Because Living in Hope Beats Living in Fear

After thirty months, I have come to the end of the biggest writing project of my life: a 200-year-history of Massachusetts General Hospital (left, in its original form, the Bulfinch Building). Tuesday, I brought the manuscript to the copy editor, all 213,000 words of it. While I have a thousand loose ends to tie up (epilogue writing, photo editing, caption writing, etc.), I have begun to scan the horizon and ask: What’s next?

I have nothing in prospect, nothing definite anyway, certainly nothing with the heft of the MGH book. Where that project has provided a large portion of my income since the beginning of 2008, the bits and pieces of work that I know are in front of me for the rest of this year and next will provide relatively little. Twenty years ago, the situation would have worried me, terrified me. Today not.

There are rational reasons for fearlessness: I have been a writer of private memoirs and organizational histories off and on for these twenty-plus years. My name is “out there.” The phone will ring. And probably, when I get the office cleaned and the loose ends tied, I’ll do some networking too, and that will “pay off.” But meanwhile, I haven’t even a twinge of worry, not even when I wake up in the middle of the night.

Why do I experience hope instead of fear? Because I really, truly believe (I must, I wouldn’t feel as I do if I didn’t) that the Lord will provide. Give us this day our daily bread, we ask, and He does. While I clean the office and put out feelers for other work, the real effort I can and wish to make is to put Christ at the center of my mind, my heart, life. Then everything will take care of itself, or rather He will take care of it. Not because I deserve it or because I am somehow special, but because that’s what He does.

YIMC Bookclub, “The Great Heresies,” Chapter 4

“Why should we suffer? Why should we die?”

Ah, the eternal question. And in this chapter “The Albigensian Attack“, Belloc gets to the heart of the matter of why the Incarnation came about, Christianity was founded, and why the Catholic Church exists. Because as we know, we are mere human beings. We die. And since the beginning, mankind has wanted to know “why?”

And in this chapter, Belloc synthesizes the ideas that we have formed in an attempt to come to terms with this truth. He touches on Manicheanism, Stoicism, and heck, even Buddism. For example he writes,

Various ways out of the torturing enigma have been proposed. The simplest and basest is not to face it at all…another way less base, but equally contemptible intellectually, is to say there is no problem because we are all part of a meaningless dead thing with no creative God behind it… another nobler way, which was the favourite way of the high pagan civilization from which we sprang, the way of the great Romans and the great Greeks, is the way of Stoicism. This might vulgarly be termed “The philosophy of grin-and-bear-it”… another way is the profound but despairing way of Asia, of which the greatest example is Buddhism: the philosophy which calls the individual an illusion, bids us get rid of the desire for immortality and look forward to being merged in the impersonal life of the universe. What the Catholic solution is we all know.

Or hopefully you do. If you didn’t before reading this chapter, you know now. A lot of ground is covered here. Heck, you might want to let your children read this chapter so they will understand what all the fuss is about regarding being a practicing Catholic. What’s the deal? Well,

Shaw, Belloc, And Chesterton

the Catholic Church has on this particular problem a very definite answer within the field of her own action. She says, first, that man’s nature is immortal, and made for beatitude; next, that mortality and pain are the result of his Fall, that is, of his rebellion against the will of God. She says that since the fall our mortal life is an ordeal or test, according to our behavior, in which we regain (but through the merits of our Savior) that immortal beatitude which we had lost.

And then he proceeds to discuss and explain the various manifestations of this particular heresy. First up is Manicheanism. Have you ever seen Star Wars and it’s various sequels and prequels? May the Force be with you? The Dark Side of the Force and the good side? Now you know where George Lucas got that idea. Remember in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda is training the young Jedi(the Good Side) Luke Skywalker and he punches Luke in the shoulder and says “not this crude matter” referring to his human body? Hmmm, sounds like,

But one thing the Manichean of every shade has always felt, and that is, that “matter” belongs to the evil side of things. Though there may be plenty of evil of a spiritual kind yet good must be “wholly” spiritual.

