Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What I Learned in England

This past week I was in England with actors and crew from my company and from Corpus Christi Watershed, as we filmed a short movie on the conversion of the Venerable John Henry Newman. We were graciously granted access to Newman’s retreat house at Littlemore, near Oxford, administered by the delightful Sisters of the Work.

A few brief observations.


The English people are so kind and genteel that it’s difficult for an American to know how to talk to them. One conversation (along with inner dialogue) went like this:

KEVIN: We’ve certainly enjoyed our visit to Oxford.

ENGLISHMAN: Yes, how lovely. (smiling a benevolent smile that could be either an indication that Kevin should say more or a patient patronizing of his harsh accent and garish ways)

KEVIN: And being in the footsteps of Newman is such an honor. As was eating at the Eagle and the Child, where C. S. Lewis and Tolkien met regularly.

ENGLISHMAN: Indeed. (the smile becomes more wry)

(an awkward pause follows)

KEVIN: (thinks) Is he waiting for me to say more, or is he hoping I should shut up? (speaks) We also enjoyed the Pantomime at the local theater.

ENGLISHMAN: (a supercilious look of benign contempt) Really?

Thus even conversing in a common tongue can be difficult.


We bought a cell phone to make international calls and of course had problems with it. The young people who were manning the cell phone store were not far removed from the kind of American teens who work at Subway restaurant chains. On the third visit to the store, with my phone still not working, I had to enter into Assertive Complaining Customer mode, and I was convinced not only that I’d get the kind of run around we always get in American cell phone stores, but also that I had been had and that the problems with my phone were the result of some sort of scam these punks were in on.

Much to my surprise, the young clerks showed a great deal of courtesy and patience and even managed to fix the problem in a courteous and professional manner. This is not America, I thought. Nor is it Subway, though the food at the pubs is not quite as good as what you can get at Subway.


Oxford seemed very much like the England I got to know a bit on two visits twenty years ago. I was impressed with the large crowds on foot, many of whom were apparently students in their twenties, with all of the young ladies very pert and attractive. It was the antithesis of a visit to Wal-Mart. No fat, slovenly folks in sweat shirts.

The English have a different facial structure than most Americans. Carl Jung once thought that the American Indian population influenced the European-American stock in some mystical ways, as he saw traces of the red man in our white American faces. His mysticism is suspect, but his observation is accurate.

We saw no traces of the Islamic invasion, except in London, especially at Heathrow Airport (of all places) where most of the counter workers are in Muslim regalia. And there was the ominous sight of an Islamic crescent setting behind Buckingham Palace, which I snapped a photo of.

But the true end of things is the appalling and ridiculous conclusion the Anglican church has come to. The world may end in fire, or the world may end in ice, but the Anglican church is ending in apathy, absurdity and self-parody. I won’t go into details of how I was hit on by a very drunk and flagrantly homosexual defrocked Anglican priest (the only way you can be defrocked as an Anglican priest is not for sodomy or alcoholism, but for criticizing the Anglican bishops, something this poor soul bravely did), but I can tell you the feel in their churches (formerly our churches) is just like the feel in most of the Episcopalian churches in the U.S. - cold, with a kind of stolid refinement of manners, a lingering melancholy, and an overwhelming complacency.


And yet the Oratorian Church in Oxford is packed to the seams at every Mass, confessions are offered almost non-stop throughout the day, with long lines of penitents, and even the ugly modern church named after Blessed Dominic Barberi in Littlemore is apparently staffed by serious orthodox priests. Meanwhile, the church in Ireland is undergoing a much needed purgation and there are indications abounding of the survival, indeed the rebirth, of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the U.K. after a horrible time of trial and failure of resolve. The official Catholic publications in England and Ireland are quite heterodox and show almost no sign of this whatsoever, except for the very telling letters to the editor, which are orthodox and clearly indicative of the grass roots movement that the publishers of these same papers must despise.

One of these letters in defense of the teachings of the true Church was written by one of the world’s foremost experts of Cardinal Newman, Fr. Ian Ker, whom I had the great privilege to meet one night after filming. He is a man of tremendous humor and faith and shows that neither totalitarian kings and queens nor bad bishops can destroy God’s great gift to us, the Catholic Church and its holy priesthood.


In conclusion, it was made more and more evident to me in a number of ways, both spiritual and secular, that John Henry Cardinal Newman’s upcoming beatification is a key event in the reign of Pope Benedict XVI and of turning the tide against the liberal infiltration of the Church and of the hijacking of Vatican II. Newman’s momentous conversion at Littlemore near Oxford 164 years ago was the most important conversion of post-Reformation times, a victory for Reason, an earthquake that many of us have forgotten, but that the enemy and his forces still hear, the beginning of the Catholic Literary Revival and true Reform in the Church, and the opening of a door that led to the astonishing lay apologetic movement we see around us today and that even the Theater of the Word is a part of. Many forces both in the world and beyond it will be trying to derail this beatification. Pray for it and pray for the support of Venerable Newman, Blessed Dominic Barberi, and St. Philip Neri.

I end by quoting a line from the wonderful Christmas Pantomime “Jack and the Beanstalk” that we saw in Oxford,

Fee Fi Fo Fum
I smell the blood of an Englishman

Although now, I might add, that blood, as it begins to rediscover the true Body and Blood of Christ, is beginning to stir.

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