ANTHONY ESOLEN How the Church Has Changed theWorld Volume IV January 2020 – December 2021 MAGNIFICAT Paris • New York • Oxford • Madrid

Publisher: Romain Lizé Editor-in-Chief: Rev. Sebastian White, o.p. Managing Editor: David Wharton Iconography: Isabelle Mascaras Layout: Julia Pateu Cover: Diane Danis Proofreading: Samuel Wigutow Front cover: Church of Eragny (1886), Lucien Pissaro (1863-1944), Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK. © akg-images. Copyright © 2023 by Magnificat Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in 2023 in France by Sepec – 11355220119 First edition: 2023 ISBN: 978-1-63967-051-2 No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Magnificat, PO Box 834, Yonkers, NY 10702.

contents Sanctity No Elder than a Boy ��������������������������������� 5 Pilgrimage into Poverty ����������������������������������������� 12 Teacher to the Nation �������������������������������������������� 19 Sign of Beauty, Sign of Glory ������������������������������� 26 Be Not Afraid ���������������������������������������������������������� 33 Jewels for the Lord �������������������������������������������������� 40 King of the Northmen ������������������������������������������� 47 Doves in the Clefts of the Rock ��������������������������� 54 The Heavens Declare the Glory of God ������������� 61 Protector of the Indians ����������������������������������������� 68 The Delicate Nest ���������������������������������������������������� 75 A Folk Song for the Lord �������������������������������������� 83 God Makes No Mistakes ��������������������������������������� 91 Sculpting the Breath of God ��������������������������������� 98 There Will Your Heart Be Also ��������������������������107 Stronger than Steel �����������������������������������������������112 A Ring of Joy ����������������������������������������������������������119 The Father of a Nation �����������������������������������������126 The Seeker of Harmony ���������������������������������������133 Flower of Zeal ��������������������������������������������������������140 Know the Ways ������������������������������������������������������147 The Grave of the Unknown Missionary �����������154 He Trains My Fingers for Peace �������������������������161 The Rock of Ages ��������������������������������������������������168

5 Sanctity No Elder than a Boy Many a lover of man’s best friend has hoped to find a shaggy welcome in heaven, as if the old fellow would wag his tail to say, “It’s you! I’m glad you made it. I wasn’t sure.” But what about a dog sent from heaven? A big gray scruffy wolf of a dog, who appears out of nowhere when you’re in trouble, and when you look around after the thieves or killers have run away, he’s gone? Saint John Bosco had that dog, or the dog had him. It’s hard to tell which. I’ll tell about the dog because I’m telling about the boy that John Bosco was. There are two kinds of people who should never teach boys: people who don’t like boys or know what they are, and people who do not like men or know what they are. John Bosco was the greatest teacher of boys the modern world has seen, and that was partly because he remained a boy all his life long. More than one kind of beast John Bosco was only a small boy when, one night, he dreamed he was being pursued by ferocious animals, but while he was running away, a woman’s voice told him instead to bring those animals into pasture. So he did, and they became a flock of gentle sheep. John took the dream to heart, and when

6 How the Church Has Changed the World he grew up and became a parish priest in Turin, he saw plenty that was wild and fierce roaming the streets. They were the homeless boys of that big city, black with soot from the factories. Those boys were growing up to be worse than beasts. John Bosco’s heart went out to them. What would you do if you wanted to bring God to rough boys on the streets? Whatever you’d do, it would help if you had the physique for it. John Bosco had that strength. He grew up doing hard physical work on his mother’s plot of land in the country, which she and he and his brother had to tend themselves after the father died—plowing, planting, reaping, caring for the cows and horses and pigs, and keeping the vineyard. But John also had a hobby that did not require shovels and pitchforks. He would set up a small stage in front of his friends and repeat what the priest had said on Sunday. So has many an altar boy done. But John added things that the priest couldn’t have done without earning him a visit to the bishop. John walked on his hands and did cartwheels. He did magic tricks, picking coins out of people’s ears. He did as a boy the things he would later do for the boys. He was already an athlete for God. Let me have the boy When he became a priest, John Bosco did not forget that he had been a boy. He could be found