You’ve probably heard, or maybe even experienced, Christianity of some stripe that treats matter and the human body like this. Not to mention any other religions out there, or new age thinking, that does the same. I know I’ve bumped into people who have said exactly what Belloc says when he describes the human body and its characteristics as follows:

That is something you find not only in the early Manichean, not only in the Albigensian of the Middle Ages, but even in the most modern of the remaining Puritans. It seems indissolubly connected with the Manichean temper in every form. Matter is subject to decay and is therefore evil. Our bodies are evil. Their appetites are evil. This idea ramifies into all sorts of absurd details. Wine is evil. Pretty well any physical pleasure, or half-physical pleasure, is evil. Joy is evil. Beauty is evil. Amusements are evil, and so on. Anyone who will read the details of the Albigensian story will be struck over and over again by the singularly modern attitude of these ancient heretics, because they had the same root as the Puritans who still, unhappily, survive among us.

I’m glad I’m a Catholic now because finally the world makes some sense! And I’m glad I’m a Marine too, because there is a lot of warfare in this chapter. But before I continue, I’m going to hand the reins over to Jason, one of our YIMC Book Club volunteers has these words to say about this chapter:

The Albigensian heresy today is also known as the Cathar heresy. Belloc points out that this heresy is actually a form of Manicheanism. Belloc connects the rise of the Albigensian/Cathar heresy as an attempt of answering the “the problem of evil”. Why are there evil, suffering, and death?

Atheists propose the solution that there is no God. Stoics grin and bear it. Buddists claim individual existence is an illusion.

The Albigensians/Cathars resorted to dualism, that is that God is good but not omnipotent. And that goodness is opposed by evil that was equally as powerful. God the Father is no more powerful than Satan. Furthermore, all matter (being subject to decay) was of evil and good was only spiritual.

The conclusions based on that claim are far-reaching. If matter is evil and God is good, then Jesus could not have been human (no Incarnation), could not have suffered, and was not resurrected. If matter is evil, then the sacraments are false being present in matter. How can Jesus be present in evil matter? Thus no Eucharist.

The heresy divided France. The southern lords embraced the heresy in opposition of the King of France in the north. Belloc isn’t explicit about this but we can see the violent conflict had significant political aspects. Both England and Spain (neither of which embraced the heresy) supported the heretics in hopes of weakening the French.

Belloc shows his bias in his historical account of the battles between the northern and southern French factions.

Of course, Belloc is many things but unbiased is probably not one of them.  Not for the purpose of this book anyway. Jason, and probably others,  have questions about the historical accuracy of Belloc’s accounts.  Footnotes would have been nice here, but perhaps the best thing to do is to consider this chapter as a springboard for following your own curiosity regarding the historical facts surrounding the conflicts that ensued as a result of this movement. A preview of The Inquisition – A Political and Military Study of Its Establishment is available on Google Books.

But as an overview of an erroneous idea that just keeps cropping up over and over, I found this chapter to be very helpful.  How about the rest of you? Share your thoughts with us in the comment box.

Because I Cannot

On a wall in my house, hanging in a place where I pretty much have to see it two or three times a day for about twenty seconds, and sometimes even in the middle of the night, is a framed copy of a poem that every well-bred English-speaking schoolboy memorized a century ago, and maybe some do even today. It struck me last evening, as I was standing and waiting for nature to take its course, that this poem captures everything sad and beautiful about our modern world.

The poem is “If” by Rudyard Kipling, and if you haven’t committed it to memory, you can click here and get started, although I do not recommend it. The framed copy was given to me years ago by a good and long-lost friend, a well-meaning gift. The poem is a brief talk from a father to a son about how to be a man, with all sorts of stiff-upper-lip advice about manliness. (Look at the firm jaw, the beady gaze, the prominent eyebrows in that picture of Kipling!):

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss; . . .

The only verb in the entire poem, effectively, is can. If you can do this and do that and do the other thing, then [final line] you’ll be a Man, my son. Two things strike me: (1) there is no mention of God, or His help, anywhere in the poem; and (2) instead of God, Kipling capitalizes Man. 

By contrast, this morning I was struck by some lines in Psalm 51 as part of the Office of Readings:

I flourish like an olive tree in the palace of God.

