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Thursday, January 25, 2024

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The Church of Seven Story Mountain, published 1948, is gone. I pray it returns. I was an altar boy, when the Mass was still in Latin, and the priest faced God, not me and my corrupt ego. But that's gone. And I resisted by stages; when I was in college in San Luis Obispo, I would ride my 3-speed bicycle at 6am on weekdays to go to mass at the Mission, because at that early hour, there was almost no-one there, and an old, alcoholic priest would say a very simple mass with no sermon, and my nearest fellow Catholic was at least 20 feet away, and I did not have to shake hands. I took up a position as far in the back of the church as I could. I never locked my bike; it was never stolen, and I left as soon as Mass was over, and rode into the quiet early morning. I'll post some writing from Seven Story Mountain after lunch. God help us all.

Beautiful statement, Joe. I may join you in your catacomb. "Introibo ad altare Dei." Was that not the the first line the altar boys learned? You attended daily mass in college? I think I had quit going to church by then. I remember one Sunday. My mother wanted me to go to church. I borrowed her car, ostensibly to attend mass, but drove to Lacy Park in San Marino and read philosophy. Do you remember Miss Tamblyn, the only lay teacher at STS, and her talking up John XXIII and the upcoming Vatican Council? 'Aggiornamento' was the watchword. A mistake in retrospect.

We are probably going to go through all this again, but without the consolations Merton knew. — Catscomb Joe

From Seven Storey Mountain, 1948 printing, page 247 and following:


I think those days at the end of August 1939 were terrible for everyone. They were grey days of great heat and sultriness and the weight of physical oppression by the weather added immeasurably to the burden of the news from Europe that got more ominous day by day. Now it seemed that at last there really would be war in earnest. Some sense of the craven and perverted esthetic excitement with which the Nazis were waiting for the thrill of this awful spectacle made itself felt negatively, and with hundredfold force, in the disgust and nausea with which the rest of the world expected the embrace of this colossal instrument of death. It was a danger that had, added to it, an almost incalculable element of dishonor and insult and degradation and shame. And the world faced not only destruction, but destruction with the greatest possible defilement: defilement of that which is most perfect in man, his reason and his will, his immortal soul.

All this was obscure to most people, and made itself felt only in a mixture of disgust and hopelessness and dread. They did not realize that the world had now become a picture of what the majority of its individuals had made of their own souls. We had given our minds and wills up to be raped and defiled by sin, by hell itself and now, for our inexorable instruction and reward, the whole thing was to take place all over again before our eyes, physically and morally, in the social order, so that some of us at least might have some conception of what we had done.

In those days, I realized it myself. I remember one of the nights at the end of August when I was riding on the subway, and suddenly noticed that practically nobody in the car was reading the evening paper, although the wires were hot with news. The tension had become so great that even this toughest of cities had had to turn aside and defend itself against the needles of such an agonizing stimulation. For once everybody else was feeling what Lax and I and Gibney and Rice had been feeling for two years about newspapers and news.

There was something else in my own mind—the recognition: “I myself am responsible for this. My sins have done this. Hitler is not the only one who has started this war: I have my share in it too...” It was a very sobering thought, and yet its deep and probing light by its very truth eased my soul a little. I made up my mind to go to confession and Communion on the First Friday of September.

The nights dragged by. I remember one, when I was driving in from Long Island where I had been having dinner at Gibney’s house at Port Washington. The man with whom I was riding had a radio in the car, and we were riding along the empty Parkway, listening to a quiet, tired voice from Berlin. These commentators’ voices had lost all their pep. There was none of that lusty and doctrinaire elation with which the news broadcasters usually convey the idea that they know all about everything. This time you knew that nobody knew what was going to happen, and they all admitted it. True, they were all agreed that the war was now going to break out. But when? Where? They could not say.

All the trains to the German frontier had been stopped. All air service had been discontinued. The streets were empty. You got the feeling that things were being cleared for the first great air-raid, the one that everyone had been wondering about, that H. G. Wells and all the other people had written about, the one that would wipe out London in one night...

The Thursday night before the first Friday of September I went to confession at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then, with characteristic stupidity, stopped in at Dillon’s, which was a bar where we went all the time, across the street from the stage-door of the Center Theater. Gibney and I used to sit there waiting for the show to end, and we would hang around until one or two in the morning with several girls we knew who had bits to play in it. This evening, before the show was out, I ran into Jinny Burton, who was not in the show, but could have been in many better shows than that, and she said she was going home to Richmond over Labor Day. She invited me to come with her. We arranged to meet in Pennsylvania Station the following morning.

When it was morning, I woke up early and heard the radios. I could not quite make out what they were saying, but the voices were not tired any more: there was much metallic shouting which meant something had really happened.

On my way to Mass, I found out what it was. They had bombed Warsaw, and the war had finally begun.

In the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, near the Pennsylvania Station, there was a High Mass. The priest stood at the altar under the domed mosaic of the apse and his voice rose in the solemn cadences of the Preface of the Mass— those ancient and splendid and holy words of the Immortal Church. Vere dignum et justum est aequum et salutare nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus...

It was the voice of the Church, the Bride of Christ who is in the world yet not of it, whose life transcends and outlives wars and persecutions and revolutions and all the wickedness and cruelty and rapacity and injustice of men. It is truly meet and just always and in all things to give Thee thanks, Holy Lord, omnipotent Father, eternal God: a tremendous prayer that reduces all wars to their real smallness and insignificance in the face of eternity. It is a prayer that opens the door to eternity, that springs from eternity and goes again into eternity, taking our minds with it in its deep and peaceful wisdom. Always and in all things to give Thee thanks, omnipotent Father. Was it thus that she was singing, this Church, this one Body, who had already begun to suffer and to bleed again in another war?

She was thanking Him in the war, in her suffering: not for the war and for the suffering, but for His love which she knew was protecting her, and us, in this new crisis. And raising up her eyes to Him, she saw the eternal God alone through all these things, was interested in His action alone, not in the bungling cruelty of secondary causes, but only in His love, His wisdom. And to Him the Church, His Bride, gave praise through Christ, through Whom all the angelic hierarchies praise Him...

I knelt at the altar rail and on this the first day of the Second World War received from the hand of the priest, Christ in the Host, the same Christ Who was being nailed again to the cross by the effect of my sins, and the sins of the whole selfish, stupid, idiotic world of men."

Hi Brother Bill

To answer your question, I went to Mass a lot, but not always every day. But I LIVED at the Newman Center on Crandall way. One year, when there were more girls than boys at the Mission High School in town, two of us college boys from the Newman Center got to be the dates to the "leftover" catholic high school girls. They were in heaven. all their classmates had high school senior boys for partners, and THEY had handsome college boys. I remember all those days very fondly !

— Catacomb Joe

And yes, I remember Miss Tamblyn, but I don't remember her going on about Pope John the 23rd. But I do remember her car: she had a white 1958 Oldsmobile. And I think it was a hardtop. She would show science movies in class. "Our Mr. Sun" was one of them.

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