7 Sanctity No Elder than a Boy walking a tightrope in front of twenty cheering and very dirty boys, catching their attention by his strength and agility, and winning their hearts with his good humor and his love. Who was the first boy that Father John Bosco—Don Bosco, as they called him—saved from poverty and ignorance? One day he overheard his sacristan scolding a teenage boy, a ragged lad from the streets. He wanted the boy to serve Mass, but they boy said he didn’t know how to do it. “Then get lost!” hollered the sacristan, but Don Bosco interrupted. “Let me have the boy,” he said. The boy’s name was Bartolomeo Garelli. He was about sixteen. Did he know when to kneel at Mass and when to stand? He didn’t even know how to make the sign of the cross. Don Bosco taught him how, and made him promise to return the next day. The boy kept his promise, won over by the priest’s kindness. But he did more than keep his promise, just as Don Bosco was more than simply kind. Bartolomeo brought a couple of other boys with him. That is how Don Bosco’s ministry to the wayside youth of Turin began. If the boy had a home, Don Bosco would visit him there, and meet his mother and father and his brothers and sisters. If the boy wanted food, he got it for him. All the boys, just like the rest of us, needed the grace of God, so he took them to Mass and instructed them

8 How the Church Has Changed the World in the faith. They needed recreation, so he took them also to the park, where he mingled instruction with games and athletic feats. Kindness, not punishment You must not think that Don Bosco was a man of ordinary intelligence who was simply good with children. He was a brilliant man. He wrote more books in his life than a lot of people have read— nearly a hundred. His superiors gave him the chance to be a professor at a university, and he would have taken it, because he was an obedient priest, but he told them that he still felt he needed to take care of the poor children—that was where his calling lay. Three hundred boys—and his ministry was just beginning! Imagine having three hundred boys playing in the courtyard of your church. Not all priests were happy about that, or the parishioners either. Boys are noisy creatures. They trample the grass. The ball they’re kicking bounces off into the flowerbeds. All kinds of terrible things like that can happen. So you must imagine Don Bosco leading the boys on a Sunday walk, miles and miles into the countryside, arriving at a church, asking permission to say Mass there, doing so with all those boys in attendance, then having breakfast in the open air, followed by play, and catechism, and the long walk back into Turin, singing hymns as a choir would sing them,

9 Sanctity No Elder than a Boy and praying the rosary. The boys would remember those Sundays for the rest of their lives. Don Bosco went on to found the Salesians, named after Saint Francis de Sales. The Salesians follow the wisdom of their founder. Kindness, not punishment, was the key; Don Bosco could always obtain from his boys the obedience he wanted by being kind to them, by praising their good works, and by showing them that he loved them and would do anything he could to feed them, house them, teach them, and build their souls. During the life of Don Bosco, the Salesians spread to several countries and ministered to hundreds of thousands of boys. Our needs are just as great now as their need was then. How many boys in our time grow up without a father, to model for them, if only in a distant way, the love of the Father? Mamma and the dog But I will conclude with two more things that should warm the hearts of boys everywhere. One was the mother. Many of the boys were orphans, and whether they were or not, Don Bosco was a man, and a boy needs a mother’s care too, something he could not give them. That was why he begged his mother Margarita to come and join them. It meant a great sacrifice for her to leave her beloved little cottage in the country, and the farm