I hope in the kindness of God,
for ever, and through all ages.
I thought: that’s the whole thing right there. I already am a lower-case man, my own father has passed from the scene, and still I cannot. I set my mind on something, I project my brow and jaw forward, but at the end of the story, sometimes it happens, sometimes not. Meanwhile, however, there is one thing that I have found I can do: plant myself in the palace of God and hope in his kindness. Go to Mass. Say my prayers. Put my mind on God. Take my chances.
These are two distinct ways of living: “being a Man” who needs nothing more—and “being an olive tree” who trusts that God, through his kindness, will nourish me. Somewhere along the way we well-bred English-speaking schoolboys lost sight of the second way.

“Master of Beauty” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I love reading poetry and at one point in my life, wrote it constantly. I still have my well-thumbed Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry from my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan. I often read it and recently wondered how many of the poets within are Catholic. John Berryman is one. Born in Oklahoma in 1914, he was raised Catholic.

I always liked his name. I tried to read his poetry the other day, but found most of it so despairing I could not. His work reflects his troubled soul. The Pulitzer Prize winning poet survived his own father’s suicide when he was 12 and spent his life struggling with  depression and alcoholism. He returned to the faith of his childhood as a middle-aged man.

Sadly, Berryman ended his life in 1972 by jumping off a bridge. I thank God that Berryman found times of comfort in this world in the presence of Christ and that he left us luminous words, which speak of the struggle between faith and doubt. I particularly like this one, which he wrote toward the end of his life. He’s honest about his doubts while he stands in awe of creation. The entire poem is published in his collected works. I pray for his immortal soul. 

Eleven Addresses to the Lord


Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,
inimitable contriver,
endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,
thank you for such as it is my gift.
I have made up a morning prayer to you
containing with precision everything that most matters.
‘According to Thy will’ the thing begins.
It took me off & on two days. It does not aim at eloquence.
You have come to my rescue again & again
in my impassable, sometimes despairing years.
You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselves
and I am still here, severely damaged, but functioning.
Unknowable, as I am unknown to my guinea pigs:
how can I ‘love’ you?
I only as far as gratitude & awe
confidently & absolutely go.
I have no idea whether we live again.
It doesn’t seem likely
from either the scientific or the philosophical point of view
but certainly all things are possible to you,
and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection-appearances to Peter and
to Paul
    as I believe I sit in this blue chair.
Only that may have been a special case
to establish their initiatory faith.
Whatever your end may be, accept my amazement.
May I stand until death forever at attention
for any your least instruction or enlightenment.
I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master of insight & beauty.

Cistercian Chants (Music for Mondays)

It was the summer of 2008. My wife and kids headed to California to visit family. I would follow them two weeks later for a vacation too (and to ensure they came back to Tennessee with me).

So I was alone in the house for two weeks. It was quiet. When I would come home from work, I didn’t turn on the television, or the radio. I ate, read, and prayed. And I did other things, like cut the yard and feed the dog, and wash the dishes. But as a freshly minted Catholic, I was enjoying the silence and using it to read Scripture, read other books, and learned to pray the LOTH.

I stumbled across an article on the internet that mentioned the album Chant: Music for Paradise put out by the Cistercian monks of Stift-HeiligenKreuz. Say that 10 times as fast as you can. I dare you! By this time, I knew what Cistercians were, I knew that Pope Benedict XVI was a German, and I had taken a few years of German in high school.  So I bought the album and loaded it up into i-Tunes on my Mac.

It’s all sung in Latin and by this time, I actually knew what a few of these songs meant in translation. But not most of them. But I know this: whenever I played them in the house during those two weeks, my soul felt at peace. And the same thing happens when I listen to them know.

What follows are a few selections that I hope you will enjoy. Note: not all are from the album, but i-Tunes is only a click away.

The background on the monastery and how the recording came about.

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Spiritus Domini, This is the video Father Karl mentioned above. 459,486 views as of this writing (and counting…)

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Testamentum Eternum

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Dedit Dominus Confessionem Sancto Suo

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Virtute multa

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Because Nothing Is Random

I’m nearly a half century old and launching a new career. After a working life spent in daily newspapers and then teaching at community colleges and raising sons, I am earning a master’s degree in Special Education and alternate-route teaching certificates in English and in Teaching Students with Disabilities.

