The extraordinary English Catholic writer Stratford Caldecott has succumbed to cancer. A few months back, as his life ebbed away, he wrote this beautiful, brave reflection about what was to come. Excerpt:
Everybody comes to death eventually, either by disease or by “old age.” There’s a part of me, suffering from prostate cancer, that wants simply to get it over with. In that case the simplest outcome is to stay with the illness I have and see it through. Alternatively, I could recover, somehow, and in this way buy a few more weeks or months or years of life.
And yet, and yet…. For God wants us to have a certain treasure, a wealth, that we can have only in a certain way—and that cannot come to us by taking something from him prematurely. “I can find that divine wealth that God, by his adoption of us, intends us to inherit. Wherever I turn, I shall find him. Whether life has smooth ways or rough, whether it hangs my path with lights or hides me in gloom, I am the heir to all that earth or sea or sky can boast of as their possession.”
The “rich things of God,” are the things he wishes us to claim from him. For “I have a claim upon even more. I have a claim upon the very source of this wealth, that is, upon God himself, for he is the sole source of all his greatness.” There is no doubt about it. “I have a right to God himself. He is mine. He who holds in the hollow of his hands the fabric of the world, who with his divine power supports, and with his Providence directs, the intricate pattern of the world, has himself by creation entered deeply into the world; at the heart of everything he lies hidden.”
The author of this remarkable passage (Magnificat, May 2014, pp. 198-9) is the English Dominican writer, Father Bede Jarrett, O.P. He adds that God “comes in a fuller, richer way into the depths of the soul” by grace. It is by virtue of this grace that “here in me are Father, and Son, and Spirit.” And we must conclude that God wishes to give himself to us completely, and in no other way than this. God gives himself to the whole world through us, by giving himself through life and death.
He held a sure, constant and quiet faith, writing and living his faith consistently while, in many ways, being marginalized by the intellectual establishment and Catholic establishment in England. I don’t think it is too unfair to observe that the English establishment do not like Catholics and the Catholic establishment do not like intellectuals. Strat, being a Catholic intellectual, remained an outsider. He was also an outsider in England because he was, like me, a foreigner. He didn’t really fit in. He also didn’t really fit in in English Catholic circles because he actually did something. He didn’t wait to be asked and didn’t wait to be thanked. He organized international conferences. He started publishing houses, intellectual journals and worked tirelessly editing, writing, encouraging writers and quietly building up an impressive and powerful body of work.
Here’s a cool story about how Caldecott’s daughter organized the Avengers to send messages of support to her dying father, a comic book geek.
Here’s a link to Second Spring, one of Caldecott’s websites, where you can get an idea of the amazing work he did.
I spent some time with him in his Oxford office in 2011, interviewing him with a colleague of mine from Templeton. Strat’s haunt was messy and crammed with books, except for an upstairs room which was a G.K. Chesterton museum of sorts. Strat had up there a pair of Chesterton’s spectacles, his typewriter, and other memorabilia. After our interview, we went out for lunch, and I remember thinking that as long as men like Stratford Caldecott are in the world, there is hope. RIP.