10 How the Church Has Changed the World she had worked from the time she was married, to go to dingy and noisy and dangerous Turin, the big city, and be mother, housemaid, nurse, and teacher to hundreds of boys. But she did it. They called her Mamma Margarita, and what that one old woman did freed Don Bosco to build more and more— teaching, always teaching, establishing the Oratory of Saint Francis, hiring professors for it, and reaping the reward of vocations to the priesthood. Man and woman, mother and son, working together as if in a dance, as God intended it to be. Theotherwas adognamedGrigio.Hewas three feet tall at the shoulder, as big as aNewfoundland or a mastiff. He had thick white-gray fur, and a muzzle like a wolf ’s. He could put the fear of dog into the criminals who infested the alleys of the city. Where did Don Bosco find him? Nowhere. Don Bosco did not find him. Grigio found Don Bosco. “It was not you who chose me,” said Jesus to the apostles, “but I who chose you.” Often, when Don Bosco was walking from the country into Turin, or walking the city’s streets at night, this magnificent animal appeared out of nowhere to walk beside him, just when assassins were about to waylay him. Once, Grigio pinned a thug by the throat, and would have killed him if the man hadn’t pleaded with Don Bosco to call his dog off. The boys loved Grigio, but nobody ever gave him any food. Grigio refused, even when once they got

11 Sanctity No Elder than a Boy him to enter the refectory where everybody took their meals. Grigio came and went when Don Bosco needed his protection, and that was that. He even appeared to the priest and a friend of his thirty years later, when they were lost at night in a dangerous marsh. “If only my Grigio were here!” cried Don Bosco, when sure enough, there was the dog, who led them by a meandering path out of the danger. The dog may have been a guardian angel. But wouldn’t our own dogs be guardian angels, if they could? ••

12 Pilgrimage into Poverty I’m writing this month about Lourdes, and my fingers should tremble. Six million people visit the grotto every year. I’ve never been there. Franz Werfel, a Jew, wrote a fine book about Saint Bernadette’s visions, and how no one believed her at first, not even her family; how she was ridiculed, slapped in prison, called a fraud by skeptics; how she maintained her simple faith throughout; and her honest account of the facts. The journalist Malcolm Muggeridge—he who would introduce the world to Mother Teresa in the 1969 documentary Something Beautiful for God— accompanied a pilgrimage to Lourdes with his film crew in 1965. This was long before he and his wife entered the Church in their very old age. He didn’t witness what the Church, with her severe criteria, would certify as a miraculous cure. But he recalled the beauty of the place; the light shining in the eyes of a young lady, crippled and dying, whom he had met and spoken to as she went down to the waters. He believed, in a way he couldn’t yet describe, that Jesus the healer was present: “At Lourdes, too, bowing their heads, abating their twitchings, holding out their hands, if they have any, as the Blessed Sacrament approaches, they recall his healing

13 Pilgrimage into Poverty words: Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace.” There’s no place in the world like Lourdes. To go there in faith is to make a pilgrimage into poverty. Muggeridge would understand, because he had seen through the vanity of what the world calls great. Mother Teresa would understand. Muslims go to Mecca, to adore the power of God. Hindus go to the mighty Ganges River to immerse themselves in the waters of an ancient mythology. But Lourdes? It’s a mustard seed by comparison. It’s a bit of leaven that an ordinary woman kneaded into some dough. It is a pearl hidden in a field. It is a stone that the builders tossed aside. The girl was small To whom should the Virgin Mother appear? To such as Bernadette Soubirous. Her family lived in terrible poverty. At the time the visions came, their rented home was an old jail cell, twelve feet square, with a stinking privy in the back. Bernadette was only beginning, at age fourteen, to learn to read. Lourdes was a forgotten village in the foothills of the Pyrenees. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” asked Nathanael, but that was before he met Jesus. On a cold and rainy day, February 11, 1858, Bernadette, her sister, and a friend went out gathering sticks for firewood. Think of Elijah and the

