Tuesday 10 October 2023

Walking with Father Vincent - Andrew McNabb

Walking with Father Vincent
Dale Ahlquist (Foreword)
ISBN 9780852447116

This was a fascinating volume. Part biography, part family history. And part challenge to have our actions live up to our theology. It is well written, very engaging, and terribly hard to pt down.

The description of this volume is:

“Walking with Father Vincent is a montage of anecdotes, clippings, thoughts and insights centering around the remarkable life of Father Vincent McNabb, OP, (d. 1943), an Irishman from Portaferry, County Down, and perhaps the best-known Dominican Friar of the twentieth century. A fixture on the streets of London for decades, Father Vincent was an ascetic and a prophet, a theologian and a writer, a teacher and a preacher, a debater and a Thomist and, to many, quite simply a saint. Yes, Father Vincent was unusual-in holiness, in learning, in love, and even in appearance. G. K. Chesterton said of him "nobody who ever met or saw or heard Father McNabb has ever forgotten him."

Written in brief, readable segments by Father Vincent's great-grandnephew, an American Lay Dominican and writer, who infuses his own experiences and gives great insight into the role of family-the McNabb family, and the family in general-Walking with Father Vincent details a remarkable life, while presenting remedies for some of our contemporary problems. Through the vehicle of Father Vincent's legendary walking, the author invites the reader to accompany them both, as he highlights the timeless truth and prophetic insight his uncle preached about, wrote about, and lived so dramatically.

Walking with Father Vincent is a story needed now more than ever, a story of great personal holiness and devotion, a life of love fostered in a deeply Catholic home, a life lived with joy and vigor, bravely, and unflinchingly, for the purpose of saving souls, and in defense of eternal Christian Truth.”

When first reading it I was highlighting at least once on every page. But the book became so all engrossing I stopped doing so because I did not want to stop reading. I highlighted many passages during the first third of the book, some of them are:

“Once a week, from some time in the 1920s to some time in the 1940s, a wiry old man would walk through the London streets wearing a coarse white and black Dominican habit that he had hand-woven himself. He also wore heavy black boots. He was on his way from his priory at the far northern end of the city all the way to Hyde Park, where he would preach near the Marble Arch at Speakers’ Corner. There he was always greeted . . . by hecklers. He patiently and joyfully dealt with all of them, calling the people in Hyde Park the best audience in the world. He silenced one heckler by stopping the speech, stepping down from the rostrum, and kissing the heckler’s feet. Another man heckled him persistently—”

“While Fr. Vincent McNabb’s public preaching invited hecklers, his holiness was a sufficient answer to silence his critics.”

“People came from all over the world to attend his spiritual retreats and to hear his regular lectures at St Dominic’s Priory.”

“There was an incomparable quartet of Catholic writers who appeared in England in the early twentieth century: G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Ronald Knox, and Vincent McNabb.”

“It is a marvel to contemplate that these spiritual, intellectual, and literary giants all lived in the same time and place and knew each other. Two of them were converts, two of them were journalists, two of them were priests, two of them wrote detective stories, three of them shared a passion for the implementation of Catholic Social Teaching, all four of them were master defenders of the Catholic faith, and all were prophetic in calling out the coming attacks on the family. They continue to be as timely and transcendent as ever.”

“I’ve had the privilege of being involved in the revival of interest in Chesterton, and Belloc’s resurgence has followed in that wake. Many good things have happened because of people reading and re-reading these two profound writers. Knox also needs to be rediscovered: his retreats, and his sermons, and his exquisite translation of the Bible. But the world especially needs to be invited to listen again to the little priest from the Order of Preachers, the holy man who demonstrated the truth of his serene and certain words with the witness of his daily life. Here is a book that takes an important early step in the McNabb revival. And fittingly, it is written by a McNabb.”

“Walking with Father Vincent For decades, Father Vincent McNabb had the most recognizable feet in London. He was a fixture on the streets, walking everywhere he went, moving quickly through the crowds in his worn Dominican habit and heavy, black boots.”

“Father Vincent was an adversary and debater of the poet, playwright and activist George Bernard Shaw. Prominent poets of the time, Maurice Baring and William Richard Titterton wrote poems about him. Sir James Gunn was not the only one to paint his portrait; Clarence White did, too, and that portrait was exhibited by the Royal Academy.”

“But above all, he was a tremendous lover—of the Lord and his fellow man, and his life is testimony to that; this priest who, more than anything, as his biographer wrote, “Wanted to bring an erring world to its senses before it was too late.””

“Yes, Father Vincent McNabb was a true contemplative and is thus, as his brother friar said, always contemporary. And so it is that one can still walk with Father Vincent. In fact, I have been trying. He was my great-granduncle, and I have been attempting to walk with him my entire adult life.”

“There is something in that exchange that would be a recurring theme for Father Vincent, the concept of Christian heroism. He knew, and thus taught, that all of one’s actions are to be seen in the light of one’s salvation. The concept of heroic virtue—one attribute by which saints are evaluated—dictates that in a given situation, one would have to display an inordi-nate amount of virtue—an heroic amount—to righteously prevail.”

“He remained a learner his entire life. Indeed, one of the four pillars of Dominican life is Study. Later in life, he wrote, “There is hardly a day when I have not studied, even if only for a few moments.””

This is a volume anyone from secondary school on could read, and benefit from the reading. It is a volume that will inspire and challenge. Not just the example of Father Vincent, but of other family members. It was a very engaging volume. It is inspiring and to be honest will motivate and challenge readers. 

It was a volume that was all engrossing. And one I will likely circle back to and read again. Father Vincent’s life is an example, and we may not all become scholars, or hikers, or even less likely a Dominican. But we can learn from his example of faith in action. Of service, of seeking for God and living for him.

A fascinating volume about a fascinating man, and his impact on his family and society. It is a book I can easily recommend. So I encourage you to pick it up and give it a try.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan

Books by Andrew McNabb:
The Body of This
8 Days & Virtue
Inspirations & Lamentations: Literary Devotions of an Unusual Sort

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