I am not selfish?’ to me who never … when I have been deepest asleep and dreaming, … never dreamed of attributing to you any form of such a fault? Promise not to say so again—now promise. Think how it must sound to my ears, when really and truly I have sometimes felt jealous of myself … of my own infirmities, … and thought that you cared for me only because your chivalry touched them with a silver sound—and that, without them, you would pass by on the other side:—why twenty times I have thought that and been vexed—ungrateful vexation!
The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846.
It’s not always easy to follow Elizabeth Barrett when she’s writing to Robert. So much is understood between the two of them, but we cannot read between the lines. Nevertheless I am struck by how she had felt that he only cared for her because of her infirmities. After accidents and illness she was treated and acted like an invalid, and Robert was forced to marry her privately before taking her to Italy. It’s difficult at times to believe that we are loved, pure and simple; but we were loved into being by our creator and those who have loved us in this world.
St. Ignatius warns against thinking of grace as our right, rather than as a freely given gift. We shouldn’t insist on attending Mass simply because it is our right to do so. We shouldn’t go to Mass because of some attachment to routine or a sense of normality. Those motivations are self-centered, and not God-centered. Rather, we should seek to have a genuine desire to draw closer to God.
If we think that the desire to go to Mass is our own and not itself a gift, we might take this temporary distance from the Eucharist as a lesson to grow in gratitude for God’s many gifts.
Conversely, if you have grown attached to watching a streaming Mass, selecting your favorite priest, enjoying the comforts of your own home, or (God forbid!) multitasking, you should probably “act against” the preference for streaming Mass and go to receive the Eucharist in person.
Thomas Merton is living through the hotter part of the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis would blow up a year later; he had cause to be afraid. In the days before this diary entry,* bombers had been flying low over the Monastery of Gethsemane, his home. Thinking about US and world politics aroused:
… my own fear, my own desperate desire to survive, even if only as a voice uttering an angry protest, while the waters of death close over the whole continent.
Why am I so willing to believe that the country will be destroyed? It is certainly possible, and in some sense it may even be likely. But this is a case where, in spite of evidence, one must continue to hope. One must not give in to defeatism and despair, just as one must hope for life in a mortal illness which has been declared incurable.
This is the point. This weakness and petulancy, rooted in egoism.
Defeatism and despair are rooted in egoism, and they are not necessarily good survival tactics. Let us ask the Lord for a taste of the perfect love that casts out fear and despair
Thomas Merton, Turning towards the World, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p162.
This extract from Mary Webb’s novel, The Golden Arrow, follows on well from Chesterton’s Donkey yesterday, and from the posts about Saints Augustine and Monica. Let’s pray that we may be alive to the silver flutes playing at the great moments of our lives, and when we are amid the encircling gloom, may we follow the kindly light.
As we begin reading, Stephen has come home to Deborah after a hard day at work. It is December and they are seated together before the fire.
He turned restlessly.
‘Stroke more!’ he said imperiously, ‘and sing! don’t talk.’
She began to sing in a hushed voice, while the firelight stole up and down the walls, and the wind lashed itself into the yelping fury of starved hounds.
‘We have sought it, we have sought the golden arrow!
(bright the sally-willows sway)
Two and two by paths low and narrow,
Arm in crook along the mountain way.
Break o’ frost and break o’ day!
Some were sobbing through the gloom
When we found it, when we found the golden arrow –
Wand of willow in the secret cwm.’
She looked down in the silence afterwards; he was asleep. She took up the small woollen boots. She would be doing them when he awoke, and he would ask what they were.
I know right well what he’ll say,’ she thought. ‘He’ll say, “What the devil are those doll’s leggings?” – for he calls all my stockings leggings and my nightgown a shirt, him being such a manly chap, and nothing of the ‘ooman in him, thank goodness!’
She crocheted in a maze of delight at this thought and at the prospect of telling him her news.
But when Stephen awoke, he oly wanted to go to bed, and never noticed the boots. It is the tragedy of the self-absorbed that when the great moments of their lives go by in royal raiment with a sound of silver flutes, they are so muffled in self and the present that they neither hear nor see.
+ + +
The next day Stephen left her, oblivious to her news.
Stiperstones and the Devil’s Chair, which stand over the village where The Golden Arrow takes place.