Read CHAPTER XXV of My New Curate , free online book, by P.A. Sheehan, on ReadCentral.com.

MAY DEVOTIONS

I often wonder if the May devotions in other countries are as sweet and memory-haunting and redolent of peace as here in holy Ireland. Indeed, I suppose they are; for there are good, holy Catholics everywhere. But somehow the fragrance and beauty of these May evenings hang around us in Ireland as incense hangs around a dimly lighted church, and often cling around a soul where faith and holiness have been banished. I cannot boast too much of the picturesqueness and harmony of our evening prayers at Kilronan, at least until Father Letheby came. We had, indeed, the Rosary and a little weak homily. Nevertheless, the people loved to come and gather around the beautiful statue of our Mother. But when Father Letheby came, he threw music and sunshine around everything; but I believe he exhausted all his art in making the May devotions attractive and edifying. He said, indeed, that they were imperfect, and would always remain imperfect, until we could close them with Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament; and he urged me again and again to apply for permission, but, to tell the truth, I was afraid. And my dear old maxim, which had done me good service during life my little pill of all philosophy lente! lente! came again to my aid. But I’ll tell you what we had. The Lady altar had all its pretentious ugliness hid under a mass of flowers great flaunting peonies burning in the background, beautiful white Nile lilies in the front, bunches of yellow primroses between the candles, great tulips stained in flame colors, like the fires of Purgatory around the holy souls in our hamlet pictures. And hidden here and there, symbolical of the Lily of Israel, and filling the whole church with their delicate perfumes, were nestled lilies of the valley, sweetest and humblest of all those “most beautiful things that God has made and forgot to put a soul in.” Then such hymns and litanies! I do not know, I am sure, what people feel in grand city churches, when the organ stops are loosed and the tide of music wells forth, and great voices are lifted up; but I think, if the Lord would allow me, I would be satisfied to have my heaven one long May devotion, with the children singing around me and the incense of flowers in the air, and our dear Mother looking down on us; only I should like that there were life in those wondrous eyes of Mother and Child, and I should like that that Divine Child, who holds us all in the palms of His little hands, would get a little tired sometimes of contemplating His Mother’s beauty and turn in pity towards us.

Our order of service was: Rosary, Hymn, Lecture, Hymn, Litany of Loretto. Did you ever hear:

“Oh, my Mother, still remember
What the sainted Bernard hath said,
None hath ever, ever found thee wanting
Who hath called upon thine aid.”

or:

“Rose of the Cross! thou mystic flower!”

or Father Faber’s splendid hymn:

“Hark, hark, O my soul! angelic songs are swelling.”

Well, if you didn’t, God help you!

I used to read a book sometimes sometimes Father Gratry’s “Month of May,” sometimes that good little book by the Abbe Berlioux. But when the people began to yawn I flung the book aside, and said a few simple words to the congregation. And I spoke out of a full heart, a very full heart, and the waters flowed over, and flooded all the valleys.

The 31st of May fell on Sunday; and it was on this Sunday evening Father Letheby was to preach in the cathedral. I told the people all about it; and we offered the evening devotions for his success. Somehow I thought there was a note of emphasis in the “Holy Marys” that evening; and a little additional pathos in the children’s voices. Miss Campion presided at the harmonium that evening in place of Father Letheby. I think, indeed, that the people considered that prayers for their young curate were a little superfluous; because, as we came out, I was able to hear a few comments and predictions:

“Faith, you may make your mind aisy about him. They never heard anything like it before, I promise you.”

“I heard they used to say over there in England that Father Burke himself couldn’t hould a candle to him.”

“If he’d spake a little aisier,” said a village critic, who had a great opinion of himself, since he was called upon to propose a resolution at a Land-League meeting, “and rise his wice, he’d bate thim all.”

“Did you ever hear Father Mac?” said an old laborer, dressed in the ancient Irish fashion, but old Father Time had been snipping at his garments as he couldn’t touch himself. “That was the pracher! He hadn’t his aiqual in Ireland. I rimimber wance a Good Friday sermon he prached in Loughboro’. Begor, you couldn’t stick a pin between the people, they were so packed together. He kem out on the althar, and you could hear a pin dhrop. He had a crucifix in his hand, and he looked sorrowful like. ‘In the Name av the Father,’ sez he; thin he shtopped and looked round; ‘and av the Holy Ghost,’ sez he, and he shtopped ag’in; ‘but where’s the Son?’ sez he, rising his wice; and begor, ’t was like the day of gineral jedgment. Thin he tore off a black veil that was on the crucifix, and he threw it on the althar, and he held up the crucifix in the air, and he let a screech out of him that you could hear at Moydore; and ”

“Was that all the sarmon?” said a woman who was an interested listener.

“Was that all?” cried the narrator indignantly. “It wasn’t all. He prached that night two mortial hours, and” he looked around to command attention and admiration “he never fetched a sup of wather the whole time, though it was tender his hands.”

“Glory be to God,” said the listeners; “sure ’t was wandherful. And is he dead, Jer?”

