Monica Devine, a wife and mother, lives in Wellington, New Zealand, where she manages a family law practice. In this special article for The Defendant, Monica reflects on her personal experience of reading Chesterton and her efforts to promote his writings in New Zealand.
I think that I first became acquainted with the writings of GK Chesterton out of sheer boredom. I was visiting friends in the home of a woman who was to become my mother-in-law, Clare Devine.
I feel that Chesterton would have been very much at home in her lounge. Shabby, disordered but warm and friendly with music, laughter, food and literary treasures abounding.
There we played cards, listened to Gilbert and Sullivan and enjoyed the best of times. When totally exhausted from all the revelry, we fell on her dishevelled book collection. Fulton Sheen, Newman, Dickens, Belloc, CS Lewis and Chesterton, to name a few.
Some of these books were first issued from the local library and then painstakingly copied by hand out into notebooks. With no TV in the house, what else could we do but devour every page of these books and then discuss their merits or otherwise? Thus, my formation in the faith was completed, something like a finishing school for budding Christians.
At first I thought Chesterton was rather full of himself, but as I ventured more deeply, this ‘Apostle of Common Sense’ revealed his depth of insight and his authentic love of and charity towards all of mankind.
What struck me early on was his knack for explaining the faith from an oblique angle, shedding new light on the truths we had come to know, using metaphor and humour. He was both earthy and real and supernatural, an unusual but saintly combination.
My mother-in-law often quoted Chesterton in her public missives – something I have continued to do to this day.
My husband Fintan, significantly more literate than I, has read and re-read most of the Chesterton titles. Due to the busy-ness of my domestic and professional duties I tend to dip in and out of his books, but I am ever watchful for a quote
suited to the current events of the day. The logic and common sense of Chesterton are timeless and in a very true sense he is a prophet of our times.
I wanted to do something to help pass the gift to mankind that Chesterton was on to the next generation. Starting a Facebook page seemed like a good beginning. As a subscriber to the Gilbert Magazine from the US, I asked them to send me a list of all New Zealand subscribers, which they did. There weren’t many but at least that gave me a base from which to start.
Now our Facebook page, about one year later, has about 50 followers and many more visitors. I use the page to post quotes which might pique the interest of readers, invite them to online events and to the annual Australian Conference, and suggest reading material that is relevant to the times in which we live.
I personally attended the 2019 Chesterton Conference in Sydney which was particularly useful and enjoyable. I had heard and read a little about Distributism, but during the conference we heard twice from Garrick Small about how the precepts of this system of economic organisation may provide the solution to many of our first world problems.
The principle that struck me most was the idea that the economy should be organised around the family, not individuals. I think the ‘Covid-19 drama’ has reinforced the essentiality of the family unit to the economy a whole. I was also privileged to hear Fr Paul Stenhouse, one of the sharpest intellects of the Australian clergy, speak at what might have been his last public address before his death in late 2019.
I hope we can work towards having a small conference in New Zealand in the near future.
We all owe a great debt to Chesterton, a beacon of light in a world that has lost its way – but always full of hope. My prayer is that the next generations will discover this great, though humble, man of God.