Irish Papist

Irish Papist

Thursday, October 30, 2014

More Poems from the Past

It's been a while since I posted any poetry. Here are some more of my old ones, from 2005. I haven't written any poetry in months. I must get back to it.

Toothpaste

Squeezing the last bit out, she realizes
She bought this tube the morning that he died.
An hour before the worst of all surprises
Life had to throw at her. His face was twisted.
As he lay dying, she tried to decide
On regular or minty, unassisted.

They shopped so differently. She bought the cheapest
Of everything. He paid no heed to cost.
Of all the darks she'd known, this was the deepest;
But morning birds still sang exultantly.
How could they understand what she had lost?
She'd need new toothpaste. Toilet paper. Tea.


Flexitime

When everyone else is braving the rush hour roads
She sits and scans report after report.
We live such hours like camels bearing loads
But still distort

The record, memory, so they don't appear--
It emphasizes mornings by the Seine
Blackberry-picking, some far-distant year,
The moon in a country lane.

But lying in hospital beds, standing in queues,
And traffic jams all vanish in life's stream.
We battle time with what poor arms we can--
With memory and dream.

On an Old Man Who Didn't

When you begin to reminisce
About your 'good old days'
I squirm at your invented bliss
And advertiser's praise.
But still I listen just to please
And why should I condemn?
I know the doors, I have the keys,
But I will not open them.

I will not turn the lock to show
Your treasury's a hoax--
Extinguishing your eyes' soft glow
With cruelly called-for jokes.
I finger with fake ecstasies
The glass you call a gem.
I know the doors, I have the keys,
But I will not open them.


Twelve Dozen Men Bad and True

The plaintiff and defendant look the same.
They even share a name.
He stands accused of failure, cowardice
And ratting on his friend in second year.
But there is much to set against all this--
An inner certainty of righteousness
And being vaguely special.

Brought to hear
His case, twelve dozen men both good and true
(Men meaning women, too).
Blood relatives, blood brothers, bloody cows
And goddesses and cards-at-Christmas friends.
Consider his unpalatable spouse;
His four failed driving tests, and how he tends
To fumble the baton of conversation.
In mitigation
His parents loved his sister more than him.
His daughter thinks he's God Himself (she's ten).
He knows all about wine
And still calls on his senile Uncle Jim.

The jury find
The accused not innocent. He is consigned
To endless years of wondering the real
Opinion we have of him.

No appeal.


The Doll's House

Holly has seen the Aurora Borealis,
The Parthenon, and tigers in the wild
But thrilled to none of them the way she thrilled
To find a doll's house standing by her bed
One Christmas morning when she was a child.
That hour was Eden, Paradise unspoiled;
Inside that perfectly proportioned palace
Were tables set, and bedrooms carpeted
And that elusive beauty only shared
With Wendy houses, ships in bottles, and
Toy train stations. What furniture compared
In beauty, with these pygmy plates and chairs?

All raw reality is barren till
The soul has worked it, ordered, loved, distilled--
The real world is raw material
Only a shadow to the world we build.

Two Hundred Thousand Visitors!

To my surprise, I noticed today that my all-time visitor statistic has just broken the two hundred thousand mark-- two hundred thousand and seventy-nine, to be accurate. (I wouldn't want the seventy-nine to feel left out.)

I knew that this was coming up, but I didn't expect it to happen so soon. It caught me on the hop.

So today I thank every single person who has visited my little corner of cyberspace. And I thank the Holy Spirit for blessing this blog and ask Him to watch over it into the future.

To be honest, I'm not mad about the title of this blog, after a fifth of a million visits. I wish I'd picked something different. 'Irish Papist' is very bland. I might change it. Or I might not.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Some Model Essays. At least, MY Idea of Some Model Essays.

I took down my recent (and incomplete) series on the pleasures of the essay, because nobody seemed to be reading it. However, a reader was kind enough to contact me about it and to ask me what essays I had been planning to write about.

So I hunted them up for her and sent her the list, and I thought I may as well reproduce it here. Yes, there's no Hazlitt, Montaigne, Belloc, Addison, Samuel Johnson, or any of those other venerable names. And yes, that is Dirk Benedict, AKA Face-man from the A-Team. This is my list.

Nor is it a My Favourite Essays list. If I were to compile such a list, I would have to include G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. I can't think of one particular essay that I would pluck from Chesterton's work, and most of Lewis's are not available on the internet. This is just a list of some of my favourite essays, using a broad definition of the term 'essay'.

Edward Feser: Why are Universities Dominated by the Left?

Edward Feser: The Metaphysics of Conservatism (There's some pretty dense philosophizing in this one-- nothing too difficult, but if you don't like philosophy you might give it a miss.)

