Desert Island Discs has recently celebrated its 70th birthday. Apparently the classical work most requested is Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and the non-classical piece is Edith Piaf singing what is probably her most famous song: “Non, je ne regrette rien”. We all love to hear that powerful rasping voice singing it and while she does so we let ourselves be carried along by the bravado of the sentiment.
But of course no one in their right mind, and certainly no Christian, really believes what the words imply: that there is nothing in your past life and behaviour which you regret or feel remorse about. Socrates said at his trial: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. To examine your life is to find it wanting. I was thinking of this when I read about the hapless Captain Francesco Schettino, skipper of the doomed cruise ship, the Costa Concordia. Having navigated his ship disastrously close to shore, he then allegedly tripped and fell into a lifeboat, leaving many passengers still on board and a few to drown. Now under house arrest I think he will be experiencing many regrets.
In an article in the Sunday Telegraph last week about the Costa Concordia’s captain, Lord Winston explained at length the physiology of panic. But where does panic end and cowardice begin? Cowardly behaviour is morally flawed and having grown up with stories of the Titanic and Captain Edward Smith’s quite proper decision to go down with his ship, I can’t help thinking that citing panic is not good enough; Captain Schettino is not a hero.
Someone else with regrets will be Fr Massimo Donghi. Having told his parishioners in Besana Brianza, northern Italy that he was going on a week’s spiritual retreat, they later discovered that he had been on the cruise ship too, along with his nephew and elderly mother. They all managed to get into lifeboats. But another priest came up trumps: Fr Lorenzo Pasquotti, parish priest of Santi Lorenzo and Mamiliano on the island of Giglio, near where the ship went aground, spent the night dispensing blankets and hot drinks to survivors brought ashore.
To conclude with a mention of a truly great priest: Fr Gregory Winterton of the Birmingham Oratory, who died, aged 89, on January 18. One of my own regrets (not to mention my many past follies) is that I did not know him personally. I only knew him by repute, largely from the stories of him told me by a friend who, having spent some years in prison in his youth, was instructed in the Faith only last year by Fr Winterton. They were memorable occasions. Already very old and frail, the priest always welcomed this former black sheep with open arms, sometimes giving him instruction literally from his sick bed. “You knew you were in the presence of a holy man,” my friend told me; “He seemed to have kept the innocence of a child and he simply radiated love.” My friend wept when he heard of Fr Winterton’s death; “He was like a father to me and I feel I have lost a father.”
May he rest in peace.