We wish all former Apropos subscribers, readers and benefactors (spiritual and material) a happy and Holy Christmas and every best wish for the coming year.
We reproduce below a verse or two from Scott MacCallum’s (RIP), Good Bye Beloved World, which evokes the nostalgia of a time gone by and the essential innocence and awe of children; a child-like trust and appreciation of the Christmas message which we must all retain. Let us pray this Christmas for all those who through whatever fault, whether their own, or that of parents or pastors, have lost that faith in the Christmas message, and pray that they may respond to the graces available to them so that they may adore once more the Christ-Child as their God and Saviour.
By contrast, and with no thought, believe me,
Of holier than thou,
I remember going to Midnight Mass last Christmas
In a remote hamlet up in the Swiss mountains.
There still had not been time
For the progressive message to seep through,
And it was all there,
The bells, the Crib, the candles, the expectant
And the Missa de Angelis;
We sang it all together.
It was (almost) like that Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Upon the doomed Titanic.
Never mind, we sang it;
And walked home through the falling snow,
Holding our little daughter by the hand,
From her first Midnight Mass.
Maybe that does not say anything to you.
It would, could you have seen her shining eyes,
Fascinated by the beauty,
Transformed by being identified
With the most wondrous tale in all the universe,
In such surroundings.
And were not children sent to us for things like these?
And what’s our fun beside them?
A debt to Poland
On another note, many Catholics are aware of the debt that the Christian West owes to Poland. When the Turks were at the gates of Vienna in the 17th Century, it was the Polish King, Jan Sobieski, who defeated the Turks and saved Christendom from Islam.
Not so many folks are aware of the events of 1920 when Polish forces routed the Bolshevik Army at the Battle of Warsaw, an event which saved war-weary Europe from a Communist invasion – an invasion which was to succeed alas in Eastern Europe during and at the end of the Second World War which subjected the Poles to Communist tyranny.
In the first of the two essays which follow, ‘The Hope and the Help of the Half Defeated’, Dr Robert Hickson considers Chesterton’s visit to Poland in the late 1920s and Chesterton’s appreciation of the essentially Catholic Polish character and culture, and including a short description of the Battle of Warsaw 1920 and its importance at that time.In the second essay, ‘The Fruits of the 1920 Battle of Warsaw and the 1944 Normandy Invasion’, Dr Hickson reflects on, among other things, the ill-effects of the Allies policy of unconditional surrender which he avers prolonged the Second World War and played into the hands of Stalin and secured his post war aims.
Meditation for Christmas
(The undernoted text comes from the chapter, ‘The Nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem’ from In the Likeness of Christ by the Rev Edward Leen, Published by Sheed and Ward, London 1936, pp. 46-51. Our sub-headings)
The Cave and the City
The cave of Bethlehem is an exact presentation of the paradox of Christianity. It is austere and forbidding. Even in the daylight and under the bright sun the cavern would look miserable and uninviting. In the darkness it was positively repellent. The glimmer shed by Joseph’s lantern was not strong enough to shed a cheerful light; it served but to reveal and to bring out into relief every harsh and rude feature. The sides dripped with moisture and showed bare and jagged. Through openings in them, here and there, the wind moaned dismally. The strong draughts increased the natural chilliness of the place. The floor was uneven and covered with straw that had been trampled to filth by the animals. What was in the rude manger, though clean, was coarse and prickly; it scarcely tempered the hardness of the few planks for the Infant limbs. The dripping of the water and the sounds of the animals as they stirred in their rest, falling on the ear, intensified the general feeling of comfortlessness. And all these things, the cold, the darkness, the roughness of the straw, the unpleasant odour, concentrated their arrows of suffering on the tender Body of the Baby that had just been born in this inhospitable place. Sensitive in the extreme, the Child-God quivered with pain, and broke into infant wails. He willed to be as an ordinary Child. He was not yet at the age when, as our Model, He would control His feelings and support His sufferings without flinching. And all who wished to be with Jesus—to come close to Him—were drawn into these miserable surroundings, first Mary and Joseph and then the shepherds. They all had, in order to get near Him, to suffer the same cold, the same misery, the same abandonment—to share in everything which provided a marked contrast to the scenes that were taking place in the village above. From it floated down the pleasant sounds of revelry and feasting. Every house was brilliantly illuminated and the lights shone on faces that were bright with laughter and excitement. The rooms glittered with vessels in which were set out delicate things to eat and drink. The cheerful music set the young people dancing, whilst the old exchanged confidences with their friends who had come from a distance. An agreeable warmth pervaded every house. Each one vied with the other in the effort to gratify every sense and to dispel in a whirlwind of gaiety and pleasure the tedium of life. How they would have shuddered at the dreariness and discomforts of the cavern in the chalk cliff! The cave and the city! What a remarkable contrast! In the city seems to be all the “joie de vivre”; on the hillside nothing but misery and discomfort. Yet which of the two groups of personages enjoyed the greater happiness? Need we ask? The revellers find dissipation but not happiness, and in the very act of enjoyment are filled with a sense of dissatisfaction.
