Evelyn Waugh: Helena
I just finished today the first of the "good classics" I pulled out of the library this week. It was Helena, by Evelyn Waugh. An absolutely brilliant book, one I definitely want to add to my collection! I was intensely struck by one part in particular, at the end of Chapter 11. Helena is midway-through her Holy Land pilgrimage, and has been searching for the Holy Cross with no luck so far. She attends Mass at the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem on the feast of the Epiphany, and she offers up a beautiful meditation and prayer to the Three Kings. I'm scheduling this post to be republished again on Epiphany next year, but I want to put it up now (before I forget) as I go through my literary adventure this summer. The emphasis in the last few paragraphs is mine, the part I find particularly compelling.
“Like me,” she said to them, “you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed and a new defiant light blazed among the disconcerted stars.
“How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculations, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!
“You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which there began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!
“Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room at the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life there was room for you too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass.
“You are my especial patrons,” said Helena, “and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have had a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.
“Dear cousins, pray for me,” said Helena, “and for my poor overloaded son. May he, too, before the end find kneeling-space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly. And pray for Lactantius and Marcias and the young poets of Trèves and for the souls of my wild, blind ancestors; for their sly foe Odysseus and for the great Longinus.
“For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”