About this blogger:
Ronda Chervin received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Fordham University and an MA in Religious Studies from Notre Dame Apostolic Institute. A widow, mother, and grandmother, she currently teaches philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. Write to her at chervinronda@gmail.com.
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Much of the beauty of the older forms was lost and the hymns did not really become classical. We have reason to hope that the present reform of the breviary will also give us back the old form of the hymns. But meanwhile it seems necessary to keep the later text. This is the one best known, it is given in all hymnbooks and is still the only authorized form. Only in one case have we printed the older text of a hymn, number 57, “Urbs Jerusalem.” The modern form of this begins: “Caelestis urbs Jerusalem.” But in this case the people who changed it in the seventeenth century did not even keep its metre; so the later version cannot be sung to the old, exceedingly beautiful tune.
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (1913)

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“Old Filth” by Jane Gardam
published 10 January 2013 by Dr. Ronda Chervin

HEN I VISIT my daughters, voracious fiction readers, they have a stack of novels ready for me piled up on the bed in the guest room. I love fiction but I vet each one first to see if it is so anti-Catholic I shouldn’t read it. Anti-Catholic could mean against the Church as such or full of immoral scenes, etc.

There is a middle category. Fiction written by writers who are somewhat religious, or very religious but not Catholic – as least as far as one could tell, but that have important moral and spiritual messages explicit or hidden in the plot and character depiction. A new British writer for me along these lines is Jane Gardam. Her most famous prize-winning novel is entitled “Old Filth.”

It concerns a hero who is called Old Filth because he was the lawyer who invented the joking advice: If you Fail In London, Try Hong Kong: capitals = Filth. The book is about a category of the wounded I didn’t know existed called the Raj Orphans. These were children born in the colonies such as Malaya, Hong Kong, India, etc. who were sent at an early age back to England to foster-homes and boarding schools so that they would not die of infections at the colonies and, also, so that they would be brought up English instead of going “native.”

The man who became Old Filth was such a child. I will not give away the fascinating plot. What I want to focus on is how even though the characters are mostly Christmas/Easter Anglicans and not “into spirituality” she manages to throw in lines about how evil abortion is, how long living together sexual relationships are wrong and unhealthy, and how repentance with confession to a priest can redeem and heal an entire life. In the Von Hildebrand circle it was taught that when reading novels not written by strong Catholics we must look to see, not how much evil is depicted, but where “the light falls.”

I think it is good for Catholics to read such books and copy some of the ways to get across truth in this reader-friendly way vs. only the direct route of truth proclamation pro-life Catholics such as myself prefer.