Seek To Be Unknown: A Spiritual Anthology,
by Fr W.J. Boswell, edited by Francis Phillips

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Seek To Be Unknown: A Spiritual Anthology, by Fr W.J. Boswell, edited by Francis Phillips

£10 + £1.30 postage. With 270 pages and 10 illustrations, this paperback edition is available from Francis Phillips, please click here to contact her:

It is customary in the New Year to make a ‘resolution’. Generally we make too many of these and then keep none of them. I have a simple suggestion for those whose wits and resolutions may be scattered: pray often for your parish priest. How often do we give a thought to him? He is hard-working, conscientious, sometimes holy, dedicated to a way of life that is increasingly a lonely sign of contradiction in our modern world.

As we read the ominous news of the future ‘clustering’ of parishes, the empty seminaries, the media-driven responses to the Nolan Report on child protection, we should reflect for a moment on these good men, called by God to be His instruments of sacramental grace to their fellows and often living lives of quiet martyrdom.

This book is written by one of them. Father Boswell was ordained in 1952, during the pontificate of Pius XII. He, like so many of his generation of priests who remained loyal, witnessed the confusion and disarray in the Church following the Second Vatican Council, the changes to the liturgy, alongside the piecemeal erosion of faith in this country.

Now aged 84 and living in a nursing home, the book has been compiled by his parish as a tribute to his years as a country priest. It is composed of a selection of his writings in his parish bulletins over the years, as well as 35 of his homilies, some preached as a young curate in the Northampton diocese in the 1950s, others preached in the 1990s.

Yet there is nothing remotely parochial in the contents of this volume. Though the ‘voice’ is very personal, the subject-matter is universal, written for anyone who has ears to hear. Its treatment is always original, creative, imaginative – the singular response of one parish priest to the riches of his Faith. There are chapters on Our Lord, Our Lady, the saints, pilgrimages, feasts and seasons, as well as a huge variety of miscellaneous meditations on subjects as varied as clouds, candles and crucifixes.

The homilies, written in prose of resonance and authority, reflect a mind that constantly pondered the deep truths of Catholicism. Father Boswell had a particular love for the martyrs of the Reformation period and the heroic priest-martyrs of his own alma mater, the Venerable English College in Rome. In this selection there are vignettes of medieval Catholic Cambridge, Corpus Christi processions, St John Fisher, St Thomas More, St Margaret Clitherow, St Edward Oldcorne and St John Wall.

His most congenial historical period was the High Middle Ages, with its particular Marian vibrancy. Modern England, he felt, lacks true merriment precisely because it has ceased to honour Our Lady. He had an almost physical sense of the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; a church without a tabernacle gave him an overwhelming feeling of emptiness and loss. Before his own presbytery was built he slept for six years on top of the vestment chest in his sacristy because ‘where Christ is, there should his priest be.’

What is the title’s significance? It is a quotation from Thomas a Kempis. The Imitation of Christ was a book that Father Boswell had, much like St Therese of Lisieux, committed to memory and to his own priestly life. Each of the ten chapters is preceded and concluded by a quotation from Father Boswell’s writings, e.g. ‘It is the easiest of fallacies to imagine we are good because we do not fall into grave sin. Satan never tempts those he is sure of. He has thrown smoke in our eyes; he has us where he wants us: on the terrible plank of self-satisfaction. We shall never know the strength of Satan until we have parted company with evil and have followed Christ in the silence of prayer and penance.’ This is the language of faith, not of sound-bites.

£10 + £1.30 postage. With 270 pages and 10 illustrations, this paperback edition is available from Francis Phillips, please click here to contact her:

Why not buy a copy for your own parish priest this New Year – and invite him to share a family meal?


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