Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Comfort of Situation Comedies

To turn from the tragedy that has befallen my country, here are some musings on a lighter subject...

I've been watching a lot of Frasier recently. I've watched the whole series at least twice, and I'm currently making a third lap. My favourite comedy, up till now, has been The Office (American version). Now I think that it would have to share the honours with Frasier.

I'd avoided watching Frasier for years, because I assumed the show itself would be as pretentious and upper-middle-class as its protagonist. I didn't realize that the humour is often quite broad and farcical, and that the snootiness of the two central characters isn't typical of the whole cast.

Interestingly, one of the minor characters, a smug food critic named Gil Chesterton, was based on a real person called Gilbert Chesterton-- a teacher of journalism, as it happens.

I got into Frasier through watching Cheers. Somehow, I'd never seen an episode of either until very recently (though I did see a few scenes here and there, over the years). As it happened, the first episode of Cheers that I watched was the episode in which the character of Frasier Crane first appears! (See the value of keeping a diary?)

At this stage, for the sake of anyone who is completely lost, here is a lesson in comedy TV history. Cheers was an American sit-com which ran from 1982-1993, set in a bar in Boston. It was wildly successful, although it took a while to win the audience over. The character of Frasier Crane was a rather pretentious psychiatrist, a habitué at the bar. He got his own show in Frasier, which ran from 1993 to 2004. In this series, he has moved to Seattle and has his own radio show. Some people prefer Cheers to Frasier, but I think Frasier is clearly superior, though Cheers is also good.

I started watching Cheers because I had a hankering for a very low-concept, down-to-earth situation comedy, one as close to the routines of ordinary life as possible. And Cheers is certainly that. But I was somewhat disappointed, because a lot of the humour is very mean-spirited.

I suppose what I was looking for in Cheers was a thicker concentration of something I already find in ordinary life, in the sights and sounds of the city: a sense of the eternal in the everyday. We know that this world of lamp-posts and taxis and sports results is not going to go on forever, that one day it will be as utterly dead as ancient Rome. But it feels as though it will go on forever, and there's a certain comfort in that. Anything that you cannot see to the end of is effectively infinite.

I like to lose myself in the rhythms of the workaday world, to escape from myself, to become "depersonalised" in a pleasantly anaesthetic way.

There are some images and atmospheres which particularly induce this state of mind, for me. Strangely, the design of the Manhattan peanuts packet (an Irish brand) is one of them.

But there are others as well: newspapers stands, pub mirrors, the soft light of pubs, the news headlines rolling across the bottom of a TV screen, the coffee and tea shelves in supermarkets, newspaper strip cartoons, cinema marquees, and many many others...

In another way, however, I find the very format of situation comedies profoundly soothing.

The world of a situation comedy is a deliciously insulated world. Primarily this is because of the format. Every episode exists within a "frame" of half an hour or so. All the problems and complications of the plot will be resolved by then, and things will go back to normal. "Status Quo is God", as TV Tropes puts it.

Why should I find this comforting? I suppose I'm just the kind of person who has always found transience particularly disturbing. I remember, in school, an English teacher in school writing the word "transience" on the blackboard, during a discussion of Keats's poetry. It was a few weeks before the end of my schooling. I stared at the word, realizing that it was simply a word written in chalk, but that in a few weeks I would leave the school and that part of my life behind forever. The word seemed to crouch there like a poisoned snake. I remember how the summer sunlight glowed on the chalk.

But situation comedies are comforting other reasons, too.

I like the "wheel of fortune" aspect of situation comedies-- at least, the warmer and more upbeat situation comedies. (And Frasier is pretty warm and upbeat.) In any given episode, at least one of the characters is going to be having a particular run of luck, or a particularly good run of luck-- but it's always a passing thing. Of course, when they are down, every possible laugh is milked from it-- the crowded room falls silent before they drop their clanger, the microphone picks up their embarrassing confession, the person they tried to impress by a feigned knowledge of French literature turns out to be an expert in the subject, and so forth. Strangely, such comedic exaggerations make our own humiliations feel all the better for being acute-- nothing by halves, right? And besides, the message is that the wheel of fortune always turns again.

