Of sympathy and pageant, of aging and refreshing

The other day a priest friend brought up a line from Hilaire Belloc’s The Path To Rome, which I have not read for many a year.

This is the story of the wine of Brule, and it shows that what men love is never money itself but their own way, and that human beings love sympathy and pageant above all things.

“[H]uman beings love sympathy and pageant above all things.”

I must have read that way back when but it did not register with me then as it does now.

From time to time we ought return to good books we’ve already read.  As we change, we can glean more from them.

Thanks to the Laudator, I am able the more easily to share this timely observation by now-Blessed John Henry Newman from An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent:

Let us consider, too, how differently young and old are affected by the words of some classic author, such as Homer or Horace. Passages, which to a boy are but rhetorical common-places, neither better nor worse than a hundred others which any clever writer might supply, which he gets by heart and thinks very fine, and imitates, as he thinks, successfully, in his own flowing versification, at length come home to him, when long years have passed, and he has had experience of life, and pierce him, as if he had never before known them, with their sad earnestness and vivid exactness. Then he comes to understand how it is that lines, the birth of some chance morning or evening at an Ionian festival, or among the Sabine hills, have lasted generation after generation, for thousands of years, with a power over the mind, and a charm, which the current literature of his own day, with all its obvious advantages, is utterly unable to rival.

I was once told, as an undergrad, that I wouldn’t really start to appreciate Horace until I was older.  Too true.

In her grace-filled genius Holy Church, the greatest expert on humanity that there is, gives us a cyclical liturgical year.  She thereby takes into consideration the fact that each year we change.   Each year we can enter into the mysteries, being constantly represented to us, with a fresh perspective.  Each year we are able to gain something new that we were, even the year before, incapable of seeing.

We must return constantly to review the fundamentals of our Faith and not take it for granted that we have them down cold and don’t need to refresh ourselves.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Late for heaven says:

    Bravo Fr. Z. This is a brilliant post. I wish I could give you a gold star for the week at least.

  2. An American Mother says:

    Excellent. And in reference to Horace, if you haven’t already read this, please do:


    “Yet there are things in human garments which will tell you that Horace was a flâneur — a man about town. Avoid such beings. Horace knew a very great deal. He knew!”

  3. Supertradmum says:

    This is a superb posting. I have been thinking of how the saints stayed young in heart and how important it is not to let one’s self become jaded. Thankfully, that is not my personality to be jaded. But, Belloc’s quotation is new to me.

    I have just written a post for Wednesday on the idea of youthful hearts and holiness. Something must be in the air.

    And, it always strikes me that the Christmas crib reminds us of the fact that Christ in Our Hearts is ever young. I love the Infant of Prague for the same reason, as He reminds me to be like a little child and not ever take anything for granted. The phrase from Minneapolis, one time mecca of dough-nuts shops, is “God makes new dough-nuts everyday”. We used to say that a lot in the 70s.

    How much more do I understand novels and poetry, especially Shakespeare, such as Lear, the older I get. Belloc, what a mind and what elegance of phrase.!

    And look at our Pope, He always seems so young and so full of new insights. Such is the Spirit in Him.

  4. Jennifer B.D. says:

    Since I have really started living the liturgical year and practicing the traditions associated with different seasons I have found my faith grow. I have also learned a little more each year and although I should know better I am continually surprised at the wisdom of Holy Mother Church and Her love for Her children.

  5. Andkaras says:

    This is a great insight. It also explains why we are so loath to part with those beloved books in which we gained such a depth of insight ,why we beg friends and loved ones to read them, hoping that despite our inability to express our meaning, the Idea may be grasped in their reading of our literary referrals. Perhaps the most desperate thing that I experience in my life is the inability to convey my meaning ,especially in regards to the absolute beauty and wisdom of our Holy Mother Church. (I’m a bit of a dim bulb you see) It almost seems at times that some are determined to distort ,or misrepresent or twist my meaning .-St. John Henry Newman pray for me.

  6. Legisperitus says:

    Well said, Father!

    Now, if only we can get the Ordinary Form to restore the one-year lectionary…

  7. Jon says:

    I have a great affection for Belloc. This past spring, when my 18 year-old son traveled to France for the Chartres Pilgrimage, he carried with him my copy of A Path to Rome, which I had given him for the journey. As for the book, below is, I think, its most splendid passage. It’s deeply Bellocian, and illustrative of all those things we think of when we think “Belloc;” as in Europe, the Faith, and a good cigar. I would think Father, in particular, should enjoy it.

    The passage describes a stop at a village in Switzerland.

