Friday, March 30, 2018

A Good Friday Thought from St. Alphonsus Liguori

He that lives for himself directs all his desires, fears, and pains, and places all his happiness in himself. But he that lives to Jesus Christ places all his desires in loving and pleasing him ; all his joys in gratifying him ; all his fears are that he should displease him. He is only afflicted when he sees Jesus despised, and he only rejoices in seeing him loved by others. This it is to live to Jesus Christ, and this he justly claims from us all. To gain this he has bestowed all the pains which he suffered for love of us.

Have a Blessed Triduum

I wish a blessed Triduum to all my readers!

This morning, I have been watching this excellent meditation on Good Friday by Venerable Fulton Sheen. Very good so far!

I hope these holy days are an outpouring of grace to you all. Pray for me, I will pray for you.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Knowledge in the Air

Hydraulic science over here
And Nietzsche over there.
Month after month, and year on year;
There's knowledge in the air.

They sit by their computer screens
Lost in a dreamy stare
Ringed in by books and magazines;
There's knowledge in the air.

Matisse and Einstein, Burke and Klee,
Vivaldi and Voltaire
Dance round the desks invisibly;
There's knowledge in the air.

Oh happy playground for the mind!
Oh scene without compare!
Let scholarship be unconfined!
There's knowledge in the air!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Look Inside!

You can now "look inside" my book Inspiration from the Saints, on Amazon! I've always loved that feature.

Link here.

If anyone buys and reads the book, it would be great if you could post an Amazon review. Please do be honest, I think honest reviews are the most helpful for everybody.

Someone on Twitter said that the "losers" chapter had given him hope and inspiration. That meant a lot to me!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Some Purple Notebook Moments

It's a very warm and sunny day in Dublin, like a day at the height of summer. It's reminded me of some "purple notebook moments".

Anyone who isn't familiar with my purple notebook can read about it here.

The introduction to my saints book (which you can buy here!)  is pretty much based around a purple notebook moment. I'm not sure if my purple notebook is pure navel-gazing, or whether it might have some public value. Jung's Red Book has public value, it would seem. Why should not my purple notebook? (I'm not suggesting it has public value in itself, but perhaps its entries can serve as inspirations for me to produce works of public value.)

The first purple notebook moment I'm put in mind of is a hot summer's day on my aunt's farm in Limerick. Me, my brother, and my mother were sitting outside on the grass, reading. My mother was sitting on a chair and me and my brother were sitting on a rug. This was a complete novelty to me, since we lived in an apartment, and the idea of sitting on the grass in Ballymun was ludicrous-- you'd be likely to attract unwanted attention and derision, if not a kicking.

I've always been much more a winter man than a summer man. I like the cold and I dislike the heat. Summer (in my view) exists to be the counterweight of winter. But that alone makes it very important.

I was at a funeral recently. (I attended the wrong cremation, but that's another story. And it wasn't just me, but me and three of my friends.) The reading from Ecclesiastes was chosen, as it almost invariably is now: "Unto everything there is a season..."

I think this must be one of the most powerful flights of lyricism ever written. The idea of seasonality is, in itself, inherently poetic. Take these lines from Lewis Carroll, which come from a humorous poem but which I've always considered to be drenched with pathos:

In winter, when the fields are white,
I sing this song for your delight -

In spring, when woods are getting green,
I'll try and tell you what I mean.

In summer, when the days are long,
Perhaps you'll understand the song:

In autumn, when the leaves are brown,
Take pen and ink, and write it down.

Summer has always seemed a bittersweet concept to me-- or rather, a concept tinged with melancholy. A picture taken on a bright summer's day is almost impossible to look at except through a layer of wistfulness. "Summer's lease hath all too short a date", indeed. I am reminded once gain of Burke's description of the life of man, sundered from tradition, as "little more than the flies of summer".

And yet, lurking within this sad transience, there is another idea-- the idea of a never-ending summer, an eternal summer. A photograph taken on a summer's day partakes of this atmosphere, since the picture itself is timeless, a framed eternity of its own. And, even without being captured in a photograph, a memory of a summer's day is just the same. It's timeless...sort of.

The idea of eternity, also, is the idea of a summer's day without end. I think we are all drawn to this idea, in one way or another. We are all trying to hit the jackpot, in one way or another. We are all looking for the gift that never stops giving, whether that is a life-long romantic love, the creation of an imperishable work of art, or undying devotion to some cause. An endless summer's day...that is the dream. Even for people who prefer winter, summer seems to serve this metaphor (even if it's an unconscious metaphor) better. It's the anticipation we all remember from the beginning of the school holidays, captured perfectly in the French phrase "les grandes vacances".

Have you ever noticed that coming-of-age stories are nearly always set in summer?

Well, to return to myself and my brother and my mother, sitting on the grass. I remember the moment so well because I was so aware of it as a moment-- the sun seemed to be performing a role, creating a vignette for our sake. I felt as though it was engraved on a medallion.

The second vignette is from the summer after I left secondary school. I thought I had messed up my school-leaving exams, and that I wouldn't be going to college. I heard an interview on the radio in which a composer of some sort was talking about his life story, the development of his musical taste. The conversation turned to some particular composer, and the interviewee said: "I became a big fan of him in college...well, everybody becomes a big fan of him in college..."

