The Rainbow (A Few Words For Wednesday)

A wiser man than I once said,

When, indeed, the artist desires to teach us a great spiritual truth, he invariably expresses it under the form of an allegory or symbol. For the soul dreams ‘neath the star-sown sky of symbol. It is spiritually its lisping language—the divine form of its expression.

…Yes, verily, the true gods do sigh for the cost and pain in making a poet out of a man. He shall henceforth see all things not through a colored glass, darkly, but with that inner eye, which, to the material and gross is sealed, but which is full of vision to the inspired and chosen few. His soul henceforth shall be in touch with both the lowly and Divine, for the function and office of poetry is to interpret unto man the glory of God in the universe.

The words above are those of a man of letters, a teacher, a poet, a Canadian, and a Catholic. His name is Thomas O’Hagan, Ph.D., the son of Irish immigrants. His biography reads as follows,

The youngest son of John and Bridget (O’Reilly) O’Hagan, natives of County Kerry, Ireland, was born in ‘the Gore of Toronto,’ on the 6th of March, 1855, and was a babe in arms, when his parents, three brothers, a sister and himself, moved into the wilderness of the county of Bruce, Ontario. They located in the township of Elderslie, three miles from the village of Paisley. The other settlers were mostly Highland Scotch, and Thomas as a lad learned to speak quite fluently not only the Gaelic tongue of his neighbours, but also the Keltic Irish, which was spoken freely by his parents. He attended the public school of the settlement where the teachers were Scotch, and where he applied himself with such diligence and ability that he won a Second Class Teacher’s Certificate at the early age of sixteen

Few Canadians have devoted so much time to academic study as Dr. O’Hagan. After graduating from St. Michael’s College, a prize winner in Latin and English, he entered the Ottawa University and graduated B.A., in 1882, with honours in English, Latin, French and German. Three years later the same University conferred on him the degree of M.A. In 1889, he received the degree of Ph.D. from Syracuse University: and in subsequent years took postgraduate work at Cornell, Columbia, Chicago, Louvain, Grenoble and Fribourg Universities. In September, 1914, Laval University, Montreal, conferred on him the honorary degree of Litt.D.

What tipped me off to him was a slim volume I had added to the Bookshelf over yonder (see right sidebar) a while back. Entitled, Essays on Catholic Life, I perused it anew in search of a poem. In it I found the thoughts that began this post, as O’Hagen presented poems of Tennyson, Browning, and Elizabeth Barret Browning in an essay on The Office and Function of Poetry. Go check it out.

But I also found some of his own poetry and you can now find a number of his books on the handy, dandy, YIMCatholic Bookshelf, you know, over yonder. I’ll share this short poem he wrote because this has become an altogether too long, and probably the longest post, that has ever run under the title “A Few Words for Wednesday.”

The Rainbow
A covenant of the peace that reigns
Between two great strong lands,
Whose glorious heritage of worth
Is gift of God—not hands;
Where Truth and Honor have a home
An altar bright and fair—
Pure as the lily of the field,
Wrapt in deep slumb’rous air.
O beauteous arch of faith and love!
Shine through the mists of life,
And fill our dreams of toil and care
With gift of prayer—not strife;
Light with thy beams our darkest days,
Rain down in mystic love
The joyance of the star-clad hours
That fills each life above.
Link with a bond of sweetest joy,
In memory fair as thine,
The hearts that plan, the souls that pray,
Within Loretto’s shrine,
That in the blossoming years afar
May shine out nobly good
The virtues of that Convent home
Where dwells true Womanhood.

St. Mary’s Basilica, Krakow Poland
Photo Credit: Sonia Marcus

Thoughts On New Media And Evangelization

I’m not a “new media” expert.
But to me,
“New Media” is old media
without editors,
without barriers,
without bosses.
At least not in its initial form.

Through this medium,
I can risk looking silly
by writing thoughts
in a strange style
with no fear of damaging
“the brand,” you see.

But “new media”
is quickly being co-opted,
if not dominated,
by old media companies.
Repackaging their messages,
paying people to share them,
and you wouldn’t even know that
if you weren’t careful.
Then, of course,
there are the revolutionaries.

