West indian culture

Tom Hiney: Rage Towards Stillness in God


By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio – articles – email ) | August 30, 2022

In a remarkable new book from Ignatius Press, Catholic convert Tom Hiney has written his conversion story in an unusual, highly literate and very special way. In order to capture much of what is significant about his own progress in the Catholic Church, Hiney tells the stories of a variety of notable figures who have exemplified at various periods in history aspects of what it takes to engage fully in the truth of Christ. . The book is titled The Song of Ascents, a reference to the Psalms sung while going up to Jerusalem for the great Jewish religious holidays. The striking caption is “Lives of Rage and Stillness”.

Hiney’s story is divided into two parts. The first is “How It Feels to Believe,” in which his thoughts on his own life are revealed primarily through the struggles of the following characters:

  • Charles Smith, a young ship’s surgeon who lived and survived a whaler trapped for months in northern waters by expanding ice and icebergs in 1866.
  • Dr. David Livingston, who missioned (in his own way) and explored Africa while working to derail the slave trade between 1840 and 1873.
  • Samuel Morris, an African prince who converted to Protestant Christianity, with marked success in evangelism evidenced by a wide variety of miracles, and who spent his life trying to understand more and more of the Holy Spirit, including a major visit to the United States in the 1890s.
  • Pr. Antoni de Monserrate and the Jesuits of Portuguese Goa who engaged in very difficult evangelization of the Mughal Empire in South Asia and India under Akbar the Great in the late 1500s.
  • The major figures of the Old Testament, in a brief but impressive tour of salvation history as the Jews yearned and waited for the Messiah.

There follows a postscript to this first part of the book, which perfectly encapsulates its main theme of “How does it feel to believe”.

Higher and higher

But for Hiney, the problem is not simply believing in Christ, but explicitly choosing to become a Catholic. This is why the second part of The Song of Ascents is called “The Logical Catholic”. This part includes chapters that deepen the theme of conversion through three more impressive figures:

  • Alfred the Great, the great Catholic Saxon king who defeated pagan Viking invaders and established the piety, learning and law that became the very foundation of Catholic England for centuries. This is the same Alfred who is the subject of GK Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse; he lived from around AD 848 to 899.
  • The inspired Catholics (Cardinal Wyszynski, Saint John Paul II, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, Lech Walesa, the remarkable composer Henryk Gorecki and other artists) who, against all odds, fueled an uprising in the Faith to end the communism in Poland in the memory of most of us today.
  • The heroic British Protestant general Charles Gordon, who fought with remarkable courage in the strangeness of the 19th century British Empire to maintain peace and security, often accepting massive pay cuts to find himself in a difficult where only he could apparently do good.

In the postscript to this second section, Hiney reflects on the life of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), the Jewish atheist converted to Catholicism who died of both faiths at Auschwitz. She converts while reading Saint Teresa of Avila Autobiography. When she finished the book, she announced, “It’s the truth.” Afterwards, she insisted that religion was “not something to be relegated to a quiet corner or for a few hours of celebration”. It must “be the root and basis of all life: and this not only for a chosen few, but for every true Christian (though among these there is yet but a ‘little flock’)”. Of his own Protestant reservations about adopting the Catholic faith, Hiney comments, “By the time I read these lines, my protest was over.

Raised

In an epilogue, Hiney discusses the life and influence of his father, whose own father had died when he was a child and who was abandoned by his own mother as an orphan. When he learned as an adult that she was still alive and found her, she wanted nothing to do with him. But according to his son’s fascinating account, he was a brave and adventurous man. Although raised a Catholic, he had become an Anglican priest in order to reconcile his desire to marry with his desire to be a priest. This explains how Tom Hiney himself eventually became an Anglican priest. But it turned out that neither of them was happy with this decision. As Hiney recounts:

When I told him that I had decided to resign from my orders as an Anglican chaplain in order to be received into the Roman Catholic Church, he declared his resolution to follow me. In the end, he beat me to it, a bedside occasion that pretty much defines the sweetness in my memory…. I could see that he was ready to die, that peace had won the battle for his soul, that faith had won its victory. The last time I visited him, I lay on the bed next to him and prayed with rosary beads, and he joined in the amen. There are many amens in the rosary, and I can still hear his voice, broken by knocks, but resolute: “Amen”. “Amen.” “Amen.” When I kissed him goodbye, he said something I didn’t understand, so I asked him to repeat it. “Thank you, especially for the prayers.”

Tom Hiney was received into the Catholic Church a few weeks later. He had completed his Song of the Ascensions as far as institutionally possible. But what a fascinating way he has chosen to capture the attitudes of soul and personal effort that are so essential to the acceptance of Christ into His Church, and the intense desire to continue to rise until we be resurrected in Christ. This is a remarkable conversion story for the simple reason that it is not so much a spiritual autobiography as a journey through the various aspects of human endeavor and divine enlightenment. that manifest in so many remarkable lives.

The author once made his living as a journalist, and he was clearly a good journalist. It is also extraordinarily read. Its accounts of the various figures – the “lives of rage and stillness” in which the purifying work of the Holy Spirit burns – make this a tremendously dramatic and entertaining book. Tom Hiney is now preparing for ordination as a Catholic priest. If, like him, we can discern the hand of God in all these stories that shed light in their own way on his own conversion, perhaps we can once again stoke the fire we need to warm us on our own journey home. .


Tom Hiney, The Song of Ascents: Lives of Rage and Stillness. Ignatius Press, 315pp. $15.26 paperback, $11.67 ebook.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a doctorate. in Intellectual History from Princeton University. Co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full biography.

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