I felt a sense of desolation at that moment, because I was worried I'd missed out on the whole college experience-- which, romantically, I saw as an intellectual odyssey. Of course, when I went to college, I was thoroughly disillusioned in this regard, but it's still a pleasant idyll....doubtless it is true for some people...

This particular memory, however, lingers pleasantly in my mind, long after that sense of desolation became irrelevant. (This is a fairly common phenomenon when it comes to purple notebook moments.) It pleased me immensely to think of a course that people's musical education usually takes-- that there are particular composers which appeal to music lovers at particular moments of their lives, or at particular ages. The same applies to lovers of books, philosophy, or any other subject. Somehow, this idea greatly assuaged my existential loneliness, my fear that life was simply an empty space, a random flux, with no particular up or down, left or right, in our out.

This is why I take tremendous pleasure, always (or nearly always), in listening to enthusiasts of a particular art-form, or writer, or field of interest, talking to each other. It is the furthest thing from the awkward small-talk prevalent in so much of everyday life. Everything they say to each other drips with significance. They recognize each other's experiences-- often, even the mention of a particular name or incident will make them break out into a sudden and shared smile.

The final summer memory is one of the oldest items in my purple notebook-- I think it's a memory, but I can't remember it exactly. I have the image of a yellowed sheet from a newspaper (yellowed, but not very old), which I think was lying at the bottom of a drawer, being used as lining. It featured a photo of a glamorous woman wearing a bikini, perhaps on a beach, beneath the headline: "Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer."

I had never heard this phrase before. I thought it was the most poetic phrase ever, and it set my imagination on fire.

I tried to write an essay on this image many years ago-- in fact, when I was still in college. So that's at least eighteen year ago. I never finished the essay, and even now, I'm not sure I can convey this image's significance to you.

And also...I'm all written out. But I suspect what I have written already goes a long way to explaining why that moment made my purple notebook.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

On the Question of Colour

No, nothing to do with race. I'm simply wondering about colour schemes for this blog.

Around St. Patrick's Day, I usually turn the blog background green. Changing it back this year, I decided to try out grey rather than the usual light blue.

What's most restful and appealing to the eye? What do you think?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Strange Place

Hello! Hello! Hello! Is anybodythere? Hello? Helloooooooo--


Hello! Who's there? Where are you?

I am the Ghost of the Recent Past. And that is where you are now.

The Recent Past? What is that, exactly?

Hey, we don't like that word here!

What word?


Why don't you like the word exactly? And where are you?

I'm everywhere around you. And as for the word "exactly", it doesn't really apply here.

Why not?

Because nobody can say where this place begins or ends, or how far it extends.

Hmmm. May I sit down? Does this vending machine work?

Go ahead. And yes, it does.

No Wispas?


OK....but, hey, hot coffee! I never know what to expect in this place. Newspapers become blurry when I try to read them, after the first few pages. Clocks jump back and forward when you're not looking at them. And everything is....

Pale? Faint? Plastic-looking?

I don't know how to describe it. Like a school during the summer holidays, maybe.

Ah, I know what you mean. People also say, "Like toys that children have left on the floor", "Like the kitchen the morning after a party", "Like an abandoned movie set"--

I get it.

Well, that is simply the atmosphere of the Recent Past. The Distant Past is filled with a golden glow, and the Medium Past is misty like a sauna. But the Recent Past is just... solid.

And where is everybody?

People don't come here much. Why would they? It has no sentimental value yet, and it has little practical relevance anymore. It's not the present, and it's barely the past.

I've seen a few people, at the end of a corridor, or framed in a window, but...

When you go to meet them, they're gone.

That's it.

Well, people don't linger in The Recent Past. At least, most people don't. You've already outstayed eighty-three per cent of visitors.

Is that right? Well, I've always been a bit of an oddball.

So I guessed. 

Hey, look, a promo for Lord of the Rings on this wrapper!

When is the last time you watched the Lord of the Rings movies?

I was going to watch one the other day except I thought...

Too soon?

Yes! I watched them over and over back when they came out. I watched the first few scenes the other day and I thought...well, I don't need to revisit these for a few more years.

That's this place all over, my friend. Nothing is fresh here. Everything is played out.

But surely some people still watch those movies?

Then those people wouldn't encounter them here. I told you, this place has no definite boundaries. It's different for everybody.

Right. The coffee tastes fine, though.

Well, coffee is coffee, isn't it?

That's true. But if I was a foodie and I wanted the latest foodie craze, I'd be out of luck..?

Now you're getting the hang of it.

I like it here, though.

Aha! I thought so. And why do you like it?

It's kind of peaceful.

Why do you say that?

Well, it has neither the stress of the present moment, nor the...

The what?

Oh, I don't know. The hype of the past. The battle for history. The raw emotions. 

Indeed! These are the fallow years, my friend. This is the sleep of time, the dormant period of memory.

You're a bit of a Rod Serling type, aren't you?

It makes the job more fun.

Hey, look over there! That looks like my friend Jim.

