16 March 2016

A Chilly Ecumenical Scene

Imagine this ... the great gaunt prison at Princetown on Dartmoor, cold always, colder in February; a priest (with bag) waits in the dark outside the entrance until it opens at 6 o'clock. Upon admittance, he goes ... not to the Anglican Chapel, but to the Methodist meeting-house. He sets up his altar; lays out his vestments; then goes into a corner to hear Confessions. That done, he vests, and celebrates (what we are now bidden to call) the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass with a small congregation. At the back, sitting quietly, are some probably bemused Quakers ... yes, I did say Quakers. Oh ... and did I mention this ... the priest is an Anglo-Papalist.

I heard recently that some Methodists are in a few days going to be celebrating the Conscription Act of 1916; celebrating the fact that it had a provision within it for Conscientious Objection. This was, of course, a great advance on the clever notion of sending "conchies" to the Front in sealed trains so that they could be court-martialed and shot for refusing orders in the presence of the enemy. But the 'tribunals' were very sparing in accepting that those appearing before them were genuinely conscientious objectors. So the prison was full of some six hundred conchies; Welsh Marxists only prepared to fight in a class war; religious fanatics with precise interpretations of the Prophet Daniel; mathematicians; scholars; musicians; actors; miners; farm labourers. And Quakers. Since these inmates were unlikely to escape and, had they done so, might have been very little danger to Society, I rather wonder if the choice of this cold and remote place for their incarceration was another piece of the cruelty engendered by the war-fever of the time.

Fr Bernard Walke, Vicar of S Hilary in Cornwall, was the priest involved, and he said his Mass in the Methodist Chapel because he was denied use of the Anglican Chapel. He was a pricipled opponent of the war, an admirer of Pope Pius X "who when asked to bless the armies of Austria replied, 'I bless peace and not war'. I [Walke wrote] had also instituted the service of Benediction on Sunday evenings, as an act of reparation to the Sacred Heart for the wrongs of war, and as a means of uniting ourselves with our enemies in that Sacrament that knows no frontiers."

Father had himself been beaten unconscious by a mob while addressing a peace meeting in Penzance.

He faced that mob with the same quiet courage with which, after the War, he faced the Protestant mob which came with crowbars and wrecked his church.

I wonder if anyone will trouble to remember Father Walke during this centenial 'celebration'; I would wager Not. Tridentinist Anglo-Catholics with rigid principles are not the sort of public heroes for which facile modern fashion thirsts.

But how wonderful Grace is. I hope you see why some of us have a tenacious resolve to maintain our sense of community with such brave and holy priests (and their layfolk), separated heroes of the Catholic Faith.


Capt. Morgan said...

Thank you for this Father.

Liam Ronan said...

Please forgive this longish post,Father. Notwithstanding its length, I feel it is both apropos the subject of your post (and of Philistines generally) and might prove convenient for those who would rather read it here than look it up later:

"Then the Philistines seized upon him, and forthwith pulled out his eyes, and led him bound in chains to Gaza, and shutting him up in prison made him grind. And now his hair began to grow again. And the princes of the Philistines assembled together, to offer great sacrifices to Dagon their god, and to make merry, saying: Our god hath delivered our enemy Samson into our hands.

And the people also seeing this, praised their god, and said the same: Our god hath delivered our adversary into our bands, him that destroyed our country and killed very many. And rejoicing in their feasts, when they had now taken their good cheer, they commanded that Samson should be called, and should play before them. And being brought out of prison he played before them, and they made him stand between two pillars.

And he said to the lad that guided his steps: Suffer me to touch the pillars which support the whole house, and let me lean upon them, and rest a little. Now the house was full of men and women, and all the princes of the Philistines were there. Moreover about three thousand persons of both sexes from the roof and the higher part of the house, were beholding Samson' s play.

But he called upon the Lord, saying: O Lord God, remember me, and restore to me now my former strength, O my God, that I may revenge myself on my enemies, and for the loss of my two eyes I may take one revenge. And laying hold on both the pillars on which the house rested, and holding the one with his right hand, and the other with his left, He said: Let me die with the Philistines.

And when he had strongly shook the pillars, the house fell upon all the princes, and the rest of the multitude that was there: and he killed many more at his death, than he had killed before in his life." Judges 16: 21:30

The Douay-Rheims commentary explains this passage thus:

"[28] 'Revenge myself': This desire of revenge was out of zeal for justice against the enemies of God and his people; and not out of private rancour and malice of heart.

[30] 'Let me die': Literally, let my soul die. Samson did not sin on this occasion, though he was indirectly the cause of his own death. Because he was moved to what he did, by a particular inspiration of God, who also concurred with him by a miracle, in restoring his strength upon the spot, in consequence of his prayer. Samson, by dying in this manner, was a figure of Christ, who by his death overcame all his enemies.

Matthew said...

Thank you, Father, for this timely reminder. I shall certainly remember Fr Walke, who is one of the Heroes of the Faith.

Священник села said...

What a wonderful life, a profound communion of stubborn, delicious idiosyncrasy and beauty. Donkeys! Alms-houses! Tin mines! Advocacy for workers! Adoration.... Thank you.

Tarquinius said...

"I bless peace and not war" - is there actually any proof regarding the authenticity of this anecdote? While the holy Holy Father certainly was a man of peace, his policy towards Austria appears to have been much more amicable than the story told be the Entente ...

umblepie said...

An interesting and inspiring post Father, thank you. You mention Fr Walke, truly a brave and holy man of God. I have come across him in the book 'Painting in Newlyn 1900-1930' by Caroline Fox; his wife Anne (nee Fearon) was a talented painter of the Newlyn School. There is virtually a whole page dedicated to her husband, and the church of St Hilary near Penzance. Both he and his wife were friends of many of the Newlyn and Lamorna artists of the period, several of whom donated works of art to the church, and apparently 'St Hilary became famous for its Christmas Plays, written and produced by Bernard Walke and broadcast by the BBC on the radio from 1926.The most popular of these was 'Bethlehem' which drew thousands of visitors to the church.' In 1932, shortly after his church was desecrated by a group of extreme protestants, known as Kensitites, Walke contracted tuberculosis and had to enter a sanatorium. It was there that he started to write an account of his 'Twenty years at St Hilary'. I have not read this book, but it is available through Amazon, and I certainly intend to purchase a copy. I do admire the manner/style of painting by artists of 'anglo-Catholic' tradition, in which I include Anne Fearon, which always remind me of the great religious 'frescos' of the early middle ages.I hope that this comment is neither extraneous nor too long.