The secret of the strength of the Martyrs
Who is there who has not experienced the hollowness and emptiness of even the most intoxicating joys of earth? How many repeat after Solomon, after having gratified every sense, “Vanity of Vanities and all is vanity,” save to serve God and Him alone (1). On the other hand, what intense happiness is to be found at the side of the manger! The very absence of everything calculated to please the senses leaves the soul free to enjoy itself more largely. In Bethlehem little concession is made to the body,“for it is the setting for the soul”. It is not of that which benefits the body, but of that which benefits the soul that all men stand in need. This is the lesson preached eloquently by the silent Babe. The two who were there understood the lesson well, above all did His Mother. She bent over the manger, and as she enveloped the Child, her Child and her God, in her arms, torrents of happiness surged through her heart. The glow within her radiated from her eyes and her face shone with a light which bathed the Infant and in which His glance found a resting place. The hours sped for her. Utterly absorbed, she loved and adored Jesus with a vehemence which neither the Cherubim nor Seraphim could match. Her love was an adoration and her adoration was a mother’s love. She was rapt in a tumult of emotions which were a commingling of homage, praise, love, tenderness, joy and exultation. Her gladness would have ravished her soul from her body were she not so spiritually strong. Joseph’s pain and anxiety disappeared in a torrent of joy that overflowed his calm and deep soul as he knelt in worship before his foster Child and his God. The shepherds, too, far removed as they were from the holiness of Mary and Joseph, entered a happiness, one moment of which infinitely outweighed in satisfaction years of such pleasure as their more favoured brethren (as the world would think) tasted in the city above. And yet all these were in contact with these physical discomforts from which Jesus was in the same instant suffering so bitterly. Were they insensible to those things to which He was so keenly alive? In a sense they were, for all these material things seemed to have turned their cruel points the Infant Saviour, whilst from Him was diffused a joy and happiness which flooded the souls of His worshippers with delight. He seems to have taken all the sting out of poverty and pain, by suffering them Himself. His faithful disciples—real Christians—often feel nothing of them owing to the intense happiness they derive from their union with Jesus. The pleasures of this intimacy render them almost insensible, certainly indifferent, to pain. This is the secret of the saints’ contentment in the midst of trials and persecutions. This is the secret of the strength of the martyrs in the midst of their intolerable torments.
The earth can give us nothing
To us, too, it may be given to feel, in a little measure, something of all this. But if we are to share the experience of Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Kings, we must learn to rise superior to our sensuality, and to scorn a life of self-indulgence. The cave is not tender to the body: it is rude to the sensibility: it is hostile to the love of ease and comfort. It seems hard and repugnant to deprive ourselves of the warmth and light of life, of everything that seems to make life enjoyable–ease and comfort, leisure, society—in a word, all things that worldly people esteem, and that are comprehended under the heading of riches, pleasure and power. The Christian life on the other hand has a cold and harsh and forbidding appearance. Yet, if we once deliberately make our choice, we shall find that all this austerity is in the exterior and that the whole-hearted practice of Christianity and the full acceptance of its conditions give a happiness and contentment that fill the soul. Was there ever a man who had completely surrendered his will to the will of God who could not confess that I he was supremely happy? Was there ever a worldling who could say with truth that the pleasures of sense ever left him otherwise than with a dissatisfied craving which they were unable to satisfy? It is only those that lead an interior life that ever in this world taste real happiness. Out of one hour of their life they get more value than superficial Christians out of years. They really live–the men given to exterior things merely exist. It is a source of sadness and surprise for interior souls that of the vast number that are called to follow Christ, few enter into His Society. They pity them for what they miss—when they do not boldly and resolutely turn their backs upon the lighted city and cast their choice for the dark cave. The friends of Jesus realise that conventional Christians, if they would but resolutely brave the rudeness of the stable, cast themselves on their knees beside the rough manger and, fixing their gaze on the face of the Child, allow themselves to be wrapped up in the sense of His presence and wholeheartedly accept His values, would taste a happiness that could not be destroyed or even assailed by the worst miseries of human life; for in that contemplation they would learn—taught by the eloquent silence of Infant Jesus—that all that this earth can give is nothing and that the life of God, or the life with God, is everything.