It is your friend Jim. At least, it's Jim. But is he your friend...?

I don't know. We've drifted apart in the last few years. I'm never sure whether to get back in touch with him, or...

Let him drift away for good?

Yes. I suppose this place is full of people in that category.

It is. But you can ignore them if you want. You know, I get the impression you're going to be a regular visitor here.

 Me too!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

"The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live. With the tidings that make such an Ireland possible, St. Patrick came to our ancestors fifteen hundred years ago promising happiness here no less than happiness hereafter. It was the pursuit of such an Ireland that later made our country worthy to be called the island of saints and scholars."

Eamon De Valera, St. Patrick's Day broadcast, 1943

Friday, March 16, 2018

Inspiration from the Saints Now Available

Well, I can finally announce that Inspiration from the Saints is now available.

Here is the Angelico Press announcement.

You can buy it here.

I was sure to thank the readers of Irish Papist in my acknowledgements! Thanks to you all.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

My Latest Article in the Burkean Journal

In time for St. Patrick's Day, I have an article in The Burkean Journal under the title "Reviving the Irish Revival".
You can read it here.

The Burkean Journal is a new online conservative journal based in Trinity College, and edited by students. It has recently expanded to other universities in Dublin.

It's raised some hackles already, which is a good sign.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with my various ideas on the subject of Irish national identity. But I'm particularly pleased with this article. It's my "definitive statement" on the matter, if such pomposity is allowable.


This morning, I happened to attend a Mass alongside a large crowd of schoolboys and schoolgirls, all of whom were there in preparation for their First Communions or Confirmations. As they streamed into the pews, I was put in mind of William Blake's lines:

'Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two in red and blue and green.
Grey-headed beadles walked before with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames' waters flow

O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town,
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own;
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

I don't want to get too sentimental. I know that children can be little brats, even downright bad sometimes. (I remember from being a child myself.)

And yet, I couldn't help feeling sentimental and tender. The funny thing is, looking at children doesn't just make me feel sentimental about children. It makes me feel sentimental about everybody. It makes me remember that everybody was a child once, and that-- in a sense-- everybody is still a child. We may guffaw at talk about "the inner child", but there's surely a lot of truth to the idea.

Indeed, it's even sadder when "the inner child" is gone, or suppressed. When you look at the eagerness, wonder, and artlessness of children, it seems almost heartbreaking that so many grown-ups are (apparently) cynical, apathetic, sardonic, and defensive. What happened to them? Where did the wonder go? How much hurt and disappointment is it buried beneath? Why did those things have to be lost?

Look at the photograph below. I've posted it here before. I got it from the website TV Tropes. It was used there as an illustration of something that is accidentally scary-- the idea being that the girl would get the creeps once she saw this picture. But that's not why it captured my imagination. The little girl is just so adorable-- so enthusiastic, so happy, so unabashed in her enthusiasm and happiness. This picture makes my heart melt-- not just for the little girl, but for the human race.

I'm an irritable person, easily annoyed by my fellow human beings-- even by things which cause me no harm and which are not even morally objectionable, such as a banal remark or a vacant grin. I'm trying to overcome this, and I think I'm making some progress.

Strangely enough, I feel most charitable towards my fellow human beings when I see them as pathetic-- and I mean "pathetic" in its most literal sense. I feel most charitable towards my fellow human beings when I'm most conscious of the pathos of the human condition. Then my irritation tends to evaporate, and I feel towards everybody as one might feel towards a terminally ill patient, or somebody who has been recently bereaved. Or a child. Personal slights cease to sting, and one's ego seems not overcome but irrelevant.

I've asked myself-- is this Christian charity? Or is it just sentimentality? Then again, is sentimentality always a bad thing?

There is a passage in G.K. Chesterton's Manalive which describes a very similar mood, or perhaps the very same one. In this extract, two of the characters have broken into a house and one of them is burgling it:

After another glance round, my housebreaker plucked the walnut doors open and rummaged inside. He found nothing there, apparently, except an extremely handsome cut-glass decanter, containing what looked like port. Somehow the sight of the thief returning with this ridiculous little luxury in his hand woke within me once more all the revelation and revulsion I had felt above.

"`Don't do it!' I cried quite incoherently, `Santa Claus—'

"`Ah,' said the burglar, as he put the decanter on the table and stood looking at me, `you've thought about that, too.'

"`I can't express a millionth part of what I've thought of,' I cried, `but it's something like this… oh, can't you see it? Why are children not afraid of Santa Claus, though he comes like a thief in the night? He is permitted secrecy, trespass, almost treachery—because there are more toys where he has been. What should we feel if there were less? Down what chimney from hell would come the goblin that should take away the children's balls and dolls while they slept? Could a Greek tragedy be more gray and cruel than that daybreak and awakening? Dog-stealer, horse-stealer, man-stealer—can you think of anything so base as a toy-stealer?'

"The burglar, as if absently, took a large revolver from his pocket and laid it on the table beside the decanter, but still kept his blue reflective eyes fixed on my face.

