Saturday, 16 August 2014

Last Post: His Strange Mercy

Read aloud:

Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum: verumtamen
justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c.

Thou are indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build--but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and breed not one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (1844-1889)

Sometimes when I am feeling cheated by life, I reflect that I have a roof over my head, the ingredients of dinner in the fridge and a husband safely toiling away at a job he enjoys. This sets me apart from millions of impoverished widows and wives whose husbands are prisoners, on active military service, in dangerous work, in work they hate, or unemployed. I am not the worst woman alive; I am certainly not the best woman alive. And meanwhile innocent Christian Syrian and Iraqi girls, most of whom are probably my moral betters, who love and trust God and venerate the Blessed Mother, have been raped by wicked strangers who may or may not have also killed their families.

So really I cannot complain to God on my own behalf. All I can do is thank Him for His mercy to me and for His blessings I have certainly not merited and that He will extend His mercy to other Christian women, especially those suffering in the Middle East.

Someone once asked me if I thought he or she was being punished by God for his or her sins. I thought carefully about how I should answer that, for the someone was very intelligent, loathed sentimentality and was feeling miserable. "Oh no, Such-and-such, God LOVES us," though true, was not going to cut it. So instead I said something like, "It could be that your suffering now is God's mercy. We both believe in Purgatory; we both believe we can choose to do penance for our sins now or later. Maybe bearing suffering now as penance is better than doing penance later."

Father Gerard Manley Hopkins suffered a lot. I direct you to his life story. He suffered from psychological and physical illnesses. He struggled with sexual temptation with great honesty. Blessed John Henry Newman, whom he greatly admired, did not admit him to the Oratory. He joined the Jesuits, and the Jesuits didn't much appreciate him. A patriotic Englishman, he was sent to teach in Ireland, where he felt in conflict with his patriotically Irish brethren. He wanted time and energy to do great scholarly work; he often felt like a failure. His siblings lived into their eighties and nineties; he contracted typhoid and died at the age of 45. The Jesuits burned most of his papers. A hundred years later a work party of Jesuit scholastics contemplated his gravestone, where his name was only one of a number, and their solemn silence was broken by a comedian among them who said, "Yah, [expletive deleted], get in line." They all laughed merrily. Tall poppies have a tough time in the S.J. to this day, it seems.

Father Hopkins was also the last great English poet of the nineteenth century, or the first great poet of the twentieth century. Perhaps both. He had no idea that anyone would ever think so; the Jesuits thought his poems were crazy. However, the poems show a brilliant, inventive, blessed mind. They are shot through with evidence that Father Hopkins could see things in nature that very few others can see--or could see, before Father Hopkins pointed them out. He also could hear things in the English language that others did not have the capacity to hear before Father Hopkins invented the rhythms that displayed them. He could really see, he could really hear, and this meant seeing and hearing acutely not only what was good but what was bad.

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wear's man's smugde and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Forty-five years of the agony and ecstasy of being a deeply devout, often tempted, unusually sensitive visionary, who felt humiliated by the religious order he had pledged his life to, and then mortal illness in a foreign country where Englishmen were despised.

"I am so happy, so happy," said Father Hopkins and died in obscurity.

One hundred and twenty-five years later, how is he doing? I don't know. I hope he is in Heaven. He may very well be. He might be in Purgatory. I very much doubt he is in Hell. I would not be surprised at all to discover that he is in Heaven already. In life, he really loved God.

He is certainly not getting royalties, nor does he care. But his works serve as contemporary psalms for lovers of poetry, especially if they share Father Hopkin's faith. The one I posted at the top is the one I love the best.

I don't know why sinners prosper, unless it is because the world is indeed ruled by the lord of this world. Sinful ways work in a sinful world. The soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. Yet sin, said Sister Wilfreda to my Grade 9 Religion class, has its own built-in punishment. You might feel the effects of it soon, or you might feel the effects of it later. God in His mercy may let you learn from your hard lesson, or God in His mercy may spare you the hard lesson at all. We cannot without presumption take the mercy of God for granted, but we can and should rejoice when we or someone else experiences it. I have suffered rather a lot from some sins, and only later realized what those sins were in the first place.

