Schhh… you know who

This is a post about boys, and the men they become.  Declaration: This article was partly fuelled by Schweppes)

Last week, while I was taking annual leave, my wife let me off the leash to visit London for a week and dig up some old friends, see the sights, and sample metropolitan Catholicity. I managed to do all of these and had a great time doing them.

I got in touch with an old chum from prep-school days who I had been inseparable from between the ages of seven and nine. We had both been bright young things, in our pre-pubescent ways, but to be honest, he was far the brighter. Even then he had a mature love of classical music, and took naturally to dramatic art. His performance in the school play as “The Dyspeptic Ogre” would have won a Tony Award had it been on Broadway.

Sadly, he moved away with his family and we had no further contact until his sharp-eyed mother spotted my name in the newspaper listings of Oxbridge entrants. She put us in touch by phone. I learned he had been through the hard educational regime of Presentation College in Reading, which had been punishing to his free spirit, but he excelled academically in spite of this.

We went up to Oxford together in 1980 and met up to carouse the town a few times, but we had grown too far apart to still be close. I pursued medicine and he did history. He got into the Oxford Union and Brideshead Revisited scenes, and I only discovered the college bar. After this we didn’t hear from one another until about 2010.

By that time I was a “Consultant in Rural Anaesthesia”, and he had become a leader writer, journalist and blogger, specialising in Catholic matters, with a top UK national broadsheet. I started commenting on his blog, and thereby met the likes of GC, Gertrude, Kathleen, Maryla and Raven (in alphabetical order), and many others too numerous to mention.

In May/June 2010 his blog, which had become the supreme meeting and debating place for many on-line Catholics, came under sustained and heavy attack from aggressive secular atheists and other fiercely anti-Catholic voices. It became intolerable for many of us to stay there, and by a miracle of organisation, a core of us met up in a separate online forum and formed the Catholicism Pure & Simple blog, which you are reading now. We went public on 4th July 2010, exactly five years ago.

Anyway, I met up with him for a late breakfast. He had a busy day of journalistic business ahead of him but we had an hour and a half of quality catch-up time together. He told me a remarkable story about his spiritual life. You see, despite being a leading writer on all things Catholic, he had for most of his adult life stopped practising the Faith, going to Mass or even praying. The lure of the world, and the cynical, sceptical circles he moved in, had turned him into a “burned-out old hack” as a mutual friend (a priest) remarked to me.

However, he remained a devoted and dutiful son to his mother, a devout Catholic, who was now getting old and frail, and last Christmas unable to think of  a suitable present he promised he would start going to Sunday Mass again. His mother’s tired face came to life with joy, and he knew then he would have to keep his rash promise, and so he has done.

He described how it was difficult at first to overcome the shame of all that lost time with God, and all his accumulated prejudices against the Faith and his fellow Catholics, but he had promised his mother and so persisted at it. Of great help was that his parish church was only a short distance from his front door, and the priest and parish were very easy-going, and orthodox enough not to be off-putting. By the time we met, he was already experiencing the peace and joy that comes from regular simple participation in the life of Christ, and described himself as becoming a man changing slowly but surely for the better.

He no longer works for that newspaper but is freelancing. In retrospect he realises that this is a blessing as he no longer has to toe the party line which was often hostile to the Church, and which had become unbearable. He retains all his contacts in the Catholic world of letters, and seems happy with his lot. In fact, his inner and outer life are in greater harmony than ever before.

I rang him last night to ask his permission to write this story, and he was very glad to oblige me. He had just seen his mother and had told her that we had met up after all those years. She clearly remembered her son’s cheeky, chubby playmate from 45 years before, and again, her face shone at the thought that such close childhood friends from more innocent times were seeing one another again at last.

He plans to write about his re-conversion at some future date, under his own name.  His story illustrates to me that Grace is always at work, even in the most unlikely of places. Oddly enough, this reminds me of the plot of Brideshead Revisited, his beloved book and TV mini-series, which is basically about the invisible power of God sanctifying the hearts and minds of his chosen.

Please pray with me for him and his dear mother, whose own prayers are now bearing fruit.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot, his name is Damian Thompson.



About Brother Burrito

A sinner who hopes in God's Mercy, and who cannot stop smiling since realizing that Christ IS the Way , the Truth and the Life. Alleluia!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Schhh… you know who

  1. JabbaPapa says:

    huh !! interesting …

  2. kathleen says:

    As I have already told you dear BB, thank you so much for sharing this most moving and beautiful story of the working of Grace in the soul. Surely Damian gave the best birthday present EVER to his beloved mother!