"`Man!' I said, `all stealing is toy-stealing. That's why it's really wrong. The goods of the unhappy children of men should be really respected because of their worthlessness. I know Naboth's vineyard is as painted as Noah's Ark. I know Nathan's ewe-lamb is really a woolly baa-lamb on a wooden stand. That is why I could not take them away. I did not mind so much, as long as I thought of men's things as their valuables; but I dare not put a hand upon their vanities.'

"After a moment I added abruptly, `Only saints and sages ought to be robbed. They may be stripped and pillaged; but not the poor little worldly people of the things that are their poor little pride.'

"He set out two wineglasses from the cupboard, filled them both, and lifted one of them with a salutation towards his lips.

"`Don't do it!' I cried. `It might be the last bottle of some rotten vintage or other. The master of this house may be quite proud of it. Don't you see there's something sacred in the silliness of such things?'

The Catholic poet Coventry Patmore, who Chesterton often quoted approvingly, is even more eloquent on this theme in his poem "The Toys". I am utterly unable to read this poem without being reduced to tears:

My little Son, who look'd from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobey'd,

I struck him, and dismiss'd
With hard words and unkiss'd,
His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darken'd eyelids, and their lashes yet
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-vein'd stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I pray'd
To God, I wept, and said:
Ah, when at last we lie with tranced breath,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
We made our joys,
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,

Thou'lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
"I will be sorry for their childishness."

 I'm also reminded of a touching passage in Steven Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in which he describes a mistake he made in raising his daughter:

One day I returned home to my little girl's third-year birthday party to find her in the corner of the front room, defiantly clutching all of her presents, unwilling to let the other children play with them. The first thing I noticed was several parents in the room witnessing this selfish display. I was embarrassed, and doubly so because at the time I was teaching university classes in human relations. And I knew, or at least felt, the expectation of these parents.... 

After unsuccessfully cajoling the girl, he forces her to share, which in retrospect he comes to regret: 

I've learned that once children gain a sense of real possession, they share very naturally, freely, and spontaneously. Perhaps a sense of possessing needs to come before a sense of genuine sharing. Many people who give mechanically or refuse to give and share in their marriages and families may never have experienced what it means to possess themselves, their own sense of identity and self-worth. 

Whatever you think of gurus such as Steven Covey (and my own opinion of them is not very high), the image of the little girl clutching her toys to herself is quite affecting.

I agree with Covey's reasoning in this instance. I took part in a correspondence some years ago, in the letters page of the Irish Catholic newspaper, on the subject of charity gifts. One writer had suggested that, instead of receiving gifts for Christmas, donations to charity should be made in the children's name, to teach them to give rather than to receive.

I think this is a terrible idea, and I said so. I recalled my pleasure in Christmas gifts as a child, a pleasure that has never gone away but still lingers with me. I honestly don't think it was greed or materialism. When I remember Christmas toys as a child, I'm flooded with feelings of gratitude-- they seemed like a symbol of grace, something given out of pure love, something given especially to me. The thought of getting some certificate telling me a charitable bequest had been given in my name would, I'm sure, have rankled with me to this day. Kids can be encouraged to be charitable at any time of the year. Why deprive them of their toys at Christmas?

Recently, I've been remembering one Christmas where I made a park bench out of lollipop sticks, using a kit I'd received just for this purpose. When I remember this, I feel bathed in tenderness, and gratitude, and a desire to be generous myself. Looking back, I realize that it was the love represented by such gifts that really mattered to me. Do we ever really want anything except love, even at our most cynical?

One of the priests in UCD, in one homily, said that it was very important to truly believe that God loves us, because then we would be ready to love others, secure in that knowledge.

All this sounds like I am suggesting that "to understand all is to forgive all", or that "everybody is fighting a battle you know nothing about", or some such sentiment of universal tolerance.

Well, I'm definitely not saying that. I think this is exactly the sort of decadent thinking which leads to liberal Christianity-- the inability to condemn, the inability to say "no", the withering away of righteous anger and indignation.

When I think of the people I know who have made a misery of their own lives and the lives of others, the image of the child clinging to its toys is no less applicable. The same applies in a wider social and cultural context. Ireland is on the threshold of legalizing abortion, in great part because several generations of Ireland's great and good have been beguiled by the flashy toys of Progress and Liberation and Rebellion. The fact that there is something pathetic about this, once again in that literal sense of pathos, doesn't make it any less lamentable.

Sometimes we have to sternly warn the child to drop its toys, to get rid of them. In some circumstances, even prising them its fingers might be warranted.

But here's the thing....I think we should always strive to do so with a certain regret, a certain pity. Our anger should be righteous anger, not vindictive anger, or the anger of a bruised ego.

It's interesting that, in the gospels, Jesus seems to alternate between pity and anger, even towards his own disciples. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing!"

In this blog post, I've used the image of toys, but what does it represent? Well, I suppose it represents a few different things.

The toys might be the trifles that we comfort and console ourselves with, which are charged with a tremendous, child-like pathos when seen in perspective-- like the toys in the Manalive excerpt, or the Coventry Patmore poem.

Or the toys might be the equivalent of a toy on Christmas Day, an image of the pure gratuitousness of God's love, or the gestures and symbols which mean so much in the economy of love.

Or the toys might be sins, idols, things fetishized as good far beyond their deserving, things which come to be preferred to God.

