"A pilgrimage like the one you’re making today is meant, in part, to be a symbol of the pilgrimage of life itself – the ups and downs, the twist and turns, the paths lined with flowers and trees and the paths lined with bramble and nettles, but all along the final destination kept firmly in view, spurring us on.
Today’s walk follows the life of Gilbert Keith Chesterton. You started at the place of his baptism: Campden Hill, Kensington. In his Autobiography he remembered how the church stood opposite a large Waterworks Tower : ‘I do not allege any significance in the relation of the two buildings; and I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian.’ And he thought it symbolic in another way: the tower reminded him of some ‘colossal water-snake that might be the Great Sea Serpent’ while the church’s spire rose ‘like a spear; and I have always been pleased to remember that it was dedicated to St George.’ In the waters of baptism, the devil is defeated and the child receives the pledge of eternal life.
The walk through the sometimes grey suburbs of London to Uxbridge could be seen as representing his early years and his search for the truth, which took him down some strange byways – agnosticism, sceptisicism, spiritualism. A conversion experience returned him to the Church of England although, rather like Newman, his thought was essentially Catholic for some time before his reception into the Church and his books from this period can be fruitfully read.
As we offer this Mass, we think of Chesterton becoming a Catholic at last in 1922, ninety years ago almost exactly to the day, at the Railway Hotel in Beaconsfield (which was then being used as a temporary Mass centre for local Catholics). As Mgr Ronald Knox said shortly after his death, his conversion followed the law that ‘if you look at a thing nine hundred and ninety-nine times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it the thousandth time, you are in frightful danger of seeing it for the first time. That was all that happened when Chesterton was converted. He had looked for the thousandth time at the Catholic faith and for the first time he saw it. Nothing in the Church was new to him, and yet everything was new to him; he was like the man in his own story who had wandered round the world in order to see, with fresh eyes, his own home.’
The next stage of the walk will take you to Beaconsfield ; depending on the route you’ve chosen, this should be greener and more pleasant, a reflection of Chesterton’s final years as a Catholic. We thank the Lord for the childlike wonder that he brought to the mystery of life, the unfamiliar perspectives he brought to familiar things, the joy and humour of his writings (essential Christian hallmarks) and his prophetic voice that is as relevant today (if not more so) as it was in his lifetime.
At Beaconsfield you will come to the end of your day pilgrimage at Chesterton’s grave. It was at Beaconsfield that he died on 14 June 1936, aged only 62. Shortly before he died, he was visited by his friend Fr Vincent McNabb, the famous Dominican preacher, who sang the Salve Regina at his bedside (as is the Dominican custom for dying friars) and kissed Chesterton’s pen that lay on a nearby table.
Chesterton ended his pilgrimage through this world with his eyes fixed on Heaven and left behind him a valuable legacy. So may it be for us. We pray that he is at peace, if he needs our prayers at all, and should he have a heavenly vantage point, as we believe he has, we ask for his prayers."
Given by Fr Nicholas Schofield, Archivist of the Archdiocese of Westminster and Parish Priest of Our Lady of Lourdes & St Michael, Uxbridge. Saturday 28th July 2012 in his Parish Church, at Mass offerred in thanksgiving for GK Chesterton Conversion. £750 has been raised for Good Counsel from the walk on the day.
A detailed report with photos, of the Pilgrimage can be seen here. In the meanwhile here is the prayer, for printables copies in English, Spanish, Italian and French see here. German to follow shortly.
God Our Father, Thou didst fill the life of Thy servant Gilbert Keith Chesterton with a sense of wonder and joy, and gave him a faith which was the foundation of his ceaseless work, a charity towards all men, particularly his opponents, and a hope which sprang from his lifelong gratitude for the gift of human life. May his innocence and his laughter, his constancy in fighting for the Christian faith in a world losing belief, his lifelong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and his love for all men, especially for the poor, bring cheerfulness to those in despair, conviction and warmth to lukewarm believers and the knowledge of God to those without faith. We beg Thee to grant the favours we ask through his intercession, the end of abortion in this Country, so that his holiness may be recognised by all and the Church may proclaim him Blessed. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
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