Friday, November 18, 2016

The Venerable Fulton Sheen on The Rosary

From his book, The World's First Love:

It is objected that there is much repetition in the Rosary because the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary are said so often; therefore it is monotonous. That reminds me of a woman who came to see me one evening after instructions. She said, “I would never become a Catholic. You say the same words in the Rosary over and over again, and anyone who repeats the same words is never sincere. I would never believe anyone who repeated his words, and neither would God.” I asked her who the man was with her. She said he was her fiancé. I asked: “Does he love you?” “Certainly, he does.” “But how do you know?” “He told me.” “What did he say?” “He said: ‘I love you.’ ” “When did he tell you last?” “About an hour ago.” “Did he tell you before?” “Yes, last night.” “What did he say?” ” ‘I love you.’ ” “But never before?” “He tells me every night.” I said: “Do not believe him. He is repeating; he is not sincere.”

The beautiful truth is that there is no repetition in, “I love you.” Because there is a new moment of time, another point in space, the words do not mean the same as they did at another time or space. A mother says to her son: “You are a good boy.” She may have said it ten thousand times before, but each time it means something different; the whole personality goes out to it anew, as a new historical circumstance summons forth a new outburst of affection. Love is never monotonous in the uniformity of its expression. The mind is infinitely variable in its language, but the heart is not. The heart of a man, in the face of the woman he loves, is too poor to translate the infinity of his affection into a different word. So the heart takes one expression, “I love you,” and in saying it over and over again, it never repeats. It is the only real news in the universe.

The Venerable Fulton Sheen

I read this passage on my morning tea-break, and decided to blog it. I hoped I could find it already transcribed somewhere, to save me typing it. And I discovered that it was; not only once, but (fittingly) many, many times. I copied and pasted it from The Catholic Gentleman (whom I thank).

I picked up that book from the library book exchange months ago. I admit I have only read passages here and there, as I find the Venerable Sheen's style a bit too orotund.

But this passage interested me very much, as I often find myself thinking of simple words like: "Please", "Thank you", "Greetings", "Hello", "Sorry", and so forth. I find myself wondering what they actually mean, what their informational content is. Sometimes I find myself wondering (although of course I know, but wondering in an abstract kind of way) why we don't simply eliminate 'please' and 'thank you' from everyday transactions, since they can more or less be taken as read.

I also find myself increasingly struck by the importance of small gestures. A small, kind gesture might have an effect out of all proportion to what it cost, while the lack of one might be utterly crushing. In the movie The Damned United, about the rivalry between soccer managers Brian Clough and Don Revie (based, of course, on a true story), Brian Clough goes from near hero-worship of Don Revie to an almost obsessive rivalry...because the more experienced manager failed to shake his hand after a match. I don't know if that's the actual historical truth, but I can easily believe such a thing would happen.

Brian Clough and Don Revie

I can remember once telling two friends of mine, in separate emails, that I wouldn't be able to attend scheduled meetings of clubs because I was flying to America. It was winter and both of them told me to wrap up warm. I remember how extraordinarily touched I felt by that.

I read recently that some people have been saved from suicide by something as simple as a smile from a stranger. I can believe that, too.

After 9/11 I felt it was a bit silly that so many of the people I knew were signing condolence books, physical or online. Nobody would ever read them, and what difference would one signature make out of hundreds of thousands?

Well, I have changed my mind about that. I have noticed, when I read about historical events such as tragedies, or protests, or coronations, or similar major public events, how often books of condolences, telegrams of congratulation, cards, etc. are mentioned. "Hundreds of people lined up to pass the coffin", "Over three hundred thousand people signed a book of condolences", "Telegrams of congratulations were received from as far away as Papua New Guinea"; such statements seem to feature heavily in historical accounts, and indeed are rarely omitted. Sometimes the details are even more precise.

Indeed, it often strikes me how strange it is that the most symbolic gestures, and the ones that require the least effort, are very often the things that make the most impact, for good or ill.

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