In any case, musing upon this theme fills me with a resolution to be more patient, kind, and generous when it comes to the faults of others. Whether I live up to this resolution is another matter entirely.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Podcast Woes

Well, I feel like a complete and utter idiot. Today I interviewed one of the UCD chaplains, Fr. Leon Ó Giolláin, in his office. He spoke to me for about twenty-five minutes and his answers were absolutely fascinating.

Somehow, I didn't save the recording correctly, and it was all for nothing. I was recording it on my phone and when I went to save it, I managed to lose it.

Apologies to all my readers for the disappointment. I don't know what to say.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Delight of Reading

On the bus this evening, I was reading Aquinas: An Introduction by Brian Davies. I came across a passage which delighted me so much, I knew I had to write a blog post about it. The passage in itself is not remarkable, it's simply an example of something that often delights me.

This is it: So a word used on different occasions can mean or signify something exactly the same or something completely different. Yet, what shall we say of, for instance, the word "love" in the "I love my wife", "I love my job", and "I love chicken soup"? Is a husband's love for his wife the same as his love for his job or his love of chicken soup? Is one's love of one's job normally equivalent to one's love of one's spouse or one's love of certain foods?

The first thing to say is that passages such as this only occur in non-fiction books, and I only find such pleasure in non-fiction books. Non-fiction book appeal to me immeasurably more than works of fiction, mostly for this reason.

What do I love so much about this passage? It's the sense of spaciousness, the sense of leisureliness, the sense of unhurriedly surveying a subject with all the range of human experience at your finger-tips.

This sensation, of course, is created by the inclusion of the term "chicken soup". Comparing a man's love for his wife with his love of chicken soup gives the reader a delicious sense of contrast and range, a sense that everything is within reach, everything is in play.

I prefer non-fiction to fiction because, in novels and short stories, the flow of time continues much as it does in daily life. In non-fiction, time is suspended. The author is addressing you in a timeless, spaceless realm. Even in a short book, the feeling of elbow room, of room to spread yourself, is glorious. Daily life is one long succession of interruptions, deadlines and demands. Pages of text between the covers of a non-fiction book are a blessed sanctuary, a space in which an idea can be unfolded organically, patiently, lovingly.

But, (you may say), you can escape into the refuge of a novel, just as well. Indeed you can-- but what refuge is there really to be found if your protagonist is fleeing a horde of zombies, or locked outside the inn on a stormy night, or surrounded by wolves? Even the most contemplative work of fiction is locked in the present moment, be that "present moment" set in the Neolithic era or the distant future.

Even the most gripping non-fiction narrative, on the other hand, remains detached from the events it describes. The author is writing from above, from outside, from beyond-- from a safe distance. He is there and not there, as are we. It is like taking a stroll in outer space or the depths of the ocean. It's sublime.

Over to You

So tomorrow I will be interviewing one of the Catholic chaplains in UCD, Fr. Leon Ó Giolláin, for my inaugural podcast. (Presuming that there are no technical or other hitches.)

Do you have any questions you'd like me to ask him?

Bear in mind that I intend a very genial interview, Fr. Leon is someone I admire and like very much.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Back to the Rosary

I don't have much sticking power, as a rule, but some three years ago I vowed to pray the rosary every day, and I've succeeded so far (with the exception of a day or two). Sometimes I am more asleep than awake as I pray it, but I get through it one way or the other.

It occurred to me today that I've spent vast amounts of time praying the rosary, but very rarely written about it.

I don't think I'm good at praying the rosary. I think I'm terrible at it. My mind bounces around like a basketball, and I find it difficult to concentrate on one thing at a time. Very often I have to start a decade again, when I realize my mind has strayed entirely from the mystery..

Nevertheless, this is how I visualise the various mysteries, and the ideas that I meditate upon as I do. (It should be borne in mind that my visual imagination is terrible. Mental imagery is always vague rather than vivid for me.)

The Joyful Mysteries

The Annunciation: I have a very conventional image of this mystery. I imagine our Lady kneeling in prayer beside St. Gabriel, as pictured in so many paintings. The atmosphere that I concentrate upon is the atmosphere of a new horizon opening up, which may be one of my favourite ideas in the world: "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, when a new planet swims into his ken." When I think of the Annunciation, I think of how everything (everything!) was changed forever in an instant, and how (to paraphrase a famous piece of doggerel) the world became better than ever we thought it could possibly be.

The Visitation: I have a very stately and ceremonial picture of Our Lady and St. Elizabeth meeting. I don't like the modern paintings which show them hugging and grinning. The exchange of words which is recorded in the Scripture would suggest it was a much more elevated affair. For some reason, in my imagination, they are standing at some distance from each other.

The Nativity: One would think this would be an easy mystery to picture, given the popularity of Nativity scenes. Perhaps it's a case of an embarrassment of riches, but I struggle with it. Increasingly, I simply think of the Holy Family, with our Lady and St. Joseph kneeling beside the manger. Sometimes it is simply our Lady holding the infant Jesus.

