‘He descended into hell’

The ‘descent into hell’ is as important as the other articles of the Creed (because it joins Old Testament with New, and shows Our Lord as the Centre of all history), but it is outside all our experience and imagination. Tell the children we have to make a picture of it as best we can.
The moment when Our Lord expired on the Cross was the moment when the atonement was made, the world was saved, the Old Law was ended, the New begun, Our Lord’s work of redemption complete. That is why He said: ‘It is finished,’ and why the Veil of the Temple (before the Holy of holies) was miraculously rent in two.
While Our Lord’s body still hung lifeless on the Cross, His Soul had gone straight to the world of departed spirits (‘Hell,’ Limbo, etc).
Picture a vast ‘place’ in the spirit world, and the souls of the just who waited there (we must picture the spirits in bodily form) ” Adam and Eve whose sin had closed the gates of heaven, Abraham and the patriarchs who had believed so long ago, the prophets and kings who had longed for the Messias; David, Isaias, and myriads of others who had done God’s will as they knew it, down to holy Simeon and Anna, the Holy Innocents, John the Baptist, St Joseph himself all waiting patiently, and knowing the time near. Suddenly, the Soul of Jesus, bright with glory, appears in the sight of all, and they welcome Him with joy and adoration. He passes through them, with greetings for this one and that one, making His way to our first parents, and the second Adam meets the first Adam, with God’s message of full forgiveness.
Then to all the vast throng of spirits Jesus announces the Good News of Redemption. He fills their souls with the light of glory, spreading from the glory of His own Soul –as many lamps lighted from one and then (either now or at the Ascension) He heads them in grand procession into heaven.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part I: the Creed (1939)

The priest forgives sins

During 1937, in Alicante, a young Spaniard of Nationalist sympathies had been caught while trying to board a foreign ship, and lay in prison under sentence of death. Earnestly he was praying, not for release, but to get confession and absolution before he died.

On the night before his execution the cell-door opened and an old man dressed as a pedlar was thrown in.

‘Get in here,’ said the jailer. ‘Tomorrow you’ll have the cell to yourself.’

The first prisoner lay watching the new-comer take off his shoes and cloak, and prepare himself for the night. Before lying down, however, the old man scratched a small cross on the wall and knelt down to say his prayers.

‘Are you a Catholic?’ asked the young man eagerly.

‘I am. And you?’

They talked in low tones, and soon the young man told the other of his longing for confession.

‘I still think God may grant my prayer.’

‘He has granted it already,’ said the pedlar, with a smile. ‘I am a priest. Ever since the war began I have gone from place to place in this disguise to bring the sacraments to the faithful.’

Next morning the jailer was puzzled to see that the young prisoner, when led out to die, no longer wore a look of fear and strain, but of radiant peace and joy.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater,  Catechism Stories Part IV: The Sacraments (1939)

The Spirit of Christmas

“There is just one season in the year when men seem able to realise for a moment what the Incarnation means for us all; and never was this so strikingly seen as in the Flanders trenches at Christmas, 1914.

“Just before Christmas there had been some attacks and counter-attacks here and there, and many casualties, but as the holy season drew closer the firing seemed to die down by a general instinct. On Christmas Eve in some sectors the German parapet was decorated with candles and the singing of carols was heard. In the morning from trench to trench were shouted greetings, and all along the line the bolder spirits began walking into no-man’s-land for a talk with equally adventurous enemies. Officers entered into the spirit of the proceedings, and as the day went on a good part of both armies had left their trenches and were fraternising in crowds between the lines, exchanging cigarettes and chocolate from their Christmas parcels.

“An eye-witness, writing twenty years after (in Reynolds’ News), says: ‘Our brigade was composed of the Gordon Highlanders, the Scots Guards, and the Border Regiment. On Christmas Eve a seventy-two-hour truce was arranged to bury the dead. We sent German identification discs and pay-books to the German lines. They replied by sending similar grim relics to our lines. We fraternised, exchanged views and rations. . . . When the truce ended the Germans fired three volleys in the air to indicate that hostilities were resumed. Even so, about twenty Germans were still walking about unarmed on the top of their trenches, and our lads did not attempt to shoot them down. Indeed, although many of us were threatened with court-martial, our unofficial armistice lasted for fourteen days.’

“Another (Seaforth Highlanders): ‘On Christmas Eve German soldiers began to shout across that they wanted Christmas without firing. At first it was regarded as a joke. As night advanced there seemed to be more sentiment in the German’s shouting, and one of our fellows, a daredevil corporal named Davie Flint, cried : “If you’re not afraid, come right over.” Someone came. Davie threw off his equipment and jumped forward to meet him. Others followed, and for four days Germans and Seaforths  exchanged smokes and rations. It was glorious. We enjoyed the utmost freedom and officers joined in our rejoicing. Then we went out for our four-days’ rest. On returning the Colonel said that fraternisation must cease, we were at war. A German was coming towards us. The Colonel shouted to him to go back. He failed to do so, and orders were given to fire over his head. This was done. The Germans replied with five shells. That is the true story of the first Noel of the war, before Messines in 1914.’ (Isaac Sefton, Airdrie.)

