Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

El Shaddai

I mentioned earlier that I've been recording a weekly radio programme about Chesterton for Radio Maria Ireland, a new radio station (only internet-based so far). I've also been listening to it, especially the Angelus at six a.m. in the morning, as I'm getting ready for work. (I've only learned the words of the Angelus recently. I actually know very few traditional Catholic prayers and songs, and feel a real urge to learn more. If anyone has any short Catholic prayers they can suggest-- not longer than the Our Father or the Hail Mary-- I'd be most interested to hear.)

Anyway, one morning, just before the Angelus, I heard the above song-- 'El Shaddai', written by Michael Card, and most well-known as recorded by Amy Grant. The version I heard was sung by a man, and in a much more restrained manner than the Amy Grant version. It enchanted me and it has been in my head for three days now.

I've never really liked contemporary Christian music much-- or rather, what I've heard of it. I've listened to various Christian music channel and always found the music quite bland and insipid. I suppose the song I'm writing about here could easily be called bland and insipid, but I don't found it so. It sails very close to it, which is (strangely enough) part of what I like about it.

This is the funny thing. I've often complained about banal modern hymns on this blog, but the sort of hymns I do like are often quite similar in style to those banal modern hymns. I have nothing at all in principle against folksiness in Christian songs of worship. It just has to have that tinge of solemnity, of gravity, that makes all the difference. And, of course, it has to be good.

I know nothing about music, but as a piece of lyric-writing (which I do presume to speak on), I think the lyric of this piece is extremely well crafted. It has the kind of directness and simplicity that makes (in my opinion) for the very best religious songs (such as 'My Sweet Lord' by George Harrison or the simple 'Jesus Remember Me' Taizé hymn). I admire its grace, too. And the use of the Hebrew term gives it a certain exoticism which emphasizes the particularity of Christianity.

Having the song buzzing around makes me feel a renewed desire to write hymns. If I have any vocation to serve God through my writing, perhaps that is how I could best do it. Having attended the (secular) memorial services of both a cousin and a close friend in recent times, I was very struck by the fact that both of them (for they both knew they were dying) chose to have favourite songs played at their services. Nothing surprising in that, you may say, but I was very struck by the fact that verse-- so disregarded in most of day-to-day life-- is what we turn to at the 'big moments', and to express our 'big' feelings.

I have pondering the parable of the talents. I have often wondered what would have happened if the servants had lost their talents in bad investments. Presumably, this wouldn't have been held against them, if only they had made an honest effort...and perhaps it's impossible to lose your talent, when you honestly try to use it in God's service. Perhaps, seen from eternity, the very idea would be self-contradictory. But, at the same time, I'm sure we are supposed to use prudence and judgement in how we use our talents.

Recently, as mentioned previously, I decided to put ads on this blog. Do you know how much I've earned from this decision, so far? One cent. Literally one cent. It's a bit of a blow. It's been in existence since 2011, but it's never really 'taken off'. (True, I don't post as frequently as in its heyday, and consequently get less traffic.) I don't have any intention of giving it up-- some people like it, which is good enough for me, and I certainly like writing it-- but I do find myself wondering how I can have more of an effect, and reach more people

Monday, November 23, 2015

That Church of England ad

Yesterday, on Facebook, I shared a post from the Iona Institute about the news that the three largest cinema chains in England have refused to screen an ad, from the Church of England, promoting the Lord's Prayer.

Then I took it down, partly because I get tired of all the indignation on Facebook, and partly because the explanation of the cinema chains-- that they don't take ads promoting any particular belief, political or religious or otherwise, after complaints during the Scottish independence campaign-- seemed reasonable. (I am literally the most fair-minded person I've ever met, it is almost an affliction.)

However, then I found myself rethinking it and I thought: "No, really, that's not good enough". I find it offensive to sit through ad after ad for make-up and cars and sports drinks, with all the various unsavoury subtexts that go with them. I could complain, but who would listen? Personally I would rather sit through ten ads about political and religious (and anti-religious) beliefs than ads about washing powder and toothpaste.

And I don't think Christians should let their religious freedoms be eroded purely out of a desire to be uncontroversial. Religious freedom is something complex and it's as much about what's allowed to be said in the public sphere as it is about truncheons and concentration camps. So yes-- it IS something to be aggrieved about, and those cinema chains should be criticized.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Now On The Radio

I don't think I've mentioned this on this blog yet. I have taken to the airwaves! I am currently contributing a radio show to Radio Maria Ireland, a new venture which is part of the global family of Radio Maria radio stations. Radio Maria Ireland is a pretty limited venture at the moment, and one which is broadcast only on the internet, but I understand that they are hoping to be assigned a frequency on the radio waves soon.

