The Soldier of Christ: Talks before Confirmation

In Books by Mother Mary Loyola, Books by St. Augustine Academy Press on May 4, 2011 at 11:28 pm

The Soldier of Christ followed closely on the heels of its predecessor, Child of God, appearing just a year later, in 1900.  Like her other books to date, this one covers one of the major sacraments, this time Confirmation.

This review appeared in The Month (volume 95, January-June 1900):

“THE Soldier of Christ is the natural development and sequel of the Child of God; but it supplies what is perhaps a more pressing need—a good practical introduction to the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Though there is only one first Communion, there are many subsequent Communions by which the defects of the first can be repaired, but Confirmation comes but once, and soon passes, often to be remembered no more.  To make it an event and a reality is therefore as important as it is sometimes difficult. Here is a book which, read or listened to, will hardly fail to waken and sustain the interest of a child for some considerable time, in the spiritual significance and importance of this never-to-be-repeated sacrament.  The style and method is in all respects the same as in the former volume, except, perhaps, that the illustrative examples are pushed forward too prominently and consciously, and are sometimes apt to distract the mind too much from the point to be illustrated.  This is only a question of degree; for the value of an illustration lies partly in the fact that it does divert the wearied attention for a moment to throw it back rested and refreshed upon its task once more.  At all events, if the principle be here sometimes pushed to excess, it is a fault that children will readily forgive, and it is they who are to be considered.  It is not only for the ear that the prudent author has made provision in the way of illustrations, but also for the eye; and while the cuts are selected with a view to arrest the attention of the youngest, they are not of the kind that sacrifices good taste to sensation.”

An excerpt from a review by Rev. H. H. Wyman, C.S.P. in The Catholic World, Volume 71, April 1900:

Mother Loyola is endowed with a happy gift of making spiritual things easy and palatable.  [emphasis mine –LB]  She has already demonstrated this in her previous books, and her latest book confirms her reputation.  As any one who has a bit of experience knows, it is an exceedingly difficult thing to talk interestingly to children.  Their butterfly minds are away with the slightest breath of distraction, and to command their attention through the twenty minutes of a catechetical discourse requires a tact that is rare.  Mother Loyola possesses it even in cold type; even when the magnetism of voice and eye and animated face is absent, she seems to attain her ends by a certain chatty conversational method that is replete with anecdote drawn from the most interesting sources and brightened by vivid pen-pictures.  Dr. Stanley Hall, who is acknowledged to be an expert on child study, once said in substance that he envied the Catholic teacher because there was in the storied lives of the saints a vast fund of anecdote and illustration, capable of enforcing in a very striking way the ethical truths.  It is not so creditable to us that a stranger should have to point this out.  Mother Loyola has discovered this rich mine, and has a keen eye to the gems that may be polished for current use.  Her books will prove a boon to many young priests, and sisters too, who have the duty of preparing children for Confirmation and Holy Communion.”

Some rare praise was found in this excerpt from The New Ireland Review, volume 13, July 1900:

“Perfect originality in a theological or ascetical work we should have thought it impossible to attain. That a book on the Sacrament of Confirmation—which this work professes to be—should have a form and a character not traceable in any previous doctrinal treatise is an attainment of authorship which does infinite credit to the writer.  On this achievement we can congratulate Mother Mary Loyola.  Her book is unlike anything we have read or heard of on the same or kindred topics. [emphasis mine –LB]

The idea which underlies this very original treatise is that Confirmation being a Sacrament by which the believer is made a soldier of Christ, partakes of the character of those ceremonies by which the ancient knight and the modern soldier are devoted to the profession of arms, and demand in the recipient those qualities which make the genuine soldier proud of his profession, and an adept in the arts of destruction.  In drawing out these ideas Mother Loyola is led to present us with detailed and very lively accounts of the ceremonies of knighthood, of the qualities which make a successful commander, and of the qualities which render T. Atkins a useful fighting man.  In exemplification of her views she has recourse to the history of warfare, ancient and modern, ranges through the annals of extermination from the First Crusade, through the Napoleonic wars down to Atbara and Omdurman.  On her way she discusses such matters as the laws of chivalry, a soldier’s kit, the transport and army medical service arrangements, reconnoitring, sentry-duty, sharp-shooting, bivouacking, the drilling of recruits, and other matters of much import to the military mind.  It must be confessed that she displays a prodigious knowledge of these subjects, and manages to make her treatment of them exceedingly interesting.  Needless to say, there is an application of the lessons they suggest, in higher and holier fields of effort.  And this, too, is skilfully and interestingly made.  Young readers will, we should expect, peruse the book with genuine interest.  When they have finished it they will, we would hope, find their reverence and devotion towards the person of the Redeemer increased; they will certainly have a larger admiration for the Sirdar.”