Another thing I like about situation comedies is the way the characters always respect each other, deep down. (Again, I'm talking about more or less sentimental shows here.) They'll laugh at each others' mishaps and indignities, they'll feud, they'll seek to outdo each other, they'll be maddeningly obtuse at times...but, ultimately, they are always there for each other. And more than that: they recognize each other's quirks and individuality (even if it's only by grumbling about them).

In Cheers, when one particular character walks into the bar, everyone always shouts: "Norm!". There's something very appealing about that.

There are particular plot types of sit-coms that I especially relish, and find especially comforting. For instance, the "sick day" episode, when somebody is laid up sick. It's quite cosy. Or any episode where events are told from several different perspectives (called a "Rashomon plot"). Or any "framed" narrative-- for instance, one of the characters telling an old story, which is then "seen in flashback". That seems even more "insulated". A "trip down memory lane" episode is a particularly cosy example of this-- for instance, "The One with All the Thanksgivings" from Friends.

Most "insulated" of all is any plot involving a dream-- for instance, "The Impossible Dream" in Frasier, where Fraiser is puzzled throughout the episode by a recurring dream.

As I finish this post, it occurs to me that it might be far too revelatory. How neurotic, how insecure, must I be, to take such comfort (a word I have used several times) in the fairy tale stability of situation comedies? 

But there you have it. After all, what is a blog without the occasional eccentric post such as this?

Monday, May 28, 2018

There Are No Words

After the Irish people voted to legalise abortion in Ireland, on Friday, I finished writing a post I'd been writing previously, and published that, rather than responding to the tragedy.

What is there to say? It is the most shameful day in Irish history. The scale of the "Yes" vote (two to one) startled everyone.

One pro-choice commentator on Irish TV said: "Ireland is the same place today that it was yesterday."

Yes...but then we did not know how bad things were.

This is a devastating blow, not only for Ireland, but for the pro-life movement all over the world. It is too enormous to even begin to take in just yet. I have no words for it. Not yet.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Memory

A memory from my school days has been coming back to me a lot recently. It's a memory of a painting that hung in my secondary school. My schooling was all in Irish language schools, and the room where this painting was hanging was called the áiléar. That translates as "attic, loft, or gallery". It was more like a hall than a room. It was upstairs, as one would expect. It had a piano, and was laid out like a lecture theatre or a drama theatre, except that there were no desks-- just steps rising from the front to the back, with a small bit of flat foor at the front. There were mats to sit on, when needed. We would use it for choir practice and sometimes for watching videos.

The picture that hung above the piano (some distance above the piano) looked rather like the picture above. I don't remember exactly what it looked like. I have a very poor visual memory. All that I remember was that it was a Madonna and child image, and the two figures were surrounded by darkness as in the picture above. The áiléar was a rather dark place already, which only seemed the heighten the darkness of the painting.

I've always loved darkness. Darkness is (so far as I'm aware) never a good thing in the Bible. "Men loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil". So I'm a bit wary of admitting that I like darkness so much.

It's not that I don't like light. I love everything that shines and glows. The Transfiguration is one of my favourite passages in the Gospels.

And yet, I love darkness. I find it peaceful, enveloping, comforting. I like dark winter mornings. I like cinemas because they are dark. I like the night sky.

I like Coca-Cola. It's one of my favourite things in the whole world. I like looking into its bubbles and swirls.

The darkness in the Madonna and Child picture, though, spoke to me of more than simply peace or repose or shelter. It always seemed to me to be a visual representation of love.

Catholic commentators like to make a very sharp distinction between love as a feeling and love as a virtue. To love is "to will the good of the other", as St. Thomas Aquinas put it. We often find this contrasted with the "chocolate box" notion of love in "the culture", which (we are told) is more focused on feelings and emotional rewards.