The “new media” and “new evangelization”
are the old ways, actually.
But with direct access
to connecting people
globally,
electronically
instead of personally.
You know,
face to face,
working alongside them,
witnessing to them
by our daily
observable habits.
Sharing our stories
and struggles with them.
Falling down,
and picking each other up
As people naturally do.

New Media can fool you
into thinking you know the person
who is sharing that message with you today
this recommendation,
that hint or thought.

Again, I’m no expert
but I think these new ways
are very good,
but easily manipulated.
Orson Wells caused a panic
with a mere radio show
and we laugh
at the people’s naïveté
from our lofty perch.

How different are we
from them?
I suspect not very.
As Qoheleth said so
long, long ago:

Nothing under the sun
is new,
neither is any man able to say,
“Behold this is new!”
For it hath already
gone before
in the ages
that were before us.

Of course, Qoheleth could not
send his message
at the speed of light
from where he sat
to where it would be found
by someone
in a remote village
in Bhutan.
Today.
Right now.

That is the promise
of the New Media and
the hope of the
New Evangelization.
The peril
is that the message
of Christ’s love,
for the whole world,
is forgotten
in our awe of
the Medium.

Just a reminder
(If only for myself).

A Convert’s Lament To Mary (A Few Words for Wednesday)


Our Eastern brethren have been observing the Dormition Fast since the first of August. It continues until August 15th this year and concludes on the Feast of the Dormition, which Western Catholics celebrate as the Feast of the Assumption. In honor of this tradition, I will be sharing some of our Marian posts. This one is from October of last year…

Edward Caswall was another Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism in the mid 1800’s. He also joined the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, like his friends Blessed John Henry Newman and Frederick William Farber.  And, like them again, he was a prolific poet and hymnist.

Below is one of Caswall’s fine poems included in his book of verse entitled The Masque of Mary. This particular  poem really resonates with me.

As a convert to Catholicism, I pretty much ignored Our Lady my whole life. Lately, I’ve been making it a point to pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and pray the Rosary regularly with my family. Although I’m not always 100% successful in this effort, I can truthfully say that I’ve been coming around to recognizing the significance of The Blessed Virgin as both the Mother of God and the Queen of Heaven.

Much like Caswall, though, I wish I would have come around sooner (but better late than never).

A Convert’s Lament to Mary

Among the thoughts that in my heart
Awaken grief sincere,
Causing with sudden pang to start
The unexpected tear,
Is this, that in the days gone by,
Star of the wintry sea!
Blinded by darkest heresy,
I thought so light of thee.

O Mother of my Lord and God,
Whom none invoke in vain;
O Path of life, which all have trod,
Who now in glory reign!

Had I but learnt in earlier years
To seek thine aid above,
To offer thee my infant tears,
Thy loving glance to love,—

How many deeds of sin and shame
Which now my heart appal,
Scar’d at the sound of thy pure name,
Had not been done at all!

How many a desolated space
Of vainly wasted hours,
Had bloom’d beneath thy smile of grace,
With paradisal flowers!

Mother! receive thine erring child;
Look tenderly on me;
From thy dear bosom long beguil’d,
I now return to thee.

More of Edward Caswell’s poems are here in The Masque of Mary, along with other of Caswell’s works on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

Because Christ Is In Every Book of the Bible

Interestingly, I missed this video (below) last week when Deacon Greg Kandra ran it over at his place. Maybe there is a reason for that. You see, earlier this week some friends of mine got into a discussion regarding books of the Bible. [Read more…]

Psalm 52 (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Thankfully, the scriptures are not one dimensional, like say the characters in an Ayn Rand novel. I’ve mentioned before how uncanny the readings can be, as well as the timing of selections that are in the Liturgy of the Hours. That is where I ran across today’s poetry selection.

Are their inconvenient scriptures? Of course there are.

Otherwise, you would just pick and choose what you liked from the Bible and toss everything else. Thankfully, we have a Magisterium that prevents such a travesty.

