Letters and Postcards
William's Conversion: This letter was written to Thomas Roussel by William during that period when William was searching for the True Faith. Both of them eventually joined the Catholic Church. William sets forth very good reasons to embrace the Catholic Faith.
Thanks for your letter. I have ordered last weeks Church Times but it has not yet arrived...
I do not remember exactly what I said the other day, but I do not think you yet know the full extent of my difficulty.
My difficulty is something like this.--Our Lord taught 1900 yrs. ago in a country known as Palestine, for about the space of three years. After that time He ascended into Heaven, but before doing that He made provision for the teaching of posterity the words which He had spoken. A great many of these words have since been written down by Evangelists under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. That this is not sufficient of itself we see by the fact that whereas one man who receives the Holy Scripture as the inspired Word of God professes to find from that Scripture one thing, another man professes to find quite another thing, and yet both alike profess to find it after prayer, and under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Take for instance the question of the Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Here, O'Bardsy, Vicar of St. Peter's, Bdfd., tells his congregation that in the Holy Eucharist they do not really & truly receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, whilst in the neighboring parish of St. Mary Magdalene's, Wm. Redhead, the Vicar, tells his congregation that in the Holy Eucharist they do really and truly receive the Body and the Blood of our Lord. Now both of these men profess to have found their respective doctrines from the same source, and under the same guidance. But it is perfectly obvious that one of them must be in the wrong. Which of them is it?
Now as I have said, our Lord did make provision for the teaching of His people after he was gone. He did establish a Church which should teach the world that which is contained in Holy Scripture, & should be able to decide, if necessary, what was the meaning of any disputed passage, and should be able to solve any doubts and difficulties of any of its members. Now this was a great work for Him to give to His Church, but He also made it able to do it. He did send it the promised Comforter whom he promised would remain with it always (St. John XIV. 16). And again, when He sent them out to preach, He promised that He Himself would be with them...
This Church then must be at the present time in existence & always have existed since the time when Our Lord founded it.
Nextly -- How are we to recognize it? We are told - By their fruits ye shall know them.
So I next try to find out what would the characteristics of such a Church be?
The first thing I find is that whatever it teaches must be absolutely true. The Holy Ghost dwells within it. Our Lord Himself abides with it -- therefore whatever it teaches is true, for if not it must be untrue, and God cannot back up what is not true, for if He did He would cease to be God. It must then be Infallible.
If then it is infallible it must be one, for ... It cannot be divided -- "A house that is divided against itself cannot stand." It must be absolutely uniform on all matters of Doctrine (F[athe]r['s] objection about Card. Newman's ..... does not touch this for it was not a matter of doctrine, but merely a policy).
It must be Catholic and Apostolic.
Now let me look at the different views on the Catholic Church held by those who call themselves Catholics.
The Anglicans maintain that the Church consists of different "branches". The "English Church" is one, the "Roman Church" another, and the "Eastern Churches" others. Now they admit that all these "branches" differ amongst each other on certain points of doctrine. For instance, on the question of Transubstantiation, or on the question of Purgatory & Indulgences. Are they then one? Yet no Anglican dares to say that his branch alone is Catholic, and others are heretical. Again, why does not the whole Church speak, and say which is right? Our Lord is still with it, for He promised to be with it always. The Holy Ghost still dwells in it, and animates it. Can the Church ever cease to teach whilst there are still doubts & difficulties to overcome?
Now the "Roman" view on the other hand, says that the Church must be one. But in order to secure it being one, Our Lord provided it with a visible Head, without which, the Roman Catholics claim there can be no true unity. Those who do not recognize this one Head are outside the Church, just as much as a branch cut off from a tree is no longer a part of the tree. Now when I look at this view I do find that the Church, according to the Roman view of it, has always been one, for it has always looked to the Pope for guidance, & has accepted as true what has been taught by the Pope. The Church, according to this view of it, must be one for the Pope cannot at some time make two directly opposite statements, nor, the Roman Catholics claim, can he at different times teach different doctrines, for he speaks only as the mouthpiece (so to speak) of the Church, and therefore at the bidding of the Holy Ghost who is the life & soul of the Church.
The Doctrine on infallibility of the Pope follows from the Doctrine on the Infallibility of the Church, once the Roman Catholic view of the Church is accepted. There can be no doubt, I think, that a Church bearing the characteristics which the Roman Catholics claim belong to the Church, has existed from the time of the Apostles themselves. And that this Church has always called itself the Catholic Church (& always did acknowledge the English Church to be part of it, until the English Church at the Reformation denied the Supremacy of the Pope.) And we know well enough that it does exist, and that it is in a flourishing condition at the present time.