“Dead?” cried Jer, rather contemptuously, for he was on the lofty heights of success; “did ye never hear it?”

“Wisha, how could we, and ’t is so far back?”

“Some other time,” said Jer, with a little pitying contempt.

“Ye may as well tell it now,” said an old woman; “I hard the people shpake av him long ago; but sure we forget everything, even God sometimes.”

“Well,” said Jer, sitting on a long, level tombstone, “maybe ye don’t know how the divil watches priests when they are on a sick-call. He does, thin. Fram the time they laves the house till they returns he is on their thrack, thrying to circumwent them, ontil he gets the poor sowl into his own dirty claws. Sometimes he makes the mare stumble and fall; sometimes he pulls down a big branch of a three, and hits the priest across the face; sometimes he hangs out a lanthern to lade him into a bog. All he wants is to keep him away, and WHAT he has wid him, and thin he gobbles up that poor sowl, as a fox would sling a chicken over his showlder, and takes him off to his din. Well, this night Father Mac was called out late. It was as dark as the caves down there by the say av a winter’s night. As he wint along the road, he began praying softly to himself, for he knew the divil was watching him. All of a suddint he was taken out av his saddle and pitched head foremost in a brake of briars. When he recovered himself he looked around him and saw at a distance ”

“I thought it was dark, Jer,” said a young mason, who knew that Jer was drawing the long bow.

Av coorse it was, but couldn’t ye see a light shining even on a dark night, my fine young man?” said Jer, in a temper.

“Oh, was it a light?” said the mason.

“Ye ought to think twice before intherrupting yer elders,” said Jer. “Well, as I was saying, when he come to himself, he looked around, and he asked, in a loud wice, ’Is there anny wan there who could sarve Mass for a priest?’ There was no answer. Thin he said a second time, ’For the love av God, is there anny wan there who could sarve Mass for a priest?’”

“Begor, I always thought that was the shtory about the priest that forgot to say the Masses for the dead, and kem out av of his grave on Christmas night,” said an old woman.

“Thrue for ye, so it is,” said another. “Many and many’s the time we heard it.”

“Begor, Jer,” said a young man, “ye ’re getting mixed.”

“There’s a hole in the ballad and the song fell out,” said another.

“Jer could tell that story betther, if he had a couple of glasses in, I’m thinking,” said the young mason, as they strolled away and left Jer sitting on the monument.

“Yes; or if he had the clay in his mouth, and the pint on the dresser,” said his companion.

So was this great actor hissed off the stage. It was a bad breakdown, and there was no mercy. It turned the women’s conversation back to their curate.

“May the Lord stringthen and help him in his endeavor, our darlin’ man,” said one.

“Amin, thin, and may the Blessed Vargin put the words into his mouth that he has to shpake,” cried another. The children listened gravely. All that they could conjecture was that Father Letheby was engaged on a great and dangerous enterprise.

I never had a moment’s doubt but that their prayers were heard and their predictions verified, although when Father Letheby called the next day he looked depressed and gloomy enough.

“Well,” I said, “a great success, of course?”

“I’m afraid not,” he said moodily.

“You broke down badly just in the middle?”

“Well, no, indeed; there was certainly no breakdown, but the whole thing was evidently a failure.”

“Let me see,” I cried. “There are certain infallible indications of the success or failure of a sermon. Were there any priests present?”

“About twenty, I think,” he replied. “That was the worst of it. You don’t mind the people at all.”

“And weren’t they very enthusiastic,” I asked, “when you returned to the sacristy?”

“No, indeed. Rather the contrary, which makes me think that I said something either perilous or ill-advised.”

“Humph! Didn’t any fellow come up to you and knock the breath out of your body by slapping you on the back?”

“No!” he replied sadly.

“Didn’t any fellow say: Prospère procède, et regna?

“No!” he said. “It was just the other way.”

“Didn’t any fellow shake you by the hand even, and say: Prosit! prosit!! prosit!!!

“I’m afraid not,” he said gloomily.

“That’s bad. Nor even, macte virtute ésto, Titus Manlius?”

“No,” he said. “There was no indication of sympathy whatsoever.”

“Didn’t any fellow drop into the vernacular, and say: ’Put the hand there. Sure I never doubted you,’ and wring your hand as if he wanted to dislocate it?”

“No, no, no! There was simply dead silence.”

“And perhaps they looked at you over their shoulders, and whispered together, as they put their surplices into their bags, and stared at you as if you were a sea-monster?”

“Something that way, indeed,” said my poor curate.

“Did the bishop make any remark?”

“Yes. The bishop came over and said he was very grateful, indeed, for that beautiful sermon. But that, of course, was purely conventional.”

“And the people? How did they take it?”

“They were very quiet and attentive, indeed: apparently an intelligent congregation.”

“You don’t think you were talking over their heads?”

“No, indeed. Even the poor women who were gathered under the pulpit stared at me unmercifully; and I think a few persons in front were much affected.”

I waited for a few minutes to draw my deductions. But they were logical enough.

