03 Oct The Secret Catholic Insider Guide to France
Passion, Courage & Glory
Paris, 2014. We are a couple of American journalists in a tiny Audi, prepared to part ways and head out of town. The SAT NAV assures us it will be 21 minutes to our hotel.
Almost three hours later, we arrive. The problem? Animal rights protesters — thousands of them, swarming all over the city, with police regulating their movements by cordoning off tiny streets and big boulevards.
Our SAT NAV kept insisting we had to go where we couldn't go. Most protesters are teenage girls who arrived on the back of their boyfriends’ motorbikes, now weaving insouciantly in and out of traffic. My right arm ached, sweat was pouring down our faces — and I still had a 6 hour ride home.
But, no matter. My intrepid fellow journaliste jumped out, and I took off. Almost four hours later, deep in the French countryside, suddenly a trouble light appeared on the old Audi’s dashboard. By now it was dark, and I was thoroughly exhausted and wary; there no motels at freeway exits in France.
BUT the Iphone cheerfully assured me there is a ‘Le Relais' hotel not 6 kms away. So I exit the A4 into the fallow fields and dark villages, follow its instructions, and wind up in a dark village, with no hotel of any kind in sight.
Then God sends a tiny angel, in the shape of a tattooed French farmer whose gold teeth glint in the streetlight. I have pulled up outside his house. He looks dodgy, I am dog-tired, but as usual when God calls the shots, the outcome is amazing.
With a few words of broken English and French we manage to establish that there is a ‘Hotel Mermaid' in the next village. This is confirmed by his father and his brother, who also appear outside, smiling broad gold smiles and nodding enthusiastically.
Hotel Mermaid is very easy to find because it is the only game in town. It’s also lit up by a huge swathe of green neon, and there are lots of cars parked outside — because there is a wedding inside.
The proprietor and his family are working at full tilt, and in response to my pleading tell me there is only one room in the rambling old building. The old lady who resides in the next room ‘sometimes take the telephone and is loud because she cannot hear' he warns me.
No matter. I want a glass of wine.
The hotel resembles something one might find near a railway station in the Old West — huge ceilings, lots of wood, stuffed wild animals everywhere. The furniture is from the 70s and 80s; the wine is decent.
I sit in the hotel bar and watch the people around me — farmers' families with the hallmark of the truly French: courteous, well-behaved, and decently dressed. No drunken stumbling around. No skin-tight dresses on fat ladies. No raucous ‘We Are FAMILEE' stuff.
My Iphone can't get a signal, so I head to bed. The room is clean, if a bit bare. The old lady is not just deaf, though. She also has dementia and intermittently roars away at unseen foes, an un-nerving, animal-like sound. I kneel and pray a decade of the rosary for her, though and she quiets down enough for me to fall asleep — for a few hours anyway until she begins roaring at 3 am. I sleep fitfully after that, waking in the grey morning to an excellent croissant and coffee.
In the daylight, I realize with a shock that the village is surrounded by the killing fields of World War I.
I am in the Verdun, a name that sent shivers through our grandparents. This is because for nine months in 1916 the longest battle in history was waged around this hotel, a command headquarters for the Allied forces. The flower of Western manhood — French, English, American and German boys — was systematically cut down in hellish machine-gun fire.
The giant John Deere tractors of local farmers still unearth human bones, I am told.
The Battle of Verdun was one of a series of bloodbaths that were set in motion by the French revolution 125 years before, when the ideologues of the Enlightenment used guillotines and massacres to annihilate the old King and the old Faith.
The bloodbath was spread through Europe by Napoleon, whose French armies sent nuns and monks fleeing from their monasteries. They grabbed the gold plate and sold the properties cheap to the local nobility — who retain them to this day.
Napoleon’s armies ended up dead, their frozen corpses stacked in the Russian snows. Their brilliant general died a reputedly horrific death by poisoning, in exile from the Europe he had looted and tried to make ‘modern.’
The chaos and killing in the name of modernity continued, however. 1848. 1870. 1914. 1939. 1968. Generations of European thinkers launched their ideologies designed to replace the Faith, and all hell broke loose. Communism, Socialism, National Socialism — each had their day, killing innocents and sending huddled masses yearning to breathe free to Lady Liberty in New York harbor. (In a superb irony that every Frenchman would acknowledge, it was the French who designed the Statue of Liberty to welcome the people fleeing from the fallout of the Enlightenment.)
It is now nearly a century since the Battle of Verdun, and Europe has enjoyed its longest period of peace and prosperity since France’s bloody Revolution and ‘Enlightenment’ unleashed the forces of Satan onto old Christendom. In a feat of audacity and propaganda that even Napoleon would have admired, the French (and German) ideologues of Vatican II pushed through their modernizing agenda in the 1960s.