I'm not disputing this distinction, but sometimes I wonder if we are wrong to emphasise it so much. When I think of the people for whom I would sacrifice a great deal (for whom I have sacrificed a great deal, in some cases), they are the very people for whom I feel "the warm fuzzies" that are so lightly dismissed. Family and very close friends.

Much Catholic devotional art, at least in recent centuries, was very sentimental. The term "maudlin" derives from the name Mary Magdalen, and from very "maudlin" representations of her in art. Personally, I'm fine with this.

When I think about unconditional love (whether received or given), I think of the darkness in that picture of the Madonna or Child.

Boundlessness might be the most relevant term here. The dark backdrop in the picture was boundless; it might have gone on forever, like outer space. And this is how unconditional love feels. There is no end to it.

While the dark backdrop of the picture gave an impression of boundlessness, it also gave an impression of intimacy. The mother and child are surrounded by boundless darkness, but also sheltered by it. And this is also how unconditional love feels-- a feeling of unutterable closeness even when the person is not there.

But there is another aspect to it. In complete darkness, there is no "up", "down", "left", or "right". This is the characteristic that spoke to me to the most, although it is the hardest to explain.

I have such a deep love for everything that is particular, for particular times and places, atmospheres and occasions. And yet...to me, profound interpersonal love seems to exist in a state which is the opposite of all that. When you love anybody, somehow they exist to you in a way that is outside time and space, beyond all contingency or circumstance. 

That is what I saw in the picture of the Madonna and child; an unspeakable stillness, silence and sense of eternity.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Today, Ireland Votes on the Right to Life

I posted this on Facebook last night. I spent a lot of time trying to express exactly what this referendum means to me, and why "pro-life" is so much more than just a slogan. I was pleased with the phrase "a world inside looking out on the world outside".

I know you are praying for us, readers all over the world...thank you.

Tonight I go to bed very afraid. There have been so many words tossed around in Ireland in the last few weeks...choice, freedom, dignity, rights...but these are only words.

To horrible truth is that, if Ireland votes "Yes" tomorrow, thousands of human beings will be snuffed out of existence before they ever have a chance to live. They will never see the sunlight or the snowfall. They will never contemplate the wonder of existence. They will never laugh, make friends, hear a nursery rhyme, lie awake waiting for Santa, be given a nickname, or have a personal moment of triumph. Nobody will ever know what they looked like or hear their own unique take on the world.

There is a poem I like in which a painter is painting a potrait and suddenly sees:

A very obvious thing; the immense
Thereness of someone else; a man
Once only, since the world began.
Never before, and never again.

The sight of the Lascaux cave paintings always fills me with this same sense of awe, the knowledge that what left those marks is utterly unique and of infinite value-- the same creature as me, the same being with infinite possibilities, a world inside looking out on the world outside. The idea of extinguishing that marvel, when there is any other option, is unthinkable. You may think human beings are made in the image of God. Or you may think every human being is the product of millions of years of incredibly fortunate accidents, conscious beings rising against all odds out of inanimate matter. Or you might think it is both. Whatever the ultimate origin of a human life, it seems an insanely precious gift to throw away.

So I thank everybody for their prayers for Ireland tomorrow, and in case there is ANY chance I can sway anyone at this eleventh hour....please please please vote No, and make the miracle of life happen for so many others in the years to come.

Monday, May 21, 2018

On the Doorsteps

As you doubtless know already, Ireland is going to hold a referendum on abortion on Friday. The proposal is to remove the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which was introduced by referendum in 1983, and which guarantees the equal right to life of the mother and the child. The abortion legislation which is proposed by the government if they get a "Yes" vote is quite extensive, and will allow abortion for any reason up to twelve weeks, and for even longer periods in special cases such as "fatal foetal abnormality".

I haven't written much about this referendum on the blog, because I know all my readers will be pro-life already. I've concentrated my online activities on Twitter and Facebook.

