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Love for the Lost – C Fox

August 16, 2015

LFTLAn enjoyable read but spoiled by tales of the two priests pouring the Blessed Sacrament down a sink. Such behaviour is against canon law and they should desist from practicing their priesthood. It is so offensive, sacrilegious and blasphemous.

The protagonist lacks self-knowledge for all her claims about being a Christian. She was a goody-goody at school and now she has a superior air. The one time she let her guard down in a pastoral situation was the one time she was human but she felt that it was a failure. Who are ‘the lost’ of the title?

I have remarked, about her other books, that she doesn’t copy Susan Howatch in having heroes who present as strong but who suffer mental breakdowns. Perhaps this book is the exception.

There’s surely an autobiographical element – Durham University, martial arts.

There’s a perceptive section where the protagonist returns to some of her childhood haunts in search of answers to her present predicament.

The stuff about AIDS is dated, given the time when it was written but she is sympathetic towards gay people. Perhaps this is because she cites the late Michael Vasey in her dedication.

I loved the bit when they sang Compline in (to?) an empty church. I often wonder what I’d do if nobody turned up when I officiate. I thought that I’d read it quickly then lock up. But perhaps I’ll sing it, alone.

Evangelicals rarely ‘hear confessions’ and the ending was unsatisfactory and I felt that Davy was particularly hard done by.

Quotations:

Isobel took one look at the debris floating about in the chalice after the communion at the old people’s home and acknowledged Harry was right. She thanked God she was an Evangelical and tipped the contents down the sink. She was a bit funny about shared bodily fluids

‘Better leave the car here. Our first curate got done for drunk­/ driving, you know. It was Christmas and Harry over-consecrated at Midnight Mass. The curate downed a whole chalice of vino sacro after – the service, silly sod. Got pulled over on the way home. “Been celebrating, have we, sir?” “No, no! I was only deaconing!” Or so the story goes.’

A woman collared me in the street and told me she kept hearing funny noises in her house, and would I go along and circumcise it for her.’ …..’I pronounced a quick blessing and she seemed satisfied. I was just leaving when she said, “You know, that’s the first time I’ve met someone ) religious without feeling — without feeling — “‘ Here Harry was forced to break off. Isobel waited while he wept into his artichokes.

`Without feeling?’ she prompted.

—Without feeling they were just out to pervert me,— he whimpered.

‘Doing a communion in an old people’s home is the acid test of churchmanship, you know.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘A real spike has to consume what’s left in the chalice after sixteen old ladies have drooled and slobbered bits of wafer into it. I just thank God I’m an Evangelical and tip it down the sink.’

Isobel took one look at the debris floating about in the chalice after the communion at the old people’s home and acknowledged Harry was right. She thanked God she was an Evangelical and tipped the contents down the sink. She was a bit funny about shared bodily fluids.

What she couldn’t stomach was the little bunch of lah-di-dah liberals who’d trained at Lightfoot House, Cambridge, with their affected loucheness and young-fogey leather elbow patches. She’d encountered them on post-ordination training. They recoiled fastidi­ously from any expression of personal piety, as though they thought that believing in God and mentioning it publicly were solecisms of embarrassing magnitude. For them Evangelicalism was the spiritual equivalent of drinking Babycham, and they treated Isobel with a patronizing pity that implied she’d been lobotomized.

but beggars . . . Honestly, the number of grannies dying in Glasgow must add up to the population of China. It was like the fragments of the True Cross. You’d think they’d do us the courtesy of thinking up a new tale now and then.

Ah, your poor voice!’ he cried. ‘I’ll make you a toddy. I’ve got me flask, like the drunken Paddy I am.’

I can’t possibly.

`Sure you can.’

No, really ‑

‘You bloody will. Don’t you “no, really” me! Is this what Harry has to put up with? Do as Father says, you wicked girl. Jesus, Mary and Joseph!’ He swept out to the kitchen. She could hear him muttering, `Bloody Anglicans. They think the Church is a democracy.’ He came back a few minutes later with a steaming mug. ‘Drink that, now.’

She sipped obediently.

He sat and dropped his mad-Irish-priest act. ‘Seriously, now, are you all right?’ he asked. ‘Harry’s looking after you properly?’ She nodded.

Ah, you’ll be all right. He’s a good man,’ said Father McGee. ‘A good man. For a Prod.’ He sighed and got to his feet. ‘Shall I say a prayer? Will you accept a blessing off an old papist?’

`Which of the following would best describe you: child of God, servant of God, friend of God?’

Servant, she replied without hesitation. Then Harry’s voice came back to her: Do you think God might quite like your company, even when you’re not trying to serve Him? She found she was battling with tears.

Another thing to think about,’ said the bishop gently.

Bishop Theodore told her she might have to restrain her librarian’s skills, her impulse to solve problems by classifying and shelving them.

Isobel saw more clearly than ever before how much her parents’ daughter she was. That irrepressible urge to inform, explain things and set people right. She’d been more aware of the tendency since it had become impossible. Perhaps by default her listening skills were coming along in leaps and bounds. While she would never have interrupted in pastoral situations, she had generally treated the slightest pause as a chance to deliver her opinion. It was her response that counted, not the other person’s problem. The arrogance of this had not struck her at the time.

You believe that God has a plan, a purpose, for your life, then? This was partly mischievous, and she knew it to see how he’d handle that old chestnut of God’s omnipotence and human free will.

A plan? Not a rigidly scripted one, no,’ he answered. ‘Strict Calvin­ists would disagree with me, of course, but only because they’re predestined to.’

She smiled. What do you really think?

`There is a script, but it’s improvised.’

Controlled by the actors, not the playwright, you mean?

Apparently. But supposing, in spite of everything, the playwright can hold it all in his mind — all the characters, the plots and endless chaotic sub-plots, the red herrings, the cock-ups, the disastrous death of the hero — and weave all the strands together? I picture the action as being brooded over by a keen, but infinitely kind, intelligence and he will bring it all to its fitting conclusion.’

She was moved. So he was capable of laying aside his endless clever games and being sincere. Did it feel like intellectual nakedness to him, after all this time?

If the conclusion is inevitable, why bother? she asked. What does our puny contribution mean?

`Everything and nothing. God doesn’t need us, but He’s chosen to work with amateurs.’ He replaced the compline book on the pew shelf and got to his feet. ‘You should go away and mug up your Barth, my girl.’

He was rushed into hospital with gangrene in his foot — not uncommon with diabetics, apparently – and the family summoned a priest. He wanted you, of course, but it was an emergency. When I arrived there was uproar on the ward. He’d just heard he’d got to have his leg amputated. The family were shouting, “Shut up, you daft old bugger, it’s for your own good, do you want to die, or something?” and he was beside himself. I stood there and yelled, “Would it help if I said a prayer, Mr Goodwill?” Silence fell. Oh, Isobel!’

What?

`It was just awful!’ He was laughing. ‘I took out my Bible to read a nice soothing psalm. “I lift up my eyes unto the hills. From whence cometh my help?” We were doing all right till I hit verse three.’

Oh, no!

`Exactly. “He will not suffer thy foot to be moved”. How I made it to the end of the psalm, I’ll never know’ He wiped his eyes. As it happened, he died of a heart attack that night.’

Perhaps it was a blessing, she murmured.

Can’t be doing with monks, quite frankly. Give me the willies.’

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