There was a painting in my school which showed a Madonna and Child against a very dark background. The darkness that enclosed the pair always seemed gloriously peaceful, warm, secure, and eternal to me. Recently, I had an exchange of emails with the principal of my old school. I asked if this picture was still hanging, but she didn't reply.

The Presentation: This is now my favourite mystery. (That honour previously belonged to other mysteries, as I will mention asI go on, but it's this one now.)

I always focus on Simeon holding the infant Jesus. Now and again, I think about Anna, or about Our Lady and St. Joseph, but it takes an effort to wrench my mind from the picture of Simeon cradling our Lord.

The simplicity and piety of the old man saying: "Now you can let your servant depart in peace" captivates me. Perhaps I like the idea of one thing which makes life worthwhile-- the "one thing needful". It's a picture of the utmost otherworldliness-- all the supposed wonders of the world are as nothing compared to the sight of this baby. And Simeon did even not need to see him grow and pursue his ministry, but simply to hold him once. That was enough.

I always imagine Simeon as a beautiful, white-haired old man, a lifetime of holiness etched on his face.

The Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple: I struggle with this mystery more than any other. I'm not sure why. I can't get a fix on it. I find it difficult to comprehend how our Lady and St. Joseph could have been worried, given St. Gabriel's promise.

As I count the last few beads, I usually imagine Jesus talking to the Doctors of the Law, and I reflect on how all Scripture is about Jesus. They were discussing Scripture, and did not realize that the key to Scripture was there in front of them. Well, how could they? But praying this rosary, I think how important it is not to let our faith degenerate into an abstract system, rather than an encounter with the living Christ.

The Sorrowful Mysteries

I find it these difficult to pray. Suffering is less real to my imagination than joy. I feel ashamed when I think of all the saints who would be transported, contemplating the passion of our Lord.

The Agony in the Garden: For some reason, I always imagine the Agony in the Garden as a sculpture, usually a small sculpture carved from dark wood. I also think of how all the suffering and pain in the world, everything bad that would ever happen, descended on Our Lord during that hour.

The Scourging of our Lord: I simply picture the scourge descending on our Lord's body again and again.

The Crown of Thorns: This is the sorrowful mystery which is most vivid to me. Shame and humiliation are much more impressive to me than physical suffering. The crown of thorns and the scarlet robe seem not only humiliating, but also glorious. Perhaps this is because I have always admired (and identified with) those who are willing to undergo scorn and ridicule for their beliefs.

I often find myself contemplating the fact that that the crown of thorns was ultimately more precious than any of the crowns of gold and jewels that various earthly monarchs have worn.

There is a scene in the excellent Alec Guinness movie Cromwell in which King Charles's chaplain reads the Passion to him as he prepares to leave his palace to be executed-- in particular, the passage regarding the crown of thorns and the scarlet robe. This often comes into my mind as well.

The Carrying of the Cross: I picture Christ setting out, meeting his mother, Simon of Cyrene taking the Cross, Veronica wiping his face-- that is, the Stations of the Cross, as I've often prayed them in the UCD church. Again, I find it hard to really become invested in this mystery.

The Crucifixion: I always make a special effort to concentrate on the Crucifixion, since it seems like the central mystery of our faith. I think of what a timeless and transcendental image it is, one inscribed into the consciousness of the world. I think how our Lord gave absolutely everything for us. I always feel this mystery should spark my imagination more than it actually does-- perhaps it is "performance anxiety."

The Glorious Mysteries.

The Resurrection: I really struggle with this mystery, too. Perhaps it is too stupendous. I find it hard to picture Christ's resurrection body. These days, I usually imagine Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples gathered in the upper room, or to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In the past, I would also think about Peter and John entering the empty tomb, and the empty tomb itself, but I don't do that so often now.

The Ascension: I generally picture the carving of the Ascension over the altar in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. (Surprisingly, I can't find a decent photograph of it on the internet. Clicking on the one below enlarges it a little, but if anyone can find a better picture of it, I'd be obliged.) And I meditate on one of my favourite verses from Scripture, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things" (Colossians 3:2).

The Descent of the Holy Spirit: This used to be my favourite mystery; it was my first "favourite mystery". I like the "shock and awe" of it. Well, considering my favourite line of poetry is "the fingers of fire are making corruption clean" (from Bunyon's "Burning of the Leaves"), and my general love of fire imagery, this is hardly surprising. I also like the sense of togetherness; the disciples are all together, before they would scattered all over the earth. The entire history of the Church is there in embryo.

The Assumption of our Lady: My visualisation of this mystery generally draws on the various paintings I've seen on the subject, especially one in the National Gallery in Dublin. Increasingly, I picture Our Lady as a woman of dazzling physical beauty, untouched by age. Reading a book about Irish Catholicism of the Middle Ages, I was struck by the fact that Our Lady is always represented in the Gaelic tradition as a woman of stunning beauty. The child-like naivety of this pleased me.

As I've written elsewhere, Marian devotion doesn't come easy to me, for whatever reason.

The Coronation of our Lady: I imagine Our Lady surrounded by innumerable ranks of angels as she is crowned. I also imagine all the saints in Heaven paying her honour. I suppose I imagine this mystery as one that transcends time, rather than one that happened at a particular moment. Thinking of Mary as the Queen of the Saints is helpful to me.