The Child of God or What Comes of our Baptism

In Books by Mother Mary Loyola, Books by St. Augustine Academy Press on May 4, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Child of God was the third book published by Mother Mary Loyola and edited by Reverend Herbert Thurston, S.J., but it was the first in which she was persuaded to attach her own name, rather than issuing it anonymously.  The popularity of her first two books, especially First Communion, which had already been through several editions by the time Child of God was published in 1899, is noted in this review by the Irish Monthly (Volume 27, Dublin, 1899):

“Few Catholic books have been so successful as ‘First Communion,’ and the smaller work ‘Confession and Communion,’ of both of which Father Herbert Thurston, S.J., was the editor, not the author.  We are very glad that the author has been forced to appear on the title-page of a new book as Mother Mary Loyola, an inmate of the oldest convent in England, near the Micklegate Bar, in the ancient City of York.  Her new work aims at bringing home to the minds of children a sense of the responsibilities which follow upon the Sacrament of Baptism.  Like ‘First Communion,’ it is full of stories and illustrations, some of them developed at considerable length, and in a lively style.  Youthful readers and listeners are sure to be greatly interested.  This holy and pleasant book is made still more attractive by several beautiful pictures.  Like its predecessors, it will soon run to its fourth and fifth thousand.  We are promised a similar work about the Sacrament of Confirmation.”

From the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Volume 6, September, 1899:

“Mother Mary Loyola is already favourably known to readers of her First CommunionThe Child of God is another children’s book, characterized by the same liveliness of treatment and wealth of familiar illustration as its predecessor.  A thoughtful preface from the pen of Fr. Thurston, S.J., graces the elegant volume.  We believe there can scarcely be any need to recommend it to the favourable notice of Mother M. Loyola’s sisters in religion; there could not be many books found more suitable for a convent library.  It tells in a homely way what comes of our baptism; it interests the reader by dialogues, short stories, and interrogations; it develops the Catholic doctrine on the effects of baptism in a manner that renders its explanation to children an easy matter, and yet a befitting dignity of style is maintained throughout.  It is altogether a useful and beautiful book, and will suit many ‘children’ who are no longer young in years.”

This bright new star in the world of Catholic authors inspired this high praise from The Month (volume 93, May 1899):

“Teachers, like poets, are born and not manufactured; whether systems of training may notably develop the teaching-faculty where it is latent has yet to be proved; but that they can never create it, is beyond all doubt.  The author of The Child of God is a born teacher who probably has discovered and improved her talent by experience and practice, quite independently of any psychological training.  [emphasis mine –LB] We venture to guess that she would give as poor an analysis of her own method as the play-wrights gave to Socrates of theirs.  Indeed, her strength is in her unconsciousness; in the measure in which she begins to reflect, she will most likely begin to fail.  When the public commends certain characteristics of an author’s work, his next volume will be sure to exaggerate them out of all proportion.  Hence, in so many cases, the first product is scarcely equalled by the succeeding.

The child-mind is hard to get at, save for those who retain it to some extent.  Not that it is ever wholly put off; but only over-laid and pushed down to the depths of our sub-consciousness—lost as one voice in a chorus.  Some have skill to single out that voice, and to shut their ears to the rest, and these are the teachers of youth, who can speak to the child in its own language and philosophy.  Imagination, sympathy, inventiveness, experience—when these can be taught, teaching can be taught; till then, one might as well try to purchase the Holy Ghost with money.

To those who underestimate the difficulty of simplicity this book may seem ordinary enough; to ourselves it seems, on second reading—not faultless indeed, far from it—but by no means ordinary.  It is professedly an attempt to bring home to young children the principles of the fundamental Exercises of St. Ignatius—to interest them in that in which it is so hard to interest the mature mind of their elders; to make them face the great questions of man’s whence and whither; to realize the relation of creaturehood with all its consequences; to turn their gaze from without, inwards, and to enter upon the endless quest of self-knowledge. No light task indeed, when we realize that all this truth must be “embodied in a tale,” if it is in any wise to enter in at the lowly doors of wakening reason.  But what lightens it for the author is her singular power of concrete presentment, of direct and vigorous illustration, of vivid pictorial description.  She disdains nothing, almost stops at nothing, in her single strong will to make the truth pass intact from her own mind into the child’s.  She knows well the world of that little mind with its brief narrow experience; the simple objects and familiar figures of which its symbolism is constituted.

