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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Family Testimony: The Carters, Norfolk, England

Written by  Benedict Carter
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My testimony is for my parents, Donald and Agnes Monica Carter, who despite material privations resisted the advice of the first generation of hippy nuns to be sterilised, stayed open to the gift of life promised in their marriage vows and had nine children (of whom I am the fourth). I hope all current younger Traditionalists and new Traditionalists in the future might benefit from a small insight into the seismic earthquake that hit the Catholic laity in the 1960's. Now my parents are in their middle eighties and they deserve a public tribute for their faith, their fortitude and for giving their children their all.

Our mother was born a Catholic; our father was a convert from Anglicanism in 1946. They came from adjacent villages in the east of England, one of them listed in the Domesday Book in 1076. Dad likes to tell the story of how the local Anglican vicar came to his house to ask why he had not been at choir practice. My grandmother nervously told the vicar that dad had only the week before become a Catholic (at the age of 16). The vicar apparently turned on his heel, walked out without a word, only wheeling around at the front door to proclaim in dramatic tones, "Just remember Mrs Carter! The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England!"

(Well, of course now in 2015 neither does Jesus Christ. Allah isn't doing so badly though).

As he was a convert, I suppose dad tried to learn more about the Faith than most cradle Catholics and to this day he is the most knowledgeable man on the Catholic religion I have ever met. Imagine at the age of four or five driving along in the family car with your dad quizzing you on what are the Ember Days or what were the names of all the Apostles and can you remember the Cardinal Virtues? And Church history too, he seemed to know so much (and did). How many Catholic fathers today are as passionate about the Faith? Very, very few. And how many as knowledgeable? None, I imagine. And that is the measure of how much has been lost and how hard we and the generations to come are going to have to work to restore Christian civilisation. The Faith was dad's everyday reality, the core of his life. It is my father who gave me the Catholic Faith and may God give him Heaven for it.

Our mother showed us how to live the Faith. A saintly woman, her faith was not so passionate as our father’s, but certainly more gentle, and it burned with a pure flame because her love of Jesus Christ was absolutely real and showed itself in many little gestures and kindnesses. One thing I will remember to my dying day was the way in which she would leave our little parish church in the country town of Bungay in the county of Suffolk. I would have been five or six I think when I first noticed it. She would genuflect with such simple devotion and reverence, absolutely refusing to speak even to us little ones until she had left the church. At the door she would turn once more to face the Tabernacle, make the Sign of the Cross and bow slowly, again with great reverence, to Our Lord before leaving the church. I have never forgotten it. (And the next time I saw it done was thirty years later in Moscow by an old lady coming out of a Russian Orthodox church).

Another time, my mother gave her definition of ecumenism. “When I was a little girl (in the 1930s), we would leave the house dressed as well as we could to walk to Mass. We would pass the neighbours, all going to their place of worship. Some to Mass like us, others to the Anglican church, others again to the Methodist chapel. My father would tip his hat to them, the other men would tip their hats to him, we all said “Good morning!” to each other and meant it. But neither they nor we would ever have considered going to each other’s place of worship. That’s the only ecumenism I understand.”

And so came to our family the storm of wind from hell that followed hot on the heels of Vatican II and which reduced my parents for many years to a dislocation of psyche which manifested itself in grief, a complete disorientation of their lives and a sense of outrage that was never really assuaged even with the passing of years. I am quite sure that to some extent our father's mind was even thrown by it for some years.

