Several months ago, I came across an anecdote in the life of Madame de Maintenon who, readers will recall, became the wife of Louis XIV in his latter years. This devout lady had refused to be his mistress, and was apparently instrumental in bundling him along toward some rag of authenticity in his practice of Catholicism, in which he had been outwardly scrupulous, but perhaps inwardly less so (if his attitude toward his queen as his sole consort is to be canvassed).
In any event, Madame de Maintenon, being so close to this particularly grand monarch, was the resort of endless hangers-on and seekers of favors. On one such occasion she was chatting with the archbishop of Paris—scarcely one of your ordinary bores. He had been rending his garments about some usual outrage in the running of things, and the good woman brought the conversation to a tranquil close with the remark, “But, Monseigneur—there is nothing for it but to sigh upon seeing how matters are handled.”
That maxim has echoed in my imagination like a bell since I first read it. My own impulse, inherited from violent and opinionated ancestors, is to leap from my chair every time I read of some new horror in the press and offer a fusillade for the benefit of anyone within earshot, whether they have asked for my ideas or not. My wife, I suspect, will have sapphires in her diadem in paradise for having listened, decade after bone-wearying decade, to these philippics without carping.
For example, I learned recently of a program being required of Catholic parishes in at least one archdiocese whereby very small children will be introduced in the course of parish religious instruction to the whole range of bizarre sexual activities—the idea being, apparently, that they should be on the lookout lest anyone wheedle them into participating. It is for their protection, goes the rationale. One of the warnings is that their parents are among those whom they must distrust. Their teachers are to be exempt from this shadowy cadre.
This would all strike me as representing not only a very confused line of thought, but a very dangerous, not to say wicked, line of thought. For 10,000 years, parents in every tribe, society, civilization, and culture have had to protect their children against predators—and predators have been abroad. That is scarcely a new threat, although it is a most grim threat, horribly exacerbated in our own epoch. There is much to be said on the point, not least that a worse threat may be not the sexual evildoers themselves—who, like the devil in 1 Peter, prowl about seeking whom they may devour—but rather the virtually omnipotent and faceless committees in education who hand down the diktat that requires schools, teachers, and parishes to force-feed children the vocabulary and the vignettes from the stews of Babylon and Gomorrah.
But this is a very long leap from Madame de Maintenon and her sigh. And it seems that I have offered my readers the very philippic that I, at least by implication, decried above.
Here is my own point: When it comes to looking after one’s own soul, then the question must be asked, Am I being called upon, right now,to raise my voice? The faithful columnists, the parents with school-age children, the teachers and those who represent them, and the faithful bishops and clergy must enter the lists, when the time is right. But I—I mean any one of us, emerging from his prayers during the ordinary day, in common chat with the people around him: Is the air full of my shrill voice? Are all of my friends, who agree fervently with my orthodox moral views, to be regaled with one more rehearsal of the truth?
This is when the good lady’s advice to the archbishop may be apt