Yesterday I took up my friend Gavin Ashenden’s invitation to visit his delightful property in Normandy. He and his wife Helen live part of the time in a restored and renovated 18th century mill. It is a perfect little riverside retreat just a half hour from Mont St Michel.
As I traveled across Southern England, then boarded the ferry at Portsmouth headed toward Caen I couldn’t help but think of the young soldiers who made the same crossing in the summer of 1944. I was in a comfortable, smooth sailing car ferry. They were jammed into troop carriers and tiny landing crafts. The weather was bad. They suffered terrible seasickness, not to mention the terror of thinking about what lay ahead for them. They were hours late and the tide was out when they arrived, making it impossible for the larger ships to approach the coast. The landings went ahead nevertheless and the hell of those hours was captured and re-created in Spielberg’s fine film Saving Private Ryan. What a generation of heroes!
On my arrival Gavin met me at the terminal and informed me of the death of Queen Elizabeth. She, of course, was one of that generation–the generation of my parents. They understood the ancient values of duty, sacrifice and service in a way that seems lost to the present day. My father, for instance, was hugely disappointed when, because of an eye injury, he was unable to enlist in the military. He went on anyway to serve in the Merchant Marine in the Pacific.
I can’t imagine the life that generation led, and they did so to win a quality of life, affluence and peace for us and their grandchildren that they would never have been able to imagine at the time. What we have done with it is a shame. We enjoy this peace and affluence and have only gone on to indulge in lives of greed, decadence and self indulgence.
Queen Elizabeth summed up that other kind of life and I can’t imagine that England during the reign of King Charles III will be anything wonderful. Will he be like Charles I and end up a martyr for the true faith or will he be like Charles II–a libertine and self indulgent man who wallowed in his own pleasure and power? I fear the latter, not the former. However, even Charles II had a happy end. On his deathbed he converted to the Catholic faith of his brother and wife.
Today, here in Normandy Gavin and I are going to snoop out the shrine of St Jean de Brebeuf–the heroic Jesuit missionary to North America. We have a stained glass window of him–along with a first class relic in the lower Church of the new Our Lady of the Rosary. Ever since learning about him and learning that he was from the land of St Therese (Normandy) I have wanted to visit his shrine–so we will head up there and then to a visit to the cathedral of Coutances.