Presented by Dame Felicitas Corrigan
Compiled by Shaun MacLoughlin
with Hugh Burden as Siegfried Sassoon
and Hugh Dickson as the Reader
SASSOON: Then came those three years of what now seems to have been dark night..
DAME FELICITAS: The independent, questioning self he had set such store by all his life had to acknowledge its nothingness before God. It had to go further still and meet God’s demands and conditions. At seventy years of age the proud spirit of Siegfried Sassoon was being invited to bow in obedience to an outward and inflexible authority.
(PLAINCHANT FROM STANBROOK ABBEY)
DAME FELICITAS: On the natural plain the instrument of this vital change was a nun, Mother Margaret Mary, Superior of the Convent of the Assumption, Kensington Square, London. After the publication of Sequences at the end of 1956, she wrote to the author and began a correspondence, which lit a candle in his inner darkness.
(BRING UP PLAINCHANT AGAIN)
(MONKS CHANTING AT DOWNSIDE)
SASSOON: I wrote Lenten Illuminations in three days, quite easily and unexpectedly, after having written only two short pieces in the previous four years – and have been wondering ever since how I did it. It epitomizes the seven months of ‘all things made new’ before I was received.
BELLOC: The Faith, the Catholic Church, is discovered, is recognized, triumphantly enters reality like a landfall at sea which first was thought a cloud. The metaphor is not that men fall in love with it: the metaphor is that they discover home. It is the very mould of the mind, the matrix to which corresponds in every outline the outcast and unprotected contours of the soul.
DAME FELICTAS: His last poems leave no doubt that they were, as he said, his ‘living heart.’ No superficial reading or consideration can plumb their depth. They are the words of a sage, the expression of truths, that form the rock foundation of human life lived in its wholeness, which is all that holiness means.
SASSOON: To FC 18th February 1960. Last night, when beginning prayer at 1 a.m., I had a sense of being watched. There seemed to be presences around me. Fanciful of course; but I’ve never had it before in my three years of devotions. I have taught myself to be very much on guard against prayerful nonsense. But such things always impress me by being quite unexpected and unsought.
The first stage was to become unaware of oneself as a figure in the act of prayer. At first I was always conscious of my attitudinizing, a sort of Sir Galahad, emotionally enjoyable. Then my only awareness of my body is bronchial breathing and skin ticklings. I am blessedly free from mental distractions.
Simplicity and directness count for most, don’t they? The sheer act of faith and self-surrender. Sight Sufficient expressed that turning point, when I realized a visualizations of angels and Our Lady were just childish encouragements. They were persistent in 1957, but gradually stopped and have ceased altogether in the past eighteen months. The night before I began Lenten Illuminations, I saw an almost life-sized, short-haired seraph with arms out-stretched, quite clear and lovelier than anything I could have pictured. What is your attitude to such experiences? ‘nice little treats,’ I suppose, ‘too physical to be graces.’ I hadn’t smelt a pipe, since I sat beside my brother Harry at home, the night before I entered Stanbrook.
SASSOON: Father Hubert, to whom I sent an Awaitment, writes:
DOM HUBERT: And partly on account of the modern respect for the material. In woodcarving we let ourselves be guided by the grain and the knots; in stone by variations of hardness; in alabaster by variations of colour. The material dictates.
SASSOON: There is one unanswered question – how much – if any – of human memory survives? Why should one want to remember the details, even of happiness on earth? They are akin to dreams, anyhow. I suppose the best thing to do is to say, ‘I trust you, God, and I leave it all to you’. That’s what I do; and meanwhile faith and works is all that matters. Thus spake Zarathustra – I beg pardon – Captain S. L. Sassoon, C.B.E, M.C., who knows about as much of Eternity as a water wagtail.