Given the events of the past few days, this particular selection from the Office of Readings today sort of stood out like a sore thumb.

Psalm 52
For the leader. A maskil of David,when Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, “David went to the house of Ahimelech.”

Why do you glory in evil, you scandalous liar?
All day long you plot destruction;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor, you skillful deceiver.
You love evil rather than good,
lies rather than honest speech. Selah
You love any word that destroys, you deceitful tongue.

Now God will strike you down, leave you crushed forever,
Pluck you from your tent, uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
The righteous will look on with awe; they will jeer and say:
“That one did not take God as a refuge,
but trusted in great wealth,
relied on devious plots.”

But I, like an olive tree in the house of God,
trust in God’s faithful love forever.
I will praise you always for what you have done.
I will proclaim before the faithful that your name is good.

Image credit: Linda Robb.

A Chinese “Spiritual” (A Few Words For Wednesday)

I’ve been reading John C.H. Wu’s The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. This morning, I caught the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the bus stop right outside of my office back-door. As I was drinking my coffee during the ride, I dipped into my book bag and flipped open John’s book. Guess what I found?

Before my eyes were the words to a little ditty that John suggests “when spiritually interpreted, will perhaps give an inkling of the joy of the saints.” I think you will agree that they do. And in the spirit of “for God so loved the world,” enjoy this depiction of the rooster/world by graphic artist Kentaro Nagai.

from “an old Chinese love-song,”

Cold is the wind, chill the rain.
The cock crows kikeriki.
Now that I have seen my Love,
Peace has come to me.

The wind whistles, the rain drizzles.
The cock crows kukeriku.

From a newly discovered1500 year
old church in Israel

Now that I have seen my Love,
My sickness is healed too.

The wind and the rain darken the day.
The cock ceases not to crow.
Now that I have seen my Love,
My joy ceases not to grow.

From a Poem by George Santayana (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I think you will be surprised by this, because I know I was.Yesterday, I shared a little something that the atheist, and self-described “aesthetic Catholic,” George Santayana wrote. Today I’m going to do the same.

It seems Professor George really wanted to be known as a poet and he wrote a good number of poems and sonnets, which were published by the Herbert S. Stone & Company publishing house. I “discovered” his poem The Hermit of Carmel yesterday and I am amazed by it. I  added it to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf without hesitation.

I’m no poetry critic, because I don’t know poetry enough to criticize it. I only know what I like and can understand, and what I think is good. Below I’m sharing with you a taste of Professor George’s artistic ability from his poem Lucifer: A Theological Tragedy.

Published in 1899, this poem opened to mixed reviews. It was viewed favorably by Christian critics, and less favorably by secular ones.Tongue firmly in cheek,  I wonder why? I’ll give you a taste of his ability via two speeches. The first is by St. Peter to Hermes, and the second is The Risen Christ to Lucifer himself.

from Act IV,
Saint Peter’s Soliliquy to the pagan god Hermes,

It is a serpent tempts thee, noble youth.
Even while speaking truth he leads astray.
His eye is subtle, but his heart is blind,
And of God’s fruits he marks the spotted rind,
But not the kernel where their virtue lay.
All nature yields no meaning to his mind,
For understanding withers at its springs
Unless love guide it to the sense of things.
On faith is built the wisdom of mankind.
Mark how this age, that builds its truth on doubt,
Falters at heart and knows no certain hope,
But trusts to fate, with which it dare not cope,
To work its undeserved salvation out.
What truth have men ? The senses brief deceit.
What happiness ? The slavery to greed.
What art ? An echo and a paltry cheat.
What God ? A helpless consciousness of need.
Upon what food, then, doth this people feed
That it forgets of whom it borrows breath?
Knows it the secret of the budding grain,
Or can it conjure floods or summon rain?
Or grows it sick and amorous of death,
Or like its father, Satan, dull to pain?
Oh, men have waxed too covetous of gold
To lift their eyes up from their labour s gain;
And as each morning brings the sun again
And summer wears his splendours as of old,
They drive the ploughshare deeper in the mould
And say : There are no longer gods in heaven!
With smitten breast and penance would they crave
Their bread, if God less bountifully gave,
But they forget him now, when all is given.
Thus are the souls my Master died to save
Like earth-regarding beasts in stupor driven
Without the hope of heaven to the grave.

