Your London correspondent has not been in London over the past few days, but in Alabama…and in snow. Alabama rarely has snow, but I seem to be able to provide it – this is the second time I’ve arrived at EWTN for some January work in mild rainy weather, and within a short time the rain has turned to snow and the EWTN campus has become a Christmas card scene.
The mood at EWTN is busy, cheerful, and buoyant – finances are good, viewing figures are good, there is a buzz of creativity and no shortage of good ideas for features. This is a place of hard work and lively thinking. And each day begins with the bells ringing out for morning Mass, and continues as they ring again at noon and the chapel fills again with a fresh congregation…
But there is a underlying seriousness. Everyone is aware that the Obama government compulsory insurance scheme which currently insists that that an organisation such as EWTN funds abortion and contraception for its employees, spells out a giant problem and poses a real threat . What is going to happen? Common sense and wisdom dictate a calm response, and there are meetings and legal advice, and so on. But there is also – and not, of course, just at EWTN – much concern and indignation.There is a real sense in which people feel threatened by restrictions on their freedom to uphold Christian teachings and principles in the workplace.
So while the busy pace of an international TV network continues, there is an undercurrent of discussion about what the next chapters will be, and the courage that will be needed to see things through to a good conclusion.
The days have been busy, but the evenings provide opportunity for comfortable meals and cosy curl-up-on-the-sofa reading, with a glorious abundance of books borrowed from the vast EWTN collection…I started with some books on Bl John Paul, about whom I am doing some research at present for a future writing venture. Then I spent a couple of days with books on Mother Teresa, and then I picked up A Noble Treason (Richard Hanser, Ignatius publishing) the story of the “White Rose” young German movement against Hitler in World War II.
In the many books that I have read, over the years, about people doing brave things and being caught and imprisoned, I have always somehow felt that I was “on the outside”, reading from a distance, safe in a cosy place and relishing the story of the deeds of others. With this book, it is different. One suddenly realises that the events happened in a dreadfully ordinary way: the busy tapping out of leaflets on a typewriter, the hurrying around to drop them off through letterboxes and around the University and so on, the meetings with passionate discussion and long late-into-the-night debates about profound religious and philosphical ideas to shape the future. It all somehow feels alive and familiar. And then – the arrests, following an almost accidental discovery, the awkwardness and even reluctance of some of the police activity, the raised hopes of possible freedom, the final ghastly reality of a court and a grim sentence. It doesn’t feel the same as reading an account of a long-ago Medieval martyrdom – it is all somehow neighbourly and ordinary, and echoes with things that, for all their horror, carry with them the trivia of everyday life.
Hans and Sophie Scholl and their young friends, passionately anti-Nazi, met academics and professors who were horrified by the Nazi glorification of violence, by the crushing of academic freedom, by the godless ideology imposed with ruthless crudity on public life and on the mass media. In the talks and discussions as the group met, the young insisted on action and showed the older people the leaflets and materials they were producing. The leaflets were refined and improved by the assistance of some of the academics. In the descriptions of all of this: young people gathering at a favourite restaurant, happy evenings singing to a guitar in a park, meetings at a professor’s house, tentative introductions to new friends with wariness on both sides…the reality of it all comes alive.
To be reading this, in the silence of a snowbound house, after a day of hard work in a strong, deeply Catholic atmosphere, interspersed with mealtime discussions of major issues about religious freedom and moral values and the common good… this is a memorable way to start 2013.