“Another: ‘I was serving with the 2nd Bedfords. The Germans put lanterns on the front of their trenches and called out to us not to fire as it was Christmas. There was singing on both sides. Before long British and German soldiers were exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs in no-man’s-land. We were later relieved by the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and our opposite number, the Saxons, by the Prussian Guards Orders were at once given reminding us that we were at war. Shots were fired over the heads of the Germans. Hostilities resumed. I don’t know what happened to the Saxon soldier who was a waiter in a London hotel. If he had the luck to come through it all, here’s Christmas greetings to him from G. L. Joyce, Peterborough.’

“The Christmas spirit could go on all the year round if our Faith in the first Christmas was strong enough.”

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part I: the Creed (1939)

‘That’s why I don’t go to church!’

Poor human nature! It is a sad fact that religious people are often very unamiable, even to each other: even in connection with church work!

A little girl prayed: ‘Please, God, make all the bad people good and all the good people nice.’

And some poet sang:

‘Living with the saints above,
All is peace and glory.
Living with the saints below,
That’s another story.’

Let’s avoid that pitfall anyhow. Good Catholics ought to be a recommendation for their religion by their inward joy and outward kindness.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part III: The Commandments (1939)

Our Guest

Holman Hunt was once showing some visitors round his studio; they stood before his well-known picture, ‘Light of the World.’

‘Surely you forgot something there,’ said one visitor. ‘Look, there’s no handle on the door.’

‘It was not a mistake,’ explained the artist. ‘This door represents the human heart, and it opens only from the inside.’

Our Lord stands outside and waits for us to say: ‘Come in.’ He will never force an entrance. It is for us to invite Him or not, as we choose.

Some Catholics keep Him standing at the door from one Easter duty to another.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater,  Catechism Stories Part IV: The Sacraments (1939)

‘I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation’

That is ‘I make you strong, dedicating you to God.’

A Chinese mission was being looted by a large party of bandits. The priest lay wounded and unconscious, and the bandits had got hold of a Chinese boy of twelve who usually served at Mass. For some time the bandit chieftain questioned and threatened the boy, trying in vain to make him say where the chalice and other sacred vessels were hidden. At last the chief lifted his hand with an angry oath, and with his open hand struck the boy a great blow across the face that sent him crashing against the wall.

‘Come back here!’ said the chief, and the boy slowly recovered himself and came back to stand before his brutal questioner.

‘Do you want another like that?’

‘Go on — I’m ready if you are. It is what I bargained for.’ The bandit grinned with puzzled admiration.

‘How do you mean, bargained for?’

‘We were confirmed last month. The Bishop struck me on the cheek. He said that is what a soldier of Christ must expect.’

‘Look here, you’re the sort of lad we want. Tell us where these things are hidden and I’ll let you come with me and my troop!’

‘No, I’d rather be a soldier of Christ.’

The chief took out his revolver, but just at that moment there were shouts and rifle-shots in the street, and the bandits all rushed out leaving the boy forgotten. Some regular soldiers had arrived, the bandits were soon cleaned up or driven from the village and the Christians were able to repair the damage and take care of the mission father, who wrote a proud account to the Bishop of the behaviour of his newly confirmed altar-server.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater,  Catechism Stories Part IV: The Sacraments (1939)

Reading bad books

In a factory a man was selling many copies of a penny paper consisting entirely of attacks on God and religion. One Catholic boy, Dan, refused it. ‘Afraid to read the other side?’ sneered the seller. ‘I’d rather not swallow poison either into my stomach or my mind’ was the answer.

Jim, another Catholic boy, said: ‘Let’s have a penn’orth!’ Then during the dinner-hour, sitting around with some of his mates, he read bits out of the atheist paper with comments of his own, showing its arguments up and where its facts about the Church were all wrong.

‘Well, what about this?’ said one of the listeners, pointing to a bit about something some Pope had done hundreds of years ago. Jim read it.

‘Well, that’s a new one to me. But I bet you a packet of Woodbines I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.’

So in the evening he took the paper round to a Catholic friend who could always put him wise on such occasions.

Dan’s attitude and Jim’s were both good in their way, but Jim’s is evidently the best for those who can rise to it.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part III: The Commandments (1939)

Bishops ought to defend God’s poor

San hugo obispo de lincoln

St. Hugh, a monk of the Grande Chartreuse, was sent to England to be Prior of a monastery recently founded by King Henry II, at Witham in Somerset. When he got there he found that its land had been provided by driving poor peasants off their holdings; these now lived in the woods, troublesome and discontented, and had already made life miserable for two former Priors. Hugh had been sent for because he had the name of being tough and shrewd, and likely to succeed where others had failed.