****
from Act IV, Christ to Lucifer

Unteachable! Is God not the Lord of Hosts?
The arms that against his bosom fly
His own strength drives, and in thy mutiny
He triumphs, and is mighty in thy boasts.
What need of sentinel to guard the shore
When he is master of the embosoming sea,
When his the wave, the bark, the sail, the oar,
And his the sinews of his enemy?
O Lucifer, couldst thou behold thy soul,
As it lies open to my Father’s sight,
The gathering clouds of pity fast would roll
Across thine eyes, to hide thy proper plight,
And rain on thy parched heart in showers light
Of sweet humility. Woe to the vain
And raging will that hugs its mortal pain.
Is it for thee to fathom wrong and right?
Tis God who spun the fibres of thy brain
And wove thy reason; had he placed awry
One thread, new dreams had turned
thy dreams to naught
And idle thought confounded idle thought
For ever, and none questioned destiny.
Now thine own tyrant, to thyself unkind,
Thou chafest at the limits of thy wit
Whose meek quietus were to live resigned
And serve the elder will that fashioned it
For in the bosom of the infinite
Thou hast thy life, and thy forsaken woes
Like foam on the false bosom of a wave,
Rise in vain fury, impotently rave
A moment only. Then thy proud will goes
Whither the billow sinks or the wind blows.

Thanks to St. John of the Cross, Master of Paradoxes

In the past, I have shared my affinity for both the writings of John C.H. Wu (the Chinese Chesterton, here with his family and Pope Pius XII) and St. John of the Cross. Do you remember when I shared my friend John’s thoughts on Thérèse of Lisieux? He compared her to Lao Tzu and Confucius.

As this is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, I would like to share with you some of John Wu’s thoughts about this Doctor of the Church as well as this diagram of St. John’s Ascent of Mt. Carmel. [Read more…]

Because Life is Like an Epic Poem (Not a Report Card)

Report cards used to be a once every nine week event. Remember those halcyon days? Information technology being what it is, nowadays we can check our children’s grades daily. Oh, the horror!

I say that because lately, the picture hasn’t been pretty for several of my little darlings. Not that I ever hoped that my kids would make straight A’s or anything like that. That would be a miracle, considering my part of their genetic make up.

Confession time: I didn’t out and out hate school, but I just never gave my studies the attention they deserved. Truth be told, I know that I never gave more than a fraction of my best effort to school work when I was growing up. My home life was a train-wreck, my parent’s had divorced just before I entered the first grade, and it was all I could do just to maintain my sanity growing up. I wasn’t into sports either because that was my older brother’s department. Oh, but I was into reading, though not into reading my textbooks for homework assignments. Unless it was a subject I really liked.

I was also a very young high school graduate too, and I left home when I was seventeen to join the Marines. I had to have my mothers permission, of course, because I was under eighteen. My mom, knowing that I was called to serve in the military, agreed to this in my case. How did she know I was called to this? Because since I was about 8 years old I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I figured that school was just a delaying action until I could join the service. On top of all that, college was unaffordable, for me anyway, so I figured why get all uptight about it?

My mom had one condition on agreeing to sign her little boy’s life away to the Marine Corps. For starters, she would only let me join the Reserves because she wanted me to go to college too. I didn’t mind this condition at the time, because I knew that all Marines, whether Reservists or Regular, both went through the same training, and that I would spend six months on Active Duty, at which point I would a) have an idea if I liked the Marines or not and b) I would be 18 and could apply to re-enlist as a Regular Marine, which is what I wound up doing. The second condition was that upon my return, I promised to attend the local college in our area. That part of the plan didn’t last long.

What does all this have to do with homework, grades, and parental performance anxiety? Well, though I may not have spent much of my childhood mental horsepower on trying to understand square roots, or on learning what a gerund is, I did know one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: my mom loved me. And she taught me that God loved me even more. And that when all was said and done, what was most important in life was for me to realize this and to love God back. And that God had a purpose in mind for me was something I understood too. I figured I was meant to be a soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine. And I was happy, like Joseph of Cupertino.

And that was good, because with my grades in high school, there wasn’t much chance of my being accepted by a college, not to mention a prestigious one. You know, the ones that you and all the other parents are salivating over when you chit chat with one another at the ball field, or at the family reunion, or amongst your co-workers. Uh-huh, like which school they wind up in is the absolute most important thing in the world to you.

Because, see, if Janie or Johnny doesn’t make it into “Top o’ the Heap” University right out of high school, their lives, and by extension yours too, will be over. What will the neighbors, and oh my heavens, the relatives think?! I don’t know, nor do I care.

And as for my children’s teachers thoughts? Well, let’s just say that teachers of children have no better success at choosing who among their students will be “winners” and who will be, ahem, not, then does a random coin toss. And despite their best intentions, they see only as man sees, and not as God does. God, seeing the heart,  is ultimately the career planner of my children. I’m not, and neither are the guidance counselors at school.

I sincerely believe that God has a plan and purpose for all of my children. For all of His children. And all of my children are His children, so I try not to make mountains out of mole hills. I realize that as a parent, I am called to provide for my children the best education I possibly can, and opportunities to discern what it actually is that the Lord is calling them to do with their lives. And that is what my wife and I try to do. But in reality, only the Lord knows what He has in mind for them.

As I was pondering report cards and what really is important to teach my children, I ran across Heather King’s blog Shirt of Flame. She recently wrote several posts about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. I really enjoyed these essays as she turned the spotlight on some of Gladwell’s assertions and helps explain that if Gladwell’s model is the path to success, then I’m happy to let him know that he can keep it.

I too had thought of writing a post about Outliers once. I was going to title it Because of Malcolm Gladwell…Not! way back when Webster first invited me aboard YIMCatholic, but I never got around to it. Now I don’t have too, thanks to Heather.

For those of you who haven’t read his book, here is a taste of Heather’s essay:

One thing I saw right away: Gladwell’s book isn’t about outliers, defined as “something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.” His book is about the opposite of outliers: people who’ve managed to parlay their talents into utterly mainstream, predictable and garden-variety money, property and/or prestige. For the most part, he doesn’t mean outliers: he means the extra rich, extra famous, extra lucky, and/or extra smug.

You’ll want to read the companion piece too.

Maybe Gladwell means what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “black swans,” only in this case the rare and improbable event is the success of a single person in “the world.” Taleb’s book, on the rare events in finance that come out of nowhere, and can’t be predicted, is really the opposite of Gladwell’s book too. Because Taleb’s thesis is that you can’t predict these event’s, even though we fool ourselves into thinking we can. Meanwhile,  Gladwell’s book tries to tease out the behaviors and circumstances that separate winners from the losers. And as parents, we want our kids to be winners, right?

So Gladwell preaches that it all comes down to doing dreary stuff, like putting in at least 10,000 hours shooting free-throws, for example, or to just being lucky enough to have been born in Seattle and having a wealthy dad who gives you carte blanche at the office, or having the good fortune to have been born in the Great Depression, or in January if you are a little league hockey player, so you get an extra year of playing time etc. It’s all so simple. And there is absolutely no room for the Holy Spirit to transform anyone in Gladwell’s world.

None of us have any control over many of these events, for example, like when or where we were born. And Gladwell would have you believe that the Beatle’s really were successfull just because they played more gigs at an earlier age than anyone else at the time?! I wonder what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger think about that? I don’t know, but I can think of one word—balderdash!

But enough of Gladwell and back to why I won’t be losing any sleep over my kids grades any time soon. Because as someone who was almost killed, an event that was completely unplanned I might add,  I know that life is too short for me to ride herd over every decimal point of my kid’s grade point averages. I’m not saying I don’t help them with their homework, or give them pep talks to do their best, etc. I do.

