"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Henley Townsend Was Religious But Not Woke–His Dalliance With The Left Ended When Religion Re-Awakened Him

Henley Townsend grew up in an observant Catholic family – confession, Mass, catechism, and roast chicken Sunday dinner.  He made the Stations of the Cross, Novenas (although those were ordinarily reserved for women and girls), and served as an altar boy.  He had even considered the seminary and attended two summer retreats led by the Brothers of the Oblate Fathers.   Father Brophy, senior priest at St. Maurice Church, always referred to as Monseigneur, and an eminence in the Catholic community of New Brighton, had favored him, and offered so sponsor him for advanced study at the Franciscan Seminary of Providence, Rhode Island.

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The New Brighton Townsends, English to the roots, nevertheless had branches that led directly to Queen Mary and the short period of her august Catholicism; and although they hobnobbed with the Anglo-Saxon elite of the town – Nantucket, Gstaad, Republicanism, Victorian silver, and colonial pewter – had become resolutely Catholic.  Henley wore the medal of the Immaculate Conception and scapulars, kept rosary beads in his pocket, and never missed a Christmas Eucharistic celebration.  He was as Catholic as they come – not only did he believe strongly and completely in the Lord, Jesus Christ, but in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican, and the Pope.  There was no piece of liturgy that he missed, no passage from his catechism that he did not know, no approved Christian hymn that he could not sing

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The good fathers and sisters of St. Maurice were delighted to find such a willing, devotional, and sincere believer in the person of Henley Townsend.  Sister Mary Joseph repeatedly called on him to intone the questions and answers of the Catechism (‘Who made you? God made you”, etc.), and Fathers Brophy, Mullins, and Callahan all blessed him and his family every Sunday in an indirect but clear reference in their homilies.  If only St. Maurice could have more parishioners like Henley and the entire Townsend family!

Henley went to parochial school where he was a standout in all respects – dutiful, respectful, and always observant.  He went on to St. Aloysius of Loyola boys boarding school in Providence, Rhode island where he was taught by Jesuits who assumed that thanks to his devotion, prayerfulness, and obedience would go on to seminary and the priesthood.

Surprisingly, given Henley’s immaculate, perfect devotional trajectory, he demurred when offered a scholarship to five outstanding Catholic colleges, and chose Harvard.  His parents who were descended directly from John Harvard and Cotton Mather and who, despite their errant Catholicism knew a good opportunity when it came knocking.  They took Harvard up on its offer of a full academic scholarship.

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Knowing full well what they were doing – sending their only son into the den of socialist iniquity – they never hesitated.  Henley’s background, upbringing, and tutelage would be defense enough against secularism.  He would hold his own, if not for his own soul, then for theirs.

Bad choice; but how did they know that the Sixties would be a revolutionary time, testing longstanding moral, social, religious, and cultural principles?  Harvard was Harvard, after all, and if there was no other place where intellectual legitimacy would rule and where the principles of freedom of speech and religion would be nurtured, it would be that bastion of American foundational thought.

Wrong again, for Henley got in with a bad crowd.  Since he was a toddler, the Townsends were careful in their selection of his friends and ensured that by the time he was on his own, he would have no unwelcome interruptions in his moral, ethical, and spiritual development.

All well and good, but no one could have predicted the social dislocations of the Sixties.  ‘Love the one you’re with, expand your mind, and do your own thing’ was an unsuspected but nonetheless corrosive influence on an otherwise unsullied Catholic mind.  Henley, a good student but never a bulwark against heresy, went along; and before his years at Harvard were at an end, he had become an advocate for peace, justice, and social reform.

A love affair helped.  Janice Bowdoin, a French Canadian émigré who hated the English and by extension the Anglo-English elite of America, was a front-line anarchist.  She was at all barricades, behind all revolutionary black leaders, champion of Mao, Che, and Lenin.  Modern Canadian and American society had been hopelessly corrupted by capitalist greed and an ethos of ambitious, venal, selfishness; and she and her like-minded brothers and sisters would fight to the death to destroy it.