What’s this got to do with being Catholic? Well, my faith lets me know that from the moment I entered this planet to the moment I leave it, my life is in the hands of the Almighty. He willed me and everyone else into being. So really, I have nothing to worry about as I embark on this leg of my journey.

The path behind me: My mom was an outstanding public school teacher. So was a woman who mentored me as a teenager and young adult. As for teaching English piece, I’ve always loved to read and to write. I majored in English, then earned a master’s degree in journalism.  I spent many years paying rents and mortgages as a wordsmith. I married a writer, too. Then, we discovered one of our sons has a language-based learning disability. We’ve helped him navigate speaking, and reading and writing. This helped me see how very complex those tasks we often take for granted are. In the process, I learned about the alphabet world of special education: IEPs and SLDs and so on. We also know his disabilities give him strengths in other areas, including an excellent memory and great social skills.

How could I imagine that any of the people and circumstances I have encountered are random? Who brought these people to me?

This summer, our sons are in camps, away from home for the first time. They are swimming in Lake Champlain, playing basketball at the Rutgers Athletic Center, studying film in Bangor, Maine and learning soccer at the Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ. I spend my evenings at the local community college, taking graduate school classes in education. My days pass at the home computer, the puppy who unexpectedly joined out family this spring at my side. I am applying to as many English and Special Education teaching jobs I can find within an hour’s drive of our home. There are so many openings. Every job offers the possibility of telling the story of the next chapter of my life and a chance to learn from students and colleagues I have yet to meet.

If my life were music, this piece of it reminds me of that song from the movie “Shrek.” The words are by Leonard Cohen, one of the genius balladeers I spent inordinate hours listening to on my bedroom stereo as a teenager. I’m not going to pretend I understand all his words, or that they reflect an orthodoxy of belief. I do love the part that says “I used to live alone before I knew you.” And I understand the Halleluia: Praise God.

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Because of Catholics Like Raymond Lull

For the longest time, I just knew that I was too smart to be a Catholic. I mean, I wasn’t a cradle Catholic, born into the Church or anything. I just figured that being born into the Church was really the only way that anyone would become a Catholic. Surely not via God-given free will, because no one with a brain would willingly submit to the Church and all those wacky “man-made” doctrines and such.

Ahem, we all know how that turned out for me; I swam the Tiber. [Read more...]

YIMC Book Club “The Great Heresies” Chapter 3

Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history: September 11, 1683.

This is one of the sentences that hit home for me in this weeks chapter “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed.” There is a lot going on in this chapter, for sure. I compare it to a Cliffs Notes version of the History of Western Civilization 630AD – 1683AD. Sure, Belloc’s book may not be an unbiased, footnote toting, peer-reviewed, Ivy League approved, history text book, but that really wasn’t his point here.

Sure, anyone with even a hint of curiosity could plug the date “September 11th” into a search engine and eventually find out the significance of that date in the history of Western Civilization. But only Belloc, writing in 1936, in the middle of what would later become The Great Depression, could claim that it “ought to be among the most famous in history.”

Of course, we don’t get to that line until we are taken on a whirlwind tour of close to 1000 years of events on the world stage as the Roman Empire fell away, Christendom established itself, and a new religion out of the desert formed and built a civilization that would attack Christendom and the West.

Attack is a mighty harsh word, huh? I find that as I read Belloc, the reading voice in my head is that of actor Jack Webb playing Detective Joe Friday from the old television series Dragnet. “Just the fact’s, ma’am”, or sir,in my case, is what Belloc says as he reels off line after line of the history of the era, of Islam, of the Catholic Church, and what it all means.

I suspect Belloc was familar with the work of Blessed Peter of Montboissier, aka Peter the Venerable. In case you weren’t, join the club! I couldn’t find a copy of Peter’s The Summary of the Entire Heresy of the Saracens or his The Refutation of the Sect or Heresy of the Saracens either. But Belloc was probably very familiar with them both as well as this book published in 1907 entitled Islam: A Challenge to the Faith.  Those interested in learning more about this subject may also be interested in A History of Apologetics, written by Cardinal Avery Dulles and  published by Ignatius Press.