The language she uses must be the child’s, and not her own; and it is precisely in the easy adaptation of a medium so limited to the expression of so large a theme, that the creative power of her art is shown.  We do not say that there are no passages where, for a brief moment, her own interest in the matter makes her forgetful of her auditory, where, soliloquizing, she lapses into her own language, and takes the serious tone of preacher or prophet, to the possible bewilderment of the little listener; but on the whole, the smile is never off her face; and a certain hilarious playfulness which delicately hovers above the depths of seriousness, makes the occasional ducking beneath the surface seem an episode rather than the principal end in view.

Whatever can be conveyed by story and parable is so conveyed; and thus the didactic and expository passages are as few and brief as possible, serving only as connective tissue; or if they are long, an illustration is shot into the texture to break the monotony.  For example, during a rather lengthy explanation of grace, she is sensitive to a gathering shadow of weariness on the child’s face, and dispels it with a lightning-flash of illustration:

 This gift is grace.  It was a gift so great that all His other presents to them were as nothing compared with it, and so He told them that rather than part with it they must be ready to lose everything else.  “Your money or your life!” says the highwayman, as he darts out upon the lonely traveller and points the revolver at his breast.  At once everything is handed out, watch, money, valuables of every kind—all must go where there is question of saving life, the life of the body.  All must go, pleasure, comfort, friends, health, the life of the body itself, to save the life of the soul which is the grace of God.

Again, she has the secret of giving an unexpectedly familiar turn to truths not altogether familiar, and thus suddenly driving them into the imagination.  “Why then did God make me?” because “He wanted to see the delight on my face throughout eternity.”  “We sometimes hear people say they do not like machine-work.  Neither does God.”  “Soon I shall be kneeling at His feet, holding up my work, saying to Him, Lord, are you satisfied?”  Arrows of this kind fly out of every page.

Luxuriance, however, has its dangers and needs pruning; the very abundance of the author’s energy is the cause of most of her defects.  Faber, who has given us a few of the very best of our hymns, has also given us many of our very worst; and some would dare a like criticism on Wordsworth’s poetry.  Those who write by instinct are apt to be unwisely impatient of rule and convention, and to take literary liberties which are tolerable only when justified by extreme necessity.  Our author’s exuberance carries her at times beyond the bounds of freshness and freedom into a sort of reckless license that flings out anything anyhow, just as it rises up in the mind; and thus the charm of restraint is gone, and the sense of that dignity which saves simple condescension from degenerating into hurtful familiarity.  We can play with children without romping with them.

Only in one or two places are we offended by those pious unrealities, which are the bane of “good” books for the young.  That St Aloysius fainted over venial sins, and that St. Macarius wept all his life over a stolen fig, even if facts in any sense, are facts so remote from any state of mind we have experience of as to seem ridiculous and fabulous.  Nothing but harm can come of such exaggerations.

But in general the moral teaching of the book is delightfully sound and virile; for example the excellent treatment of the passions on page 172.  And then, having already noticed very acutely that the play of children is not like the play of kittens, mere animal friskiness, but is invariably a mimicry of responsibility—“What we liked was the feeling of being responsible”–the author gives the following excellent counsel, which will serve to bring these remarks to a close :

No one then wants to quarrel with you for holding up your heads as children of Britannia who rules the waves.  On the contrary, the more you think about your freedom and the responsibility it brings, the better.

“Responsibility for being free?”

Certainly, the two things go together as light and shade.  All God’s gifts bring responsibility with them.  The greater the gift, the more responsibility.  Now free-will is His greatest gift, so of course we have to answer for the way in which we use it.  But why do you suppose we care so much about our freedom and fight for it so hard?”

“Because we stand up for our rights, and freedom is our right.”

Very good, and why is it our right?

“Because God made us free.  He made us all free.”

And so we not only take care of our own liberty, but we will not tolerate slavery anywhere.  If an English ship catches sight of a slaver off the coast of Zanzibar, she gives chase and boards it, and frees the poor captives there.  No, we cannot tolerate slavery:

Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs

Receive our air, that moment they are free;

They touch our country, and their shackles fall.