My show is called 'The Adventure of Orthodoxy', and (regular readers will not be surprised to learn) is about G.K. Chesterton. It goes out at seven p.m. on Mondays. The third episode will be broadcast next Monday.

For my first episode was adapted from a talk that I gave to St. Kevin's Literary Society in February. However, I quickly realized that it would be impossible to script a half-hour's talk every week, and that I would have to improvise. I also realized that my first broadcast was rather dry and academic. So, for my second episode, I aimed to be more chatty and direct. For my third episode (which has not yet been broadcast) I begin to talk about Orthodoxy, Chesterton's most famous work. (And, since this is a Catholic radio show, I am going to concentrate on his religious writings-- unlike my column in The Open Door magazine, where I have written about his thought as a whole).

My first few efforts have been pretty fumbling, but I think I'm getting more confident. It's fun.

If anybody wants to listen to it, here is the link:

Why Don't the Irish Celebrate Saint Oliver Plunkett?

Ireland is known as ‘the land of saints and scholars’, but the surprising fact is that only one Irish person has been canonised in the last seven hundred years . Forty years ago, Pope Paul VI canonised Saint Oliver Plunkett, the Primate of all Ireland who was hung, drawn and quartered in Tyburn in 1681. He was the last victim of the anti-Catholic hysteria known as the Popish Plot, and the last person to be martyred for the Catholic faith in the British Isles. Despite this, and despite the fact that he is the last Irish person to be canonised, he is bafflingly neglected in his native land—a country whose enthusiasm for martyrs, both secular and religious, has often been noted. Why should this be?

Like St. Maximilian Kolbe, Oliver Plunkett was a martyr whose extraordinary death overshadows an almost equally extraordinary life. When Pope Clement IX made him the head of the Irish Church in 1669, Plunkett had not been in Ireland for over twenty years. Educated and ordained in Rome, he had remained there as a professor of theology, avoiding the savage repression of the Catholic Church perpetrated by Oliver Cromwell. When he returned as Primate—illegally—he had to rebuild the Irish Church almost from scratch, spending his own money to educate a new generation of priests, personally confirming tens of thousands of Irish souls who had gone unconfirmed for want of bishops, and imposing discipline on priests and friars who, for want of authority, had grown so unruly that drunkenness and concubinage was rife in the priesthood. There were even brawls between Franciscans and Dominicans, quarrelling over buildings and zones of operation.

At first, the new Primate had to masquerade as one Captain Brown to move about his diocese, until a more tolerant regime in Dublin Castle gave him considerable unofficial freedom to operate. Archbishop Plunkett eventually won so much respect from Irish Protestants that, when a renewal of anti-Catholic feeling led him to being arrested on trumped-up charges of planning a French invasion—the final victim of a panic unleashed by the master perjurer, Titus Oates—he was confident that an Irish jury composed entirely of Protestants would not convict him. Nor did they. He had to be tried in London before a guilty verdict could be achieved. Denied sufficient time to summon witnesses to his defence, he was gorily despatched in front of an enormous crowd on the 1st of July 1681.

Given all this, then, it’s even more surprising that the Irish make so little of him. Although his preserved head draws thousands of visitors to St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda, and although he has given his name to more than a few churches, schools, and sports teams—he even has a street named after him in Cork City—there is little in the way of a devotion to St. Oliver in Ireland. Perhaps this is simply part of a broader pattern—the most popular saints amongst Irish Catholics tend to be international stars such as St. Padre Pio and the Little Flower. But such local cults as do exist tend to be focused on holy men and women whose causes for sainthood are ongoing—such as Matt Talbot, who went from alcoholism to extreme holiness, or the founder of the Legion of Mary, Frank Duff. Saint Oliver has never attained the sort of cultural cachet enjoyed by St. Thomas More in England, though their stories are so very similar.
Growing up in the eighties, when Ireland was secularising rapidly but when cultural Catholicism was still the air that most people breathed (either willingly or reluctantly), I can hardly remember hearing him mentioned at all. I must have been taught about him in school, but I have no recollection of it. Until I started practicing my faith some years ago, I think it’s fair to say that the only thing I would have known about St. Oliver Plunkett was his name and possibly (just possibly) that he was a martyr. His biggest claim on my attention came when I read J.P. Donleavy’s tale of 1950’s bohemian Dublin, The Ginger Man, in which the boozy protagonist is given a model of Oliver’s head as an ironic gift.