“My dear boy,” I said at length, “from a long and profound experience of that wilful thing called human nature, allow me to tell you that every indication you have mentioned points to the fact that you have preached not only an edifying and useful, but a remarkable sermon ”

“Oh, that’s only your usual goodness, Father Dan,” he broke in. “I’m quite certain it was a failure. Look at the attitude of the priests!”

“That is just my strongest foundation,” I replied. “If their enthusiasm had taken the other shapes I suggested, I should have despaired.”

“Well, ’t is over, for better, for worse,” said he; “I did my best for our Lady, and she won’t blame me if I failed.”

“That is sound Christian philosophy,” I replied; “leave it there. But don’t be too flushed if my predictions come true.”

“I suppose we may have a procession of the children on Corpus Christi?” he said abruptly.

“Hallo! another innovation! Where are you going to stop, I wonder?”

“Why not have it?” he said. “It will be a sermon to the people!”

“Around the church, you mean,” I conjectured, “and back again to the High Altar?”

“No! but through the village, and out there along the path that cuts the turf over the cliffs, and then back to the mill, where we can have Benediction (I’ll extemporize an altar), and down the main road, and to the church.”

“Go on! go on!” I said in a resigned manner; “perhaps you’ll invite our pious friend, Campion, down to Benediction ”

“He’ll be carrying the canopy.”

I looked at this young prestidigitateur in a bewildered manner. He was not noticing me.

“You know,” he said, “I’ll put Campion and Ormsby and the doctor, and the old Tertiary, Clohessy, under the canopy. It’s time that these men should be made to understand that they are Catholics in reality as well as in name.”

I was dumfounded at his audacity.

“I have got faculties from the bishop,” he continued, “to receive Ormsby, and to use the short form. He’ll be a noble Catholic. He is intelligent, and deeply in earnest.”

“And who is this great man he is bringing from Dublin?” I asked.

“Oh! the doctor? An old chum. They have seen some rough and smooth weather together. This fellow is gone mad about his profession, and he studies eighteen hours out of the twenty-four ”

“He ought to be a Master of Conference,” I interrupted. “But won’t our own man be jealous?”

“Not at all. He says he has done his best for Alice; and if any one else can help her on, he’ll be delighted. But he is not sanguine, nor am I.”

“Nor I. It appears a deep-rooted affair. But what a visitation God’s angel, cloaked from head to foot in blackness, and with a flaming sword.”

We were both silent, thinking of many things.

“Then the procession will be all right, sir?” he said at last, waking up.

“I hope so,” I said resignedly. “Everything else that you have touched you have adorned. This will follow suit.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said. “It will be a glorious day for the children.”

“By the way,” I said, as he was going, “was Duff at the sermon?”

“He was, poor fellow; and I am afraid he got a wigging from the bishop. At least they were walking up and down there near the sacristy for at least half an hour before dinner. You know Duff is an awfully clever fellow. He has written some articles in the leading English magazines, in which, curiously enough, he quite agrees with Professor Sayce, the eminent Assyriologist, who has tried to disprove the theories about the Pentateuch originated by Graf and Wellhausen ”

“My dear fellow, this is not a conference. Spare my old nerves all that nonsense. The Bible is God’s own Word that is enough for me. But what about Duff?”

“Well, at table, the bishop was specially and expressly kind to him, and drew him out about all these matters, and made him shine; and you know how well Duff can talk ”

“I wouldn’t doubt the bishop,” I said; “he always does the kind and the right thing.”

“By the way, I forgot a moment ago to say that Duff met me this morning at the station, and said, I am sure with perfect sincerity: ’Letheby, I must congratulate you. You taught me a sharp lesson the other day; you taught me a gentler lesson last evening. Pray for me that I may keep farther away from human will-o’-the-wisps, and nearer the Eternal Light than I have been.’ I shook his hand warmly. Sedes sapientiae, ora pro nobis.”

“Amen!” I said humbly.

“I’ve asked him over to dine on the day our fishing-boat will be launched,” said Father Letheby, after a pause. “Some of the brethren are coming; and you’ll come, sir? Duff is very anxious to meet you.”

“Of course,” I replied. “I never refuse so delightful an invitation. But why should Duff be anxious to meet me?”

“I really don’t know, except that you are, as you know yourself, sir, a celebrity. He thinks a great deal of you.”

“Probably a great deal more than I am disposed to think of myself. Did he say so?”

“Oh, dear, yes! He said: ’I must make the acquaintance of that pastor of yours, Letheby, he’s an immortal genius!’”

“An immortal genius! Well, you must know, my innocent young man, that that expression is susceptible of a double interpretation it may mean an immortal fame like William Shakespeare’s, or an immortal fame like Jack Falstaff’s; it may mean a Cervantes, or a Don Quixote, a fool who has eclipsed the name of his Creator. But, as I am charitably inclined, I shall give your learned friend the benefit of the doubt, and meet him as one of my many admirers, rather than as one of my few critics. Perhaps he may change his opinion of me, for better, for worse, on a closer acquaintance.”

“I’m quite sure, sir, that there will be a mutual appreciation. That’s arranged, then the procession on Corpus Christi, and dinner the day of our launch.”