Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Exaggerated Death of Christian Europe

Writing this in a beautiful hotel room in Innsbruck, Austria. The room overlooks a gorgeous Catholic Church, whose name I can't seem to find right now. (I would simply ask reception if the reception wasn't closed and in complete darkness when we returned from dinner, through the almost deserted roads, at the outrageously late hour of eleven o'clock or so. Innsbruck believes in early nights-- or, at least, early Sunday nights.)

This was my first ever trip to continental Europe. We went to a small town in Germany called Garmisch-Partenkirchen (a town formed from two towns, through a shotgun marriage by Adolf Hitler himself), where we stayed at a five-star hotel (a new experience for me). I rode in a cable car there-- another new experience for me, and much less frightening than I'd expected. We went to look at the fairy-tale castle of King Ludwig, Neuschwanstein, although we didn't actually go in as the wait for the next tour was too long. We had a jaunt on a horse-drawn carriage here, too. We moved on to the Italian town Merano, which (despite being within the borders of Italy) holds slightly more German speakers than Italian speakers. It was an interesting experience to walk into a shop or restaurant and not know what language you would be addressed in. (My schoolboy German was stretched to breaking point and beyond. I had one completely German conversation with a Genuine, Authentic German speaker. I asked for an ice-cream, then I asked for cream on it. It may not seem much, but I'm very proud.) Today we moved on to Innsbruck, preparing for our return trip to Munich Airport tomorrow.

I have been very struck by the sheer obviousness of Christianity in continental Europe-- or at least, in Bavaria, South Tyrol, and Innsbruck. Churches are everywhere. Jesus is everywhere. Indeed, you encounter Jesus here in places where you would never expect to encounter him in Ireland. Restaurants, shops and public places are not at all bashful about having a crucifixion or Last Supper scene where, in their Irish equivalents, one would not look for anything more significant than a watercolour of lilies, or perhaps of a dreamy sunset.

We stepped into a few churches, and were impressed at how well maintained they were. When we eventually attended Mass this evening, at the small (but magnificently decorated) Catholic church beside this hotel, we were pleased to see that the Church was pretty much full and that people of all ages attended-- in fact, there were several families. Even without understanding German, I could see that the priest and congregation took part in the celebration with real reverence, that this wasn't simply some inherited cultural tradition, kept up out of inertia.

Everything I had ever read or held about Christianity in continental Europe had led me to expect nothing but a few feeble embers still glowing here and there. From what I've seen, the reality seems rather different.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Whole New World

Well, it's already two days in the past and I'm still getting my head around it. I remember in primary school I had an English reading text-book called A Whole New World (it was part of a series with titles and covers themed around space exploration). That is how I feel now. I imagine my first impressions of marriage will be about as accurate as the "discovery" of nineteenth century astronomers that there were canals on the moon, or the reports of headless men and Amazonian warriors in South America by early European explorers.

The ceremony was just too huge to take in, a sense of surreality (or maybe hyper-reality) hanging over all of it. It was not a blur, but just the opposite, every little detail standing out in crystal clarity.

But by the time we reached the reception in the Maples House Hotel, Glasnevin (and I intend to plug them as much as I possibly can), both myself and Michelle began to enjoy things. I made a long speech thanking everybody (there were about sixty people there) in rather florid terms, and then read a poem about Michelle (which I published on this blog as "A Poem for Michelle" a good few weeks back). Then the dreaded first dance, for which we had a routine worked out but which, let us say, deviated from it. So much fretting about that first dance and in the end....nobody gave two hoots what went wrong. Soon everybody was up and dancing to the golden oldies we had lined up, and the Irish folk musicians who had kindly volunteered to play, led by my sister's boyfriend.

It was a joy to see all the work Michelle put into the ceremony and reception-- and it was untold hours and weeks and months-- coming together so well. Everybody was in love with all the little details like place-holder cup-cakes (you took the cup-cake with your name on it and went to wherever you wanted to sit) and the little welcome packs including cow-bells for ringing. Every time someone rang a cow-bell I had to kiss the bride. That was a pleasant task.