My image of Heaven is very conventional; sunlit clouds and so forth.

The Mysteries of Light:

The Baptism of our Lord: I imagine our Lord being fully immersed, and how he chose to assume our condition, and the dignity this gives human nature and the human body.

The Marriage at Cana; This is one of my favourite mysteries and I like to dwell on it. It seems to me symbolic of the unity of nature and grace. Wine is a very pleasant and vivid image of grace! This has a very personal meaning for me, especially as it pertains to my own marriage. 

I like this mystery for many reasons, but one is that it is so "bourgeois" and respectable. Jesus and Our Lady were concerned for the social embarrassment of the couple. Yes, I know that there is much more than that going on in this scene, but it seems plain that our Lady (and our Lord) did sympathize in a very human and straightforward way with the awkward situation of the husband and wife. This episode in the Gospel seems like our Lord's blessing on so much that is human and conventional; marriage, wine, celebration, and even "putting up a good show".

The Proclamation of the Kingdom: I always used to imagine the Sermon on the Mount, and a whole new way of life being unveiled to the listeners. Now I am more likely to think of the disciples being sent out to preach the gospel to the Jews. I picture the various pairs making their way through the countryside, in a kind of movie montage. I like this mystery. I like the sense of excitement, of something new happening.

The Transfiguration: Before the Presentation and after the Descent of the Holy Spirit, this was my favourite mystery. Interestingly, they are all mysteries of light (or fire), but my preference has been for increasing understatement; first it was the tongues of fire at Pentecost, then it was the glow of our Lord's Transfigured body, and finally it is the purely metaphorical "light to the gentiles" in Simeon's speech.

I still love this mystery, though. I've often mentioned my purple notebook on this blog. This is a notebook filled with moments of inspiration or insight, which have struck me at various times in my life. Such moments (I would argue) are the stock-in-trade of poetry, which I've always loved. James Joyce called them "epiphanies", though the term has become rather shopworn.

Famously, the disciples had to come down from the mountain. Faith can't be one long ecstasy. But this mystery tells us that the moments of ecstasy are legitimate and to be prized.

The Institution of the Eucharist: I always imagine a typical Last Supper scene, with Jesus breaking the bread. But my focus is not so much upon the Eucharist itself, as the invisible floods of grace emanating from it, which I conceive of as refreshing and even luxurious. I like to think of how all the Masses in history partake of this primordial event, in a manner that transcends time.

Well, there you go. Perhaps something in this will be of help to somebody reading this. Here's hoping. As I say, I fear that I'm bad at praying the rosary. Every single day, I have to push myself to say it, and it's a constant battle to keep my mind focused.

I've often looked for meditations on the rosary, but I've nearly always been disappointed-- they usually don't enter into the mysteries, they are more often pious rhapsodies (or "gushing"), which sadly leave me cold. There is no predicting what will capture any given person's imagination.

In any case, I am grateful to our Lady for having kept me to my vow these last few years, and I pray that she continues to do so. Pray for me!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

My article in the Bukean Journal

I've had an article published in the Burkean Journal, a new online conservative journal which operates out of Trinity College. The article is adapted from a blog post that appeared here last year.

The journal itself is well worth checking out, and is fulfilling a desperate need for a "big tent" Irish conservative platform on the internet. I encourage you to support it on social media through sharing, liking, commenting, etc.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Journey Westward

Well, Ireland is still on red alert, and most of the country is thick with snow. Ballymun is ankle-deep, and calf-deep in some places. The government advised everyone to stay indoors from four p.m. yesterday. The go-ahead was given to go outside this morning. There were about eight people at Mass.

Given how the blizzard has dominated discussion in both mainstream and social media, I'm surprised nobody has quoted the most famous passage in all of Irish literature, the final paragraph from James Joyce's story The Dead:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

I've never been much of a fan of James Joyce, thinking his reputation greatly inflated, and his influence on both literature and society to have been (on the whole) regrettable. But that is certainly a magnificent flight of lyricism.

The story from which it is taken is a fine story, too. I'm not really a fan of short stories, nor have I ever met anyone who is. When people argue that "The Dead" is the greatest short story ever written, i'm not inclined to argue.

Its protagonist is a man of culture, Gabriel Conroy, who is rather cosmopolitan in his tastes and who looks askance at the Celtic Revival, considering it insular and philistine. This is his exchange with an enthusiast for "Irish Ireland", Miss Ivors:

“Well, you know, every year I go for a cycling tour with some fellows and so——”

“But where?” asked Miss Ivors.

“Well, we usually go to France or Belgium or perhaps Germany,” said Gabriel awkwardly.

“And why do you go to France and Belgium,” said Miss Ivors, “instead of visiting your own land?”

“Well,” said Gabriel, “it’s partly to keep in touch with the languages and partly for a change.”

“And haven’t you your own language to keep in touch with—Irish?” asked Miss Ivors.

“Well,” said Gabriel, “if it comes to that, you know, Irish is not my language.”

Their neighbours had turned to listen to the cross-examination. Gabriel glanced right and left nervously and tried to keep his good humour under the ordeal which was making a blush invade his forehead.

