Dear Friends and Benefactors,
Easter is a season for the poets. Here is a timely poem, especially for readers from Washington D.C. and up-state Michigan, both laden with cherry-trees, by A. F. Housman:
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
It takes a poet to capture in words a fragment from the outburst of freshness and beauty with which nature presents us each spring. The poet has the eye, the heart and the way with words to put on paper a message from the volumes and volumes which God reads aloud to us through nature in the springtime. And yet how sad the poets can be, running up against mortality! The daffodils of April are a pure delight for Wordsworth:
"I wandered lonely as a cloud
that floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils:
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze..."
Yet the same daffodils draw a tear from Robert Herrick:
"Fair daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Hath not attained his noon...."
For Herrick cannot help himself reflecting:
"We have short time to stay as you;
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay
As you or anything.
As your hours do, and dry away
like to the summer's rain;
Or as the pearls of morning's dew,
Ne'er to be found again."
It is a seemingly insoluble problem as the human heart's "immortal longings" beat against the mortal framework of this life. Virgil gave stately voice to this grief in his famous line:
"Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt"
to which the nearest equivalent in English might be a line again from Wordsworth:
"..The still sad music of humanity..."
Is there no solution? Are the joys re-awakened by spring in our heart fated merely to perish? Is this life all?
St. Thomas Aquinas did not think so. In fact upon the soul's immortal longings he built a solid argument for the soul's own immortality. The rational soul naturally knows of and so desires immortality, he says, and the poets amply prove that. But nature does nothing in vain. Hence the rational soul must have an immortal life.
Now to the modern mind such an argument can seem wishful thinking. How can we claim that nature does nothing in vain? The romantics come perversely to enjoy the frustration of their own longings, and blasphemous existentialists scrawl "Absurd" across the very charter of the universe. Not so the sane and robust Catholic mind! Nature is not in vain. Spring truly tells of joy. However swiftly it passes, it speaks of a beauty conquering death. No wonder God chose this season in which to die, so that nature's yearly breaking into life should commemorate His own breaking out of death. Resurrexit, sicut dixit. He hath risen again, as He said. And so here is an answer to A. E. Housman:
"The cherry-bloom's lovely tale of joy
Well have you read, dear poet,
Which fifty springs spent to enjoy
Would be well-spent, you know it.
But fifty springs, you seem to think,
Your heart from all will sever;
You fear, as 'neath the grave you sink,
Your eyes will close for ever.
Poor man! You missed the better part
Of the tale told by the cherry –
It said: "Who made me, made your heart
And made it to be merry.
"Such beauty as mine, it cannot die
And if on earth it wither,
Then there's a heaven to which must fly
Your heart! Go, hasten thither!"
How do we hasten thither? By dying to this life and straining towards the next: "Therefore if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you shall also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is the service of idols..... Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience: bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another: even as the Lord has forgiven you, so do you also. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection: and let the peace of Christ, rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful." Thus Colossians III starts out from the Resurrection.
Dear friends, pardon this letter for having broken into verse, but the sombre chain of reflections upon Mother Church's situation (ably laid out once more by Fr. Schmidberger and Fr. Wickens in the enclosed Superior General's Letter and "Verbum") was interrupted by the arrival of spring. Of course the Catholic Church will rise again after her present crucifixion. Let us merely do our duty day by day, in our different stations of life, and let us not forget the prime duty of charity amongst ourselves.
And thank you for the so generous charity of so many of you towards the Seminary. Promising vocations are continuing to apply. Right now I don't know where we would put them, but I would know who to appeal to as soon as we had to start building again! Meanwhile, has anyone some spare daffodil bulbs?
May God bless you, and His Mother protect you and all your families. Sincerely yours in Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Fr. Richard Williamson