Thanks be to God for a wonderful bride, a wonderful day, and may always keep us in the palm of His hand. Off on honeymoon now!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Special Prayer Request!

Sorry for the lack of blogging recently, but the last two weeks have passed in a whirl of wedding preparations. (I see from my blog statistics that people are still reading, which pleases me a lot.)

I hope you are all well and, if you remember, I would really appreciate prayers that my wedding tomorrow goes well!

Farewell forever from this bachelor! Talk to you again as a married man!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Irish Times Praises Enda Kenny's Courageous Stand Against the Unborn Child

Nobody expects objectivity from The Irish Times when it comes to the abortion issue, or indeed anything that might involve any reference to the Catholic Church, but this embarrassing schoolgirl love letter to the Taoiseach, from Miriam Lord, is especially cringe-inducing.

The political nerds went scurrying for their history books when the Taoiseach uttered a phrase destined for the history books of the future.

“I am proud to stand here as a public representative, as a Taoiseach who happens to be a Catholic, but not a Catholic Taoiseach,” he told the Dáil, invoking the shades of devout leaders past who pledged allegiance to faith first and country second.

On an otherwise uneventful Wednesday morning in Leinster House, Kenny, without any fuss, laid down a milestone in Irish political history.

Furthermore, a Taoiseach stood in the Dáil chamber and called out the despicable behaviour of a small section of Irish society that deems it acceptable to threaten and intimidate elected representatives who do not cleave to their world view.

I wonder what form of threatening and intimidation Miriam Lord is talking about? Threatening to use the vote to punish politicians who cast their vote against the right to life? Isn't that just democracy?

In his speech, the Taoiseach referred to the supposed intimidation tactics that are in use:

“I am now being branded by personnel around the country as being a murderer; that I’m going to have on my soul the death of 20 million babies. I am getting medals, scapulars, plastic foetuses, letters written in blood, telephone calls all over the system, and it’s not confined to me . . .”

One has to wonder why the Taoiseach feels the abortion issue should be the only one in which powerful feelings are not expressed and heated rhetoric used. I often see Socialist Workers Party posters that complain about a "war on the poor". Is that equivalent to accusing Mr. Kenny of being a war criminal?

When the Savita Halapannavar tragedy occurred, there were many demonstrations which blamed Irish abortion laws for the death of the unfortunate woman. Just look at this article from the Guardian, and the accompanying picture of a woman holding a placard which reads: "Her blood is on your hands". What's the difference? (By the way, I saw no such placards at Pro-Life rallies.)

I'm interested, too, in the litany of harassment of which Mr. Kenny complains. "I'm getting medals, scapulars, plastic foetuses, letters written in blood..." Is sending somebody a medal or a scapular an objectionable act? Is making a telephone call to an elected representative an act of intolerable aggression? If Mr. Kenny had to fill out his list with such feeble examples, my suspicion is that this supposed campaign of intimidation is greatly exaggerated.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

For Once I Agree Whole-Heartedly with Fintan O'Toole

It's time for pedestrians to stand up against cyclists!

I liked this especially: "But given the widespread tendency to mistake a cycling helmet for a halo, it needs to be said that not all of Hell’s angels ride Harleys."

Some of the commenters criticize Mr. O'Toole for simply being provocative, but he's right. Cyclists are constantly cycling on footpaths, where they shouldn't be. Pedestrians become practicsed at listening out for the squeak of their wheels approaching from behind, and this is an impressive facility to master, but we shouldn't have to.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Crowd, I Don't See a Crowd....

It's comical to see that The Irish Times is still stoically claiming that authorities put the turn-out for today's Pro-life Rally in Merrion Square "between 15,000 and 20,000", while even RTE have now admitted that "around 30, 000 people took part".

I'm waiting to hear about the guy with a pro-choice t-shirt on O'Connell Street who will get equal billing as a "counter-demonstration".

And let's not forget clerical sex abuse!

Thoughts on Catholic Blogs

Being confined to bed is an unmissable opportunity to write a blog post. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has read this blog, everyone who has made kind comments, and (especially) everybody who has prayed for me and for those close to me when I requested it-- which last I appreciate more than I can possibly say.

I have just been looking at a different Catholic blog, and (as usual, when I look at Catholic blogs) I was struck by the sheer quality of the thing. The only accurate term for so many Catholic blogs is gorgeous-- the layout, the use of sacred art, the profusion of pictures and quotations and fancy backgrounds. The only real drawback to all this is that sometimes the pages take a long time to load, but even that's not always the case.

I have rather a barebones design here, but that's not entirely by choice. I'm simply not very good with computers. I think the most important thing is for a blog to be readable-- I mean, in this instance, not vexing to the eye, or to the patience-- but after that, I think a perfume-and-tissuepaper approach is highly desirable.

Sumptuousness, when it comes honouring the Lord and our faith, has always been a virtue in the Catholic tradition, and most Catholic blogs very much lean towards the Baroque when it comes to presentation. I think this is all to the good.

Another thing that gives me great pleasure, when it comes to Catholic bloggery (I refuse to use the hideous word "blogosphere"), is the almost ubiquitous orthodoxy of Catholic bloggers. Dissident Catholics may be found in great numbers in the pews of Catholic churches, but when it comes to the internet, they're almost nowhere to be seen. I guess few people would take the trouble of writing a blog about their Catholic faith if they felt lukewarm or dubious about that faith's truth. Dissident Catholics may legitimately protest that they don't feel lukewarm about their faith, they merely question some of the hierarchical Church's teachings. But it seems to me that that as soon as you question any of the defined doctrines of the Catholic Church, the whole edifice totters. Whatever the explanation, there seem to be very few blogs of a "liberal Catholic" tone (to use a phrase I hate using).

Are blogs silly? I don't think so. I'm getting less and less apologetic about having one. It seems to me that they add to the variety of human existence, which is a good thing in itself. If nobody reads a blog, well, it's doing no harm. And if even a few people do, then it has a motive for its existence. (I even like thinking about all the little-read blogs out there. We cherish the existence of sleepy little village shops, why not extend the same romantic approval to obscure blogs? Small is beautiful.)

I increasingly find a certain poetry and satisfaction in the whole format of a blog, too. I am a hoary old traditionalist, and if I had to choose between abolishing the internet and printed books, I would abolish the internet without a moment's thought. I don't think anything can replace the glory of a musty old book with yellowed pages and dog-ears and an inscription from eighty years ago on the flyleaf. A book has a history of its own that an e-book can never have. We enter into a relationship with printed books (and magazines, and newspapers) in a way that we never can with the electronic word.

And yet, and yet...I do find something quite magical about the fact that blogs are just the opposite. I like their insubstantiality. I like how they can be summoned up like a spirit at any computer or on any smartphone. When I'm asleep, anybody could be looking at my blog. I wonder what living rooms and bedrooms and offices it might appear in, places I'll never see, places I may never come within a hundred miles of. It's an exiting thought.

I cherish the sheer openness of the blog format-- mostly because, like Chesterton, I could never believe that there was such a thing as a different subject. It's not that I don't value difference (I do! I do! I do!), or that I don't value the artificially-imposed limits that we use in the debating hall or the classroom or the boardroom to keep a discussion on-track. But I have always been dazzled by the idea that every subject is a thread that will eventually lead you to any other subject. (This is very different from the wishy-washy mystical platitude that "all things are one", which seems the most depressing and nauseating idea imaginable to me.) And, just as some people are irritated by writers who can't help digressions and asides, I am every bit as irritated by writers who are ruthlessly focused and who never relax, joke or let their hair down. I've always wanted a writer to be my buddy, as though we were sitting in a pub together somewhere. And that kind of informality is very easy in a blog.

Finally, I think Catholic blogs are a good thing, because-- regardless of the quality of the actual blogs (and I am presuming they contain nothing actually contrary to the Faith)-- they are a demonstration to the world that their authors care enough about their Faith to put time and effort into writing a blog with a Catholic theme. Of course, they could be neglecting their widowed mothers while doing so, but we hope they aren't.

