Tuesday, July 17, 2018

No silent protest. . .

I was reminded again of a old friend, a poem written by William Carlos Williams.  Called "The Catholic Bells," it speaks of the witness of bells of a church that sound into the silence of an empty world or even the noise of a world against its witness.  You can listen to an old recording of the author reading his own poem here.

I grew up with church bells though among them was not the bell of my home parish, some miles out into the country.  Yet there the bell sounded to call the faithful from farm and home to worship and tolled itself again during the Words of Institution and the Our Father (seven times).  Neither were there Catholic Bells as in the poem but Swedish Lutheran bells and a Methodist bell thrown in as well.

My first parish did not have a bell or a tower but a family gave an electronic carillon in memory of a loved one and it served as a substitute.  My current parish also did not have a bell but now we have two.  One grand cast iron bell that weighs perhaps a half a ton and a smaller school bell size one.  But were given by faithful folks in the parish and members of the parish saw to it that a low tower was raised and the bells now sound forth to call us again to worship and prayer.

The bells speak even to those whose ears are otherwise closed to our witness.  They remind neighborhoods and communities of the presence of the Church, of the place where the Gospel is preached, of the Holy Sacraments that deliver to us Christ and His gifts, and of the faithful gathered in response to God's beckoning.  It is a small witness but one similar to the witness made when neighbors look out their windows or walk out to get their Sunday paper and see the people of God in their cars, dressed for worship and headed to the Church.  It may not be much but it is not as small as we might think, this witness that sounds into the ear or fills the eye.

Perhaps it is time to remember how profoundly these things speak in a world committed to silence the explicit witness to Christ and His death and resurrection.  I am not at all suggesting that we leave it to that or abandon our words and works.  I am only saying that we are left with more than the option of a silent protest before a world intent upon silencing our voice.  No silent protest here -- bells that sound and people on their way to the Divine Service.  A voice and a visual!  God bless them!

Tho' I'm no Catholic
I listen hard when the bells
in the yellow-brick tower
of their new church

ring down the leaves
ring in the frost upon them
and the death of the flowers
ring out the grackle

toward the south, the sky
darkened by them, ring in
the new baby of Mr. and Mrs.
Krantz which cannot

for the fat of its cheeks
open well its eyes, ring out
the parrot under its hood
jealous of the child

ring in Sunday morning
and old age which adds as it
takes away. Let them ring
only ring! over the oil

painting of a young priest
on the church wall advertisng
last week's Novena to St.
Anthony, ring for the lame

young man in black with
gaunt cheeks and wearing a 
Derby hat, who is hurrying
to 11 o'clock Mass (the

grapes still hanging to
the vines along the nearby
Concordia Halle like broken
teeth in the head of an

old man) Let them ring
for the eyes and ring for
the hands and ring for 
the children of my friend

who no longer hears
them ring but with a smile
and in a low voice speaks
of the decisions of her

daughter and the proposals 
and betrayals of her
husband's friends. O bells
ring for the ringing!

the beginning and the end
of th ringing! Ring ring 
ring ring ring ring ring!
Catholic bells-!

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

If we are not sounding the bells that announce our confession on Sunday, then Friday will become the day we hear not bells, but another ( and false) confession.