The Bible—as literature
ARECENT article in this paper urged the reading of the Gospels as literature, and instanced the art that St. Luke brings to his narrative.
There would, indeed, be a triple benefit derived from such a study:
firstly, the Gospel narrative would be read as a whole—(haw many people read any one of the Gospels straight through from beginning to end7)—and its message could not fail to come home anew and with even greater wonder than when isolated passages,
however beautiful, arc read as " Gospels for 'the Day ": secondly, the literary craftsmanship to which. the writer of the article for St. Luke's Feast alluded, would be appreciated in all its perfection of restraint and simplicity of phrase—(" When He drew near, seeing the city, He wept over it "; " There was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour "); and thirdly, the joy of reading in this manner would probably inspite more people to read the Old Testament as well as the Ncw, comparing the sonorous beauty of 'the historical and prophetical books with the simplicity of statement with which the disciples, later, told their astounding story.
The prophets of the old dispensation had dreamed dreams, they had seen visions, they had been inspired by the Word of God. But the disciples had seen that Word made Flesh; they had walked with Him, and known Him in the breaking of bread, and all human utterance had become inadequate; they had seen HIM and there was no longer any beauty that they should desire Him. For them, as for all who later told this story, the barest, stale thefts must suffice. There was no language that could be simple enough.
110 read any one book of the Old Testa ment is a literary adventure; but how many of us even possess Bibles? The man who would reel insulted at the assumption that he might not have read Hamlet or The Merchant of Venice would be equally surprised if he were questioned upon the literary merit Of, say, Ezekiel or Ecclesiasticus.
And how many of the devoted admirers of Joseph Conrad or John Masefield, who will read their books again for the sheer nostalgia of the sea and of ships that they awake in them, ever trouble to turn to St. Luke's account of St. Paul's perilous voyage on board " a ship of Mt umetum." when they were " mightily tossed with the tempest . . . and when neither sun nor stars
appeared for many clays and no small stoma lay on them," or to the unforgettable picture in Ezekiel, of " Tyre that dwelleth at the entry of the sea," with the description of her merehants and the multitude of her mcrchandisc (" bales of blue cloth and of embroidered work and of precious riches, wrapped up and bound with cords "), her trading houses, her ships, her man-of-war, her mariners and pilots and " all that handle the oar . .. and the rowers that brought her into great waters."
Could our poet laureate himself ever equal the description of her magnificence, or the prophet's cry of desolation over the fall of so noble a port !
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All Cities Need Centres for Catholic Shelter Work
Others have seen the needs and are filling them. The Church Army is evangelising the tube stations, which are, even to-day, full of night shelterers. Over eight hundred come to the Bank every night, and their conditions are still very wretched. Babies sleep within two yards of the crashing trains, children play dangerously on the bit of platform that is left, midnight revellers walk through the tunnels making a hullabaloo.
Yet despite the constant flow of hurrying passengers and the ever-recurring din of the trains the Church Army walk up and down the platforms teaching the people to pray and sing hymns.
We were shown a round space that could hold a score of people if there was anyone to gather them there. We were shown, too, a small library for children and another for grown-ups--there should he Catholic books there, too. In other shelters—quieter and more managable from the hideous trains—the local parson is a constant and welcome visitor. We chanced on one where the clergyman was showing a Harold Lloyd film, to the intense enjoyment of the dockers' wives and children.
The Rev. J. Groser has worked since the day of the first blitz with much of the power of a Don Bosco, bringing consolation to these East End shelterers.
By degrees the natural needs of those in such unnatural conditions are being filled. The most up-to-date shelter, due entirely to the organising capabilities of a tiny dwarf whose power over the 10,000 shelterers are those of a benevolent Duce, is air-conditioned, done over from floor to ceiling with clean cream paint, furnished with *many W.C.s, as well as with wireless and gramophone relayed throughout. It even boasts of a bath with hot and cold water.
The whole give one the impression of being inside a large liner, or an up-to-date club. The first aid post give medical assistance to all-corners for scratches and burns and sore feet, besides the air-raid casualties.
In one shelter the children were coming in of their own accord to clean their teeth. If they can learn also to want to pray. as someone remarked on this occasion, the supernatural needs of these people should be filled.
It is not merely a question of the religious needs of Catholics though this is urgent enough; down in those mazes of walls and bunks the horizons arc far wider than that.
Nor is any difficulty put in the way by the authorities. On the contrary they want Catholics to help in the work of looking after these people. At the minimum they are anxious for the various religions to be catered for. And if they have asked for Catholic support there is little doubt that they would readily permit any activity that did not smack of propaganda or stir up religious bias and bickerings among the shelterers. The situation is of. course never far from delicate and the authorities' chief concern is to keep the people orderly and content. For this reason they sometimes appear rather obstructionist, but there is no real opposition.
The way down into the shelters is being opened to Catholics and it only needs some initiative on their part to exercise a wholesome influence down there. It is no use to put off action until the blitzes begin again. We have suffered too long from unpreparedness. Besides what about the people who are already there night after night?
What it needs is a devoted and organised group of priests and laity who will visit the shelters regularly in all weathers and in all raids. The priests of the city are tied to other more pressing duties, so that the clergy must be recruited from
seminaries and houses of study, from religious communities and from any of those who can spare one night a week, and could sleep in the shelters, if need be, with the rest.
SYMPATHY A Franciscan Father during the times of the raids walked into some of the shelters in his habit and sandals, There was no hostility. The children gathered round while he told them stories and attracted the grownups through them. A specific religious service is not always possible or required, but a friendly sit-down chat has often established a close bond between priest and people. The generous act of visiting through the hazards of a raid establishes a real sympathy only equalled by the admiration felt for those who work with ambulances and rescue parties. Nuns, too, can do an immense amount to supplement the work of priests in these places.
Then there is enormous scope for lay action. The Catholic Shelter Committee has bad invaluable help from the Film Society, the Grail and other Catholic workers in this apostolate. The Legion of Mary is also doing excellent work in some shelters ; but more could be undertaken with more helpers.
It should be quite possible to start a series of talks or lectures on non-controversial subjects by Catholic experts. The films, too, could find their way in anywhere. Free " pictures " is an unerring attraction, and it is not necessary to be always projecting religious films on to the improvised screen. Then the maintenance of Catholic lending libraries would be encouraged by the authorities. Quite a large proportion of the people sit on the edge of their bunks reading for a considerable time before turning in.
Catholics who join the voluntary A.R.P. services and are conscious of their vocation are in the best position of all.
Volunteers for the many works attached to running the shelter seem to be absurdly few. The deputy marshal of one large shelter complained that he could only get four or five to help him in his varied duties, which included fire-fighting on the building above. Wardens and marshals have an authority in the shelter which is an invaluable aid to a zealous Catholic, who can thus among other things facilitate the work of Catholic groups of helpers. As it is, however, there are few Catholics in these positions, while those that are often keep very quiet about their religion.
In every parish Catholics should be encouraged to join these services, not only from the motive of natural generosity to their neighbours, nor simply not to be outdone by their Anglican or Quaker fellows, but because of the opportunities offered for supernatural work in the epos tolate.
The ideal way to seize this opportunity would be to have in every big city a special centre from which Catholic activity could radiate to all the shelters and rest centres. But before such a scheme could be developed a group of apostolic clergy and laity must be gathered to gqarantee a continuity of effort.
Are we going to let this rich harvest rot where it stands? The labourers are certainly fewer in war-time, but there are many who could still be mobilised for this spiritual campaign. Now is the time to join up with the efforts of the Catholic Shelter Committee and start this work of evangelisation before it is entirely too late.
Published by the NEW CATHOLIC HERALD LTD., at 67, Fleet Street, London. E.C., and printed in Great Britain by THE BUCKS FREE PRESS LTD., at Newspaper House, High Street. [Ugh Wycombe, Friday, November 7, 1941, CONTINUITY THERE is another lament in the second •• book of Kings, a personal lament this time, of friendship and of great sorrow. " David made this kind of lamentation over Saul and ovef Jonathan his son ... and he said : —
"Consider, U Israel, for them that are dead, wounded on thy high places. The illustrious of Israel are slain upon thy mountains. How are the valiant fallen !
Tell it not in Geth, publish it nat in the streets of Ascalon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
Ye mountains of Gelboe let neither dew nor rain come upon you, neither be they fields of firstfruits. For there was cast away the shield of the valiant, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
Front the blood of the slain, from the fat of the valiant, the arrow of Jonathan never turned back and the sword of Saul did 1101 return empty.
Saul and Jonathan, lovely and comely in their life, even in death they were not divided. They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.
Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul. who clothed you with scarlet in delights, who gave ornaments of gold for your attire, How are .the valiant fallen in battle I Jonathan, slain in the high places !
grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan, exceedingly beautiful and amiable to me above the love of women. As the mother loveth her only son, so did I love thee.
How are the valiant fallen and the weapons of war perished !"
Our speech to-day would perhaps be less slipshod if we had' been in the habit of reading more of what, in a recent popular publication, has been given the title of The Bible as Literature.