14 How the Church Has Changed the World widow and her son, in the years of famine. The grotto of Massabielle had no glorious spired basilica on it then. It was a muddy and miserable place, a watering hole for pigs, where the Gave River washed up all kinds of garbage, some of which the poor children would gather up and sell. Bernadette wasn’t there to play a game. The other girls had crossed the river, which was so cold it made them cry. Bernadette needed to get across too, so she asked the girls to toss some rocks into the water for stepping stones, while she was busy sitting down, taking off her stockings. That was all she was thinking of, the practical matter of getting across the river without bringing on an attack of her asthma or ruining the stockings. Then she turned and saw a lady dressed in white, silently saying the rosary. She didn’t know who it was. She even told the girls to keep quiet about it. She didn’t trust her judgment. That’s why she brought holy water to the grotto the next time she felt drawn to visit it, to splash upon the lady, in case it was an evil spirit. But the lady smiled. She told Bernadette to come to the grotto every day for a fortnight. We might say that the pilgrimages began then. Her family came with her. People in the village came. The police had to come to keep order. Curiosity seekers came. Scoffers and skeptics came. Christians came.

15 Pilgrimage into Poverty What did they come to see? On February 25, the lady made Bernadette smaller than ever: she told her to do two things that no one could understand. She was to go crawl underneath a projecting rock and drink from the “fountain” there; and to eat some of the grass. There was no fountain. It was a small puddle, more mud than water. Bernadette scratched at it until she could drink a little, and she ate the grass, too. Imagine her muddy face, flecked with weeds. Who could believe in her visions now? Even her family lost heart. But the spring bubbled up beneath the mud. After the miraculous cure of a paralytic woman, the crowds returned, much to the chagrin of the local police. In all of this, Bernadette never put herself forward. All she did was to keep her promise to the lady, to return to the grotto, where she prayed silently, her countenance glowing with both sadness and joy. The Immaculate Conception Bernadette’s parish priest, an impatient fellow, finally told the girl to demand from the lady her name. This came after the lady had commanded a sacred procession to the grotto, and a chapel to be built at the site. The procession was the first organized pilgrimage to Lourdes. Ten thousand people were there. But Bernadette still did not know the lady’s name. She did not presume to know. She didn’t even

16 How the Church Has Changed the World admit that she had been responsible for any cures. She refused all money. She wanted only to obey the lady, and to study for her First Communion. The fortnight passed. The Soubirous family was as poor as ever. Lourdes was thronged with visitors. Bernadette had returned to her ordinary life. Then onMarch 25, she heard the call again, and this time the lady revealed her name, in the girl’s dialect. Tell the priest, she said, Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette rehearsed the strange words on her way to the priest. She didn’t knowwhat they meant. Pope Pius IX had recently declared as a matter of faith that Mary had been conceived without taint of original sin. Bernadette did not know that. The priest did—and he was stunned. How shall I put these things together? A young man with his hip devoured by cancer enters the waters of Lourdes. He has, on one side, no hip at all. When he returns from Lourdes, he begins again to walk and run as he used to do. X-rays show that there is no more sarcoma. Instead there is a hip, sound and sure. Where did that come from? You can’t persuade your body to make new tissue out of nothing. The new bone came from the smallest of places, that mustard seed, that leaven. What lies within the smallest of the seeds? God Almighty does: the power that made the universe from nothing, the

17 Pilgrimage into Poverty eternity that is wholly present in every smallest twitch of an atom. It’s no more difficult for God to make worlds than for him to make cells rush in multiplication and build up bone; each is as nothing at all, to God. When the flesh of Mary began to be knit in the womb of her mother Anne, what then was the work of God? He wrought a miracle, preserving Mary from that fall of Adam that is the shadow that falls upon each of us when we are conceived. We are born paralytics, hunched toward sin and death. Mary was born in full health of soul. She stood upright. Christ the healer By 1908, the fiftieth anniversary of the apparition of Mary to little Bernadette, the Lourdes researcher Georges Bertrin had counted 3,962 bodily cures. Only about one in fourteen of these were of nervous conditions. Many of the rest involved the inexplicable and immediate growth of healthy tissue. Bertrin says also that even if some of the cures were doubtful, a far greater number of cures were never recorded at all. France since the revolution had been riven by materialists on one side, who hated the Church and scoffed at the piety of ordinary people, and faithful Christians on the other. So the Lord raised up the small against the great. Think of the poor

