This time of year causes me to return to favorite places, be they real or imaginary, to refresh my memory regarding those things that have profoundly influenced me, and so I am reading Brideshead Revisited again, what is possibly the greatest Catholic novel of the Twentieth century. It is a novel of great faith and great failing, two things that are inseparable in the fallen world we inhabit. A story of friendship and lovers, of innocence and knowledge. It is a microcosm containing both the extraordinary and the mundane, the "Sacred and Profane".
For those not familiar with the novel, it is the story of the aristocratic Flyte family, the story told by Charles Ryder, a friend of the family's youngest son, Sebastian Flyte. They met at Oxford, when the very charming but inebriated Sebastian vomited through the window of Charles' room, leaning into it, not out of it. Hardly a pleasant way to start a friendship, but the apology was elegant, profuse, and the evidence of the faux pas deftly removed by a well-tipped servant. All was well, forgotten amid plover eggs and cointreau, and Charles began his metamorphosis, his eyes swaying toward Beauty, becoming drawn to different ideals than he had previously known.
Brideshead is not a happy book. It has moments of high humor, to be sure, and scenes of pathos that make one cry. It shows a Faith lived, not necessarily well, but even at its weakest it gives a pervasive substance to all: Charles, Lord and Lady Marchmaine, Bridey, Julia, Sebastian, Cordelia, even Anthony Blanche. There is no escaping knowledge acquired, it haunts you in the darker emotions, exciting guilt, encouraging anger, wearing one down to acceptance or to a destructive denial. The characters evolve toward these ends, finding the odd contentment, the occasional pure joy, both hating and loving that which draws them to higher things, that which draws them away from the shining baubles of this realm to the pure light of another, that which they can only dimly see, but that they know is there. They believe in that which is lovely, that which is Beauty, that which is Truth. They may not wish to believe, but they do, and it is that belief which defines them.
My husband, who introduced me to both Brideshead and ultimately to Catholicism, often tells me that I am a "Bridey" Catholic. By this he means that, like Bridey, the elder son and heir of the Flyte family, my religion pervades my daily life, often to the point of being an annoyance to those not religiously inclined. I can begin and end any discussion with a reference to the Church, I can draw any topic toward it, and I can turn off any number of people by doing so. Such is not my intention, but like Bridey, I can't seem to help it. In finding this, my Faith, I have become a zealot, and while I'm not the best evangelist or example on Her behalf, I love being a part of the Church, and in my own awkward way, I try to bring others to Her, to show them Her Beauty, Her Grace, the ways She already fits into their world, the ways they would fit so easily into Hers.
Yet, these things I see so clearly I cannot express. I hate preachiness, yet find myself falling into a pattern of it, I attempt to explain, and only muddle. It's like being in love. It is being in love.
I entered the chapel of Brideshead before I became a Catholic. I genuflected, as Charles did, to be polite. I eyed a Beauty that appeared too vivid to be described with the formality of Anglicanism or even the plain words of my childhood. I lingered in the doorway of Faith, adjusting to the gleam of the interior life that awaited me, not yet grasping just how affecting a single Host would be when I entered into Her Sacraments. Here was a richness I had never imagined, a loveliness that I had only dared believe because others had believed before me, and a Truth that I still may not fully understand, but that gives me the hope that I someday will. "To understand all is to forgive all", and here, at least, in this Holy place, is just that. Forgiveness from One Who inhabits an oddly decorated room, and in Whom I believe with all reason, and yes, because I find it lovely.