The first thing he did at Witham was to go to the King and tell him he had done an injustice to the peasants, and unless it was righted his monks could not keep the monastery.

To everybody’s amazement, the King listened and arranged for the dispossessed to be well compensated with other land elsewhere.

Not only so, but he took such a liking to this fearless Prior that when the See of Lincoln fell vacant he got the reluctant St. Hugh elected to fill it. The new Bishop came to his Cathedral for enthronement not riding but walking on his bare feet. Instead of the usual banquet to the nobles and clergy of the district, he insisted on inviting all the poor as well, and the keeper of Stowe Park was thunderstruck when he was told to kill three hundred deer for the feast in place of the usual thirty.

One of his first tasks at Lincoln was to rebuild the Cathedral which had fallen in an earthquake just before he came. He was not content with making the plans, but loved to roll his sleeves up and carry a few baskets of stone himself.

As Bishop he defended the poor more stoutly than ever; he denounced the cruel forest-laws and once he excommunicated the chief Royal forester for oppressing some poor labourer, nor did the King’s intercession make any difference until the forester had made amends. To the King, St. Hugh said: ‘The poor men who are tortured by your foresters will enter heaven while you and your foresters have to stay outside’ (foris stare ” a play on words).

King Richard came to the throne and demanded a tax for a war with France. St. Hugh condemned the tax and went to Normandy to see the King, who refused to speak to him or give him the kiss of peace. But St. Hugh insisted on giving the kiss, and then, with perfect good-humour and sweetness, talked to the King about his conscience.

‘Every day,’ he said, ‘I hear complaints of the oppression of poor men, the innocent wronged, and crushing taxes levied on the people. Not only that, but I hear also that you are unfaithful to your wife.’

The King was furious, and the saint, still smiling and calm, left him.

Truly,’ said the King later, ‘if all prelates were like that one, not a King in Christendom would dare to raise his head in the presence of a Bishop!’

Jordan de Turri, a rich man in the City of London, had defrauded two orphans. St. Hugh was appointed by the Pope as judge in the case. Jordan came arrogantly to the trial surrounded with his rich friends, who made a noisy demonstration to intimidate the Bishop.

‘You are powerful,’ said St. Hugh, ‘and you can get your way. But I can write to the Pope and tell him there is one man in England that disputes his jurisdiction, and his name is Jordan de Turri.’

In the end the case was settled by Jordan making full restitution.

Another interesting fact is that St. Hugh defended the Jews against persecution. Twice he faced and quelled angry mobs intent on a pogrom, and he exposed the current atrocity-stories about Jews murdering Christian children.

St. Hugh died on November 16, 1200. During his illness they wanted him to make his will.

‘All I have belongs to the Church,’ he said. ‘But to prevent disputes after my death I here solemnly bequeath all my goods to the poor of Christ.’

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part III: The Commandments (1939)

Cruelty is always in men’s hearts

In spite of Christianity the cruel and bloody spectacle of the amphitheatres, especially the gladiatorial shows, still continued in the early fifth century.

An old hermit named Telemachus lived in the mountains, and heard at prayer a voice telling him: ‘Go to Rome ”I have work for you there !’ He was old and reluctant and tried to treat it as illusion, but the voice persisted and at last he took the toilsome road to Rome.

Arriving there one morning, he was drawn along to the Coliseum with the crowds which were converging there. He took his seat, an incongruous figure, unmindful of the mocking smiles of the city folk around him.

Two parties of gladiators marched round the arena and lined up to fight. Then the old hermit suddenly knew what he had to do, and strength came to him to do it. He ran down the gangways, got into the arena, and stood between the combatants and shouted: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ who died for men! Do not kill each other!’

A moment of silence, then laughter from the gladiators and an angry roar from the crowd. Someone threw a stone, many others followed. In a minute or two St. Telemachus lay dead on the sand.

But the incident was talked of everywhere, and many said he was right. The Christian conscience awakened, and soon the Emperor issued a decree which ended these cruel and murderous public entertainments.

Cruelty, blood-lust, even murder lives under the surface in the hearts of ordinary men. Only Jesus Christ is strong enough to hold it in check.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part III: The Commandments (1939)

What Our Lord said about His Church

When Our Lord was starting the Church, so to speak, at the Last Supper, He took care to give to it the Four Marks He wished it to have. In His discourse afterwards in the Upper Room, He told the apostles He was offering eternal life to all flesh (read John xvii, 1-3) ; that the apostles themselves were His appointed witnesses and workers (John xv, 16; xv, 27); and He prayed that His disciples should be all one (John xvii, ii ; Xvii, 20-21); and that they should be made holy in the truth (John xvii, 17-19), getting their holy life from His as the branches from the Vine (John xv, 4-5).

If there is a true Church of Christ still on earth, we must expect it to show those four marks still.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part I: the Creed (1939)