Me and my pro-life posse

I've also been door-to-door canvassing since the middle of February. This is something I've never done before and it's more than likely that I will never do it again. It's a very big step for a natural introvert like myself, so I thought it would be worth writing a blog post about it.

I hate approaching people. I hate bothering people. Once I'm talking to someone, I'm not really shy and I can even be garrulous. But actually starting a conversation has always been difficult for me. Starting a conversation with a complete stranger is even more difficult. I'm the kind of person who will wander around in circles for ages before asking directions of somebody.

But this referendum was simply so crucial, I felt I had to make more of an effort than just writing letters to the newspapers or on social media. So I signed up as a canvasser at a pro-life conference, in early December. I didn't hear anything back, so a few weeks later I signed up as a canvasser for another pro-life group, online. I spoke to someone from the group on the telephone, on my last day of work before Christmas. He told me someone would be in contact with me about a canvas in Finglas, a suburb near my own suburb of Ballymun.

December turned into January and I didn't hear back. (I suppose these pro-life groups are mostly staffed by volunteers and it's difficult keeping for them to keep track of everything.) I'll admit that I wasn't too upset about this. But, in February, my conscience finally got the better of me and I decided to follow it up. I got in touch with them again and got the exact details of the next canvas.

We met in a supermarket car-park around 6:30. I was alarmed at how few of us there seemed to be, about half-a-dozen. I found myself talking to a male civil servant, around my same age, who was eventually assigned to me as a partner. We were given orange high-visibility vests to wear and a stack of leaflets to distribute. I was extremely nervous.

To my relief, my partner did all the talking on this first night. I quickly realized that there wasn't all that much talking involved. I'd envisaged heated and intense debates about the development of the embryo and technical legal points, and I'd done some cramming beforehand. But here was nothing like that. At least half of our knocks provoked no response, so we simply put our leaflets through letter-flaps and into mail boxes. 

When somebody did engage us, it rarely went beyond a few words. The vast, vast majority of householders I've spoken to have been perfectly polite, even friendly. I suppose I have spoken to a few hundred by now (though I'm bad at estimates) and there have only been about half-a-dozen angry or hostile responses.

Most people are rather cagey. They accept the leaflet and they smile, but they don't give any indication of their views. Some, however, are very effusive No voters who thank us for our efforts.

More people have declared themselves to me as No voters than as Yes voters, but I suppose that's only to be expected. I even wonder whether some of them are just telling me they are No voters to get rid of me. I've always been very wary of politicians' claims about the response they get "on the doorsteps", and actually canvassing door-to-door myself has made me more way. It's impossible to tell the real lay of the land, in my view. At least, I can't.

On the whole, I would guess that the areas I have canvassed (Ballymun and Finglas) have a majority of No voters, but I would only guess that tentatively. It should be borne in mind that these are both working-class areas. The stories I've heard from other canvassers indicate that more affluent areas are considerably more pro-choice. I've even been told stories of "abuse" from people in such areas (apparently this happens more with leaflet distribution on the street, than with door-to-door canvassing).

But let me return to my first night's canvassing.

I spoke to my partner as we walked along. He was also a Catholic, and held all the same same views as me. He was a very pleasant fellow and I rather envied the ease with which he chatted to the householders.

Around eight o'clock, we packed up. I was surprised how quickly the time had gone. More canvassers had appeared during the evening. I felt a sense of euphoria at having done it.

I canvassed in Finglas for a few more weeks. Each time, I was paired with somebody different. (It was nearly always a man, rather to my dissatisfaction-- I'd been told that the preference was to have a male-female pairing, which made perfect sense to me. Although I believe men have an equal right to an opinion on abortion, I can't help feeling more comfortable with a woman by my side.)

The number of canvassers grew every week. There were men and women, young and old, Irish and non-Irish. As far as I can tell, all of them have been Christians. One canvasser was a Slovakian woman who wept when she told me about the persecution of Catholics under communism, during her childhood. Another was a Pentecostalist who told me: "The Catholic Church is an old house in which many things have been forgotten"-- which seems a bizarre statement to me. He was a very nice fellow, though.

