I'm always excited to find Waugh devotees online - there are even some other blogs with Brideshead Revisited as their namesake!
The Black Cordelias ( "Send five bob and ask your friends to do the same.") cites young Cordelia's hilarious enthusiasm for sponsoring babies in the foreign missions. Kudos to this blog's group of authors for finding such adorable pictures of kids in nun costumes.
Sacred Monkeys of the Vatican is a lovely collection of "The Strange, the Random, and the Beautiful." Its author gets a million bonus points for mentioning Cordelia's pranking of half-hearted convert Rex Mottram. That poor unsuspecting Canadian. Teenage little sisters make the worst RCIA instructors.
Earlier this week Why I am A Catholic posted about the convert's prayer in Helena, one of Waugh's loveliest but more obscure works. In that passage, recently-baptized St. Helen prays to the Magi, reflecting on how she and they were late-arriving pilgrims.
Another of my favorite passages in Helena is her exchange with the peddler who helps her locate the true Cross. (There are some unfortunate twinges of "wandering Jew" anti-Semitism in that character, but that's another story.) Their discussion of relics and kitsch is so marvelously full of material culture. (Emphasis mine.)
"'How I see it, this new religion of the Galilean may be in for quite a run. A religion starts, no one knows how. Soon, you get holy men and holy places springing up everywhere, old shrines change their names, there's apparitions and pilgrimages. There'll be ladies wanting other things besides the cross. All one wants is to get the thing started properly. One wants a few genuine relics in thoroughly respectable hands. Then everyone else will follow. There won't be enough genuine stuff to meet the demand. That will be my turn. I shall get paid. I wouldn't take anything from you now, lady. Glad to see you have the cross. It won't cost you a thing.'
Helena listened and in her mind saw, clear as all else on that brilliant timeless morning, what was in store. She saw the sanctuaries of Christendom become a fair ground, stalls hung with beads and medals, substances yet unknown pressed into sacred emblems; heard a chatter of haggling in tongues yet unspoken. She saw the treasuries of the Church filled with forgeries and impostures. She saw Christians fighting and stealing to get possession of trash. She saw all this, considered it and said:'It's a stiff price'; and then: 'Show me the cross.'"
Excessive materialism is the ironic flipside of a faith steeped in sensory beauty and physical reminders of the divine. If there are beautiful cathedrals, there can also be glow-in-the-dark Jesus ashtrays, crusaders bickering over bones of saints, and near hoarder-levels of holy card collecting. But is tangible connection to God worth with risk? Oh yeah.