A Rocking-Horse Catholic

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Pickle Partners Publishing, Feb 7, 2017 - Religion - 101 pages
“I was received into the church,” states Caryll Houselander at the very beginning of this work “when I was six years old. Strictly speaking, therefore, I am not a ‘cradle’ Catholic, but a rocking-horse Catholic.”

This autobiography, first published in 1955, takes the reader from the author’s Catholic childhood and school days through a period outside the church while she tried to make her living as an artist, to a return to the church. This return was brought about by her insight, so central to all her books into the presence of Christ and others.

A theologian in every sense of the word except the formal academic one, Caryll Houselander understood the central importance of one’s image or concept of God.

“Caryll Houselander: artist, odd ball, mystic, friend, and in the end, suffering servant. In the midst of her last illness, she clung to life, loved life with a passion that did not want to die. ‘I honestly long,’ she said, ‘to be told ‘a hundred percent cure’ and to return to this life and celebrate it with gramophone records, giggling and gin.’”—Mitch Finley, Our Sunday Visitor

As a classic in spirituality, the work of Caryll Houselander is very close to the top of the list.

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About the author (2017)

Caryll Houselander (29 September 1901 - 12 October 1954) was a lay Roman Catholic ecclesiastical artist, mystic, popular religious writer and poet.

Born in Bath, England, Houselander was the second of two daughters of Wilmott and Gertrude Provis Houselander. When Houselander was six, her mother converted to Catholicism and she in turn was so baptised. Shortly after her ninth birthday, her parents separated and her mother opened a boarding house to support the family. Houselander was sent to a convent where she reported her first mystical experience. One day, she entered a room and saw a Bavarian nun sitting by herself, weeping and polishing shoes. At this time, there was much anti-German sentiment owing to the war. As she stared, she saw the nun’s head being pressed down by a crown of thorns that she was to interpret as Christ’s suffering in the woman.

In her teens, she returned home to help her mother in the running of the boarding house. Gertrude allowed a priest to stay and this became such a source of scandal that Houselander and her mother suffered ostracism in the community.

The three mystical experiences she claimed to have experienced convinced her that Christ is to be found in all people, even those whom the world shunned because they did not conform to certain standards of piety.

Houselander was a prolific writer and contributed many pieces to religious magazines, such as the Messenger of the Sacred Heart and The Children’s Messenger. Her first book, This War is the Passion, was published in 1941. For a time, she became publishers Sheed & Ward’s bestselling writer.

During the Second World War, doctors began sending patients to Houselander for counselling and therapy. Even though she lacked formal education in this area, she seemed to have a natural empathy for people in mental anguish and the talent for helping them to rebuild their world.

She died of breast cancer in 1954, at the age of 53.

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