Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Muggeridgiad

The last of the Muggeridge hordes have gone to their respective homes and we are, for the first time, alone in the house. And so much more alone than ever before.

All the remaining inmates of Manning Manor are going to be working the election which was announced Monday, so there will be little time for anything fun like mourning or blogging. Still, the electronic wake continues.

This is, again, from Warren. (I met George Jonas, of whom I had heard so very much over the Manning House breakfast table, for the first time and his piece on John will be appearing in the National Post tomorrow and I will probably stick it up here also.)

The good death of a good man

David Warren, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2005

As an earthling (some of my critics to the contrary), I rebel against the Christian idea of a "good death," or death more generally, especially when it deprives me of a man who was my best friend. And yet I have just seen this improbable thing: a perfectly "good death" by a man of whom no one would have expected less -- rosary in hand, having made his last Confession.

The death of John Muggeridge in Toronto Friday, at the age of 72, racked in all the pain of a metastasized cancer, but still in good humour, and lucid to the last, marks the sudden end of an era in my personal life. But I wouldn't be mentioning it in a national newspaper did I not also think him a man of national significance. He was nearly invisible as a public character, was aloof from conventional politics, had no ambitions in the media, sought no audience; and yet his influence was steady.

The many who filed yesterday into the unreserved pews of Toronto's Church of St. Vincent de Paul, to celebrate the old mass in its full splendour over Muggeridge's coffin, included many with well-known names -- by no means all of them Catholic. John was a man who, simply in being what he was, helped to keep the old Canada alive. Men and women of good will came to him, spontaneously.

Though an immigrant from England, and carrying that surname made too famous by Malcolm Muggeridge, his media-friendly father, John became unselfconsciously Canadian of the old school. He was a real authority on Canadian history, and broad reading in both English and French gave him the means to see our nation from its foundations, and see it whole. Married to an extraordinary woman from Corner Brook, N.L. (the surviving but institutionalized Anne Roche Muggeridge), the two together had a house in Welland, Ont. that many of their visitors thought of as a shrine.

Malcolm Muggeridge's Christian conversion and late-life reception into the Catholic Church -- his "media discovery" of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and related events -- were iconic for a generation of believing Christians, of all denominations, throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. Yet how many know who led that notorious stray sheep into the Catholic fold? It was his son, John, and John's wife, Anne -- whose own husband had been her most remarkable convert. The son is father to the man, but sometimes also father to the father.

John wrote little, and that little hardly ever for the big papers, but I think of the essay he contributed to a transient publication of the long-defunct "Northern Institute," more than 30 years ago. It explained Pierre Trudeau's intellectual development, his outlook and his ambitions in power, better than any other writer had or would explain these things. The article demystified Trudeau for any intelligent reader. Instead, we continued listening to the mystified "talking heads."

Power we tend to acknowledge only where we see it dressed as power, but often as not the power is concealed. John Muggeridge's influence was always as a teacher, rarely as an author -- although the few things he so painfully wrote (he hated writing) showed him a master of the language. He'd been a schoolteacher, too, for his living, but that is not what I mean. He loved children with his whole heart (his many grandchildren and everyone else's), and the glory of him could be glimpsed when you saw him playing with a child. He would give himself entirely away. Similarly, in his many friendships, it was sometimes as if there was no self there, he was so perfectly sympathetic not merely with another person, but with the best in that person. This is the great secret of pedagogy: that "instruction" never works, that it all comes down to tutoring by example; and where love is not, nothing is learned.

could assemble a chorus-line of people to affirm that John was the kindest, sweetest, most decent human being ever. I heard several argue that he was a saint -- long before we were ever grieving. But the John I knew, and well, was no saint by natural disposition. He so much loved the world, and everything that was beautifully small; but he was equipped with no more than the standard human conscience. What made him "unnatural," as it were, was the recklessness with which he acknowledged Christ.

Recently, in these columns, I've been touching on the old political puzzle of "church and state." But while meditating on the life of John Muggeridge, as I have been doing inevitably since watching him die, a key to this relation has come home to me. It is that, in church and state alike, there must be an overarching appreciation of the importance of personal holiness. Without this, we have a dog's life, and there is nothing for church nor state to cherish.

David Warren's column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005

1 comment:

Shakie G said...

I'm really glad I got to meet him.