If you should hear my name among those killed, Say you have lost a friend, half man, half boy, Who, if the years had spared him might have built Within him courage strength and harmony. Uncouth and garrulous his tangled mind, Seething with warm ideas of truth and light, His help was worthless. Yet had fate been kind He might have learned to steel himself and fight. He thought he loved you. By what right could he Claim such high praise, who only felt his frame Riddled with burning lead, and failed to see His own false pride behind the barrel’s flame? Say you have lost a friend and then forget. Stronger and truer ones are with you yet.
Frank Thompson went to war as a young man after his first year at university. He ended up with partisan fighters in Bulgaria, where he was captured by the Nazis and murdered together with his Bulgarian comrades. Irushka was Iris Murdoch, his beloved.
The poem is not about Irushka at all, but about himself, ‘Seething with warm ideas of truth and light’, enough to send him to war in the romantic spirit of Rupert Brooke. It hardly mattered that he would be killed, ‘his help was worthless’. No question in this poem of the rights or wrongs of Nations going to war, nor his duty or otherwise to go there and steel himself to fight against physical deprivation as well as the enemy.
War as romantic but empty of meaning, only false pride.
On Christmas Day, 1933, Bishop Angelo Roncalli was preparing to leave Bulgaria after 10 years, to become Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. This passage is from his farewell sermon that day.
In accordance with an old tradition of Catholic Ireland, all the houses put a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve, as an indication to Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary, in search of a refuge on that holy night, that inside the house round the fire and the well-stocked table, a family is waiting for them.
Wherever I may be, though it be at the ends of the earth, if a Bulgarian away from his country comes past my house, he will find in my window the lighted candle. He has only to knock on my door; it will be opened to him, whether he be Catholic or Orthodox: friend of Bulgaria, that will be enough. He can come in and I shall extend to him a very warm welcome.
How good it will be to welcome family and friends this Christmas! Let your little light shine!
With our best wishes to all our readers for a Happy Christmas and a hopeful and healthy New Year, 2022. Will Turnstone and the Agnellus Team.
Angelo Roncalli was a 36 year old priest when in 1925 he was unexpectedly consecrated bishop and despatched as Pope Pius XI’s representative in Bulgaria, a largely Orthodox country, when Orthodox and Catholics had yet to learn to trust each other. Bulgaria was already feeling the influence of Soviet Russia. He wrote to priest friends during his pre-consecration retreat:
My mind is calm and my heart at peace … Yes, Obedientia et Pax, that is my episcopal motto. May it always remain so.
But you, my dear colleagues, have the duty to help me at this time by your prayers, especially on the Feast of Saint Joseph. [19 March, when his episcopal ordination was to take place.] Joseph, by the way, is my second name; I am happy to take it, but I would be happier still to take the virtues of that saint, for they form the fundamental qualities of a good representative of the Holy See.
From John XXIII by Leone Algisi, Catholic Book Club 1966, p58.