In the early 1990′s, my wife enjoyed reading a novel by Donna Tart entitled The Secret History. I don’t know anything about the book really,  except that I love the title. That’s because it fits with how I’ve been thinking about how little I actually know of this world.  Not just since reading Belloc, but since becoming a Catholic and sinking my teeth into the history of Christianity and of the Church.

From this single chapter in Belloc’s book alone, do you see what I mean? Sheeeeeeeh!

Because of Community

Guest  post by Meredith Cummings

Community defines who we are, how we live and with whom we share our lives. But there was a time in my life, when I couldn’t wait to escape my community … the community of my childhood. I grew up in what I, at the time, viewed as a dusty, forgotten cowboy town hidden in the remote San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado. (Pictured here)  Over the years, I’d grown a lot and come to appreciate my hometown of Monte Vista … to a point. However, it took an elderly shut-in couple living in my current hometown of Noblesville, Indiana, to help me fully realize the blessings of my youth.

This slow transformation began fifteen years ago when I returned to Monte Vista to visit my parents. I’d been away for several years, but people still knew me; my old boss at the Savings & Loan, my fourth-grade teacher and sisters Helen and Arlene, who worked as cashiers at the Safeway grocery store. One day, while I stood in the checkout line at the store, Helen (or maybe it was Arlene; I always got them confused), asked me where I lived. (My new hometown of NoblesvilIe is pictured here) I answered, expecting a blank stare in return.

“I know where that is!” She exclaimed. “My aunt and uncle, Marian and Louis Ortiz, moved there from Monte Vista in 1960.They go to the Catholic church there.”

Unbelievable. I escaped from one dinky little town to another dinky little town 1,220 miles away only to learn that a family from the original dinky little town lives in my new dinky little town, AND they attend the same parish.

I should have contacted the Ortizes, but I didn’t. I wasn’t ready. I had my own family, my own life. I wasn’t sure I wanted a Monte Vista connection here. I figured I’d eventually meet them, although I’m not sure how I thought I’d know them. Perhaps they’d have a big MV tattooed on their foreheads, or they’d be wearing dusty cowboy hats and boots. Eventually, I forgot about them. But then, last fall, our pastor asked if someone could bring weekly communion to two elderly parishioners … a Mr. and Mrs. Ortiz … I remembered who they were, and I knew that Father’s e-mail was clearly a message to get off my tail and meet them.

Mr. Ortiz is 95. His wife is in her late 80s. Their daughter, Beverly, who moved to Indiana when she was ten, cares for them. The three welcomed me into their home. The Colorado connection helped. “So you’re from the valley,” Mr. Ortiz said with what I’ve learned is his trademark chuckle. “Well, let me tell you some stories.” That was eight months ago.

Mr. Ortiz was born at Seven Mile Plaza, west of town. Did I know it? Of course. My friend, Lisa, lived there. I attended birthday parties at her house. Mr. Ortiz was an altar boy at St. Joseph’s, the Catholic church in town. Today, he can still recite The Lord’s Prayer and most of the Mass in Latin. He joined the Army in the 40s, fought in Europe during World War II and later married Marian. Mr. Ortiz told me their wedding dance was in the armory. I thought he meant the armory east of Monte Vista.

“No, the one that looks like the castle in the center of town,” Mr. Ortiz explained.

“You mean the bar on Washington Street?” I asked.

“Well, it may be a bar now, but back then, it was an armory. German POWs stayed there during the war and worked in the potato fields outside town.” That was news to me.

Over the months, the Ortizes have opened my eyes to many things I didn’t know about Monte Vista. For instance, Mr. Ortiz hauled the bricks for Central Auditorium, where my classmates and I performed in countless plays and band concerts. He helped build the post office, which I always thought smelled funny. He worked at the mountain reservoir, where I used to go snowmobiling with my friend Amy. And there was more. I learned that my brother and I went to school with a few of the Ortiz’s nieces and nephews … the Mansanares kids. My brother even dated one of the Mansanares girls.