Bewilderment, a very deep sense of betrayal, confusion, anger and a deep grief - these were the realities for hundreds of thousands of English Catholics in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the first version of the Novus Ordo gave way to versions two, three, four, each one less Catholic than the one that proceeded it. It was the Mass that was the focal point of the disorientation. My parents quickly understood that something very profound had been left out of the New Mass – its Catholic ethos was entirely absent. Dad fumed about it, our mother was greatly distressed. Like so many others, in desperation they spoke to other parishioners, scoured the Catholic Press for any scrap of news that would explain the catastrophe. And little by little, year by year, they became aware of others, many others, who were suffering as they were. Those early Traditionalists in England gathered around the likes of Hamish Fraser and his "Approaches" magazine, Michael Davies, priests like Fr. Oswald Baker (without doubt the greatest preacher I have ever heard), a man who gained national notoriety by point blank refusing to say the Novus Ordo and then defied his Bishop by refusing to move out of his presbytery or give up his Downham Market church in eastern England to another appointed priest (and his resistance lasted seventeen years from memory!).

Another vivid memory is from 1973, and dad's euphoria at the Solemn High Mass said in London (in a cinema) by a certain Archbishop Lefebvre. I remember the huge wave of applause that met the Archbishop's declaration that "We will be Catholics! We will NOT be Protestants!" In the scrum around the Archbishop afterwards, dad managed to introduce a little ten-year old boy to the great man. The Archbishop fixed his eyes on mine and held my gaze without wavering for several seconds (I remember it was the first time anyone had ever tried to see deep inside me that way). He smiled, asked me to kneel and then blessed me in words I didn't understand but realised must be Latin.

As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, my parents found out, like others, that there were a few priests who had been retired, put out to pasture, thrown away really by their Bishops for refusing to countenance the New Mass. We gravitated to Mass attendance therefore in dusty old clerical apartments and houses, feeling as children somewhat foolish I think (though one or two of us felt that we were like recusant Catholics of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and liked the fact). We already understood though that we were on the outside. The parish life we had had earlier was finished and I am quite sure this fact alone was very destructive to the family: a Catholic life is to be shared with others in a church with a parishes’ inner life. For the early Traditionalists, that was all gone. And soon, for the majority of the children, so was the faith.

How did the demonic tempest of the 1970s and after affect the children? Of the nine:

The eldest  - lapsed - is a militant atheist who I have heard audibly sniggering when Catholicism is mentioned.
The second believes and attends the Novus Ordo irregularly.
The third - lapsed - is an atheist.
The fourth semi-lapsed for thirty years but is now a Traditionalist.
The fifth - lapsed - is on his third wife but sometimes says he would like to come back to the Faith.
The sixth occasionally goes to the Novus Ordo but accepts the liberal-progressive stance on moral matters.
The seventh ditto.
The eighth - lapsed - is an atheist.
The ninth - lapsed - is a homosexual living with another.

As can be seen, the demonic tempest of wind blew the family apart. And this is another reason why I would like to meet the post-Vatican II Church collectively in the boxing ring. If the Church had remained true, then the damage to our family and to so many others would have been vastly less. Of this I am certain. Yes, of course there was great change in the secular world and free will always operates - but if the Church has stayed strong against that part of the world that the devil does rule, that part of the world that rejects Grace - instead of embracing it to Her bosom, then I am quite sure the world and my family would look very different today.

I know that as a Traditionalist active in catholic blogging for some years, I am in part carrying the flame first picked up and held aloft by my parents, among very many others, and in doing so I am trying to acknowledge as a son their pain as the centre of their lives completely broke apart at the hands of the Revolutionaries. For my brothers and sisters, I ask Our Lord that none of them, nor their children, may be lost. For my parents, I ask for the grace of a final perseverance.

Let my mother have the last words.

This in the late 1970s to my father, in a scandalised tone of voice which asked ‘why?’, "These Modernists! But there's no charity in them!" No, mum, there isn't. Not back then, not now.

And, much later, quietly to me during a visit in the 1990s, before she later slipped into the permanent silence and forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s: “My prayer to Our Lord Jesus all these years has been that my children will believe what I believe. That’s all I want, the only thing. That my children will one day believe what I have always believed.” She stared into the distance, heart-broken.

Tears rolled down my face.

This one believes what you always believed mum. This one does. 

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