18 How the Church Has Changed the World parish priest Saint John Vianney, patron saint of students who have trouble with their exams. Think of Bernadette. And think of the thousands and millions of people who came to Lourdes. Think of the spiritual miracle of conversion of heart. Which is more difficult, to heal a clotted artery, or to soften a lifelong hardening of the heart in sin? Even in the earliest days, sinners came to Lourdes to sneer, and left in tears of joyful repentance. The fact is, we all need the water from Lourdes. It isn’t like the Ganges, one of the most polluted rivers in the world, but which harbors a germ that eats the germs on your flesh. Lourdes water has no such germs. Or it does have germs: the germinal seeds of faith, hope, and charity. Lourdes is available to us at all times. Christ the Healer is ready with the living water. We have only to submit, and to ask—and not heed what the scoffers will say. Some of them too will one day come down to the everlasting spring. ••

19 Teacher to the Nation The scene is the Basilica of Saint Mark, in Milan, in 1874. The church is thronged, as it had been at the beloved man’s funeral one year ago. Now the man’s friend, his hair quite gray, stands on a dais before a vast orchestra and choir, and in quick and tremulous gestures he raises his arms and brings them down, rising and falling again and again, as the words thunder as if from heaven: Dies irae, dies illa, Solvet saeclum in favilla, Teste David cum Sybilla! The music rains down like that final fire that will dissolve the world. Yet the man is not angry. The choristers do not sing with fear. For one passionate half-hour they perform that sequence from the Mass for the Dead. It is only one part of the performance. There are the Kyrie and the Sanctus and the other prayers; the Agnus Dei, with a duet of sopranos soaring heavenward in appeal: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem. The conductor is also the composer, Giuseppe Verdi, the greatest genius of opera the world has known. Verdi had been raised Catholic and was an Italian patriot. So was the man who lay in his coffin

20 How the Church Has Changed the World in San Marco, in honor of whom Verdi composed his stupendous work of sacred opera. His name was Alessandro Manzoni, the greatest Italian writer of the 19th century, a loyal son of the Church, and to this day a beloved teacher to the nation. What is enlightenment? It would not have been so, if mere human beings had had their way. As I write, I’m looking at a painting of the young Alessandro. He is tall, with a long face, a shock of black hair, and pensive, intelligent eyes. In the wrong place, at the wrong time, he could have done great harm to himself, to others, and to the Church. And he was indeed in the wrong place, at the wrong time. When he was a youth, he joined his divorced mother in Paris, in the fashionable salons, wheremendivided their days between indulging their intellects in falsehood, called reason, and their bodies in debauchery, called liberty. Tear down the unspeakable thing! Voltaire had cried, meaning the Church, and Alessandro agreed. It was convenient to agree. But God had other plans for him. He married a pious Protestant girl, and in 1810, at the age of twenty-five, Alessandro Manzoni was present at her reception into the Catholic Church. From then till the day of his death, Manzoni dedicated himself, his intellect, and his art to Christ, the Church, his beloved Italy, and the poor.

21 Teacher to the Nation For he hadn’t forgotten everything from those salons. Pagans often speak more wisely than they know. The French had rebelled against the arbitrary abuse of power; and no one in Italy wrote with more fire against that than didManzoni. French intellectuals had taken up the cause of the poor; and the hero and heroine of Manzoni’s greatest work, The Betrothed, are but a poor young tailor, Renzo, and his promised spouse, Lucia. Manzoni was not a sentimentalist. He saw that reason brought light, but reason led to God, who is light. Enlightenment without God is red in tooth and claw: men will but more efficiently tear one another to ribbons. The Church led men to the true light. Night, and a pistol Another scene. It is night, in a castle atop a mountain overlooking the town of Lecco. A man sits in his study. He is not young. His life is etched upon his face: a life of will, the exercise of power, an almost ascetic disdain for common pleasures, a keen intellect wasted. He is holding a girl in a roombelow. He has kidnapped her from a convent in Lecco, where she was hiding from a local nobleman, Don Rodrigo. She was promised in marriage to a peasant, a young tailor. Why has he done this? What is this Don Rodrigo to him? The man’s name arouses such fear that no one dares to breathe it. He is L’Innominato: “The