Sometimes, we would begin the day's canvassing with a prayer, but not always.

The only really bad experience I've had during canvassing was when a woman came out of her house, threw the leaflet we'd just posted through her door at us, and started shouting: "Scumbags!". She demanded we produce a permit to canvas or get out of the area. My partner that night (a bus-driver) was cool-headed enough to reply: "Fine, call the police." But there have been no similar incidents.

Most people, though polite, are not inclined to talk very much. However, I am often surprised at how eager some people are to talk. Usually, these are No voters, but sometimes they are people on the fence who are genuinely interested in what we have to say. It's a very strange sensation, and I always feel rather taken aback by it. Somehow, I'd simply assumed that the vast majority of people today believe what they are told on television. The fact that so many are eager to hear what a fellow citizen has to say, in a face-to-face encounter, is quite reassuring to me.

Sometimes, the people who come to the door seem eager to talk for the sake of talking. On the second night I went canvassing, I spent most of the night at one door. The householder was a Yes voter who believed men had no right to oppose abortion. He was, however, very friendly and gregarious. He told us he loved it when Mormons called to his house. I don't think he was deliberately trying to hold us up, to stop us from reaching other houses. He just wanted to debate. I kept trying to move on, but my partner that night seemed reluctant to break away. We were there for twenty minutes or so.

Eventually, a canvas began in Ballymun, my home suburb, so I left the Finglas canvas, and went from canvassing once a week to twice a week. This time, I found myself in the role of the "veteran", as the two people organising it had not gone canvassing before. The woman I partnered with that first evening was an American missionary's wife, a non-denominational Christian. She was nervous about talking, so I did most of the talking at first. It's funny how someone else's nervousness always seems to make us more confident.

One night, a few weeks ago, we were coming to the the end of the canvas and one woman had to go home. This led to a reconfiguration of our pairings, but we now had odd numbers. The husband and wife who had taken charge of the Ballymun canvas asked me: "Are you confident enough to go on your own?." "Yes", I replied, rather pleased that I could honestly say so. (However, this was on the "home stretch" of the evening's canvassing-- I would not be so confident if it was a full evening's canvas.)

I am canvassing again this evening, for the last time. I suppose I could have done much more-- many of the volunteers have gone "all out"-- but I feel I'm pushing myself already. (Indeed, one evening a few weeks ago, I just didn't feel up to it and stayed at home.) On Sunday, I distributed some leaflets at the gate of my local church-- I was sent them unsolicited by the pro-life campaign, with specific instructions to distribute them outside the church gate after Mass. Since most people left in their cars, I only gave out a handful.

It's been a very interesting experience, on the whole. The nerves have never gone away, though they've lessened. I felt almost sick with nerves for the first few weeks. Now I only feel mildly nervous. The camaraderie of the canvas has been very pleasant, and I'm rather sad that all these people will have passed out of my life next week.

Of course, the result of the referendum is the important thing. As I've said, I'm reluctant to extrapolate from the responses I've heard. I don't know what's going to happen. Please pray for Ireland on Friday. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Something to Keep You Going

Sorry for the unusually long hiatus in posting. I didn't realize it had been so long.

I'm unusually busy right now, so here's something to keep the blog ticking over! A poem from about ten years ago.

I can remember this was one of many poems I wrote while lodging in a family's home in Stillorgan, Dublin. I was still an agnostic at this time, but becoming increasingly conservative and pessimistic. (Conservatism without a supernatural background must remain pessimistic, I suppose.)

Most of the poems I wrote at this period of my life had a fictional setting. They were vignettes. I've come to hate this practice-- at least, as it applies to my own poetry. I think it's better just to write from your own perspective.

I think it's a fairly good poem, though. The idea of the sounds hidden in the grooves of a vinyl record (or in any other form of recording) has always fascinated me, as has the image of removing a picture from the wall and noticing the less discoloured space where it had been.