    ‘Happy anniversary’ to all our many faithful friends who have ‘followed’ us over here from Damian’s blog on the Daily Telegraph where we first met up more than five years ago. And of course many thanks and a big welcome to all our wonderful new friends and commenters. 🙂

  3. chalcedon451 says:

    This is a most moving post.

  4. johnhenrycn says:

    The Holy Smoke blog was a good place to be 6 years ago and for a couple of years after. I began commenting on it in February 2009 (which, if you can believe it, is when I first bought a computer for use at home – I still don’t have a *smart* phone). I’m interested to know when others started there. Some of the HS crowd can still be seen in various places on the internet, but I’d say most have disappeared or adopted new names.

    It’s interesting to learn that Damian was in a state of, what – ambivalence shall we say? – concerning his religious beliefs while running HS, but thinking back, yes, his posts dealing with religion did focus mainly on the political machinations of the hierarchy and on the cultural / liturgical absurdities of New Age Catholics (and Anglicans) than upon theology. He struck me more as a conservative Catholic (which is still a good thing to be) than as a devout one. Best wishes to the gentleman.
    …and to CP&S: In Bocca al Lupo 🙂

  5. Bernadette says:

    That is a quite beautiful story and thankyou for writing it. It was written perfectly. I have always been a supporter of Damian. I never doubted his faith for a minute, even though he clearly did. His integrity always shone through.

    Which is more than be said for one or two vile and poisonous “Catholics” invited to ahem.. other places.

    Bernadette Eakin

  6. toadspittle says:

    Good story, Bro. B.
    I’m not at all surprised Damian quit The Telegraph.
    It has become a sort of broadsheet “Sun.”

  7. Bernadette says:

    Hello JH – I think you are confusing someone’s faith with their job. A journalist must consider political ideas. Politics is what enables us to do basic things like vote or drive on the right hand side of the road ( so that we don’t all have head-on crashes.). It continues to amaze me how people at the coal/chalk face of their jobs, out and proud about their Catholicism, are the ones that the hidden people always line up to attack for not being quite “Catholic enough”.

    In the US and Canada you have far greater freedom of media speech than we do in the UK. The very idea that a journalist working for a national newspaper was able to promote Catholic ideas (and that is what Damian did) for such a long time, is a testimony to his faith in a county that is sleep-walking into deeper and deeper secularism.

    And finally, Holy Smoke blog was never explicitly a Catholic blog even though many simple souls inferred it as such. Catholics with the balls to stick our necks on the line in the public square just can’t win in the UK. We get it from all sides and so we retreat and the vacuum is filled by career Catholics who just talk self-referential ****. That’s certainly one thing you cannot accuse Thompson of. I still chuckle every August Bank Holiday at his immortal words on the Notting Hill Carnival, which he correctly identified as being full of “fat white women eating jerk chicken”

    Go Damian.

    Bernadette Eakin

    (note Capital “B”, not the small b of someone pretending to be me)

  8. johnhenrycn says:

    Perhaps so, Toad, but it’s still better than your Grauniad where Polly Toynbee has been their Page 3 Girl for the past seventeen or so years. I quite like many of the Telegraph columnists, although I don’t pay much attention to their reportage.

  9. toadspittle says:

    Surely you meant;
    “Catholics with the neck to stick our balls on the line in the public square,”

  10. johnhenrycn says:

    There used to be a bernadette on Holy Smoke. She and I were like chalk and cheese, although I thought from her writing style that she (not you, who I don’t know) was quite sexy.

  11. Bernadette says:

    Well, put up a front a much as you like, JH. We’re all agreed that Damian is a proper Catholic Journalist. Meantime, the self-referential career Catholics of whom I speak have lost no time in sticking in the first knife. I knew it wouldn’t be long. Sad. We need to pray for them.


    Bernadette Eakin

  12. JabbaPapa says:

    Bernadette has a far more elegant style than you’re capable of.

    She also would NEVER use those vulgarities.

  13. johnhenrycn says:

    Uhmm…can’t tell who you’re addressing JP. Moi? God Bless (© GinFree)

  14. JabbaPapa says:

    erm no not you LOL :o)

  15. JabbaPapa says:

    I mean “bernadette”

  16. Bernadette says:

    Hello Jabba! we prayed for your safe recovery on the Camino last year – glad you are still with us ! God Bless. BTW – JH means no harm. He is just teasing. Come on, we are all one in Christ.

    I am just delighted and healed at this beautiful post. It confirms what I always believed and affirms my faith a thousand fold.

    Bernadette Eakin.

  17. sandygrounder says:

    Thanks for posting this good news. May God bless Damian and his family.

  18. JabbaPapa says:

    BB well done for posting this thread

  19. Bernadette says:

    Anti ? You’ve lost me…

    God Bless you.