22 How the Church Has Changed the World Unnamed.” His own servants and henchmen tremble when he comes before them. And the girl… if only she had tried the ways of women! A leer, a pout, something to scorn, something impure; but she knelt before him, and she promised to pray for him. “You have had a mother, my lord!” she cried. “Think of my mother. What have I done to you, my lord? Why will you not let me go home to my mother?” Her innocence disarmed him. Her innocence did more than that. He takes a pistol out of its case and lays it before him on the desk. It is loaded. He cocks it, uncocks it, and cocks it again. A wasted life, a life of wickedness, and from that wickedness no joy, but only darkness visible. And if he dies, no one will pity him. So it goes through the night, when in the early dawn he hears sounds from far below. Bells? The neighing of horses? The chatter of happy people? What is that life from which he has shut himself out? The Unnamed descends. Reader, do you want to know what happens? Do youwant to be there when this lifelong criminal, this terrible man feared by everyone and weighted down by sin upon sin, descends the mountain? Why are the bells ringing? Who has come to town? You must read The Betrothed.

23 Teacher to the Nation Hanging in the balance Another scene. The plague has struck Lombardy— plague after famine. The saintly Cardinal of Milan, Federico Borromeo, has emptied his coffers for the relief of the poor. He has also built an asylum for the sufferers—a lazaretto. There, priests and nuns do all they can to feed the sick, to tend to them, to give them consolation, to protect their children, and to bury the dead. One hundred of the cardinal’s priests will die in the effort. One of those, Fra Cristoforo, is standing by the bed of a dying man. It is, or was, an aristocrat, Don Rodrigo by name. The man is raving in a fever. He cannot understand what is said to him. He appears to be dying in his wickedness. Also standing there is a young tailor, Renzo. The dying man is his worst enemy. He had stolen his bride-to-be, and now she is dying somewhere in this vast field of sickness, or is already dead. He had sworn vengeance. “If I don’t find her,” he had cried, “I’ll sure find someone else! In Milan, or in his filthy palace, or in the devil’s own house, I’ll find that swine who separated us! My Lucia, twenty months it’s been, she’d have beenmine, and if we had to die, at least we’d die together. But if he’s still alive and I find him”—but the priest had cut him short. Not with easy words. Death and judgment everywhere, and hell gaping wide! “Wretched

24 How the Church Has Changed the World sinner!” cried the priest, “look and see who chastises man, who judges and is not judged! Who plies the lash and who pardons! But you, worm of the earth, you want to deal out justice. You know what justice is, you!” And with such words, not balm but a purifying fire, he scored the soul of the boy, stripped away its selfishness, and left it bare to the dreadful medicine of God. So they stand, the boy and the priest; the one a young survivor, the other about to die of the illness himself. And there in bed lies the evil man, the source of so much misery. “For four days he has been as you see. No sign of consciousness,” says the priest. “Maybe the Lord is ready to grant him an hour of reconciliation, but he wants you to pray for him; maybe he wants you and that innocent girl to pray; maybe he reserves his grace for your prayer alone, the prayer of a heart in pain, but resigned to the pain. Maybe the salvation of this man—and your own—depends upon you, hangs upon one impulse of pardon, of compassion—of love!” What happens then? You must read The Betrothed. Where is his like? When Alessandro Manzoni died at the age of eighty-eight, all of Italymourned. If you go to Lecco you can see in the Piazza Manzoni a monumental