“And haven’t you your own land to visit,” continued Miss Ivors, “that you know nothing of, your own people, and your own country?”

“O, to tell you the truth,” retorted Gabriel suddenly, “I’m sick of my own country, sick of it!”

In the final scenes, Gabriel learns of a boy who his wife knew in her youth, who was in love with her and who died, in the west of Ireland. The world of culture and social accomplishment in which he moves is portrayed as superficial and fleeting in comparison with "that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead". It would seem that Miss Ivors has the best of the argument after all, even though Joyce himself was a cosmopolitan who fled Ireland to escape its insularity.

The journey westward which is mentioned in the last paragraph has always seemed to me to be symbolic of the Gaelic Revival, which idealized the west of Ireland, especially Connemara and the various islands off the western coast. This is where many intellectuals of the Gaelic Revival discovered an indigenous way of life which had been relatively untouched by modern civilization. The hope of the Gaelic Revival was that the west would become the ideal for the whole country. And I think it was a good ideal, one which had some success, even if it was ultimately thrown aside.

In any case, this blog post is not so much about Irish nationalism, as about the very idea of "the journey westward".

In the many debates I've had with my contemporaries, and especially with Traditionalist Catholics, I find myself caught between two extremes. On the one hand, I can never reconcile myself to the philosophy (typical amongst libertarians and left-wing nationalists) that we should aspire towards some very specific social reform, and that everything aside from that falls into the sphere of individual liberty and private life. For instance, libertarians want to defend the freedoms of the individual from the government, but they don't seem very interested in what kind of society will come about once that is achieved. This is not necessarily true of all libertarians, but it tends to be true of them.

Left-wing nationalists wish Ireland to be entirely free of British occupation, and aside from that embrace all the typical progressive philosophies of the left. They may have some sentimental regard for the Irish language or for traditional Irish culture, but anything as positive as a programme for an "Irish Ireland" would be too paternalistic for them-- if not downright racist and "insular".

So on my left-hand, I have the "minimalists", as I might call them. They have political goals but they don't generally have a vision for Irish society, other than rights, rights, and more rights.

On my right-hand side, I have my Traditionalist (or rather, integralist) Catholic friends-- the "maximalists". They have such a vision for Irish society that I really wonder if they take it seriously themselves, if they hold out any prospect of it coming about. A Catholic monarch; the abolition of the capitalist system; shops closed on Sunday; the State used to inculcate Catholic morality and piety; and goodness knows what else.

I don't want to be disrespectful. I sympathize with many of their aims. But the common feature of all their social ambitions seems to be the gaining of power-- and not just any old power, but power greater than that enjoyed by any democratic government. It would take an Irish Charlemagne to begin to implement their programme-- and begin is the operative word here.

Musing today on that phrase, "the journey westward", it occurred to me that what I really want in a social and cultural programme is that it can be applied right now, but that it always leaves more to do.

It has to be applicable right now, or we encounter the pitfall of the Catholic integralist, who needs to have his modern-day Charlemagne before he can do anything at all.

But it also has to always leave more to do, or we encounter the pitfall of the left-wing nationalist or the libertarian-- once political independence is achieved, once the State has been rolled back to its desired limits, what is left to do, or to dream about?

And this isn't just a problem for the future. It's a problem for the present. I think human beings need a horizon that stretches into the indefinite distance for any activity they really put their heart and soul into. The story of John Stuart Mill's mental breakdown, when he realised that he would have nothing left to strive for if all his desired reforms were achieved, is very relevant here.

I believe that the aspirations of most of the Irish people from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century-- that is, for an achievement of a Gaelic, Catholic Ireland-- fulfilled both these criteria. They could both be pursued straight away-- saying the rosary or speaking in Gaelic was, not only a step in the right direction, but an achievement in itself. On the other hand, there was no end to what could have been achieved, or pursued, or dreamed about.

I believe collective goals of this sort are necessary, to preserve the spiritual and cultural health of any people. We need "the journey westward".

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thanks for the Calendar

Many thanks again to the reader who sent me the Australian calendar showing paintings of various scenes from Australian life in the past.

Very often, when I look at (or when I turn the page to another month, as I did today), I take a great deal of pleasure in it.

Australia has always seemed interesting to me because it's "so near, and yet so far", culturally speaking. You'd think we'd hear more about it in Ireland (or the UK, or America), but it's another world. However, I rather like that fact. I like the fact that the world is so big and I like "foreignness".

There's also a piquant contrast between the drizzly (and currently snowy!) weather of Ireland and the sun-beaten scenes on the calendar.

I like picture calendars in general. They are a very pleasant combination of the practical and utilitarian.

One of the oldest entries in my purple notebook is "cowboy calendar". This dates from my mid-teens. I came home from school one day and found myself reading a magazine advertisement for a calendar illustrated with oil paintings of cowboys. I was surprised by the detail the advertisement went into. It seemed to me wonderful that there would be such a thing as a cowboy calendar. I liked the idea of accountants and schoolteachers day-dreaming about rugged men of the plains.And there was more to it, too. (The common feature of the my purple notebook entries is that it would take a whole essay to explain why each one means so much to me.)

Thank you.