22 October 2015


Character Connection 52

Created by The Introverted Reader

It has occurred to me that I should do Locus Focus the way I do Character Connection: that is, only when I read a book with an interesting setting and a post about it practically writes itself. That would definitely make my life easier! And it's such a good idea that of course I'm going to set it aside while I make my life harder with another themed challenge. How does Conspiratorial Corners sound to you? Let me know in November!

But first, a peek at the sort of reading I've been doing lately, to which I owe that latest complication to my reading and blogging life . . .

Francesca "Cessi" Gladstone
Windswept House: A Vatican Novel
by Father Malachi Martin

As Cessi's three children were growing up, so was the Church in all the dioceses of the United States being drenched in what she called "innovative adaptations." Wholesale changes sprang up like some hybrid crop under the cultivating hands of folks who were called "liturgical experts" and "catechesis teachers." In such circumstances--and for as long as feasible in the face of the high-tech requirements of latter-day education--Cessi had home-schooled her children. When that option was no longer practical, she had made sure that the Brothers in the school where she sent her two boys, and the nuns in the school where she sent [her daughter] all understood that to oppose the wishes or openly criticse Francesca Gladstone would be to jeopardise the hefty patronage they depended on from her.

When it came to religious practice and training, it was much the same story. Private religious tutoring took the place of the bowlderised "catechism classes" given in the city's churches. As often as possible, the family avoided the local churches, which Cessi saw as tainted with un-Catholic rites. Instead, they attended private Masses in Old Glad's Tower of Winds.

To understand Francesca "Cessi" Gladstone, you have to understand her history--if only because her own understanding of that history is what informs everything she does. She is quite proud that she can say her English ancestors survived the protestantising rule of King Henry VIII, emigrating to America only after it became clear that his daughter Elizabeth I intended to be more thorough in ridding her queendom of Catholics. But the ancestor who has influenced her the most was Paul Thomas Gladstone, the first American head of the family, whose huge financial contribution to the Vatican after the Garibaldi uprising had made Pope Pius IX a virtual prisoner earned him a papal knighthood and gave the Gladstone family the perpetual right to have a Chapel of Privilege in their home. For Cessi, to be a Gladstone is to be a defender of the Church, with money as your primary weapon. She's kind of scary in that way. LOL!

My first reaction to Cessi was love at first sight. Having had to endure every last brainwave of similar "liturgical experts" and "catechesis teachers" myself, I wish that there had been someone like her where I lived, worshipped, and studied as a child: someone who, by simply looking out for her own interests, looks out for everybody else's interests as well. How many of us can say that what is good for us personally and for our nearest and dearest is also good for the entire community? More to the point, how many of us has enough power to bring that good about?

Now, I actually know a woman in real life who could have done this. She had her own papal award and private chapel in her home, and her granddaughters were only a few grades above me in the same school. If she had wanted a say in both the way Masses were celebrated there and the way the Faith was passed on to students, she could have had it. She has certainly exercised her influence in more charitable causes than her own friends and neighbours can tell you about, because she never makes a big deal out of them. And she has done this for decades. The essential difference between her and Cessi Gladstone is that she doesn't have the same sense of the Faith as something under attack and needing defense.

But what makes Cessi so wonderful is also what makes her so off-putting. Her personality is so tied up in the defense of Catholic Tradition that she can take criticism of her person as criticism of Tradition . . . and see a departure from Tradition as persecution of traditionalist Catholics like herself. And just as she starts out using her money to make an entire diocese do things her way (which, in fairness, is a way she inherited from her ancestors and not merely her own whim), she goes on to finance the retreat of thousands of like-minded Catholics, including priests and bishops, into an "underground" Church, that they might worship in peace. I look at it from the outside and am not fully convinced it is the right move to make; but I know that if I were on the inside, I'd follow her to the catacombs.

Yes, Cessi Gladstone is a bit of a bully . . . but also a bit of a queen. I believe the proper term is matriarch. And as a Catholic matriarch, also a "type" of the Church Herself. Cessi will have to forgive the allusion to Pope John XXIII, whom she didn't think too highly of, because the best description of her that comes to mind is the title of one of his encyclicals: first to her children, and later to an extended family of believers, she is truly Mater et Magistra--Mother and Teacher.

Image Source: Windswept House: A Vatican Novel by Father Malachi Martin

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