Of all the people in the crowded church [to mourn his father], Guy wondered how many had come as an act of courtesy, how many were there to pray that a perpetual light should shine upon Mr. Crouchback? “Well,” he reflected. “ ‘The Grace of God is in courtesy”; in [his Protestant brother-in-law] Arthur Box-Bender glancing sidelong to be sure he did the right thing, just as in the prelate who was holding his candle in the chancel, representing the bishop; ... ‘Quantitative judgments don’t apply[,' his father used to say].”
- The Sword of Honor, by Evelyn Waugh
Googling the phrase, "The Grace of God is in courtesy," I was surprised to find that Waugh has Guy Crouchback quote, in his internal thoughts, a poem named "Courtesy" by the contemporary writer Hilaire Belloc. I reproduce it here fully. It's not the height of twentieth century English poetry, but it's brief and clever, and I think it has a valuable lesson.
The image above is my favorite of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, whose feast we celebrate today. She's also one of my favorite saints. People sometimes say that we do not pick our patron saints, but rather they pick us, and so I do her no honor, but she honors me greatly, by definitely being on my "short list." I had the great honor of being allowed to take a course for which I lacked the prerequisites, entitled St. Therese and the Sacred Scriptures. The consecrated virgin that taught the class makes me think of St. Therese, as I read her. The woman, both women, were both tough and tender. A couple of thoughts about the image of the saint, and about the saint herself. Then I'll leave you with some of my favorite of her bits of wisdom. I'll try to share stuff that isn't commonly found.
Here's what I like about her image:
Today is the feast of the Holy Archangels, which supplants the older feast of St. Michael, celebrated individually.
A few things:
1. St. Michael isn't a saint in the same sense that the Virgin Mary or John Paul the Great are saints. He was never a human being. But he was saint in the meaning of the word in French, the language from which the word comes to English. In French, saint is an adjective that means holy.
2. The name Michael means, in Hebrew, Who is like God? and the the legend is that gets his name from his defiance of Lucifer's rebellion.
3. We think of archangels, among whom is numbered St. Michael, as being the greatest of the angels. In fact, medieval theologians like St. Thomas ranked the archangels pretty low. Angel means messenger and an archangel is a lead messenger, a messenger with a very important message, like Gabriel's to Mary. If your average angel is an enlisted soldier, an archangel might be a sergeant. By contrast, Lucifer counted for much, much more: say, a five star general.
4. The incarnation of the Son of God in the person of a baby, the child of a peasant, is the beginning of a revolution on earth that overturns the whole order of hierarchy not by destroying it, but by filling it with a new spirit. Kings are not to lord it over peasants, but are to serve and lead them. The Sermon on the Mount, which calls blessed the states of meekness and sorrow, which tells us not to worry about our livelihood, is a sort of manifesto of this overturning of the old way. But the first steps in the new way of life come in the proto-history of Michael and Lucifer. Lucifer, a powerful and lordly spirit, leads an insurrection against the Blessed Trinity. Michael, a messenger spirit, stands up for God, defying Lucifer, challenging him, "Who is like God?!"
Miners used to carry canaries in cages to alert them to rising levels of noxious fumes in the mines. The canaries would stop singing, and then perish, as the levels of fumes rose. In like manner, a bellwether is a sheep with a bell tied to its neck and that is set in the first position in a flock. The other sheep are able to follow it by the clanging of the bell, and its bell also alerts people nearby to the flock's presence. Both the bellwether and the canary are signs of things to come. They are signs of the times.
You might not heard of Rotherham, in South Yorkshire in the north of England, and for that you can be excused. It is a small city of about one quarter of a million souls. Think of Lincoln, Nebraska, or Durham, North Carolina. Very nice cities, to be sure, but not the sort of places you'd expect people in England to have heard of. But lately, a situation has exploded in Rotherham that will explode the West, or at least be one of the blasts involved in the exploding West. Our media has not gone on about it very long, because it does not tell the story that they like.
Rotherham is our canary. Rotherham is our civilization's bellwether.
- Not being conformed to the spirit of the world, but
- Being transformed by the renewal of our mind.