I purchased a copy of the new book The American Catholic Almanac as a Christmas gift to my family and keep it on a living room end table for all to enjoy. While each one-page entry has thus far been enjoyable, I wanted to share yesterday’s story. It involves a favorite author and a favorite prayer of mine, and I believe demonstrates that no matter how much we may try, no matter how busy and distracted we keep ourselves, real beauty is always before us. Always it pursues us. It waits. It is patient.
Why are we moderns so afraid of it? Why do we deny it in our attempts to squelch, eradicate and even kill it?
Questions that have weighed heavily on my mind much of late. Questions I ask again on this Friday morning.
Fame found Edgar Allen Poe late. On January 29, 1845, four years before his death and 14 long years after he began attempting to earn his living as a writer, “The Raven” was published in The New York Evening Mirror. It was an overnight sensation, and Poe, suddenly, a household name.
Its success, however, did little for Poe in his lifetime. He made almost no money from the poem, and he took little consolation in the applause. His beloved wife, Virginia, was dying of tuberculosis, his debts were mounting, and his reputation as a hard drinker made it difficult for him to find steady work as an editor and critic.
Not long after the publication of “The Raven,” Poe and Virginia moved to a small cottage in Brooklyn. Following her death in 1847, Poe befriended his neighbors, the Jesuits of St. John’s College (the future Fordham University). There, the father of the modern detective story spent long nights in conversation with the (mostly) French Fathers, and, when he couldn’t bear the thought of returning home to an empty house, he would remain with the priests at the college.
After the 40-year-old poet died in 1849 under mysterious circumstances, those Jesuits continued to pray for Poe’s soul. That soul never embraced the Catholic Faith, but, as his poem, “Hymn of the Angelus,” attests, it was touched by the Faith’s beauty nevertheless.
At morn, at noon, at twilight dim,
Maria, thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and woe, in good and ill,
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;
Now, when the storms of fate o’ercast
Darkly my present and my past,
Let my future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine.