Irish Papist

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

From My Diary (I)

I have now been keeping my Penzu diary since June 2015. It is currently more than 618,000 words long. I haven't missed a single day.

It occurred to me recently to include some passages on the blog. Not angsty passages, or anything particularly revelatory of my daily life, but reflective passages that may be of general interest.

Here is a passage from the entry for the twenty-ninth of June last year:

When I got into the library, I saw there was a package for me. It was a book-- the first volume of the new biography about St. Josemaria Escriva. Not a gift, but a loan from Fr. D----. It came with a handwritten note, half in Irish and half in English. I read it on my first break-- it looks pretty good so far, less gushing and better written than the other two books I've read about him. (I did skip the childhood and adolescence parts, after reading the first twenty pages or so.)

At break, I got a paper cup and took it out to the Newman building, as there was a full complement of the clique in the break room. I must get a load of paper cups so I don't have to keep getting them from the Arts Café and coming back to the staff kitchen, eating into my break time.

Reading the book aroused my familiar fascination with sanctity, which is a variant of my lifelong yearning for complete immersion. I cannot remember a time I did not feel this. I have always been drawn to swimming pools and cinemas and snooker halls and places that promise some kind of immersion. I had the same fascination with chess, especially the book The Inner Game by Dominic Lawson, and anything anyone can plunge into and get totally engulfed in.

But with the saints....what excites me is the idea that, at any given time, a saint is thinking about the same thing and striving towards the same thing, "in season and out of season". It's like the "forces that are ever at work" passage from Thomas MacDonagh's court martial speech [MacDonagh was an executed 1916 Rising leader]. I like the idea that a saint is always at fever pitch (so to speak; it's a term that springs to mind, but I don't mean to suggest a state of emotional overwroughtness). I got the same feeling reading Newman's diaries (or letters).

I remember a particular moment having a hot chocolate (or maybe tea) in The Tolka House, and looking at a Christmas tree, and feeling this. I feel it especially when looking at \ Christmas tree. The atmosphere is the opposite of ascetic and deprived. It's lush and overflowing, or maybe a little bit more like the feeling of grace that James Joyce describes after Stephen's confession in Portrait of the Artist.

Come to think of it-- and I've been trying to describe this all day-- there IS a feeling of ascetism, but it's a kind of relieved, intact ascetism towards the wrong things, and of abundance and glorying in the right things-- almost a 'tingly' feeling. Somehow it reminds me of my sister telling me she would have an alcoholic drink on Christmas morning-- a spirit, I think she said. I envisaged a small girly glass. I think of moisture, ointment and refreshment when I think of the sacraments and other devotions of the Church-- especially in the spiritual aridity of contemporary life, and even contemporary religion. [Edit 19.10.16: The very name 'Christ' means 'the anointed one'.] It's similar to the way the Oxford Movement seemed so exotic and exciting and bounteous to its adherents, though it was calling for a sterner lifestyle in many ways.

I think it's a little bit a bit like the eroticism and lyricism of the Song of Songs...the fact that this language is being used to describe the quest for sanctity, which very often involves the most extreme mortifications and always involves a rejection of real sensual and other indulgence, doesn't seem in any way to belie it. In fact, it seems to fit. I remember the sense of relief I felt when I was reading about Franco Zeffirelli, the homosexual Italian film director who has apparently accepted and observed the Church's teaching on homosexuality in its entirety, as has apparently the homosexual [deleted]...without MAKING A BIG FUSS ABOUT IT, or acting all tragic about it. Being buoyant and even light-hearted about it. Even if this is not true of those two gents in reality, that's what this feeling-- a feeling allied to the one above-- means to me.

This feeling is very particular to Catholicism...it might apply to Christianity a little bit, but mostly to Catholicism. There's a picture of Josemaria Escriva as a young man on the cover, looking very young indeed and hardly recognisable. This sensation seems evoked through seeing old photographs of saints and other holy or at least devout figures and realising they were white hot for Jesus even back then. That this quest reaches through generations and strata of social life and indeed centuries, and is always there-- not only UNDER the surface, but on the surface. That is the important thing. That faith is not only the background of life, something latent, but right at the top of the agenda.

It reminds me too, of the story of the young Joseph Ratzinger coming home from the concentration camp, or the prisoner of war camp, in WWII, and beginning to play the piano straight away. How strange that the white-haired old man who became Pope in the twenty-first century was involved in the drama of the Second World War.

I think this is why I felt so moved by the idea of going to Mass straight from the airport, after coming back from America. Or of us sitting in our sports clothes in English class, in between PE classes. The sense of such an urgency that there is no time to lose.

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