It seems to me that Anglo-Catholics (so-called) profess that they teach what has been taught by the whole Church, but that each man is to use his own private judgement as to what has been taught by the Church.
Roman Catholics (so-called), on the other hand, look to their bishops to know what is the Church's teaching, and the Bishops to the Pope. So that according to the Roman Catholic view, a man has only to use his private judgment when he declares himself to be a Catholic or no.
Thus I find two views. -- If one be true, the Church is a disunited body. If the other is true, the Church is a United body. Which am I to accept?
The direct arguments as to the Supremacy of the Bp. of Rome, which have especially appealed to me, I think, I gave pretty fully in my last letter.
As to whether St. Peter was even Bp. of Rome seems to me to be sufficiently answered by the fact that it was never questioned until three or four centuries ago. There are other arguments -- perhaps better ones -- which I have not time to go into now.
Vocation: Thomas and William Byles eventually converted to the Catholic Faith. There was great opposition to this from their mother. In one letter Thomas' mother begs him to come back to the church which their forefathers fought to establish. Thomas was present at his father's death, praying the Divine Office. William entered a religious order (Jesuit) and Thomas debated if he should enter an order or join the secular priesthood. The following letters concern the religious life tried by William, and Thomas' journey to the priesthood. Thomas would be ordained a secular priest. William would eventually leave religious life, fall in love, and plan a New York wedding for April of 1912.
Sept 14, 1894
Note: I own the above letter.
Priory, Woodchester, GLOS.
My dear Thomas,
Thanks for yours dated October 19., recvd last night. It is a fortnight tomorrow since I arrived here. I have been keeping Choir, Refectory and Silence. Otherwise I am free to do as I like. I accompany the Novices on their walks and sometimes go to recreation with them after dinner and supper. I am very pleased with everything. I feel sure I shall like the life. The Choir and other ecclesiastical ceremonies I enjoy very much. I have no hesitation in wishing to offer myself. Of course I do not know whether I shall be accepted -- pray for me. I have not yet started my retreat, nor do I know when I shall. If I am accepted it will come immediately before the clothing, but I do not know whether this ten days of retreat are included in the month's.... or whether they begin at the end. I shall have to undergo an exam before the Fathers in council. Besides general questions such as the Jesuits give, they examine one in Latin; and I think to satisfy their curiosity in other subjects too. There are clever Novices here, including six "professed" (they are called Novices until Ordination). Among the simply Novices is Bro. Raymond le Verrier, ...monk of the great Gilbertine Monastery of Yenby? S. Wales. Jerome Brookes, who I believe used to repeat Philosophy to your Reverence at St. Mary's, Oscott. Both have made affective enquiries as to your spiritual and temporal well being.
I should be much obliged if you would look after my property till I send for it. If you hear from me that I am to be clothed here, you might send me -- letters & other Mss., Photos/ not Pictures (except religious pictures for prayer books). Paper knife. The Clothes you had better appropriated or give away. The Spirit stoves and other household utensils you can keep or give to Mother. I believe there is a Photo of Mother, May & Helen framed in a deep wallnut frame. If you like to have that it would be much more convenient for me to have one unframed. But do not try to take it out of the frame as it has been cut, glued on something in such a way as to spoil it. If you have an unframed one & like to change, well and good. Have you still got the picture of Father Daminen which you gave me some years ago? If so I should like to have it. -- I hope you will send me too, a complimentary copy of your book -- also the reviews of it.
I shall be glad to hear news of Mary. We ought to pray much for her, as she is entering on a profession which for a young girl, good and innocent though she be, is full of danger. But her Holy Patron can give her the grace she requires.
Mother talked a great deal of Catholic doctrines and practices whilst I was at home. She is very ignorant of course, and in answering her questions I thought it more prudent to adopt the method of instruction rather than of controversy. She was surprised, not being able to understand that the Catholic Faith is anything more than the "views" a Catholic holds. But it is the principle error, it seems to me of which to disarm a Protestant. She was surprised too that I should not wish to claim some sort of fellowship to the High Church Party, and could not understand when I told her that they were as Protestant as any other Church Party. However, I think I taught her to understand that the fundamental difference was not ritual, but submission to authority. Oremus pro i.
A Wedding in America: Father Byles' brother William eventually left the religious life and moved to America to run a business. He met a young lady, fell in love, and made plans for an April wedding in New York. Father Thomas Byles, who was ordained in 1902, was invited to say the wedding Mass. Father Byles wrote to his brother concerning the wedding plans.
February 13, 1912
My Dear W.
I am not at all sure that the English form of marriage is the same as is used in America. If not it might be better to get what you want in America. Is her name Isabella Katherine? I want to have this accurate. Of course the difference between the English would only be slight - the words in England are the clauses beginning, "I N., take thee N. to my wedded (wife/husband) --
Perhaps it is worth mentioning to you that the Cardinal has notified his intention of celebrating his elevation to the Sacred College by leading 2 pilgrimages; one to Lourdes on May 30, and one to Rome in October. Possibly you would like to take in the former. I suppose it will occupy about 8 days.
A Voyage Abroad: Two months later found Father Byles on his way to America to celebrate the wedding Mass for his brother William. The date was April 10, 1912. Father Byles was on board the Titanic when he wrote the following letter.
Dear Miss Field
ship one has little to do to fill up time so I start to
write a letter to you which will be posted at Queenstown
tomorrow morning. Everything so far has gone very well,
except that I have somewhere managed to lose my umbrella.
I first missed it getting out of the train at
Southampton, but I am inclined to think that I have left
it at Liverpool St. We arrived at Southampton in the boat
train at 11.30 and started at 12 o'clock very punctually.
At one we had lunch. We were then still in Southampton
Water, but when we came out of lunch we were between
Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. At 6.0 supper, and
before coming out of supper we stopped at Cherbourg, and
the tender was just coming alongside with passengers. The
tender is a good sized boat of 1260 tons, but by the side
of Titanic she looks as though with a good crane we could
lift her out of the water and lay her on the deck without
feeling any inconvenience. The decks are like this
Sympathy for a Martyr: This letter was written by William to his new mother-in-law just days after the disaster.
My dear Mamma,
Here we are at Bernardsville...went to St. Vincent's Hospital, when we met first some young boys and afterwards some girls who had been on the Titanic. There were a large number of the survivors there, being fitted out with clothes used for relief. Whilst we were there the Cardinal came in and we had the privilege of a few minutes with him in the corridor. He spoke very nicely of Roussel and of all the good he must have done on board. The survivors told us there were two priests on board - Father Byles, an English priest, and a german priest. They saw him on deck every day, so that evidently Roussel was at least fairly well. On Sunday afternoon Roussel had Rosary and prayers and preached a sermon on the new life they were to enter into in America, and the dangers to their Faith they had to guard against - his last sermon.
After the accident Roussel appeared on deck in full clothes and moved about among the crowd from group to group giving absolution (without confessions) and starting all the Catholics on the Rosary. One girl said the sailors wanted to put him into a lifeboat, but he refused, and went on with his work. The passengers were all together on the higher decks - First, Second and Third all mixed up, so all participated in his ministrations. Can you see all those poor people saying the Rosary, and Our Lady at the other end of the Rosary pulling some of them into lifeboats, and others to hear the happy command "Enter thou into the Joy of the Lord."?
From St. Vincent's we went to the Chelsea Hotel, where we met Mr. & Mrs. Bean, who had only been married a month, and were both saved together. They knew little, but they gave us the address of Roussel's cabin companion. If he has been saved we may hear more from him.
We meant to call on Father Clifford enroute, but the chauffer lost his way. I had a little conversation with him on the telephone. He is going to have a public Mass for Roussel on Wednesday.
Goodbye, Mamma, and many, many thanks for giving me Katherine. She shall always be my greatest treasure - a pearl of great price. Pray for us every day that we may join Roussel and May, where they are now all together.
This is a letter from the Bishop's House was sent to William expressing sympathy.
Last mail brought me the obituary card of your dear Rev. Brother; I have prayed for him, but to tell the truth, I am much more inclined to ask him to pray for me, to get through his intercession strength always to perform my Duty as he performed his. He died a Martyr of charity, performing the most perfect act of love of God and of his neighbor. "Majorem caritatem nemo habet, ut animam tuam ponat quis pro amicis suis." Ergo, how should his soul not have gone straight to heaven.
I wrote to you immediately after the news reached me. I hope you received my letter.
Now, as I turn the page, I come to another subject. I have still to congratulate you on your marriage. The first information I had of the happy event was when I read in some paper that His Holiness the Pope had given you & your wife his blessing. A marriage blessed in heaven by a martyr-brother, & on earth by the Vicar of Christ, is sure to be a happy one & deserves our hearty congratulations. So, my dear Mr. Byles, most heartily "Proficiat," as we say in Belgium.
Our Bishop for whom I have to act since April 14th, when he sailed for Europe, a few hours before the catastrophe of the "Titanic," will be back in Colombo only on Nov. 3rd. I have sent him the obituary card which you kindly forwarded to His Lordship. It will travel by the same boat as this hasty note. I shall be glad when His Lordship returns, as it is not a joke to do the work of two people in a climate like this. The noble example of your departed brother helps one to perform his duty more courageously.
With kindest regards & all best wishes to Mrs. Byles & your dear self, believe me
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