There's one line in this poem with which I'm very pleased. Can you guess which one?


The murmur of the dead from a concert hall
Filled up the room and then the song began.

It called the past as only music can;
An old tune is a time-bomb. Uncle Paul,
(I noticed suddenly) was an old man;
Like taking down a picture from a wall

To see the space it held untouched by grime.
Though he was full of talk about the next
World Cup, some star’s adultery-by-text,
It seemed a pose, a part in pantomime.
I listened to him silently, perplexed
By that perpetual rabbit-puller, time,

By the needle of the moment in the groove.
Song segues into song, but why can’t we
Catch when the tune has altered utterly?
Why do we half-believe our day will prove
More firm that others? Uncle Paul and me
Stood listening, not hearing the earth move.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Inspiration From The Saints....A Review from Sweden!

Well, here is something that has only happened once before on this blog...a guest post! Tomas is a Swedish "internet friend" and regular reader of this blog. Since I thought his unique perspective as a Catholic convert in the "secular paradise" would be of great interest to readers, and since he has many interesting ideas, I have for a long time extended him an invitation to be a guest blogger here. Finally, he has agreed to do so, and in the form of a review of my book! So, without further yakking from me, I had over to Tomas...

On Inspiration From the Saints

When I first discovered the blog Irish Papist, with its many idiosyncratic virtues, Maolsheachlann kindly invited me to contribute a guest blog post. (I had simultaneously discovered the now-dormant blog of the G.K. Chesterton Society of Ireland, also written by Maolsheachlann, and had contacted him to ask some questions about GKC.) Some years have gone by since that offer was made. But now, finally, I am responding to the invitation, on the splendid occasion of Mr. Irish Papist’s new book, Inspiration From the Saints.

This is not going to be a formal review, but a few scattered impressions. First, however, a brief note about myself.

I am a Swedish convert to Catholicism. My parish contains Catholics from all over the world. At Sunday Mass, about twenty-five to thirty countries are represented. The few ethnic Swedes in attendance are converts like myself, aside from very rare exceptions to the rule. Hardly surprising in a country which for five hundred years has lived in the murky shadow of one Mr. Luther. Outside church, I work as an archivist, and my interests include both G.K. Chesterton and Ireland (although I’ve only ever trod the “holy ground” of Erin for a single weekend, almost fifteen years ago).

Explanatory to Fundamentals

But let me turn to the book.

Before I read it from the first to the last page, at about the two-thirds mark, my first impression was: “Yes, this is a good effort”. It meets the need of the ordinary Catholic to stay afloat in these decadent times. Here is both an interesting and an easy read. It’s not only for those already over the Tiber with dry feet, but at the same time, it’s by no means only for beginners. The idea of themed chapters, and the actual choice of themes, is ingenious. The themes chosen are some of the most important, one might even say basic, aspects of the Faith, and they are introduced in a helpful sequence. The somewhat idiosyncratic chapter on “Losers” is sandwiched between chapters titled “Chastity” and “Humility”, which are followed smoothly by the twins of “Catechetics” and “Evangelization”, and then by further topics, with no perceptible sudden turns.

The writing is clear, mostly comprised of straightforward stories from the lives of the saints, but with here and there more personal reflections woven into the fabric. The pacing is fine. For a Swedish or otherwise peripheral readership, this book could be almost catechetical. The stories, both in content and in style, are very accessible.

In the chapter on evangelization, we are given a good explanation of the term “the New Evangelization”, an idea often mentioned as a Papal policy in recent decades. St. John Paul II is one of the saints most often featured; he and several others (including St. Rose of Lima and St. Josemaria Escrivá) come back into the stories again and again, under various themes. Passages from the Bible are well-chosen, and explained with care and a devout layman’s practical understanding, often as examples of convergence between the quoted verse and “ordinary” lives of the saints (“ordinary”, that is, but still very singular in their challenging zeal).

