Just a week before Lent and The National Catholic Register has posted my latest blog, in which I discuss Muriel Spark's Memento Mori and St. Thomas More in the Tower:
Muriel Spark was a convert to Catholicism from Scottish Presbyterianism and started writing novels after joining the Church. Her most famous novel is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, made into an award-winning movie in 1969. (Remember “Jean” sung by Rod McKuen?) Memento Mori, however, was Spark’s first great success as a novelist.
The characters in the novel, all in their seventies, begin to receive phone calls with the brief message: “Remember you must die”. Memento Mori. They each respond to this statement differently: with fear, anger, resignation, even acceptance. The plot of the novel is the investigation into who is making the calls; the theme of the novel is old age and death. Dame Lettie Colston reacts with increasing paranoia, disconnecting her phone and secluding herself in her home. She rejects the advice of a Catholic convert, Jean Taylor, who is confined to her bed in a nursing home: "It is difficult for people of advanced years to start remembering they must die," she says. "It is best to form the habit while young." Through the depiction of several characters in her novel, Sparks makes clear that the virtues and vices of youth stay with us as we age. We don’t become angels just because we get older; we have to work at becoming saints through God’s grace at every age.
And St. Thomas More in the Tower:
As Thomas Cromwell and others tried to convince him to take the Oath that Henry VIII demanded after he broke away from the universal Catholic Church and the Vicar of Christ, they also tried to get him to say why he would not take the oath. He protested that he was beyond that now: “I had fully determined with myself, neither to study nor to meddle with any matter of this world, but that my whole study should be upon the passion of Christ and mine own passage out of this world.” When they reminded him that his monarch had the power of life and death over him, More replied: “And I am dying already, and have since I came here, been divers times in the case that I thought to die within one hour, and I thank our Lord I was never sorry for it, but rather sorry when I saw the pang passed. And therefore my poor body is at the King’s pleasure, would God my death might do him good.”
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