I think the existence of a vibrant Catholic internet is yet another sign to the world that ours is a living Faith. The more I explore my Catholicism, the more I understand that the Faith is not simply what's written in the Bible, the Catechism, and the various magisterial documents-- as though all practicing Catholics could be wiped off the face of the Earth and the Faith could be reconstructed, undiminished, from those written sources. Just as a person remains alive only because the heart is pumping warm blood around the body-- and just as you and me are alive now only because our ancestors, in an unbroken line going back to Adam and Eve, had warm blood circulating in their bodies to the moment they conceived our progenitors-- so the Church remains a living thing through the currents of life that pulse through it. The warm blood in this case is the celebration of the liturgy (first and foremost), but everything else as well-- the saying of the rosary, the reading of the Bible, solitary and communal prayer, Eucharistic adoration, discussion of the Faith, theological study, and a myriad other activities. And one of those activities-- undoubtedly a very minor and relatively insignicant one, but one nonetheless-- is the writing of Catholics blogs.

Missing the Rally

I'm sad to say I won't be able to make the crucial Pro-Life Rally in Merrion Square today. I have a bad sore throat and yesterday I was nauseous and only fit for lying in bed. I feel better today, apart from the sore throat, but everyone tells me it would be a bad idea to go on the rally as I might relapse and I might infect other people. I feel bad about this but I think it's good advice.

Here's hoping that there's a turn-out to beat the 25,000 (or whatever it was; it's always hard to estimate) that made their voices heard last time. And, even more, let's hope that it makes a difference.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Internet-- Catering for Every Kind of Craziness

Even relatively benign ones like this. I am a fan of Paul McCartney so I was intrigued to stumble on a page (through a search engine) where all the contributors referred to Sir Paul in the past tense, and also referred to someone called "Faul".

I really should have guessed what it was all about, as you doubtless have, but this paragraph (from the "About" section) explains:

The "official" PID story says Paul was killed in a car crash November 9, 1966 and was replaced by look-alike William Campbell or Billy Shears. Although the "car crash" story is probably bogus, two forensic scientists proved Paul was replaced in 1966 by conducting a biometrical analysis of Paul pre & post 1966. Their finding appeared in an article entitled "Chiedi chi era quel «Beatle»" in the August 2009 Italian issue of WIRED magazine. Physical differences that give the double away include differences in the jaw line, lips, teeth, palate, nose, nasal spine, ears, tragus, eye color, and skull shape (please see this article at the Plastic Macca blog for more information).

Paul's impersonator has been dubbed Faux Paul and Bill by the other Beatles. They referred to him at the beginning of the song, "A Little Help From my Friends" on the Sgt. Pepper album as "Billy Shears." This could mean "Billy's here," or potentially be a reference to William Shakespeare, who has been said to have been a pen name for Sir Francis Bacon. George and John referred to "Beatle Bill" in the movie, "Imagine: John Lennon."

I love the fact that the Baconian theory of Shakespeare's works is dragged into it. A few lines down, the Illuminati make their almost inevitable appearance. It's as though all conspiracy theories touch fingers at a certain point. (I also like the contrast between the "official" Paul is Dead story, which is "probably bogus", and the true one. Conspiracy theories about conspiracy theories!)

G.K. Chesterton described the pathology of the conspiracy theorist very well in Orthodoxy:

Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

The madman's explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ's.

Monday, June 3, 2013

You Won't See This on a Tea-Towel

I try to read a little bit of Scripture every day, often by opening my Bible at random. I did that tonight, and I found this passage from the Book of Jermiah (23:16-17) very relevant to our own era:

Thus saith the Lord of hosts: Hearken not to the words of the prophets that prophesy to you, and deceive you: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord. They say to them that blaspheme me: The Lord hath said: You shall have peace: And to every one that walketh in the perverseness of his own heart, they have said: No evil shall come upon you.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Definition of a Gentleman

One who locks the bathroom door even when there's nobody else in the house.