What can be learned by taking in this kind of panorama of the saints´ common features? Many fundamental and amazing things can be learned. Its inspirational approach shows or at least hints that their common features don´t take away from their respectively unique charismas. (Super-) naturally! These saints come across as common Catholic people, people like you and me. And a book like this can no doubt be re-read in various parts with benefit. Since there are quite a few unknown saints and Blesseds among the most well-known (good that their popularity was not a criterion, but only a secondary consequence of the selection in themes), the reader of the book at first will also receive some pleasant discoveries into the bargain. Another bonus is the general flow of the stories. The book is written in a fluid style already known to the regular readers of this blog.

Small (Just That, No More) Faults

For someone not familiar with “cradle Catholic” fundamentals, the “natural” ease in the author´s accompanying comments on the words and actions of the saints are a really fine feature of the presentation. It could be argued that the non-Catholic reader might find a few too many things taken for granted, but that´s nothing I would have claimed as a weak point, so no more here on that aspect. The fact that miracles happen, and that the sacraments work, is simply assumed in the text. Take it or leave it – or do what you find best, and reflect on (some of?) it!

There are only a few textual mistakes remaining, despite the proof reading. Some of those are to be found in the first half of the book (perhaps two handfuls of such small things as doubled words etc. are not such a big deal printed books these days). The use of an even narrative, with many facilitative favourite phrases and a good use of compact recapitulations brings the reader to a warmer apprehension of the whole. This is helpful for readability, and is a pure delight for all who enjoy what we have so often been blessed to find here at Irish Papist. Many saints reappear several times, and we are reminded they do so. When you buy into this feature of the text, it´s a rather nice reminder of the beneficial presence of their company.

The best thing in keeping the narrative so much centered on the basics of Faith and the saints´ daily lives, rather than the extraordinary, is that in the end almost any interested person reading this book will probably say: “Sanctity is not so strange as I thought it was”. As the many examples show, there are innumerable motivations to keep on trying to live the life of a Christian, even in the face of “failure”. And no one is immune to setbacks, not even these celebrated saintly heroes.

The Sense of Saints’ Communion

In between the most famous and the utterly obscure, there is also room for not a few medium-famous saints. One of the many, and one of many that I was sufficiently intrigued to want to read more about, is St. John Berchmans. But there is no need to point out which names appeal most. This book comes with a full guarantee that it contains more than one or two that you will never have heard of before reading.

Even more than this, this book can make you vividly aware of the reality of the Communion of Saints. How? When? Why? Well, it gives a sense of nearness to the sacramental outlook to begin with. Not just once do we hear the narrative calling, simply saying to us: “If they could, couldn´t we too?” If that seems impossible, the narrator still says it. That makes sense if you dare to put trust the author, as if he knew, either by experience or reason, that it isn´t. (In all likelihood the saints involved are actually active somehow also in the practical process of communication, though this is an argument far from the usual tenets of textual criticism!) The quotes from the saints only affirm the cumulative treasure of tradition. The prayerfulness etc. that is still around us wherever there is living Catholicism, feels quite integrated into the author´s own perspective. Sharing the wonders and small insights we get into truly good company. Given the practical state of affairs these days I may doubt how many secular Swedes would find a book like this inspiring, but that is another business.

Domkyrkan, seat of the Archbishop of Stockholm

The distant prayers from those hearty “friends we don´t know yet” can at some moments feel almost tangible. At least there are some mysteries that help, so that we can stir the imagination and hope. And if reading does not lead to prayer, it still can be just good plain reading or learning. The illustrative quotes and descriptions are well-chosen and there are no dry statements.

When a chapter gets closely read, either in part or all the way through, its contents can also gently lead on into prayer and even “Eureka-moments”. And a better effect than that could hardly be begged for. Especially if the effort was made to be not only “a fun read” but first and foremost to literally convey what is says. Inspiration from them to us!

So thank you Maolsheachlann, for bringing the heart’s desires of your saints to fruition. May God bless the Irish Church!

And God bless Tomas! If he has made you eager to buy the book, you can do so here!