Chaste readers, by which I mean readers who do their best not to commit any sexual sins, may feel ripped off that God does not reward them for their chastity with a nice husband. I certainly felt ripped off when God did not reward me for my chastity with a nice husband. I spent my first marriage demanding "Why did You DO this to me? I was a GOOD girl," etc., etc. It has taken me some decades to admit that I wasn't as good as all that. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was a "virgin whore" (as my ex said some invisible rival of mine--who, come to think of it, he might have made up--had called me). But I was thoughtless and selfish and wont to think I was well within my rights to dump some guy I had made out with months without a sincere apology. Instead of blaming myself for inchastity ("ME? A VIRGIN? UNCHASTE? HOW DARE YOU!") and getting a grip, I blamed myself for "fickleness" and tried to cure it by quashing my better judgement and just getting married to the next guy I made out with. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. What he was being punished for...Well, I guess Aslan would say that that was his story.

I feel really terrible for virgins who give themselves airs, for I was a virgin who gave myself airs, at least in my head. Now such preening strikes me as pathetic and as touching as the rose in Le Petit Prince proudly flexing her little thorns. Nobody gives you a prize for virginity in this life. If you hang onto it forever, you get a crown in heaven, I believe--at least metaphorically. If you trade it in for marriage, you get the satisfaction of knowing that God is pleased you obeyed Him in this respect.

And that's it, frankly, speaking as one who knows. You don't necessarily win your husband's everlasting love and respect, if you wouldn't have had it otherwise. Oh, if you overcame serious temptation and suffering on the way to becoming a "virgin bride", if serious temptation and suffering come your way again, you may be able to defeat them, thanks to early practice. Of course, if you are grieved you got no tangible reward for your virtue, temptation and suffering may defeat you next time around. Temporarily, of course. Thank God we have stopped thinking of women as breakable glass objects which, if they fall with a smash, are swept up and thrown in the bin.

There is something creepy about wanting punishment to fall on a happy (if sinful) woman who, thanks to the mercy of God, is blessed with a happy (if sinful) husband and children, as I'm sure you all know in your heart of hearts. You don't know what suffering she had in her life before she married, and you don't know what suffering she will have after. You probably don't know her circumstances, either. I remember a Polish reader writing about a cousin who was held up to her as a model of chastity all through the cousin's overlong engagement. It turns out the cousin had been having sex with her fiancé for ages, and my reader was absolutely disgusted with her cousin when she found out.

But from my point of view, I feel awful for the poor cousin, having had to listen to her older female relations going on about how chaste she was, and perhaps even wanting to be chaste, and perhaps crying in the confessional every second Saturday, terrified of offending God, while her fiancé put the pressure on. Even fiancés can be absolute jerks about sex because all men (like all women) are sinners. It's up to the woman to decide if she loves such a sinner enough to marry him. May God be merciful to them both--and to all of us.

And that's it from me. I will write an Appendix (Appendix 2) full of helpful links tomorrow.

God bless you all, my little poppets. I hope all this was helpful.

Grace and peace,

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights of the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Woodbine said...

Grace and peace to you too, Seraphic! I'll miss my daily visit to your colourful corner of the internet. I don't agree with all of your views (makes life interesting, eh) but I've always appreciated your generosity and openness with us your readers. My favourite posts were usually the ones where you were blunt and sassy, but there were days when your gentler words really hit the spot too. Thanks so much for your ministry over these past few years.

I'll be keeping your outlook in mind tomorrow evening when I go to my Godfather's for dinner tomorrow - part of my weekly routine since moving to Ottawa. Four years ago he married a lovely, bubbly, vivacious woman at the age of fifty-eight, and theirs is one of the happiest marriages I have ever seen. They bring out the best in each other, and are so much fun to be around that I really enjoy visiting them. It's inspiring to see, and a wonderful example of waiting for the right person.

I look forward to your next blog, and until then I'll make do with your CR columns. All the best from this young reader.

Domestic Diva said...

Gotta chime in one more time… :)

Over the years of reading this blog (and probably as a result of it), I developed two attitudes that have helped me deal with envy.

The first, which is my takeaway from this post, is that we live in a fallen world. One of the realities of living in a fallen world is that things aren't (or at least don't seem) fair. Recognizing that, accepting that, and trusting that God will make it all right in the next world if not in this, has really helped me lighten up in lots of ways.

The second is this: no matter what our state in life, God is teaching us all the same lessons. Because of endlessly hearing about how marriage and religious life provide all these opportunities for sanctification, I used to think that somehow single people were deprived of opportunities for growth. (I've also been told that single people don't have any real problems, that I'm so lucky I can travel the world since I don't have children, etc. Argh!) But really, LIFE in this fallen world provides all sorts of opportunities to grow in trusting God, generous gift of self, love for others, and many other virtues. No, I don't get woken up in the middle of the night by crying babies or to pray the Office. But I can still grow through the struggles that my life entails, not least through the suffering that comes with the single state.

