Friday, August 18, 2017

Sacrificial Love for All: Caryll Houselander: Essential Writings

selected with commentary by Wendy M. Wright

Caryll Houselander is the author of the Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls and More Catholic Tales for Boys and Girls which are recommended by Mater Amabilis™ for Level 1A (second and third grades). I requested this book through interlibrary loan to learn more about the author. She was a layperson who believed she experienced mystic visions. Though mainly an artist who worked in wood, she also wrote extensively for Catholic audiences.

This book is one compiled from a variety of sources including published works and letters Houselander wrote. I haven't read many of the works in full, but I felt like Wright provided excellent pieces of the works to give a feel for how Houselander developed her ministry and philosophy over time. The brief introductions for each chapter and excerpt placed the works within the context of Houselander's life. There were also a few prints of her woodworking.

When describing one of her visions, Houselander shared how it prompted a new thought on separating the sin from the sinner.
Although it did not prevent me from ever sinning again, it showed me what sin is, especially those done in the name of "love," so often held to be "harmless" -- for to sin with one whom you loved was to blaspheme Christ in that person; it was to spit on Him, perhaps to crucify Him. I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his sin, which is in reality his utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in him.
It's more than "love the sinner, hate the sin;" loving the sinner includes seeing Christ within the sinner who is suffering from the sin, because the sinner is also suffering from the sin.

Houselander was an artist who manipulated material to create something beautiful. She wrote on the importance of work in human life.
It is a mistake to suppose that work was intended, in the first place, to be a punishment for sin. Work was not introduced into man's life after Adam sinned, but before, at the time when Adam's whole life was an uninterrupted awareness of Gods [sic] presence, and his uninterrupted delight was a continual contemplation of God's goodness, beauty and love. Work was given to him as one means to that contemplation.
After World War I, Houselander wrote for the Catholic Evidence Guild, an organization evangelizing in England.
Talking and especially talking about God, is an art. In common with every other art it requires skill and skill is acquired only by constant effort, patience and humility, throughout a lifetime.
Caryll Houselander argues that the evangelist should not merely learn by rote or trick, words to throw out into the world (or at a person), in order to convince him or her to convert to the Catholic faith.
All too often it does degenerate into an argument, even into a kind of sport, in which the real issue, the search for truth is lost, and such petty things as scoring points, having the last-word, saying the unanswerable prevails.
More than anything, Houselander argues, the evangelist should be humble and approach sharing the faith in that frame of humility.

Then the Second World War overshadowed everything in England. In letters written early in the war, Houselander grapples with how to live as a Christian in a dark and scary world. I loved these so much, I chose a few pages to copy and include in First Son's history binder for his study of World War II in Level 4 (eighth grade).
If we are ever to come back to the lovely morning of Christianity, we must not do it by waiting for the war to end, it has to be done now, through love. If each individual can put into her personal life an unstinted absolute love -- then already out of the dark days Christ will be reborn.
In a later essay, Houselander discussed the War specifically and suffering in general as a way to participate in the suffering of Christ.
So whatever part each of you plays in the war, it must be done only as a channel through which love is poured. Love alone, love only, can save us from being swamped and swept away by the evil passions that war must let loose -- hate, fear, despair.
And love can and will save the world, because this war is Christ's Passion in us, and if we dare now to act by faith and to pledge ourselves to let His love be as strong in us as His pain is, then it will bear fruit, in proportion to its magnitude of grief. 
During the Battle for Britain, when Germany's planes rained death and destruction from the skies onto the cities and the innocent lives, it was only by extreme and explicit effort that people could protect their hearts and souls from a devouring hate for the enemy. Houselander explored how that might be accomplished.
It comes to this, the sight of suffering inflicted on innocent people fills us with a kind of violent energy, and energy can very easily turn to hate, but if we like we can turn it to love instead. And that can be done in the simplest way possible; instead of working ourselves up into a fury and exhausting the extra energy we have got, we can spend it in doing something to relieve the suffering that provoked it. 
She encouraged people to sacrifice themselves. These acts of sacrificial love allowed her to focus on loving others rather than hating the enemy.
What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life -- our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working, and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows -- to God.
Though Houselander never married, she shared a home with a child, her goddaughter. What she learned in caring for an infant and young child shaped her later years and understanding of living a life of Christ.
The ultimate miracle of Divine Love is this, that the life of the Risen Lord is given to us to give to one another. It is given to us through our own human loves. It is no violation of our simple human nature. It is not something which must be cultivated through a lofty spirituality that only few could attain; it does not demand a way of life that is abnormal, or even unusual; it is not a specialized vocation. it is to be lived at home, at work, in any place, any circumstances. It is to be lived through our natural human relationships, through the people we know, the neighbors we see. It is given to us, if we will take it, literally into our own hands to give.
Wright chose a wonderful paragraph for the last one in the book.
Truth is not something that can be learnt out of a book, or possessed like a tea-cosy, a family heirloom, or a cat. It is something which must be gradually learnt and understood and known more and more, and it can only be known by continual personal experience. This seeking for truth is, for the Catholic too, in spite of the great help of the Sacraments, a reaching out into the darkness for the hand of God, a listening in the silence for the heartbeat of God. For Truth is not a formula or a penny Catechism, it is a Person who can only be known through personal contact and of whom knowledge is inexhaustible: Truth is Christ.
I enjoyed reading more of Caryll Houselander's work. This book was an excellent edition of her writings with just a little from a variety of sources. It was a pleasure, too, to read letters to her friends and those seeking her advice. Personal letters have a sense of intimacy not found in published work as well as thoughtfulness missing in today's world of electronic communications.

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