Dr William Lane Craig: The Absurdity of Life Without God

Dirk Benedict: Lost in Castration

John Stuart Mill: Mental Breakdown, and Poetry (technically, an extract from his Autobiography, but what the heck)

Barbara Mikkelson: New Coke

Mark Shea: What's the Matter With Me, Anyway?

George Orwell: Can Socialists Be Happy?

Peter Hitchens: How I Found Faith

Thursday, October 23, 2014

More Wit and Wisdom from Mr. Chesterton

I've posted the latest five instalments of my Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton column from the Open Door magazine on the blog of The G.K. Chesterton Society of Ireland, here.

They may only be 420 words each, but I try to make them filling.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Should We Have Scientific Proof that Prayer Works?

Here is an answer in the negative by the Oxford philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne. It's a response to a scientific study of prayer on behalf of hospital patients, which showed no correlation between prayer and recovery. This passage is especially well-put:

"Suppose that I am a rich man who sometimes gives sums of money to worthy causes, and that I am very well informed and I know just how useful (or not) different gifts would be. I receive many letters asking me to give such gifts. Some foundation wants to know if there is any point in people writing such letters to me - do they make any difference to whether I give money to this cause or that? So the foundation commissions a study. Many people are enrolled to write letters to me on behalf of several causes rather than others in order to see whether subsequently I give more to those causes rather than to the other causes. In fact, let us suppose, I am normally moved by such letters; I think that the fact that many people take the trouble to write to me on behalf of some cause about which they care a lot is a reason for giving to that cause. But I now discover why I am suddenly bombarded with a stream of letters on behalf of certain causes; and I realise that on this occasion, unlike on other occasions, the letter writers have no deep concern for the causes for which they write. So of course on this occasion I pay no attention to the letters."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Who Goes Here?

I often wonder who reads this blog, aside from those who comment and whose names (or aliases) I know. It's a rather funny (but pleasant) feeling, to have your words up on the internet and to know that anyone anywhere in the world might be reading something you wrote while you are asleep, or eating a chocolate bar, or watching Star Trek.

I often wonder how strange it must be to be a writer like Stephen King and to know that lots of people are reading your books at any given moment of the day.

I found myself wondering today if any agnostics or atheists regularly (or even irregularly) read this blog. I know my (internet) friend Johnny Stephens used to, and he described himself as an undecided, but I haven't heard from him in a good while.

Of course, everybody is welcome to read. I started this blog in order to defend the Church from attacks in the Irish media and on the Irish internet. I didn't stick to that purpose for very long and soon I was putting all sorts of stuff on it-- essays, memories, jokes, stories, poems. It makes me happy that they've all found readers. I no longer think of the blog as having a single purpose, any more than friendship has a single purpose, or a joke has a single purpose.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

That Christ is Proclaimed In Every Way

Recently I found myself reading a series of magazine articles on the life of Christ, and I found myself thinking, once again, what a wonderful thing it is that this story is so endlessly told, retold, analysed, celebrated and discussed.

The words of the Blessed Virgin's Canticle are relevant here: "My soul magnifies the Lord." (It's also translated "glorifies", but I personally prefer "magnifies".) I've always found these words thought-provoking. How can we magnify the Lord? How can we add anything to what is already perfect and infinite? Of course, we can't, in strict terms; but it's the great privilege of being in this earthly state that we can, in a sense, add to the glory of God, by praising him and seeking to serve Him.

We can even (to turn to my particular topic) "magnify the Lord" just by talking about Him, writing about Him, thinking about Him. I realise that I'm on shaky ground here and I am aware of all the warnings in Scripture about the dangers of pious lip service: "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven", and "Faith without works is dead." (James 2:17). I don't want to suggest that words or gestures are enough, or that words and gestures that are belied by unchristian behaviour are not scandalous.

I will, however, risk suggesting that talking about God and Christ and other sacred matters is a good thing in itself. As is writing about them, singing about them, painting pictures inspired by them, and so forth.

That's one defence I make for having this blog in the first place. I'm not a theologian, or a Scripture scholar, or a priest, or anything but an ordinarily-informed layman. I don't even think I'm a particularly good Catholic. But I think the sheer profusion of Catholic blogs is a good thing-- a wonderful thing, in fact. To regret the amount of Catholic blogs in cyberspace would be like regretting the number of daffodills in a meadow, or regretting the number of stars in the night sky.

And I do think the profusion of Catholic blogs (and other websites) is a form of evangelization in itself. If people take the trouble to write so many millions of words about the Faith-- unpaid, for the most part-- then doesn't that suggest to the casual browser through cyberspace that the Faith is a vibrant force today?

