Friday, 17 June 2011

The grumpy saint

It has been stated of quite a few saints that they were, how shall I put it delicately?.......less than warm hearted?........not one of nature's chucklers?.....downright bad tempered?

Father Vincent McNabb OP
 8th July 1868 - 17th June 1943

Father Vincent McNabb OP., whose anniversary it is today, was one such man (his cause for canonisation is a work in progress as they say). I hasten to add that I never met this great man, he died long(ish) before I was born, but I had a great Dominican Friar friend (Fr Donald Proudman OP) who regaled me with stories of Fr McNabb and his notoriety, certainly within the community, of being a shade grumpy - a grouch is how they might put it in the USA.

But grumpiness, in this instance, was part of his spirituality. Fr McNabb had his mind set on God; not just for a few hours each day in front of a crucifix or the Blessed Sacrament, but a full on 16 or 17 hours of his being awake was dedicated to deep meditation on the Almighty. If a fellow monk passed him in the cloisters, Fr McNabb would respond testily to any greeting or approach of any kind. I wonder what form that took? I doubt it would have been along the lines of "Push off four eyes and leave me alone!" More like a grunt of disapproval at being interrupted; a harumph or growl like noise designed to keep further conversation at bay. After all, it was interrupting a conversation with God Almighty; who would not issue a harumph or two if faced with an inane "Morning Father" from some young novice when you were deep in a debate with the Lord.

Monsignor Ronald Knox once said of Fr McNabb:
 "Father Vincent is the only person I have ever known about whom I have felt, and said more than once, 'He gives you some idea of what a saint must be like.' There was a kind of light about his presence which didn't seem to be quite of this world."

This extract from Catholic Authors...

"Father McNabb was born in 1868 in Portaferry, County Down, Ireland, within a few miles of the rock that covers the bones of St. Patrick. "My father," wrote Father McNabb, "was a master 'Mariner' (to give him his noble title) and my mother, a dressmaker." Vincent, who was proud he was the seventh son and the tenth of eleven children, spent his schooldays at the diocesan seminary of St. Malachy's College, Belfast. When asked by the editor of The Catholic Times to lend assistance to Ireland during one of the last crises, Father McNabb wrote in his scalpel-like way that both peoples alike, the people of England and the people of Ireland have been martyred by the same imperious few. He said that he loved Ireland like a mother and England like a wife".

His great friend, GK Chesterton wrote of him: 'Nobody who ever met or saw or heard Father McNabb has ever forgotten him." That statement was certainly true of his period as an orator at Hyde Park's Speakers Corner on a Sunday afternoon. Those were the days of emerging communism in Great Britain and Fr Vincent was adept at cutting down to size any red who had the temerity to heckle from the safety of the crowd.

In 1913 he embarked on a successful lecture tour of the States and just four years later he was rewarded by the Master of Divine Theology degree. He taught, from 1929 to 1934 at the London University Extension where his subject was the Summa of St Thomas.
He wrote over thirty books including 'Where believers may doubt', 'The decrees of the Vatican Council' and 'Eleven Thank God!' an account of  his Catholic  mother and upbringing.

Fr McNabb held somewhat unorthodox beliefs regarding the social and economic structre, he abhorred technology and yearned for a countryside that could produce food and clothing with a high level of employment and a quality of life for all - not a bad philosophy at all and well summed up by this comment from him:-

"Buy boots you can walk in. Walk in them. Even if you lessen the income of the General Omnibus Company, or your family doctor; you will discover the human foot. On discovering it, your joy will be as great as if you had invented it. But this joy is the greatest, because no human invention even of Mr. Ford or Mr. Marconi is within a mile of a foot." 

Faced with an oncoming death he said:

 "I don't see why I should make a tragedy of this; ­ it's what I have been preparing for all my life. I am in the hands of my doctors, ­ or better, in the hands of my God."


  Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and
  let perpetual light shine upon him.
  May he rest in peace. Amen

This prayer is one of many composed by the great man.....


                       Lord Jesus Save Me

"Lord Jesus, the one whom Thou lovest is sick" (Jn 11:3).
The one whom Thou lovest is strayed.
I have lost Thee.
I cannot find Thee.
Find me.
Seek me.
I cannot find Thee.
I have lost my way.
Thou art the Way.
Find me, or I am utterly lost.
Thou lovest me.
I do not know if I love Thee;
but I know Thou lovest me.
I do not plead my love, but Thine.
I do not plead my strength, but Thine.
I do not plead my deed, but Thine.
The one whom Thou lovest is sick.
I dare not say:
The one who loves Thee is sick.
My sickness is that I do not love Thee.
That is the source of my sickness which is approaching death.
I am sinking.
Raise me.
Come to me upon the waters.
Lord Jesus, "the one whom Thou lovest is sick."


  1. His attitude reminds me of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who calmly went to his death, insisting that no one rescue him from the impending execution. It's a shame people don't act like this anymore. Perhaps it would be good to preach on the phrase "Memento Mori" some day in the distant future.

  2. Oh I think I love this priest! It would be worth him being annoyed with one(which he definitely would be, with me) just to have been near him, to hear him preach.

    Still, that's the wonder of technology, being reconnected so easily through blogs and shared knowledge.

    I relate to the prayer he wrote. I too, actually stopped seeking God. I was looking to be sought, not looking, in order to find.

    I didn't plan for God to find me in quite such a mess, as He eventually did. However, it was no place to be without God in, so it's just as well He was there, waiting.

    I'm going to put Fr's prayer on my sidebar, if that's allright Richard? I'll say where I found it.

    Don't forget, it's sardines on toast for lunch today! Keep your eyes off the bacon and eggs!

  3. Thanks Ros, of course it's alright. You are not far out re the sardines!

  4. 'A Saint in Hyde Park' is he excellent biography. He was an early recycler - without any of the green theology nonsense. Sadly a nephew who writes 'descriptive' fiction, by which I mean he describes the body and its functions in detail (!) once mailed me, declaring himself to be the nephew and asking me to buy/promote his book - he got short shrift!

  5. I love this prayer, Richard, thank you! It perfectly sums up what I try to say to the Lord every day, but hardly with such eloquence. I'm relieved to know my own grumpiness may not necessarily keep my from the company of saints with a small "s". I am not a coffee drinker, so I can't even blame it on lack of caffeine, but I so hate it when I'm in prayer in church and someone interrupts me to ask me something that clearly could have waited until after Mass. Or, and I ought really be ashamed of myself for this, when I arrive at work early in the day and can barely utter the words "good morning".
    God Bless

  6. I'll take the straight-talking clerical grumps over ghastly patronising smarm any day.
    That's quite a prayer. Thank you.

  7. Back again. I know that I'm going against the example of 's'aints and 'S'aints like St. Jerome - the Patron Saint of grumps - but I wonder if Christ or His Blessed Mother are grumpy. Isn't it a defect? If so, surely grumpiness when, for example, we are interrupted in prayer, is a defect that indicates that we're not getting quite as close to Christ as we ought? I find it difficult to believe that someone communing with Christ is grumpy... Judas was usually the grumpiest of the Apostles. HOWEVER, I have a life-long devotion to Fr. McNabb but I don't think his grumpiness or gruffness is his crowning virtue.

  8. I read a book of his a few years back - absolutely FANTASTIC.

  9. When he preached at Hyde Park Speakers' Corner he was constantly heckled by a lady known as "Screeching Jenny". Once she said "If you were my husband I would poison you" which Father Vincent replied " And if you were my wife I would take it!"