25 Teacher to the Nation sculpture of the author, an old man seated with a book, his head slightly tilted, as in kindly thought about the grandeur and the folly of man, and the love of God that overcomes all wickedness. Or you may go to Milan, to the Cimitero Monumentale, where he is entombed. Or you may ask schoolchildren about Renzo and Lucia, and they will be happy to tell you things; because in Italy, The Betrothed is not just studied. It is beloved. No one now where English is spoken stands as Manzoni did for the Italians. But he would never want us to end with praise of himself. The true and only man, as Manzoni knew, was Christ. So I will end with a verse fromManzoni’s hymn in honor of the Resurrection: He is risen: his sacred head Rests upon the cloth no more; He is risen: to one side Of the lonely sepulcher Lies the shroud he tossed away: Like a strong man flushed with wine Wakes the Lord upon this day. ••

26 Sign of Beauty, Sign of Glory Well was it called the Place of the Skull. Graywhite limestone, rugged and creased, barren of life, you would suppose; but for the stunted pines at the base, the wild grasses with no name, a deep blue iris here and there poking out bravely from the vertical face, and the coo of doves nesting in the clefts of the rock. An old woman hobbled up the stony way to the bald top of the hill, leaning upon a stick. She was dressed in grave simplicity, but the cortege of soldiers gave witness that she was a lady of importance. “Augusta,” said an old man, darting a glance from side to side, expecting to catch sight of someone in the shadows, “this is the place.” “You are not lying to us?” “I am in fear of my life, Augusta.” “You will not betray the Lord, Judas?” “Domina, I did not name myself. This is the place.” The old woman looked about. Nearby stood a temple that Hadrian, emperor of Rome two hundred years past, had built, as if in scorn of the love that here was made manifest, here and nowhere else. It was a temple to the goddess of love, Aphrodite.

27 Sign of Beauty, Sign of Glory “Our people have known of the place and kept it secret,” said Judas. “It is here, buried under earth and stones.” “We shall see,” said the old woman, and she raised her cane toward the soldiers. They were carrying picks and shovels. “Dig here,” she said. Nothing but skulls The old woman had seen much in her time. She was but a girl, helping her father work the busy inn he kept in the old city by the gulf; shipmen and camel drovers, day after day, barbarians to the north, pagans all round, and Christians, those strange people, trying to honor their Lord in peace, yet willing to die for him when the persecutions came. One day he showed up, Constantius the military commander, nicknamed the Paleface, the man she honored and loved. Husband and wife then went west, to live not in palaces but in camps along the Danube and the cold Rhine, keeping the Germans on the far side. She had seen many a man die on a cross. She bore an only son to him, named Little Constantius, that is, Constantinus. So long ago it was. Constantius was true and not true to his name. He was constant in his love for the empire, constant in courage, constant in just administration of the laws. He was fair to Christians when such fairness was frowned upon. And he was constant in ambition, so when the chance came for

28 How the Church Has Changed the World him to be named praetorian prefect of the West, he took it, and abandoned his wife, marrying the daughter of the co-emperor Maxentius. Constantius became emperor himself, but he would not wear that title long, dying in York after victories against the men with the painted bellies— the Picts. His wife herself had lived for a long time in that faraway island, Britain, in the company of her son. He too was a fighter, and an ambitious man. Oh, the emperors, they come and go, she thought. She had seen enough of them for one lifetime. Hadrian too, he came and went. “Nothing but rubble so far, Domina,” said the centurion. “Rubble and skulls.” “Let the skulls be. We are searching for life, not death. Keep digging.” So they did. In this sign you shall conquer Who rules the world? She saw in her mind’s eye the great Diocletian, whom she had known. In his late years, people said that you had to lie on your face when you approached him, calling him “Dominus et Deus,” as if he were some god out of the god-besotted east. She smiled and shook her head. The man himself did not believe a bit of it. All stage, all show. He enjoyed governing, which he was remarkably good