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Janice was fair, blue-eyed, and hopelessly beautiful; and because of her animus towards anything bourgeois did her best to distort her pure, sensuous, female allure; but no amount of black, sinister makeup, fright wigs, and unholy macabre clothes could hide it.  She was essentially beautiful, irresistible, and a sexual prize.  Despite Henley’s rather prim and hair-shirt upbringing, he recognized her uniqueness; and pursued her, bedded her, and loved her until he left Cambridge.

As things would have it, Henley lost track of her once he left Harvard and hewed more to his origins.  He returned to his Opus Dei Catholicism, more Catholic than the Pope and far more conservative than he could ever be.  He and his colleagues championed a return to the Latin Mass, a reaffirmation of the sanctity of the family, and a reconfirmation of the lessons of Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, and Athanasius.

His divergence from – or rather his straying from – such ultra-Catholic orthodoxy would have been surprising if the American secular  progressive movement had not hewed so closely to religious principles and practices.  Although they disavowed the existence of a Supreme Being and dismissed the divinity of Christ, preferring to see him only as a dark-skinned, oppressed Palestinian, their doxology, doctrine, and articles of faith were very similar – never in content but in expression and promotion – to those of St Paul.

“Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, No Human is Illegal, Science Is Real, Love is Love, and Kindness is Everything” are no different from the Beatitudes or the simple, categorial responses in the Catechism.  The radical progressive, black-led reform movement has anointed leaders, edicts of faith, doctrinal purity, hierarchy, and fanatical purpose.  The Christian faith would not have emerged out of Jerusalem had it not been for Paul and his group of fanatical believers; nor would have Islam had the cultural and geographical influence it had without its own cadre of evangelical believers.

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So Janice Bowdoin might have been the trigger for Henley’s secular conversion, but the resonance between progressive cant, assumed social righteousness and received wisdom, and evangelical determination let Henley know that Jesus Christ was not the world’s only savior.

Believing in secular religion of Progressivism could compensate for his unfortunate distancing from the Fathers of St Maurice, the Pope, and the Vatican – the temporary loss of faith at Harvard.  While Henley always kept God and Jesus in reserve, he found that he could wholeheartedly embrace a secular movement which was as confident in social progress as fundamental Christians were for Parousia, the Second Coming.  He missed the censer, the incense, the sacraments, and the Holy Eucharist; but any port in an existential storm.

Given the passion of Environmentalism, it has become the religious movement of the day and little different from the millennialism of the past.  The world will end in a fiery Armageddon, say Environmentalists.  We will pay for our sins against the Earth, and our fate will be hot, brutal, and inescapable. However, we can save the Earth and ourselves through prayer and good works.  There is still time.  How different are these warnings, chastisements, and admonitions from the fire and brimstone that rages from the pulpit every Sunday?  No different at all.

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Environmentalism may be the best example of secular religion, but America is awash in causes with believers just as fervent. The social media appeal for animal rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and civil rights. The faithful fill auditoriums to listen to secular priests fulminate about doom and disaster – puppies eviscerated, women up against glass ceilings, gays marginalized and abused. These true believers leave the room feeling as sanctified as those who receive Holy Communion.

Henley Townsend never left the Church, and in fact in his later years after he had realized and dismissed the false notions of progressive ‘religion’, did the return to St Maurice parish.  Father Brophy and Father Murphy were long gone and buried, but the church on the corner of Corbin and Hart still remained.   He had to put up with ‘inclusive’, ‘participatory’, and ‘communal’ homilies from the pulpit, but the Consecration had not changed, the presence of Jesus Christ in his Body and Blood was still invoked on the alter, and the magnificent spectacle of the Mass, although altered, remained.

Secularism, no matter how much it co-opted the faith, liturgy, and doxology of the Church could never even approximate its meaning and importance.  Progressivism was only a failed copy of the original.

Henley’s dalliance with progressivism was understandable and natural; and his return to the religious faith of his fathers not surprising. 

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