Friday, June 12, 2015

Tea With Winston, Dinner With Gilbert

I am back blogging after a bit of a break. Some friends were wondering why the silence. Well, being a priest in a parish makes many demands and they have kept me busy. I am also using some blogging time to catch up on my reading. I am a bookworm, but of late I have been finding it hard to get some reading in and that is not good for me, nor for any of us. We should all be reading, spiritual books of course, but also others to keep us informed.

At the moment I am reading Roy Jenkins's biography of Winston Churchill. It is a fine book. Churchill, as many of you know is an interesting character. As an Irishman, I suppose there is the expectation to dislike  him, but I cannot conform to that: I do actually like him. Now he was not a perfect man, he had his flaws, many of them as do all of us. One of his friends once said that in first meeting Winston all his flaws are all too apparent, but after that one spends a lifetime getting acquainted with his virtues. For all the flaws and ambition, he was a good man who wanted to do something great for his country (and get the glory!).  And what a writer he was! I have been eyeing up his books in the bookstore, his life of Marlborough looks interesting and his volumes on the two World Wars are all too like a honey trap which would wile away weeks and months.

Reading the biography I find myself wondering what he would make of the world today. He was a member of the liberals, and when a Conservative he was a member of the liberal wing: liberalism then was very different to what passes as liberalism today. For one thing he believed in the monarchy and one of his great, failed (and unwise) campaigns was to keep India in the empire, for reasons that were conservative to the core. He also opposed Irish independence for much the same reasons, though the pragmatist in him saw him relent and become a supporter of the Free State during the Civil War here. It is interesting to note that he befriended Michael Collins whose guerrilla warfare did much to drive the British to the negotiating table. Churchill was wise enough to see what Hitler was up to as many in the British government at the time nurtured fantasies of appeasement in the hope of peace. I wonder what Winston would say about IS? Would be dismiss them or see a growing threat?

So I think afternoon tea with Winston might have been an interesting experience. Not dinner: you couldn't afford to feed Churchill - he was not the most abstemious of people. Champagne with every dinner? No, no, no. I would have dinner with Chesterton, he would eat enough but as long as it was common fare and he had a few ales he would be as happy as Larry. Besides, Chesterton's conversation would be much more stimulating. You have to listen to Churchill and be fascinated and entertained, but Gilbert would draw you into conversation, perhaps debate, certainly entertain you, edify you, make you laugh, and then end it all with a prayer before he put on the coat and sauntered out to figure out how to get home.

Another literary figure I am spending a little time with (when time allows!) is Flannery O'Connor. She is a fascinating figure, a little like Chesterton, but darker - like Dante in that respect. As those of you who have read her will know she is concerned with grace: as one critic said, she explores the work of grace in a world governed by the devil. That reason alone means she is necessary reading for us today. I also think, like Chesterton, she was a saint, not a plaster one, but a real flesh and blood woman whose faith transformed her life and her suffering while deeply informing her writing. I would love to see her and Gilbert canonised one day; forget Oscar Romero and Co - Flannery and Gilbert are the real revolutionaries. And what companions for us today: their writings can inform and challenge us, their lives inspire us, and, I hope, their intercession can assist us. 

Heaven is going to be great. We will have the vision of God, the embrace of the Blessed Mother, but then the company of so many wonderful people. We must work hard for heaven! 

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