During one visit, Mr. Ortiz admitted he quit school after eighth grade so that he could earn money for his family. He hated to leave school and his favorite teacher, Mr. S. (Name changed) “Mr. S. was the nicest man,” Mr. Ortiz said, a faraway look in his eyes.

“Are we talking about the same Mr. S?” I asked. If we were, Mr. S. was my neighbor. In my memory, he was old and cranky. We didn’t dare step on his sidewalk. Ever.

“Mr. S. and I got along real well,” Mr. Ortiz said, grinning. “He was something special.”

Mr. Ortiz’s words made me pause. When I knew Mr. S., he was widowed, lonely and appeared mad at the world. I never realized there was another side to him. There’s a lot I never understood about my town.

Long before I’d met the Ortiz family, I had finally come to appreciate Monte Vista. But now, through this new friendship, I appreciate it even more. I am blessed that the Ortizes have opened their lives to me and taught me about the community we share in Colorado. I also am blessed to share the Catholic community with them.

During each week’s visit, Mr. Ortiz closes his eyes, talks and remembers. After a while, I take out a pyx and spend a few minutes praying and sharing Communion. I wait quietly after the family receives the Host and says their silent prayers. While they share their thanks for Jesus’ sacrifice, I offer a prayer of thanks, as well.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing the Ortiz family into my life. I realize you tried to do this years ago when Helen (or Arlene) first made me aware of the family. I am sorry I didn’t meet this family earlier because in the last few months, they have made a big difference in my life. Originally, I set out upon my pastor’s request to bring the Catholic community to the Ortizes. They, in turn, have opened up my childhood community to me in a way I never expected. I am so very grateful for the blessing of communities and for the Ortiz family. Amen.

From Faber’s “Dedication” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

This should come as no surprise but I had never heard of Frederick William Faber until recently.  I was playing around while adding titles to the YIM Catholic Bookshelf (250+ titles now!) and discovered this founder of the London Oratory. A former Calvinist and convert to Catholicism, Faber wrote a great number of hymns, sermons, and devotional books in prose as well as poetry. Heck, I added over a dozen of his books to our shelves.

He wrote an epic poem entitled Sir Lancelot: A Legend of the Middle Agesand writes the following in the preface to the poem,

The object of the poem is not an ambitious one. It has always seemed to me, that a love of natural objects, and the depth, as well as exuberance and refinement of mind, produced by an intelligent delight in scenery, are elements of the first importance in the education of the young. But, a taste for the beauties of nature being a quicker growth than the power or habit of independent thought, it is apt in youth to wander from the right path, and lose itself in some of the devious wilds of pantheism.

What I wished to effect in this poem was, to show how an enthusiastic and most minute appreciation of the beauties of nature might unite itself with Christian sentiments, Christian ritual, and the strictest expression of Christian doctrine.

Sounds good to me. The last epic poem I read from cover to cover was Virgil’s Aeneid. But with an introduction like that one, I’m eager to see how Faber weaves the story of Lancelot around Catholic faith and doctrines. In 1845, he rewrote portions of the poem for a second edition that was published after he crossed the Tiber.

But the main  reason I’m looking forward to reading Sir Lancelot is because Faber gives a preview of his ability as a poet when he dedicated his long poem on the heroic knight with a much shorter poem to his friend and colleague Thomas Whytehead.  Whytehead, an Anglican priest, as was Faber at the time, and an accomplished poet in his own right, was on a missionary trip in New Zealand when the poem was first published in 1842.  He was suffering from an illness and died in 1843, when he was only 28 years old.

This short, personal, poem to a dying friend, as scholar Kristie Blair writes, “repeats the scenario…in which Faber represents himself as passionate, insecure, and troubled before a friend’s poise and stability. But here it is Whytehead’s geographical distance, and the real possibility that he would not live to read Faber’s words, which permit Faber to be more open.”

You can say that again. In the following verses, Faber is joyful upon hearing news of his friend, saddened by the news of his illness, and finally envisions his friend moving on to the Land of the Living and joining the saints in heaven.  It appears to me that Faber could give Virgil a run for his money.