Without getting lost in the weeds, it is necessary to understand one crucial thing about French politics: though the French Left was and is splintered, the differing factions have always agreed on one thing — the Church was and is the Enemy. And it was the brilliant and apposite insight of a small cadre of French clerics after World War II that they had the opportunity to forever alter this bloody course of history – by altering the position of the Church in society.
Voltaire’s ‘La Infame’ was to become a bastion of the Left. Her ancient teachings would be gradually subsumed under a blanket of neo-Marxist ideology. A new iconoclasm became the order of the day, as the hated ‘sentimental’ church art would be stripped out of France’s venerable churches and sold in junk stores. Her Liturgy would be similarly denuded of its dignity, and in a bow to the ever-growing consumerist culture, her Sacraments reduced to rites of passage requiring lavish gifts.
The windows of the Church would be flung open, and a fresh wind would blow through, clearing away the cobwebs and bringing the Church into the modern age that France’s Left had fought so long and so hard for.
This ‘wind,’ as we all know, has turned into a deadly hurricane in the last 60 years. Vocations plummeted. Catechesis collapsed. A recent poll showed that a majority of French people affirm that they are ‘Catholic’ – and in an irony that is at once hilarious and tragic, most also affirm that while they do NOT believe in God, they DO believe in reincarnation. (Is there a link to the animal rights movement here, one wonders?)
Today, there is one priest for every 30 parishes in much of France. Most of these are imported from elsewhere. Aging French clerics are divided. A few are ideologues brought up on the milk of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II,’ still insisting against all evidence that this state of affairs is, in fact, ‘the New Evangelization.’ The vast majority, however, are simply administrators presiding over a dying Church.
Country churches stand shuttered, in various stages of neglect and disuse. Meanwhile, France’s cities are now ringed by decrepit Muslim suburbs, in the main hostile to the larger culture. Often, their youths incite violence against French people unlucky enough to be caught alone on subway stations or in the street. Sometimes they explode into rounds of car-torching. Sometimes they send their sons into battle as jihadists.
Many French people are deeply worried about what to do when that battle comes to France. The authorities warn them not to discuss such things. The extreme Right runs strongly on anti-immigrant platforms. The Left, drunk on its almost-complete hegemony over French political discourse, has no idea what to do about any of this.
It has moved on to bigger and better battlefields, however. In what just may be a final, decadent stage of Enlightenment thought, the old Marxist Left has now morphed into the Sexual Left — an ideology cobbled together from the fragments of French libertinism, existentialism and Marxism.
Basically, this all-new, ‘new Left’ teaches that there is no God, and no point to anything, anyway. Liberte’ is now defined as the right to have sex anytime, with anyone, and under any circumstances that one finds titillating – and woe to anyone who dares to disagree. (And if all of this is too depressing for words, of course suicide is the new Sacrament.)
To outside observers, this breathtaking combination of French effrontery and nihilism sounds a familiar note; we all recognize this battle song. But what may not be evident to most outsiders is this: there is another France, apart from these extremes.
A staggering 1.4 million French people peacefully jammed the streets of old Paris on May 26. They were there to show their opposition to the agenda of the Sexual Left. Old people and children in strollers were set upon by French riot police, beaten and tear-gassed. Amazingly, they are set to do it all again, in Paris and all the major towns in France on October 5th.
If you have not heard about this huge news story, there is an historical reason. In the wake of World War II, in order to establish peace in a society dangerously on the brink of more (this time, Communist-led) violence, Charles De Gaulle bought time for France.
He ceded control of the economy to the Right. French industry, banks, insurance, agriculture – it has been these economic conservatives who have joined with Germany to create the prosperity and peace of the European Union, quietly profiting therefrom.
The price for this, however, was that the Left should control the (taxpayer-funded) media and after the 1968 riots forced their hand, the state-supported universities. Today, comfortable jobs for Left Wingers are secure, and unwelcome news stories simply do not appear.
But now there is the internet, which the French are utilizing to the utmost. Of the top most-frequented websites in France today, the top three are orthodox Catholic sites. At the same time, the French have led the way in forming families, bucking the trending demographic winter in the rest of Europe. In France, having babies is tres chic.
Moreover, against all odds, the old Faith is still alive in France.
There is a dawning rapprochement of traditionalist and charismatic Catholics, pragmatically recognizing their common ground. In the heart of Paris’s Left Bank, Masses are full – both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Forms draw young and old, French and foreign.
French monasteries are proving, once again, to be strongholds of the Faith – quietly outgrowing their buildings and sending out new shoots to places like Clear Creek, Oklahoma.
Even the moribund bishops are slowly starting to participate, as in the provinces some parishes are being reinvigorated by the Institute of Christ the King and the Community of Saint Martin.
In her ancient cities and beautiful countryside, in scattered villages from Brittany to Provence, and with a brave new generation as her champions, the Eldest Daughter of the Church is awakening from her long slumber – as you will see in “The Secret Catholic Insiders Guide to France “
Beverly De Soto Stevens
Editor, Regina Magazine
Paris, October 2014