Tag Archives: Lent

Sinner and Poet: The Diamond Tears of Charles Péguy



Charles Peguy by Jean-Pierre Laurens

“I am a sinner, but there is no sin in my work.” – Charles Péguy

This guy. But since he was French, he might have been this “Guy.” But rather, his name is Charles Péguy.

Be careful with this guy, cause if you read him, you might actually start writing poetry. I know nothing about poetry, but after reading him, I was inspired to write some of my own. As I said, I know nothing about poetry, but some people who do think he might be the best Catholic poet of the last few hundred years. Those who like Gerard Manley Hopkins would probably disagree. Hopkins was a genius, and smart people who truly understand poetry can explain why he was. I am not a genius or a poet, so don’t ask me to explain Hopkins.

Péguy perhaps was a peasant genius. He wrote in free verse, with little to no rhyme or consistent meter. His poems were long, used simple vocabulary, and much repetition. If this were Seinfeld, he would be Charles Festivus, the “Poet for the Rest of Us”, the 99%. His work is accessible.

But he is largely unknown right now.

Why? He had too much integrity. He came from very modest beginnings, and when he grew older became a socialist and agnostic. He was a very much a defender of Dreyfus, a famous French Jew wrongly accused of treason. However, he fell out with most of his friends on the Left over time due to what he perceived as their pursuit of political advantage over the truth. “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics” is a famous quote of his.

He came to occupy a lonely place, neither trusted nor wanted by the Left or the Right. He was a patriot, and a French nationalist, and his basic politics was one of solidarity with the common man. Unfortunately for his reputation, and despite his defense of Dreyfus, the fascists of the 30s and 40s later tried to claim him as a patron for their twisted politics. And when you put God first, you eventually realize that there is no ideology or political party that can really express what you want. So you hang there, suspended between two thieves, one on the right and another on the left.

But he had integrity, and so when the Great War came, he enlisted, even though he was 41 years old, married and his wife pregnant with their fourth child. He was a little guy too. Because while he was a French nationalist and a patriot, he was not going to let some 18 and 19-year-old kids do the dying for him. And so he died for them, leading from the front, shot through the forehead in 1914.

But the politics are less interesting  than the faith. When he married he did not believe, but by 1908 he had come back to the Catholic faith of his baptism. But his wife was an atheist, and refused to allow their children to be baptized. And because he was not married in the Church, his conscience did not allow him to receive the Sacraments, ever. And out of solidarity with his family, he did not go to Mass.  But that did not stop him from making a forty mile pilgrimage on foot to the Cathedral of Chartres in thanks to Our Lady when his son recovered from an illness. Integrity.

A man in such a situation can get lonely. And you might find yourself falling in love with the young Jewish girl (and she with you) who works at your literary journal. But a man with integrity doesn’t have an affair. Instead, like Péguy , you play matchmaker and find her a husband.

All this pain and sadness generated great diamond tears of words, a series of poems and plays written during the five years before his death. Much of it is out of print, of course, because that’s the way things are right now. The real treasures of the past have to be unearthed.  I am going to copy a few excerpts of his poems in some future posts (My understanding of U.S law is that there is no copyright for the works of foreign authors who died before 1923).

Oh yes, his family … His wife converted after he died, and had their children baptized. As it will always be, a man and father will die for the sake of his people.


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So Near, So Far

For your discernment:

One concept I struggled with over the years is the distinction between “nearness of appearance” vs. “nearness of approach” in our journey to the Lord. I have read a number of descriptions of the idea, but I had trouble putting it all together.  I found the use of images helpful in wrapping my head around this, and am sharing it with anyone who might read this who has had the same struggle.

Let’s consider the image below, a photograph of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil:


This picture is from some distance away, and the statue appears rather small, almost human sized. You could even hold up your hand and block the image entirely.   Jesus Christ does not look that different from me when viewed this way, especially for someone indifferent or lukewarm to their faith. This is what I will refer to as nearness of appearance.

But this is an illusion of course.  But in a way it is a good illusion, as it doesn’t scare us away.  Jesus has cloaked his majesty in flesh to make himself accessible to us.

And now the soul responds, and begins its journey. You have to drop a lot of baggage to get through the rough terrain in the picture. No heavy clothing, suitcases, big egos, etc.

And after some time, you get closer. The people who get really close, which we call saints, have described the experience in their writings.  Consider the next image, which is true nearness of approach:


Photograph By Mike Vondran, some rights reserved.

Whoah … He’s a lot bigger up close. The closer one gets, saint or not, the more apparent the “ever greater” nature of Jesus and the Father through him becomes. We are nearer, but ever more aware that we are not like the Son or the Father. We are not God.  If you put your nose right up against the statue, all you would see is a wall of stone. Instead of covering the image with your hand, His hand covers you.

And so the experience of Moses comes to mind:

But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

Exodus 33:20-23.

The little statue you could cover your hand with in the first photo is now the Lord that can cover you with his hand. And when I think about the “dark nights of the soul” described by some mystics, I wonder if it may be the shadow of the Lord, protecting them from a glory they could not see and live.

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The stinginess of God

God’s mercy has an infuriating quality for the very proud. For some of us , there is almost a perverse desire to be paid your fair wages for your sins, even if it means the eternal death.

Like the old E.F. Hutton commercial, we acquired our sins the old fashioned way, we earned them. Much time, effort and learning went into these achievements. And yet here comes our Redeemer, refusing to pay out, like some Scrooge of justice. He clearly has never heard of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Its writ apparently does not extend beyond the atmosphere.

Can’t I even hold onto the guilt of one little sin, I ask, and wear it around Heaven like a medal to show everyone what a bad boy I was? Me and my fellow sin veterans could sit in some Heavenly dive bar pointing to our scars, like Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw in Jaws.

Apparently not. We are to be deprived of the strange satisfaction of being able to feel that God still owes us something, that he harbors the slightest grudge against us, or that our sins are almost a little too much for him. That pride of accomplishment may be the last thing some of us have to let go before achieving the Beatific Vision. Be thankful if you do not recognize yourself at all in the above … you are way ahead of me.





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Something to Eat

“And that’s how we left it,” Sam said to his wife.

Phyllis had listened to the end of the story in silence. She was looking over his shoulder towards the restaurant’s kitchen.

“Honey, did you hear what I said?” Sam asked. Its not that loud in the dining room.

“Sweetie, I just realized what’s been buzzing about in my head. You ordered steak, today’s Ash Wednesday. You should have had the fish.”

“Uh-oh.” It was an expensive piece of meat, and he was as hungry as a lion. “I forgot.”

“Yes, but I just put you on notice. And here comes the waiter.” Who arrived with a serving tray on one arm.

“Madam, here is your fettuccini.  And sir, your salmon …  Oh dear, you really ordered the prime rib, didn’t you?”


“Let me take that back and get you the steak, no extra charge. I am so sorry.”

Sam looked up at him and smiled. “Actually, I’d rather have the salmon. Thanks anyway.”


(trigger warning: read no further if you don’t like unsolicited advice)


P.S. I had an insight this morning that I wished I had 20 years ago. When we give up something for Lent, there is a temptation to self-sufficiency. We say “I am giving up” such and such, are we engaging in self-justification?

If you are trying to do penance or give up something this Lent, ask God to help you carry it out. Its really his grace enabling you doing it anyway, not your strength alone.


And he said unto them: Out of the eater came forth food, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days declare the riddle.

Judges 14:14

We are more fortunate, in that we have 40 days to ponder the riddle’s solution.

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