Thank God this is the phony ending!But I will be teaching them something that I noticed was missing from Gladwell’s book. And that is that the Holy Spirit will work through them and will change them, and bring gifts to them too. And I’ll teach them that they shouldn’t be surprised if their best laid worldly plans turn out to be all made of straw, and that their lives take a radically different turn away from the one that they had planned for. And that they shouldn’t be so quick to kill Hobbes (Thank God that is the fake ending!).

After nine years in the Marines, I decided to give college another try. At that point in my life, I was a much different person than I had been in high school. I met my wife, and she missed out on meeting the lousy high school student and instead met the young man in a hurry. He looked a lot like the faux Calvin in that last frame.

It may be a minor miracle that this C-/D+ high school student from Tennessee eventually graduated from UCLA, but that is surprisingly what happened. I don’t think a single teacher in my high school would have seen that one coming. But the Holy Spirit saw it coming, even when I had no way of knowing that this would even have been possible.

Now I’m all grown up and I can’t be a Marine anymore. And how in the world did I wind up here in this space? Hmmm.

Nowadays, I think the most important classes my children attend currently are their CCD classes. That may seem like a strange assertion, but I believe it to be true. Because though everything else passes away, our faith and the Church will still be here for them. And the love that my mother has for me, and the love of God that she taught me, is the single most important intangible thing that I can pass on to my children.

I came across these words by Kenelm Digby while adding books to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf (I certainly never saw that hobby coming!) which prompted me to title this post as I have. This is from the preface of a poem in twelve cantos he wrote entitled Ouranogaia: Heaven on Earth,

The design of this Poem (if such it may be called) is to represent the happiness, comparable in some degree, we might think, to what reigns in Heaven— which results from taking a cheerful, sympathetic, tolerant, and Catholic view of human life, as being on the confines of our celestial country, with constant means of access to it, amidst our various ordinary, or comic, or tragic conditions, hearing and observing with delicate exactitude the most minute things, whether jubilant, or, in a material sense, sorrowful, while escaping from impediments to this intense intellectual enjoyment, by mentally merging, as it were, in a confused way, one’s own individuality in some other person, or, at least, losing for the time self-consciousness, as if it were others who felt, heard, witnessed, and realized the approach to Paradise.

The object is also to suggest that human pleasures in this world, even those which are deemed most strictly confined to earth, and to our twofold formation in the present state of existence, are enhanced immeasurably when associated in a general way with such higher thoughts as may be said, without extravagance, to culminate in Heaven, being tempered and colored as it were by an all-pervading tone of trust in that forgiveness which constitutes an Article of the Christian Creed.

The whole is so arranged as to show in detail that some of the bliss of Heaven, as far as we can conceive it, may be enjoyed by mankind in this life by means of the spectacle of Creation, and in particular of Beauty, as also Mirth, Admiration, Friendship, Love, Goodness, Peace, Poetry, Learning, Philosophy, the Festivals of the Church, as developing, even by the rites attending them, those internal dispositions which render man what a theologian calls “animal carissimum Deo,” and in fine, through sanctity, untroubled and unaffected by human follies, while ignoring, rather than trying to extirpate the inevitable.

There is an attempt to show likewise with what effect Heaven may be said to descend especially on youth and age, and on those who have gone astray without having had, as a famous author says, “the foretaste of evil, which is calculation, or its aftertaste alone, which is zero.” Poverty, and a low social rank with its consequences, are shown to present no obstacle to this vision of two worlds; and, lastly, Heaven is represented as brought down to the sick and to the dying.

Digby’s first lines from Canto I ? I thought you would never ask.

Oh, joy, wing’d guest, how wonderful thou art!
Yes, just as wondrous as the human heart,
Or all that in the universe we see
Replete with wonder and divinity!
Joy at its highest is the lightning’s gleam,
Dazzles the sense and passes as a dream.
But then its precious memory can last,
Denoting through what golden gate we pass’d.
And, oh! that moment’s glimpse of what’s beyond
Once caught—no, never more should we despond.

That about sums it up for me.  Because the Catholic view of life is about a whole lot more than making straight A’s, hitting the high life, and reaching the top of the earthly pyramid. Because as St. Paul explains,

It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.—Ephesians 2:8-9

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.