I am a contrarian by nature and I generally like doing exceptional and unusual things. And, in some ways, being a traditionally-minded Catholic in today's society is rather a contrarian stance. But, when it comes to the defence and proclamation of Catholicism, I have no desire to be unusual and every desire to be 'mainstream'. The more people there are agreeing with me in this regard, the better. I am always happy to hear someone is a faithful Catholic. And, if someone is not a faithful Catholic, if he or she disagrees with Church teaching in some way, but still considers himself or herself Catholic, I am happy for that much. And if a person does not call himself or herself a Catholic, but still goes by the name of a Christian, I am happy for that-- and so on, through all the degrees of Christianity, until we reach the atheist who respects Christ, as opposed to the atheist who derides him.

I would always rather hear the name of Christ invoked than not invoked. Many Christian shake their heads over televangelists and 'prosperity gospel' preachers like Joel Osteen, whose preaching seems 'Christian' only in the most tenuous and nominal way. Many people think it would be better if such preachers were to drop any pretence of Christianity at all. I can't agree. I might be wrong, and I am open to correction, but I tend to think it's better to have even the tiniest tincture of Christianity than no Christianity at all. I think nominal Christianity is better than no Christianity. Of course, I wish all Joel Osteen's admirers would drop him and take up a more serious form of Christianity; but I'd rather they went to a Joel Osteen service than to no religious service or (would-be-religious service)of any kind.

The same consideration applies to the arts. When I hear that some post-modernist artist has mounted some hideous and tasteless display (use your own imagination, or your own memory, to supply the details), and includes some form of Christian iconography, and further suggests that his work is informed by a deep Christian faith-- well, I regret the "art", and I regret the blasphemy if there is any, but I don't regret that he is inspired, in some way, by Christ. I am pleased that he is proclaiming Christ in some way.

I treasure the story-- not a famous story, though it should be-- from G.K. Chesterton's Autobiography: “A solemn friend of my grandfather used to go for walks on Sunday carrying a prayer-book, without the least intention of going to church. And he calmly defended it by saying, with uplifted hand: ‘I do it, Chessie, as an example to others.’ " (If that story doesn't make you smile, I don't know what's the matter with you.)

It stirs my imagination, perhaps like nothing else, to think how deeply-- and how widely-- the story of Christ has influenced the human race. How many hymns? How many books? How many statues and murals and canvases? How many lectures? How many tracts? How many millions of homilies and sermons? How many today? How many this very moment?

We very often hear writers and speakers express the wish that we could rediscover the freshness of the Gospels, that we could encounter them as though for the first time, as though we knew nothing about them. I can understand why someone would wish this, but personally I feel blessed to be reading the Gospels through twenty centuries of what I might, without irreverence, call hype.

When I read the Gospels, I am always aware of the contrast between the matter-of-fact, sparse nature of the narratives themselves and the unthinkable number of commentaries that have been made upon them, lives that have been inspired by them, movements that have grown out of them, works of art that have drawn on them, debates that have raged around them, depths that have been discovered in them, doctrines that have been crystallized from them. That, to me, gives them a unique flavour, a unique atmosphere.

In my view, there are two valuable aspects to the vast amount of writing and speaking and other forms of reflection upon the Gospels (and, indeed, upon the whole Bible, and upon Christianity in general) that has filled the world since the Word was first proclaimed. The first and more obvious aspect is the analytical one. If a priest is delivering a homily upon the story of the Prodigal Son, and he points out to his congregation that the father goes out to meet the returning son, and this mirrors the way God actively seeks to reconcile us to Him rather than waiting for us to approach Him, this is a form of analysis. If a newspaper writer takes a particular story that happens to be in the news and reflects on it in the light of a New Testament passage, this is a form of analysis.

But the other aspect of any reflection upon the Gospel, and one that might not occur to us most of the time, is the contemplative or meditative side. While the priest is delivering the afore-mentioned homily on the Prodigial Son, and while our conscious minds are preocuppied with the point he is making, a deeper and less conscious part of our mind is contemplating the parable-- just holding it in our attention, letting it seep into our souls, immersing ourselves in it.

This is the principle upon which the rosary works. Contemplative prayer is difficult because our mind gets antsy and restless. It always wants to be doing something. The rosary gives us the individual prayers to focus our conscious minds upon, while the deeper part of our mind is meditating upon the Annunciation or the Descent of the Holy Spirit or whatever mystery we happen to be praying.

What exactly this meditation does is harder to describe. I suppose whole books could be written about that in itself. Speaking for myself, I would say that it gives a kind of glow to its subject. It plants it in our imaginations, in our souls.

For this reason, I think that even the dullest homily, the most pedestrian article in a Christian newspaper, or the most witless Catholic blog post has a positive value. They fix our attention, in some way and in some degree, upon Christ. And as St. Paul wrote: "Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition...What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice."