recovers God will recover originality!

Could weary men but once more find their way

To God, how light and fresh would dawn the day!

Kyrie eleison.