Michael Davies and the Movement: One and Inseparable
(The Remnant, October 15, 2004)One of my first assignments when beginning my studies in England as a twenty one year old in 1972 was a paper on Catholic life in Britain. Being involved with the Traditionalist Movement in the United States since 1970, I wanted to know what my fellow travelers on the European side of the Atlantic were up to anyway, so I launched into the project with enthusiasm. Attendance at a Traditional Mass at Westminster Cathedral gave me my first chance to explore their world. When Mass was over, a large crowd gathered in the plaza outside the doors. I plunged with my questions into one particularly lively group. "Donít talk to us", they told me. "Talk to Michael Davies. If anyone knows the Movement, he does. He is the Movement. Heís the traditionalistís Traditionalist."
Thatís where my Michael Davies experience began. It continued over thirty two subsequent years, nurtured by repeated encounters at London Conferences, Roman Forum lectures in New York, twelve Summer Symposia of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute on Lake Garda, Una Voce meetings in Rome, the occasional pilgrimage to Chartres, discussions in his office at the top of his home in Bromley, and innumerable dinners and visits to pubs. And through all that time and all those experiences the original judgment of my London crowd was amply confirmed. There was no need to travel the whole world to learn about the Movement. Here it was, in microcosm, reflected in the life and activity of one highly amusing Welshman, who also had the added benefit of amusing my children with too much candy, their first sips of scotch, and readings of entertaining British imperialist poetry.
Michaelís very real Faith reminds me of that of Ludwig von Pastor. Von Pastor, historian of the popes, had to devote much of his writing to a recording of ecclesiastical nightmares, brought on by everything from miscalculation to high crimes and misdemeanors. But he was savvy without being cynical. Hence, he could revel in undisguised happiness at a canonization ceremony in St. Peterís Square, overjoyed that the real holiness of the Mystical Body of Christ had once again been given a chance to manifest itself. Similarly, Michael, whose lifeís labor was dictated by the need to recount the worst tale of woe in Church History, radiated Faith to all who knew him. My wife and I noticed this on the last day of the Chartres pilgrimage in 1994, at the moment when the cathedral definitely came into sight. His face was lit by that same undisguised joy in God, the gift of life, the promise of eternal happiness, and the magnificent opportunity of seeing the glory of Christís Church reflected in the testimony of the mass of men paying homage to the Lord of History around him. And this, after several days of "hangmanís humor", comically (but sadly) commenting on the horrors of the desert through which the Bride of Christ was presently wandering. No one left Michaelís presence blithely thinking that we would experience ecclesiastical peace in our time. But no one left Michaelís presence without the profound hope that Faith would see us through this disaster, and that Catholic Truth would conquer in the end. If a beer or two during a sleepless rainy night on the road to Chartres helped to maintain our spirits alongside a mountain of prayer, well that was part of a loving Godís aid to His faithful servants also.
Michael was ultimately a very peaceful man and a very understanding critic. He did not like quarrels for quarrels sake. Nor did he excommunicate anyone who did not excommunicate him. Hence, he was willing to work with all groups that would work with him and test every opportunity that arose to restore quiet and order to Traditionalists in particular and to the Roman Catholic Church in general. I know that this won him a certain censure, short or long lasting, from a variety of different segments of the common Movement. One may measure the validity of Michaelís generosity and hopefulness as he pleases; they came, as did everything in his labors, from a truly Catholic agony over the current state of Holy Church and a passion to find a way out of her misery. The man was not happy about one thing only: that he was obliged to record a history of unparalleled collapse. There were no works from Michael Daviesí hands without the shedding, internally, of an oceanís worth of horrified tears.
How do we really say anything definitive about a great man just a few days after his death, when the importance of his passing has not yet been fully digested? How do we do this when the great man in question was also our friend and a profound personal influence over our thoughts and spiritual life and work as Catholic activists--in my own case, for thirty two long years? The effort has to be tentative and somewhat clumsy at its very best.
Our dear friend needs Faith no longer. He is now among those who are supremely conscious of the Truth. As far as we can know, however, Michael is still in need of our prayers. We have to work to get him out of Purgatory, as quickly as possible, with all the Faith, Hope, and Charity that we can muster. We owe it to him, for everything that he did to shape that Faith, Hope, and Charity in our own lives in the first place. I do not wish to say anything theologically incorrect, especially where Michael is concerned, but I am certain that a host of other Catholic Heroes, with St. John Fisher at the top of the list, are up there pulling for him alongside us. Goodbye for now Michael, we will pray for you regularly in the Mass that you did so much to defend and exalt; the Mass That Cannot Die.
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