was raised in a lukewarm Presbyterian family, where “all the words that clustered about [Catholicism] – rosary, pope, confession, relics, purgatory, monks, penance – had the same sinister connotations”. Yet Brown, a great and underrated Scottish poet who died 20 years ago on April 13, 1996, would be received into the Catholic Church in 1961, shortly before his 40th birthday.
The process by which he overcame these inherited prejudices is recounted in his semi-autobiographical story The Tarn and the Rosary (1974), especially in the letter that Colm Sinclair, a character in the story, sends home to explain to his parents why he took the unthinkable step of becoming a Catholic: “What saves us is ceremony … Ceremony makes everything bearable and beautiful for us. Transfigured by ceremony, the truths we could not otherwise endure come to us … It is this saving ceremony that you call ‘idolatry’ and ‘mumbo-jumbo’.”
This salvific “ceremony” was of course the Mass. Completing the letter, Colm walks to a nearby church to experience the beauty of the liturgy: “The celebrant entered … Once again, for the thousandth time, Colm watched the ancient endless beautiful ceremony, the exchange of gifts between earth and heaven, dust and spirit, man and God. The transfigured Bread shone momentarily in the saffron fingers of the celebrant.”
Having been transformed and transfigured by the sheer beauty of the Mass, it might be said that Brown’s conversion was essentially aesthetic. And yet, as is illustrated in his multifarious works – verse, short stories, novels and essays – he was acutely aware that beauty points towards the good and the true, forming a transcendental trinity which reflects the Trinity itself.
In contrast to the beauty of the Mass, the Reformation casts a gloom-laden shadow over Brown’s poems and stories. In “Master Halcrow, Priest”, one of the stories in A Calendar of Love (1967), religious images are callously and iconoclastically destroyed; and in his play, A Spell for Green Corn (1970), the Reformation is held responsible for the destruction of the old faith of the island folk and its replacement with a barren and lifeless puritanism: “The Word was imprisoned between black boards, and chained and padlocked, in the pulpit of the kirk.”
I'll be at the Catholic Culture Conference all day today at the Spiritual Life Center, trying to decide which sessions to attend when I have a choice and making my own presentation:
7:30am Holy Mass- Chapel of Mary the First Disciple
8:15am Breakfast and book sales
9am Opening prayer in Main Assembly Room
Plenary Lecture by Anthony Esolen- “Dante and the Glorious Liberty of the Children of God”
10:15am Pillar Lecture by Anthony Esolen- “Assaults on Spiritual Liberty”
11:15am Breakout Sessions
Bo Bonner- “Purifying the Passions through Wonder: Why Children should read Homer & Virgil” - Marian Room
Dusty Gates- “Imagination and Heroism: The Mystery of St. George the Dragonslayer” St. Joseph Room
Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke- “Touched by the Divine through our Imagination” Main Assembly Room.
12:00pm Lunch (Dining Room)
1:00pm Pillar Lecture by Stephanie Mann “Chesterton, Cobbett, and Merry Old England”
2:15pm Breakout Sessions
Matthew Umbarger- "Reading the Bible with an Overactive Imagination: Midrash as a Tonic for Fundamentalism"- Main Assembly Room
Jackie Arnold- “Inspiring a Catholic Imagination in Children”- Marian Room
Bo Bonner- “Chewing on God: Scripture, Prayer, and Lectio Divina”- St. Joseph Room
3:15pm Panel Conversation: Questions, Answers, and Comments
4:00pm Closing Prayer and Dismissal
Our Greater Wichita American Chesterton Society local group will have a table with information about our meetings and Chesterton and Eighth Day Books will also be there with tables and tables of books!