Dear Brother! while the murmurs of my song
In refluent waves were dying on my ear,
The spoken music blending with the thrills
Of that unuttered sweetness, which remains
A cherished refuse in the poet’s soul,
Still to distinguish him from all the hearts
To which, by love constrained, he hath resigned
So much of his interior self,—and while
I listened, like a practiced mountaineer,
To my own voice rebounding from the heights
Of song, redoubled and prolonged returns
Of pleasant echoes,—from the far-off South
Came welcome news of thee, my dearest Friend!

Thou spakest in thine own most beautiful way,
And in the sunny visionary style
Of thy strange solemn language, of the lights
In those new skies, the Cross with starry arms,
Palpably bending at the dead of night,
The star-built Altar, Noe’s sheeny Dove
Still winging her incessant flight on high,
The definite Triangle, and other such,
Girt with huge spaces of unstarry blue,
As sacred precincts round about them spread,
Through which the eye, from all obstruction clear,
Travels the heavens at midnight, and salutes
Those orbed constellations hung thereon
Like festal lamps on some cathedral wall;—
Emblems of Christian things, not pagan names
That nightly desecrate our northern skies.
Thus with thy spirit softly overshadowed
By the most brilliant umbrage of those stars,
Thou spakest of the snowy albatross,
Sailing in circuits round thy lonely-bark,
Fondling its foamy prow as if it deemed,
And not unjustly, its companionship
A solace to thee on the desert waves;
And underneath the great Australian trees
A light was in strange creatures’ wondering eyes,—
How solemnly interpreted by thee!
0 it was all so beautiful, so strange,
And with its current intercepted oft
With place for some endearment of old love,
I thought in thy wild strain how passing sweet
The poetry of those far southern seas!

Few days elapsed: there came another strain,
Fresh poetry from those far southern seas!
It sang of sickness and the fear of death,
Of suffering gently borne for love of Christ,
Who calls us to His service as He wills,
Not as we choose; and, mingling with the strain,
Broke forth thy simple and courageous words
And peaceful trust, as happy and as bold
As a child’s prayer. And wilt thou think it wrong,
That, when I prayed and wept and deeply mourned,
There was a pleasure in my mourning, such
As I have never felt in love before?
For who that doth remember thee, how pale!
How gentle! but would smile for very faith,
As Abraham smiled, at thine heroic words,
Which mate thine outward aspect so unfitly?
Ah! that was poetry tenfold more sweet
Than when thou sangst of stars, and ocean birds,
And wandering creatures underneath the trees!

O more than Brother! my impetuous heart,
Nurtured too much on volatile impulses,
In loving thee hath learned still more to love,
And study with a covetous design,
The science of thy quiet nature, calm,
Profoundly calm amid all cares and doubts,
As though thy faculties had never had,
Or left and lost in thy baptismal font,
All power of self-disturbance, so serene
The unsuspicious greatness of thy virtue,
Thy simple-tongued humility, and love
Too self-forgetting to have much of fear!
Like one who sits upon a windy steep,
And looks into a placid lake below
Bright in the breezeless vale, so have I gazed,
With long affection fathomed to its depths,
Into the inspired tranquillity of heart
On thy scarce ruffled innocence bestowed.
Dear Friend! I speak bold words of praise, and
Warrant my boldness, for I know full well
Thine eye will never see what would have pained
Thy lowliness: that supernatural calm
Of thy pure nature will be deeper still,
Unutterably deepened, ere my words,
Not written as to one alive, shall reach
The island of thy gradual martyrdom.
0 no! thou wilt be once more at my side,
A help to my weak purposes, an arm
Invisible, in intercession strong,
No part of this half dead, half dying world,
But to the region of the living gone
To pray for us, and to be reached by prayer.
When these poor lines have travelled to that shore,
Distance and exile will have fallen from thee,
Sun-withered wreaths, before the eye of death;
Thou wilt be in my neighborhood again,
Again come home unto my soul’s embrace,
No more the frail and wasting Missionary,
But the high Mate of Angels and of Saints!