That’s noble, and bespeaks a nation proud.

And jealous of the blessing.

One word of praise may be added for the illustrations.  The two designed for the book by Miss Padbury are in every way excellent.”

First Communion

In Books by Mother Mary Loyola, Books by St. Augustine Academy Press on May 4, 2011 at 9:35 pm

As the name implies, this first of Mother Loyola’s works focuses on those portions of our faith which are of particular interest to children preparing for their First Communion. Though it was originally written when the age of most First Communicants was 12, it is not at all beyond the reach of today’s seven year olds.

Mother Mary Loyola began writing First Communion in the early 1890s, encouraged by Father John Morris, S.J., who was the editor of the Jesuit-run Quarterly Series at the time.  He died in 1893, before the work could be published.  Anxious to ensure a good reception for her book, she asked Father Herbert Thurston, S.J. (perhaps best known for his revision of Butler’s Lives of the Saints) to write a preface.  The work was then issued anonymously in 1896 with Father Thurston listed as the editor.  This was a common practice at the time for books written by cloistered religious, in order to avoid any worldly recognition for the author.

However, the work was extremely popular, and went through several editions before Mother Loyola was eventually persuaded to publish it in her own name.  (See the post on Child of God for more on this.)  Below are some of the early reviews of First Communion at the time it was first published.

Excerpt from The Messenger, Volume 31, July 1896:

“This volume is the ninety-fourth of the Quarterly Series edited by the English Fathers of the Society of Jesus. It will prove of great service to the catechist, especially to him who has the delicate task of preparing children for First Communion. We have no doubt that the children themselves, with a little coaxing and coaching, will also read it with much interest and profit. It is attractive as it is instructive. It is copiously and tastefully illustrated, and elegantly gotten up.”

 From The Irish Monthly, volume 24, 1896:

“This is the largest and stateliest volume that has ever been compiled for the advantage of the children who are preparing for first Communion.  It is the ninety fourth volume of the Quarterly Series continued through so many years by the marvellous devotion of Father Coleridge, S.J.  Besides the nature of its subject, it is an innovation on account of the numerous illustrations which add to its attractions for the youthful reader.  The anonymous author began the work under the guidance of the late Father John Morris, S.J.  His place as editor has been supplied by Father Herbert Thurston.  The correctness and solidity of the materials made use of are thus guaranteed; but the effectiveness of the book with regard to the peculiar constituency for whom it is intended would be best ascertained from the criticism of First Communicants themselves.  It happens that such criticism is forthcoming.  In The Stonyhurst Magazine for June 1896, a Hodder boy, young enough to have still to look forward to his First Communion, gives this opinion of the volume before us:—

May 27th. We have started a lovely new book to help us in preparing for our First Communion.  It is called on the first page, “First Communion,” and is edited by Father Thurston, S.J., for the Quarterly Series.  It is well printed and has some beautiful pictures in it.  We have some of the chapters read to us, and we all like it immensely.  The stories are splendid.  We very much wish that we had had it when we began our forty days’ preparation for First Communion on April 25th.

From The Month, volume 87, May-August 1896:

“We all know that no event in the life of a Catholic child is so important as its First Communion.  The Holy Eucharist being the means appointed by Divine Wisdom to supply whatever is needed for our sanctification in all circumstances of our career on earth, nothing is more essential than that we should understand from the beginning both what It is in Itself, and what we on our part have to do that we may gather from It the proper fruit.  At the same time, those who have practical experience must be equally conscious of the difficulties with which the task of instruction is beset, how hard it is to present to the immature minds of children such a view of the most wonderful of mysteries as shall, not only for the moment impress them, but stamp on their souls a lasting appreciation of the marvellous gift which it is their privilege to possess.

Nothing could better summarize the scope and character of the book before us than the words of St. Paul which the author has prefixed.  “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child,” and never for a moment does he forget to whom it is that instruction is to be imparted.  The plan is large and broad, covering all the ground with which an adult should be familiar—the needs of the soul which the Blessed Sacrament is designed to supply—the types in which God prefigured Its nature and efficacy—the Life and Death of our Lord which It summarizes and applies—the part assigned to ourselves in connection with It.  On all these points ample instruction is given, sound and definite in character, yet always in such a manner as to be understanded of children, and attractive to them.  At the same time there is nothing childish, and we are much mistaken if, like other well-written children’s books, this do not prove even more fascinating to their elders, and if in those who use it for the instruction of others there remain not an abiding memory of what they have gained from it themselves.