  20. JabbaPapa says:

    We’ve several Antis

  21. johnhenrycn says:

    Mrs Eakin at 16:43 says:” …put up a front a much as you like, JH.”

    Well, you seem to know me, madam, so perhaps my recollection that it was bernadette, not Bernadette, that I used to fantasize (figuratively speaking, of course) about on Holy Smoke is mistaken. As a test of your bona fides and memory, do you remember the time you told everyone how, after a long road trip to your country place in Wales you slept 12 hours straight, and my reply:

    When Napoleon Bonaparte was asked how many hours sleep a person needs he replied: ‘Six for a man, seven for a woman, and eight for a fool.’


    I forget bernadette’s (or Bernadette’s) reply to that, except that it was indignant.

    …and remember another time (c. 2009-10) when Bernadette (or bernadette) told everyone about her fantasy of stealing all copies of The Tablet from the narthex of her parish church and trundling them into the Thames? Was that you, if your blog memory goes back that far?

  22. johnhenrycn says:

    I remember Anti-Molly from Adelaide who figures on Cardinal Eccles’s blog – which I can never access – but no others.

  23. johnhenrycn says:

    That’s the first witty thing you’ve said since-I-know-not-when, Toad, but Mrs Eakin’s formulation is more logical, metaphorically speaking.
    Where’s that Irish lawyer today? Have we seen him off? I hope not. He was a Darling.

  24. JabbaPapa says:

    We have Anti Molly, Anti Meena, and now apparently Anti “bernadette”

  25. Magdalene says:

    Oh, I LOVED the punch line!!!! And sometimes when my sons will say—“Yes, mother, we know what you want for your birthday: for us to go to confession.” Indeed every Catholic mother, every Catholic parent wants their child to remain in a state of grace so that they can merrily meet in heaven one day. What every true love for a beloved wants is their greatest good and the greatest Good is God.

  26. Brother Burrito says:

    Thank you Jabba.

  27. toadspittle says:

    I wonder if Damian might be persuaded to cast a few of his pearls (artificial ones will do) before us swine on CP&S, from time to time?
    (He needn’t tell his Mum.)

  28. ginnyfree says:

    What a lovely and loving story about friendship renewed. Thanks. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  29. johnhenrycn says:

    Can’t understand what Bernadette said to prompt such a negative response. As I mention above, she and I were often at loggerheads in the past, and quite likely will be again if she starts frequenting this Sceptered Isle, but she is absolutely right about “one or two vile and poisonous Catholics” who contributed to the meltdown of HS. I can think of one in particular, but won’t mention a name because that commenter has proven quite reliable since then and, in my munificence, all is forgiven, if not forgotten.

  30. Dilly says:

    Hi, John Henry
    I arrived about the same time as you, and would say that, if Damian had done nothing else, his persistent vocal ridicule of the shambolic arrangements for Pope Benedict’s visit in 2010 was instrumental in ensuring better people were put in charge. He was in no small way responsible for its ultimate success. That – in my view – was his finest hour, and it would not have happened without his political nous and contacts.

  31. Thank you everyone for your kind comments. I’d be so grateful if you could say prayers for my mother, Pamela Thompson, now in a nursing home. And thanks so much to the author of this post, a rediscovered friend whom I never stopped missing during those lost decades.

  32. ginnyfree says:

    Be assured of prayers for your mom Damian. Best to you. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  33. JabbaPapa says:

    Welcome Damian !!

  34. Gertrude says:

    Belatedly, but no less sincere, a precious post BB about grace. Where would any of us be without it. Behind anyone rediscovering the Faith of their Fathers is usually a praying mother, and I am
    sure Our Blessed Lady always hears these mothers’ prayers and intercedes for them at the Throne of Grace.

    So to Burro – thank you, and to Damian -prayers for your dear mother, and a huge thank you for allowing us to share in your very personal moment of grace.

  35. Ed Gray says:

    I just stumbled across this story on Facebook and agree it is an uplifting tale of friendship and faith. I was 2 years ahead of you at Pres and agree the institution has left me with a lifelong challenge with my catholic faith but one which I am happy to face each day. My greatest joy has been to encourage my children to follow the same path (through healthier, more enlightened catholic school systems) and hope their lives are equally fulfilling and challenging. Good luck Damian & I’ll pray for your mum much as I do for my own, 94 and also in a care home.

  36. Bernadette says:

    Prayers also from me and my family for Pamela and.all of your family. God is good.


  37. Bernadette says:

    If I’d had them, they’d certainly have been on the line many times over. So, I’ll stick to neck. It was good enough for Fisher and More.

    Sunday’s second reading “Your grace is sufficient for me”: this post, though. Bewt.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s