Finally, one of the first posts I read on this blog was one in which you told us to focus on the aspects of single life we would not have if we were married. THAT was exactly what I needed to hear at the time, and has served me very well. I've also come to realize that tomorrow I may not have the blessings I have today. Even if that's because of GOOD change (like getting married), I would still miss certain things, and I ought to enjoy them and be thankful for them now.

I'm very glad you're keeping this blog up, and I do look forward to your future work!

Mira said...

Thank you so very much for this wonderful, amazing, inspiring and above all else - hopeful blog!

You truly have gathered an amazing group of women(and some men)around it - your readers have written so many wise and thought-provoking words (like the ladies who wrote comments before mine - thank you to all of you too!).

I'm also really happy that you'll be keeping the blog up.

I wish you all the very best in your future work and in life. God bless!

Leah said...

Thank you so much for this blog Auntie Seraphic-I'm going to miss it and your trademark wit and wisdom. I'm so glad you are keeping up the archives. Best wishes in everything you do!

Leah said...

And please let us know about your next blog, too. :)

Seraphic said...

I will! And I am grateful for all the chats and opportunities to think issues through. And the waffle recipes!

Elena said...

Dear Seraphic, thank you for your Auntily presence over the internet. I've greatly enjoyed and appreciated your wisdom, humour, and love for your readers. Best wishes and God bless, and I look forward to keeping up with any future blogging endeavours! :)

Antigone in NYC said...

Thank you so much for this blog. May your next endeavors be as blessed.

Wishing you much joy now and in the future,


lauren said...

Thanks so much for all you've done. I can hardly believe how long I've been reading -- since before BA appeared on the scene -- and I've appreciated your wit, insight, and welcome to a non-Catholic Single Woman Of Good Will. All the best in the new venture!

Kate P said...

A beautiful, strong close. Thanks again, Seraphic.

Readers/Devotees: I'm sorry it can't be a surprise for Seraphic (not sure how I could do this on the sly! Sorry!) but I'm putting together a virtual spiritual bouquet for Seraphic as a thank-you. I wish it could be a monetary thank-you (I did buy two books!) but my new job doesn't start yet and the paycheck's farther away. So anyway, Seraphic Singles readers/devotees, please stop by the Maiden-Aunt blog for the details. :)

Gregaria said...

Beautiful end :) I love G. M. Hopkins. Thanks again! God bless you!

Seraphic said...

Ooh! Spiritual bouquet. Just remember if you pray for babies, you must ask the late Father Kenneth Walker, so that if there is a miracle baby, we may have evidence that he is a Beatus. Thank you!

Kate P said...

I'll add that in, Seraphic!

Anonymous said...

Dear Kate P.,

I can't comment on your blog as I don't have an Open/Google ID but can you add me in please? I will have a Mass said for Seraphic's intentions.

Thanks, Sinéad.

Magdalena said...

Dear Auntie,

I would like to join all the other readers and thank you for the good work you did in the last years! Had I not read your blog I would certainly not look upon my single state as I do now. Thank you for hammering into my head that it is okay to be single! It needed a few years of hammering, but now this fact is firmly fixed in my brain and in my way of thinking.

Thank you also for keeping this particular corner of the internet so cosy, and thank you to all the other readers for all the nice chat.

God bless you for all your future plans and undertakings! I am looking forward to reading more from you, in blog, or book, or any other form.

Sheila said...

My best cure for envy is sympathy. When I have a good long talk with a person I am envious of, it soon becomes clear that what looks from the outside like a worry-free life is actually just as difficult as my own life, in different ways. Then I remember we ALL have crosses, and though they don't look equal from the outside, we all have the strength to carry our own.

And anyway, the more I come to care about someone I'm envious of, the less I'm going to begrudge them anything they have. I *want* them to have those nice things, even if I don't, because I love them. So that helps too.

Nzie said...

Dear Seraphic,

I'm so glad that in the wilds of the internet, I found your blog. Through your wisdom, I've recognized that I was not ready to be married and was likely to over-invest myself had I started a relationship. I want to be married, but I'm much more rooted in reality and am cherishing my life as it is, and trying to improve myself as I can (mind, body, soul, and budget, lol). I have bookmarked your new blog and hope that the Spirit may move you to speak some more words to us Singles from time to time. Meanwhile, I think I'll save copies of my favorite posts of yours, starting with The Final Week (all of them).

Best wishes,

Domestic Diva said...

Kate P, I'm also unable to post on your blog, so please add a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament and a rosary to the spiritual bouquet for Seraphic. And thank you for organizing it!

Kate P said...

Got it, Sinead!