Such a judgment can be justified only by giving samples, which we select very much at hazard.  We may begin with this summary of the lessons to be gathered from the figures and predictions of the Old Testament.

When we see a very magnificent preparation made for the reception of a sovereign, we feel sure he must be great and powerful.  We get interested in him, and try to learn something about him.  What, then, are we to think of that King of kings for Whose coming God Himself made a preparation of four thousand years?  In all possible ways God prepared for Him.  All that He did in the world was a preparation for Him.  The choice of a special nation was on His account.  The privileges granted to it, and His singular protection over it were all for His sake.  The types of Him from the beginning, Adam, Abel, and Melchisedech, Isaac and Joseph, Josue and Jonas, the Paschal Lamb, the Manna, the Brazen Serpent, the Food of Elias—all were part of this magnificent preparation.  The Prophets were sent to prepare His way by describing Him so precisely that men might be easily able to know Him at His coming.

In contrast to this, the actual circumstances of His advent at Bethlehem suggest the following reflections.

And why did He come like this?  Why did God the Father make such a preparation as this for His only and well-beloved Son?  It might have been so different.  Our Lord might have turned Herod out of his palace and gone there.  Or He might have made Himself known to holy Simeon and Anna, who were waiting for Him and would have been so glad to take Him in and give Him their very best.  But He did not want the best; He wanted the worst.  Why?  We must try to
understand why… He had to teach us our Catechism from the very beginning, and to teach us by His own example.

As an instance of dogmatic teaching we may take this commentary on our Lord’s treatment of those disciples who went away and walked no more with Him on account of the difficulties raised by His words on the subject of the Sacrament He intended to institute.

Now just think. He saw them going away. He knew it was because of the sense in which they had taken His words.  If they had mistaken His meaning, would He not have called them back and explained; have set their minds right; told them He was only speaking figuratively; and so have kept as disciples those dear souls He was going to lose?  Most surely He would have done so.  But He did nothing of the kind, for there was nothing to explain.  He could not speak more plainly.  They would not believe.  He must let them go.

Look at the Twelve standing round Him, silent, thoughtful, reverent.  They will carry those words of His to the uttermost parts of the earth, and wherever they are heard the true disciples of Jesus will adore as very God the Bread that is His Flesh indeed… If His words were not rightly understood, such adoration would be idolatry.  Will He allow this?  Will He let His Church make such a mistake, if it is a mistake?  Nay, will He give rise to it by His own words?… To say this would be blasphemy.  Yet this is what comes of denying the Real Presence.

In another line is such an illustration as this of the part assigned to us in co-operation with Divine grace.

Look at this pretty picture.  It is a fishing-smack out at sea.  The fisherman has taken his boy of four with him, and they are bringing the boat home.  We must say they, for the name of the picture is “Father and me.”  The haul has been good, and the fish with their silvery scales line the bottom of the boat.  A breeze is getting up and freshening the boy’s cheek and blowing the curls across his forehead.  Look at those two—the rough, weather-beaten man and the fair-haired child.  The strong arm is doing all the work, and close by, tied on to the plank, lest a sudden lurch should throw him overboard, sits the baby-boatman, shouting with delight as he lays his little hands on the oar: “See, see, father and me.”  “Father and me,” indeed, you little rascal, how can you have the face to say it?  And how have we the face to crow over a good work done?…Perfectly true, it really is “Father and me.”  Our share is a real one.  All I say is, are we going to be proud of it?

It would be unpardonable to omit all mention of the stories, so essential an element in a book for children, by which every moral is pointed, but we have not left ourselves space to do them any justice.  We must be content with one exceptionally short.

“Is that you, Pet?” asked a lady, as the sound of small feet was heard passing the open door of the room where she was writing.  “No, mother,” said a sad little voice. “It’s not Pet, it’s only me.”  So we may say after our falls: “See, dear Lord, I have fallen again, but don’t be angry—it’s not St Aloysius—it’s not St. Agnes—it’s only me.

From the above specimens the reader will, we hope, be inclined to endorse the verdict we have heard reported as delivered by one of the youthful audience to whom the book directly appeals, who had obtained access to an early copy.  “Oh, let us have First Communion, it’s such a talky book.”