Because Kenelm Henry Digby Could Write Such A Poem

Are you interested in Christian chivalry? You could do worse than read the works of Kenelm Henry Digby. Author of The Broad-Stone of Honour or Rules for the Gentlemen of England(1822), he was a Romantic who yearned for the days when knights upheld the honor of kith and kin. And the honor of the Holy Catholic Church as well.

I don’t know much, but I think he may have written the best poem for All Souls Day that I have ever read. Please allow me to share it with you.

It’s a little long, so be warned. But it really helps to explain why the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of All Souls, and why we pray for the faithful departed.

It’s simple, really. Because it is the right thing to do.

All Souls

There’s a race that we love, though it thinks it can soar
Above truths that it held to in ages of yore.
We deem it pretension; and we judge it from acts;
Let us single but one out of numberless facts,

Not confined to the circle which doubts or denies
That a prayer can be needed when any one dies,
But e’en showing this error extending as wide
As the nation renouncing the primitive side.

‘Tis the day of the dead, it was once here well known;
Yes, but then all such fancies have hence long flown.
For religion reform’d is now far too wise
To demand of our time such a fond sacrifice.

For suppressing the custom, this way is the first;
But then who can feel certain that it is the worst?
Although heads remain firm, one quickly discovers
That hearts pretty nearly agree with the others.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and it comes once a year,
But sooth few are now found to attend to it here.
For some are too busy, aye with too much in hand,
To suppose that a moment they have at command.

And there’s always some pressure on that very day,
Which must keep both the busy and idle away;
Our profession, affairs, visits—these are supreme—
And to think of suspending them, merely a dream.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and it comes with the cold,
With the fall of the leaf and the soft drench’d black mould;
The long damp waving grass and the tall dripping trees
Would do quite as much hurt as the wild wintry breeze.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and long has it gone by;
Mediaevalists only can like thus to sigh:
If you will talk and have us both pray and feel so,
‘Tis in warm and gay churches we should all of us kneel.

For what can one place be now more than another,
Unless superstition your reason will smother?
These old customs romantic and certainly wild
Belong to the vulgar for too often beguiled.

‘Tis the day of the dead, but then what would they say
Who might hear that through graves thus we too would stray?
You and I, my good friend, must now be like others,
However thus any one talks on and bothers.

‘Tis the day of the dead—but no great bell sounds
To invite us in thought from our brief earthly bounds:
Through the streets one runs hastening, another one stays;
All for business or pleasure; in brief no one prays.

Oh! England, that once wert believing and holy,
So free too from Pagan-like dull melancholy,
Aye so quick to attend to religion’s great voice,
Inviting gravely to mourn or gladly rejoice,

Just behold thy graves now left so lonely ever!
With the tears of fond memory on them never!
So deserted by all their surviving best friends:
And you’ll see at least here where thy long boasting ends.

But the scene changes now to a different shore,
Where religion exists as in ages of yore,
Where no one pretends that men are not clever,
The true and the false to distinguish and sever.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and it comes once a year:
The crowds are now moving, none ashamed to appear.
So the busiest men all engaged in their trade
Leave their shops and their ledgers, and thoughtful are made.

The statesman. the senator, the great and the small,
View the spot loved by each one, and kneeling down fall,
Yet at home much to do! constant work for their head!
But now all is forgotten excepting the dead.

Then the maiden so pale, and the old pensive sire,
With the youth for the day free, in deep black attire,
The widow, the orphan, and the seamstress so shy,
Gently pass to the spot where their loved ones still lie.

The little one grasping, and with such a tight hold,
The frock of sweet sissy, who herself’s not too bold;
Though all walk on order like relatives dear,
By their looks even charity letting appear.

Then some strew their pale flowers, and some light the lamp,
Unlocking in silence the cold monument damp,
And kneel like mute statues, and others stray on,
And all love to linger, and thence none will be gone.

There is woodbine that flourishes best o’er a grave;
Each alley, death’s violets—Pervenche—will pave;
Poet’s fictions of worms all engender’d below
Yield to wreaths of immortals which friends will bestow.

‘Tis the day of the dead; it comes bright or cold,
But all are not nervous like some timid and old;
The slopes amid flowers, and the high stirring breeze,
Have enchantment for him who both feels and who sees.