29 Sign of Beauty, Sign of Glory at, and gardening also. In his old age he gave up the former so he could better enjoy the latter. Before that, his underling had persuaded him to persecute the Christians, which he did, as he did all things, with real efficiency. “Artichokes would have been better,” she said to herself. “Domina?” “Ah, centurion, I was thinking about an emperor. Anything yet?” “Rubble is all.” “Almost all,” she said. Rubble was what they left of the church in her father’s city. By then she was in Britain with Constantinus. She was making her deliberate way toward Christ. She had seen too much of the world to be hasty. A Greek philosopher could oil the world with his words; and oil meant money and power. The dark priests of Britain terrified the people; and terror meant money and power. Augustus and Rome were god and goddess, and they were nothing without money and power. Christ was not only different. He was that whole world turned upside down. “Mother,” said Constantinus one day, “I have had a dream.” They were outside of Rome, and her son was fighting for control over the west. Mother and son had been nudging one another along the Christian

30 How the Church Has Changed the World way. He told her the dream. It was of a shining cross in the heavens, with the words en Toutoi Nika: In this, be victorious. “It is a sign of shame,” he said. “A scandal to the Jews, and folly to the Greeks,” said she. “Death and defeat,” he said. “Life and victory.” “What does it mean?” he said. “It means that the world is not ruled as men have thought.” “I shall have my men bear this sign upon our banners.” The dream indeed came true. And she, Helena, the humble daughter of an innkeeper, became Augusta, the most powerful woman in the world. “Lignum, lignum!” cried the soldiers. “The wood of life,” said she. How can we tell? Helena couldhave spent her later years asDiocletian did, gardening, and enjoying the wealth of an empress. Or that was what she did, in fact. She enjoyed that wealth by giving it away, endowing and planting churches wherever she went, in Rome and Trier and now in Palestine. She took a gold coin from a fold of her garment. She looked at it with an old woman’s ironic eye. “I haven’t looked like that in many years,” she thought, seeing her stamped bust upon it, with full

31 Sign of Beauty, Sign of Glory cheeks and braided hair and a coronet. “Augusta,” it read, while on the reverse stood an allegory of Security, holding an olive branch. No security but in Christ, she thought. “Augusta,” said the centurion, as if short of breath. “We have found three of them. Three posts and three beams.” The old woman hobbled to the edge of the cavity, fell to her knees, and peered down. Five or six sweating men, stripped to the waist, looked up to her, holding their picks upright and backing away, in dread, from the planks. For a few moments no one said a word. A dove cooed from the rocks above. “How can we tell?” Helena turned about. “Judas!” she cried. The old Jewish man stood near. “Do you know which one it is?” “No, Augusta. But,” he said, with all the courage he could muster, “I know a woman who is dying of typhus. Perhaps,” he said, but the empress interrupted him. “Bring her here!” That was how they knew they had found the true cross of Christ, when the dying woman was cured. This Judas did not go and hang himself from a tree. He did not ask for thirty pieces of silver for his services. He was baptized, and took the name Kyriakos (Latin Cyriacus), meaning “Belonging to the Lord.” Helena built a chapel nearby, and several other great churches in the Holy Land. For many years, the

32 How the Church Has Changed the World bulk of the cross stood there. But as soon as it was found, relics were sent round the Christian world for veneration. Scoffers say that if all the relics of the cross were gathered up, it would be as big as a battleship. That is complete nonsense. One scholar has estimated that the bulk of all the relics would amount to about one-fortieth of a cross of pine wood weighing a hundred and fifty pounds. Think how light a splinter is, and how a thousand of those put together would still be as light as a few feathers. The world turned upside down In 313, Constantine gave legal recognition to the Christian faith, and in 380 Theodosius made it the official religion of the empire. “My Kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus, but did that mean that man’s pursuit of the common good in this life was to have nothing to do with his pursuit of the ultimate good, the vision of God in the communion of saints? After the son of Saint Helena, Christianmissionaries could freely go to the ends of the earth, as Jesus had commanded, baptizing all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Then it was that Europe as we know it was born. And slowly, slowly, into dull and muddle-headed man, came the idea that power was manifest in meekness, strength in love, and life in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.