In no strange land

I am very bad at remembering birthdays, dinner dates, anniversaries. Perhaps that’s why I now live alone. This week I set some kind of record, not only by forgetting the birthday of a good friend, which I suppose could be overlooked in some years. But this was a round-numbered birthday. Saint Philip Neri turned five hundred last Tuesday. By the time I realized, it was too late to attend the Mass. I have prayed to him, however, and promised to make it up.

Meanwhile I want to mention, again, the book on Saint Philip, by Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory, which is at last published. (I mentioned it previously, here.) Angelico Press has done a fine job, not only on the typography and design, but also in getting it out promptly, after another publisher (who will be nameless) made a hash. I am quite impressed with Angelico, a recent enterprise whose whole current list is superb. Good publishers are extremely rare. I’m not aware of even one in Canada, and Angelico may now be the best we have for the Catholic milieu in the English language.

A good publisher works exclusively with manuscripts he thinks deserve the light of day; he never publishes shoddy work to make a quick buck, hook a subsidy, swing a deal, or other low motive. This is because he is not sleazy.

On the other hand, because he believes in both the work and the author, he is tireless in promoting them. If there is any way to make the book sell (that is ethical), he will discover it. He must take risks, which he must judge shrewdly. He will be, invariably, both a man of letters and a business man, and he will thrive in the creative tension between these sometimes incompatible callings.

There is nothing whatever wrong with “selling” a worthy product whose benefits are real. On the contrary, it is quite wrong to miss opportunities, or be otherwise lazy, or unnecessarily shy, when one is a salesman.

And a good publisher is a Godsend to a good author: not only for dealing with the “stuff” for which few authors are equipped, by talent or disposition. They become friends, of great use to each other on multiple levels. And as always with true friends, however the relation started — usually, with a meeting of eyes — the entanglements develop into a loyalty beyond all material attachments. This is ultimately what Holy Church is about — a society of friends that extends through and beyond space and time, in Christ.

Saint Philip Neri is worth knowing, as friend. He is incidentally very charming and lovable. Father Robinson’s book is, I think, the ideal introduction to him, for an intelligent reader of our day. He has presented, with approachable learning and also with wit, exactly what it is about this man that has not aged in five hundred years.

The “embodied mysticism” mentioned in the subtitle guides to the Guide, as it were: someone to take us past the obstacles in our present environment, where what is meant by the word “mysticism” is not understood; where it is instead confused with a lot of jolly nonsense. For “mysticism” is not some experience to wait for. It is the way of life, itself, beginning now; the only way through the shutters of illusion. And it begins in a humble, earthy way.

The surtitle, applied at the last — In No Strange Land — is from the poem by Francis Thompson. It speaks of a realm that is invisible, intangible, unknowable. Yet which in grace we may view, touch, and know. Saint Philip is the remarkable guide to that “embodiment,” and Father Robinson will take you to him directly, here.