So the tortuous path and the dark cypress spire,
He will follow half pleased, e’en, and he will admire;
The tombs shining graceful, or the green mossy sod–
Oh, how all of these lift up his heart unto God!

The day of the dead–to our old faith we owe it;
Both dear to the Christian and dear to the poet.
Our fathers they taught us on the graves thus to stray,
Although still in churches each morning we pray.

And the men of our age with their courage so high,
Have yet time thus, and hearts too, to breathe a soft sigh.
And let no one suppose we are sorrowful made
By wandering so thoughtful through this peaceful shade.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and the day of each home,
While recalling each household, wherever we roam;
‘Tis the day of our fathers, of sons, and of brothers,
The day of our sisters so fond, and of mothers.

‘Tis the day for the young, for the old, and for all,
And which needs not of priests the particular call.
Thus domestic, ancestral, the day has its claims
Still on every being who human remains.

See whole families walk in groups as they pass.
Do they weep for a brother, a boy, or a lass?
Do they think of a mother, a sister, or bride?
Oh, then mark with what pains will they seek tears to hide!

And when now fresh processions are seen to arrive,
What a sympathy moves all the rest who survive!
During eight days, from morning till evening ’tis so,
And all raise up to Heaven the hearts from below.

‘Tis the day of the dead, and here no one is found
To take his way reckless to a differnt ground;
It is known, and respected, and honor’d here still,
By all those who have even the faintest weak will

Thus to follow the customs so closely allied
With the faith of the Church that is elsewhere denied;
For the worst and most thoughtless, the wildest here then
Will remember that they too are mortal and men.

‘Tis the day of the dead, do you hear the strange bell?
Hark! it tolls thus all day, through the night too as well:
The guards are there mounted to keep the long way,
Such multitudes hasten to weep and to pray.

O then France, sprightly France, still so faithful and true
To defend what their fathers all believed in and knew,
With soft hearts that are warm, and aye kindled with light,
The same that dispell’d once, the old sad Pagan night,

Now behold thy deck’d graves thus from year unto year,
So bedew’d and refresh’d with poor grateful tear,
Thus frequented at times as the sweetest of fields,
And see there what good fruits now thy old faith still yields.

Thou art praised for thy science, thy art, and thy grace,
For courage so high that belongs to thy race,
But when all is admired, and all has been said,
There is nothing surpasses thy love for the dead.

You can read more of Digby’s poems here. For a further selection of his work click here.

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Because the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Life.  In the Paulist published book entitled Light of the Cross in the Twentieth Century,  the following passage is attributed to Monsignor Louis Gaston de Ségur and describes in beautiful detail the scene that played out on the first Pentecost that we read of today in the second chapter of the book of Acts.

These thoughts of Monseigneur de Ségur help me better understand the fact that the Holy Spirit is indeed the Soul of the Catholic Church.  As many of our children receive the Sacrament of Confirmation this week, let us reflect on these truths on this great day.

Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

Before ascending into heaven, the Word Incarnate had promised to St. Peter and the Apostles that He would send to them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, of holiness, of justice, and of love, to become the Soul of the Church.

He had, moreover, commanded them to wait at Jerusalem, in retreat and prayer, this miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost. In obedience to this, and in expectation of the fulfilment of this promise, St. Peter and the Apostles, with seventy-two disciples and the holy women, had withdrawn to the upper chamber, and there, grouped around the Blessed Virgin, mother and queen of the budding Church, they persevered in fasting and in prayer.

Thus nine clays passed away. The tenth was the fiftieth after Easter, and was also the anniversary of the promulgation of the Decalogue by the Lord in the midst of the thunders of Mount Sinai. On this tenth day, at about nine in the morning, the whole house trembled, and the room in which the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin were Assembled was filled with a supernatural flame—a symbol of the Holy Spirit, of whom Mary was the living temple.

It descended upon each of the Apostles under the form of tongues of fire, penetrating and completely transforming them. At that moment they received both the plenitude of heavenly gifts and the fulfilment of all the promises of the Savior; the Catholic Church received its confirmation and its divine mission- and it was then, according to the most ancient traditions, that St. Peter, the first Pope, surrounded by all his brethren, celebrated for the first time the divine sacrifice of the Mass.

Now all this was noised abroad throughout Jerusalem, and many thousands of Jews came in haste to Mount Sion. St. Peter, seeing this multitude, had pity on them, and going out with the Apostles, he began to preach to them the resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ. And all the Apostles joined in glorifying the loving-kindness of the Saviour. Then it was that God worked a great miracle—the Apostles preached in one language only, and there were present there men out of every nation under heaven, who were quite unable to understand Hebrew, and yet all understood the Apostles, and every man believed that he heard them speak in his own tongue. By this God desired to teach that His Apostles were helped by Him, and also that the Church is the universal society of all people, and that, by means of the Church, all are united in the same faith, in the same truth, and in love for the same Lord.

Seeing this great wonder which none could deny, almost all present unhesitatingly adored the God of St. Peter and the Apostles, and they cried, ” What shall we do?”

Then St. Peter instructed them briefly in the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption, prepared them for baptism, and, assisted by his brethren, he that day baptized nearly five thousand. The following Sunday three thousand more became Christians. This was the nucleus of that great and imperishable Catholic Society, which, from that time, has gradually extended over the whole world, teaching all the great nations of the earth to acknowledge Jesus as their King, and inculcating the lessons of holiness and peace, of devotion and charity, of purity of morals, and human respect; teaching, in one word, all that is great and true and noble upon earth.

The Holy Spirit is, I repeat, the soul of the Church.  It is He who sustains and protects it, who gives it life, and makes it fruitful in all good works; it is He who brings destruction upon its enemies; it is He who maintains in the true faith and constantly assists the Pope, its infallible head.

To continue reading this passage, click here for the rest available on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

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For Thoughts Like These on Divine Mercy Sunday

It is the first Sunday after Easter, now known as Divine Mercy Sunday.  For the previous nine days we have been praying a novena for the Divine Mercy in preparation for this day. Today there will be services honoring the Divine Mercy image, special penance services, indulgences, etc. Why? All because some nun had visions and heard voices? Well yes, but only because the visions and voices were true to Christ and His Church. If it had been otherwise, we wouldn’t be commemorating this day with such vigor and passion.

For those of you who prayed the novena with us you know that I included various passages from works of saints, historians, and theologians to shed light on the various works of mercy that we were praying for on any given day.  After all, prayer itself is a work of mercy too.  Especially when we are praying for others as Our Lord asked us to do these past nine days.

I’ll spare you from any more of my personal reflections on this great day and leave you to enjoy it with these beautiful words and thoughts written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux about 900 years ago.  It is from his book of answers to the question he received from a nobleman named Lord Haemeric. To wit, why God is to be loved, and how much? What follows is chapter one of St. Bernard’s answer.

Why we should love God and the measure of that love

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love. Is this plain? Doubtless, to a thoughtful man; but I am debtor to the unwise also. A word to the wise is sufficient; but I must consider simple folk too. Therefore I set myself joyfully to explain more in detail what is meant above.

We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, Why should I love God? he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself.

And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God’s claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4.19).

Ought He not to be loved in return, when we think who loved, whom He loved, and how much He loved? For who is He that loved? The same of whom every spirit testifies: ‘Thou art my God: my goods are nothing unto Thee’ (Ps. 16.2, Vulg.). And is not His love that wonderful charity which ‘seeketh not her own’? (I Cor.13.5). But for whom was such unutterable love made manifest? The apostle tells us: ‘When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son’ (Rom. 5.10). So it was God who loved us, loved us freely, and loved us while yet we were enemies. And how great was this love of His? St. John answers: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3.16). St. Paul adds: ‘He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all’ (Rom. 8.32); and the son says of Himself, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15.13).

This is the claim which God the Holy, the Supreme, the Omnipotent, has upon men, defiled and base and weak. Some one may urge that this is true of mankind, but not of angels. True, since for angels it was not needful. He who succored men in their time of need, preserved angels from such need; and even as His love for sinful men wrought wondrously in them so that they should not remain sinful, so that same love which in equal measure He poured out upon angels kept them altogether free from sin.

As the song goes, Love is a many-splendored thing.

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