Wednesday, 17 May 2006

'What is Virtue?'

Some people think that clerical dress is an 'obstacle,' distancing a priest from other people. In my experience wearing the collar has quite the opposite effect, forming a 'bridge' and often initiating conversations. A collar shows the approachability and presence of the Church, often in the most 'secular' situations - whether it be a shop, a restaurant or a train carriage.

I'm just back from a few days in Paris. On Sunday morning, having celebrated Mass, I went for a stroll with my holiday companion, Fr Richard Whinder (of the Archdiocese of Southwark). Having beaten our way through the DVC fan club at St-Sulpice, all huddled in a dark corner taking photos of the gnomon and ignoring the rather fine eighteenth century organ music that was being played, we popped into a bookshop near St-Germain. After a few minutes of happy browsing, I became aware of a glamourous French lady speaking to me - first in French and then, after my protestations, in English. She was an actress, studying the part of Madame de Tourval for a new production of Les Liasons Dangereuses, based on Choderlos de Laclos' novel.

Now, this is not a book that is often mentioned in Catholic blogs - it caused a stir back in 1782 when it was first published and has been considered controversial ever since. Madame de Tourvel, played by Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1988 movie, is virtuous and God-fearing and, precisely because of these qualities, becomes the target of the notorious Vicomte de Valmont - hence his famous line, 'to seduce a woman famous for strict morals, religious fervour and the happiness of her marriage, what could possibly be more prestigious?.'

Anyway, back to my encounter with the French actress in the bookshop. Since she was playing the virtuous Tourvel, she asked me: 'what is virtue?' It's the sort of thing that could only happen in Paris - I can't imagine being asked a similar question in Waterstones at Piccadilly Circus! We had a brief chat and I recommended that she read that great spiritual classic, St Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life. This would soon give her an idea of what being 'virtuous' means. She wrote the title down and we parted. I hope St Francis de Sales will not only inform her portrayal of Madame de Tourvel but will also help on her journey through the drama of life.

Fr Richard and I then walked in the direction of the Rue du Bac in search of the shrine to the Miraculous Medal and a suitable place for lunch. More posts on Paris to come...


Blogger FatherTF said...

How fortunate to be in Paris and to visit the Rue de Bac. I have not had the chance to go there yet. The one opportunity I had a couple of years ago was spoiled by President Bush's visit which forced our coach to detour.

You are absolutely right about the value of clerical dress - for the priest and for the people.

11:38 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Travelling to Paris is so easy and relatively cheap, especially by Channel Tunnel. I'm sure you'd enjoy a return visit - perhaps including a visit to that well-known Parisian church dedicated to St Nicholas!

12:12 pm  

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