    “A cigar is, however, even in Undervelier, a cigar; and the best cost a
    penny. One of these, therefore, I bought, and then I went out smoking
    it into the village square, and, finding a low wall, leaned over it
    and contemplated the glorious clear green water tumbling and roaring
    along beneath it on the other side; for a little river ran through the

    As I leaned there resting and communing I noticed how their church,
    close at hand, was built along the low banks of the torrent. I admired
    the luxuriance of the grass these waters fed, and the generous arch of
    the trees beside it. The graves seemed set in a natural place of rest
    and home, and just beyond this churchyard was that marriage of hewn
    stone and water which is the source of so peculiar a satisfaction; for
    the church tower was built boldly right out into the stream and the
    current went eddying round it. But why it is that strong human
    building when it dips into water should thus affect the mind I cannot
    say, only I know that it is an emotion apart to see our device and
    structure where it is most enduring come up against and challenge that
    element which we cannot conquer, and which has always in it something
    of danger for men. It is therefore well to put strong mouldings on to
    piers and quays, and to make an architecture of them, and so it was a
    splendid thought of the Romans to build their villas right out to sea;
    so they say does Venice enthrall one, but where I have most noticed
    this thing is at the Mont St Michel–only one must take care to shut
    one’s eyes or sleep during all the low tide.

    As I was watching that stream against those old stones, my cigar being
    now half smoked, a bell began tolling, and it seemed as if the whole
    village were pouring into the church. At this I was very much
    surprised, not having been used at any time of my life to the
    unanimous devotion of an entire population, but having always thought
    of the Faith as something fighting odds, and having seen unanimity
    only in places where some sham religion or other glozed over our
    tragedies and excused our sins. Certainly to see all the men, women,
    and children of a place taking Catholicism for granted was a new
    sight, and so I put my cigar carefully down under a stone on the top
    of the wall and went in with them. I then saw that what they were at
    was vespers.

    All the village sang, knowing the psalms very well, and I noticed that
    their Latin was nearer German than French; but what was most pleasing
    of all was to hear from all the men and women together that very noble
    good-night and salutation to God which begins–

    _Te, lucis ante terminum._

    My whole mind was taken up and transfigured by this collective act,
    and I saw for a moment the Catholic Church quite plain, and I
    remembered Europe, and the centuries. Then there left me altogether
    that attitude of difficulty and combat which, for us others, is always
    associated with the Faith. The cities dwindled in my imagination, and
    I took less heed of the modern noise. I went out with them into the
    clear evening and the cool. I found my cigar and lit it again, and
    musing much more deeply than before, not without tears, I considered
    the nature of Belief.”

  8. Clinton says:

    Jon, thank you for that.

  9. bernadette says:

    Now look what you did! I just went to amazon and bought three of Belloc’s books. The promise I made when I moved that I would never, never, ever buy any more books is not going so well.

    [I hope you used my link or the search box.]

  10. THREEHEARTS says:

    Whereevr the Catholic Sun doth shine
    There’s plenty of music and sweet red wine
    I know this is so; Benedicamus Domino

    Many Thanks Hiliare…

  11. Michelle F says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z., for linking the cycle of the Church’s readings to how we gain insight into stories and other writings as we age. I have been so caught up in how the cycle repeats key teachings and events in the Lord’s life that I hadn’t thought to consider how the readings apply to what I have learned as I get older – or how what I have learned clarifies the readings. This will give me a new facet to think about.

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  13. GoZagsGo says:

    Father, what a wonderfully needed post! This is my favorite Belloc book, and near one of my favorites of all time! Every page has an incredible line or two. And Jon, thanks for posting that passage, it is also one which I fell in love with when reading and I believe I underlined in its entirety that exact passage :)

  14. trespinos says:

    When a fine priest, new to me as a confessor, asked in the confessional last Saturday whether I was doing any spiritual reading, and recommended that I find and read a book entitled “I Believe in Love”, I think he was a little taken aback when I answered that I already had that book in my collection and knew that it was based on St. Therese’s Little Way, although I never could have recalled the author’s name (Pere Jean du Coeur de Jesus D’Elbee). “Dust it off, then,” he said, “and read it again.” I assured him that I would and I don’t have any doubt that, with thirty more years under my belt, I will understand and appreciate better what the author was saying in this work which, even back then, I was impressed enough to rank as one of the two best spiritual works I had ever read, along with Romano Guardini’s “The Lord”.

  15. joan ellen says:

    Wonderful post. Refreshing…and uplifting. The Liturgical Calendar of the Church orders us as we are not able to do on our own. How it is needed in this unordered day and age.

  16. joan ellen says:

    So sorry. Perhaps not everyone needs order from the Church. Also, one of the refreshing things, for me, about this post is that it really speaks to higher levels of thinking. Wisdom, but also maybe some sublime thinking.

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