I may have been unusually oblivious of the saint. But one of Plunkett’s more recent biographers, Desmond Forristal, also commented on his lack of popular appeal, in a 1987 article for The Furrow magazine. He reports the remarks of a lady acquaintance: “He never really became popular, did he? I mean he hasn’t got any statues in the churches, there aren’t novenas to him, people don’t go to him for their intentions, do they?” Admitting the truth of this, Forristal concluded: “Oliver Plunkett had and has none of the qualities that make for that kind of popularity. By birth and temperament, he was distant and austere and, worst of all, aristocratic. Even in Ireland, the only thing he has going for him is his Irishness and that counts for little enough.”

But perhaps it is time to rediscover him. The Ireland of 2015 is not the Ireland of 1975, the year of his canonization. The Catholic Church, though hardly oppressed as yet, seems more and more at odds with the policies of successive Irish governments. Only a few years ago, the Irish head of government delivered a stinging speech denouncing much of the Church’s record in modern Ireland; it was not entirely undeserved, in the context of the clerical sex abuse crisis against which it was made, but the acclaim with which it was received was ominous. Forty years ago, it would have been unimaginable.

Even more recently, a senior Irish politician supported a proposal, at his Labour party’s conference, to vet Irish civil servants who showed ‘undue deference’ to the Church—a rather disturbing echo of Archbishop Plunkett’s times, when Catholicism was so often equated with treason. That politician subsequently apologised, but the increasingly cold attitude of Irish governments towards the Catholic faith cannot be mistaken. Recent legislation introducing abortion and same-sex marriage have included no conscience clauses for Catholic maternity hospitals, or for Catholic schools seeking to teach the Catholic understanding of marriage. The current Minister for Education has complained about parents being ‘forced’ to baptise their children to gain admittance to Catholic schools; her predecessor wanted the proportion of schools in Ireland run by the Catholic Church to be reduced from ninety to fifty per cent.
It’s still a very distant cry from the days of Archbishops having to ride around their diocese in disguise, of course. But it also seems a different world from the Ireland in which I grew up, only twenty years ago. Irish Catholics are once again finding at least some demands of their faith to conflict with the laws of the land. It may be a good time to revive the memory of St. Oliver Plunkett, and to seek his intercession.

Going Commercial

Readers may have noticed that I have gone all commercial and put ads on Irish Papist. My lack of ads until now had nothing to do with principle and everything to do with the assumption that it was not worth the effort. However, a fellow blogger tells me that you don't have to get hundreds of thousands of hits per day to make a modest few quid on this. And right now I need all the money I can get.

And, hey, just read through my previous blog posts (especially this one on my ideal Ireland) to see that I've never been anti-commercialism per se.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Drop Me a Line

Thanks to everyone who comments on this blog and who has ever sent me an email. I always wonder who is reading. If you ever feel like getting in touch, please do so. My email is Tell me who you are and where you're from and what you think the most stupid thing I've ever written is.

Though I've had this blog online since 2011, comments are still a rarity. I appreciate those who do comment. And I understand other people don't like commenting. I always hoped the 'comment box' would take off over time, but I'm not too pushed about it.

I have quite a few outlets for my writing right now. I have my 'View from the Pew' column in The Catholic Voice, my 'Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton' column in The Open Door magazine, I am writing a series on the greatest poems of all time for Annals Australasia magazine, I've recently started contributing a weekly show on G.K. Chesterton to Radio Maria Ireland (a new Irish radio station, which is currently only available on the internet), and an Sunday the choir at my parish church will be singing a hymn whose words I wrote. I'm very grateful for all these outlets. But this blog always has a special place in my heart, and I cherish the feedback and interactivity very much. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Customer

She stood at the counter, radiating rage,
Hungry to hurt, to make somebody pay
For her own mistake. The more the manager tried
To help her, the more fury she unleashed.
And everyone behind her in the queue
Looked at each other, bonding in disgust.
An old man whispered: "One shot to the brain"
And pointed at her, and the whole queue laughed.
She was more ugly than an open wound.

And then I pictured her, long years before,

A girl of five or six, lying awake
In bed, staring at shadows on the wall,
In dread of vampires, zombies, faceless things.
I saw her drawing pictures of herself
In Narnia and Disneyland. I saw
A little girl playing outside all day
As though the holidays would never end.
I saw her pulling on her mother's sleeve,
"Mommy, please get me one of these. Please. Please."
I saw her throwing breadcrumbs to the ducks
Trying to reach the shy one far away.

And then I pictured, in some day to come,

A woman, wizened by the years, alone
In a cancer ward. A row of Get Well cards
From relatives and former colleagues, scrawled
With words of hope, all hollow words of hope.
The book unread, the fruit untasted, dreams
Unlived, impossible now. And from the street
Outside, the laughter of some raucous girls,
The careless joy of a receding world. 

And then, and then, and then--
My anger melted like the morning mist
And pity dawned like the pale winter sun.