Thursday, September 29, 2022

Interesting Thoughts from Dave Cullen

I've been following the YouTuber Dave Cullen for a good few years now. Back when he was an atheist, I prayed for him to discover faith, and I was delighted when this happened.

In the last few years, he's travelled deeper into Great Reset theories than I'm willing to follow him. But he still has a lot of interesting things to say, especially about popular culture and entertainment.

In a recent video on a new YouTube phenomenon called "The Backrooms", which is interesting in itself, Cullen has this to say about the last few decades of our cultural life: "When you look back at footage of decades part, you can clearly recognise that the nineteen-sixties was visually, stylistically different from the nineteen-fifties... You can observe noticeable distinctions between fashions and musical styles in the seventies, eighties and nineties... But at some point, during the first few years of the 2000s, music just stopped innovating...The same is true of films and television shows, and fashion became derivative...a person from 2005 could be transported to a busy city centre in 2022, and aside from the noticeable ubiquity of smartphones, they would probably think they were still in the same decade..."

This is interesting to me given I've often felt the same thing. I think I might have touched on it in my series on the "atmosphere" of different decades. I'd always suspected, however, that it was simply a case of me growing older and less receptive to the world around me. But maybe it's not just that, that the stagnation is something real?

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Daily Bread

Once again, I find myself embarking on a rather fanciful and airy post, yet another attempt to convey the appeal of a particular idea or impression.

Is there any value to these posts? I tell myself that they might help people appreciate life, and thereby have a positive impact. I hope so.

In my non-blog writing, lately, I've been very much preoccupied with facts and solid information. For a year now, I've been writing 900-word long profiles of Catholic converts for St. Martin's magazine, and for even longer I've been 750-word profiles on great Irish priests for Ireland's Own.

The converts so far are: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Alec Guinness, Malcolm Muggeridge, Dean Koontz, Ronald Knox, G.K. Chesterton, St. Augustine, St. Justin Martyr, Gregory Zilboorg, Adrienne Von Speyr (a Swiss mystic and theologian), Thomas Merton, and most recently the American gymnast Dominique Dawes.

My priests so far are: Fr. Nicholas Callan (inventor), Fr. Tom Burke (preacher), Canon Sheehan (novelist), Fr. Eugene O'Growney (language revivalist), Fr. Willie Doyle (military chaplain), Fr. James Christopher Flynn (involved in amateur dramatics and speech therapy), Fr. Aedan McGrath (Legion of Mary missionary and prisoner of Communist China), Fr. Patrick Peyton, Msgr. Pádraig Ó Fiannachta (Irish language writer and Bible translator), Fr. James Coyle (Irish-born American priest shot by the KKK for marring a non-Catholic WASP to a Puerto Rican Catholic), Msgr. Patrick Carroll-Abbing (who founded a series of self-governing "Boy's Towns" in Europe after World War II, for homeless boys and girls), Fr. John O'Connor (the model for G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown), Fr. Theobald Matthew, Msgr. Luke Wadding (super-cleric in Rome in the seventeenth century, and the man who put St. Patrick's Day on the liturgical calendar), and Canon John O'Hanlon (historian and hagiographer).

Although these are relatively short articles, I've put a huge amount of research into them. They are meaty, dense and information (I hope). I'm quite proud of them.

So when I turn to my blog, I feel inclined to unwind a bit.

Recently I've been reading a book entitled Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television.

I've been taking pleasure in the sheer plenitude of the subject. Do you find that surprising? I did. One wouldn't think that Christmas-themed horror film and TV would be a huge field. And it's not huge, but it's bigger than one would expect. Even a fairly dedicated horror fan like myself wouldn't have heard of (let alone seen) most of the works listed in it.

There is so much of everything. I know that's an awkward way to put it, but I can't think of a better way.

Life is always bigger than we can take in, and although this might be overwhelming in some ways, it seems primarily joyous and jubilant to me.

I take particular pleasure in those aspects of life which are continuous, regular, daily, incessant.

Film and television are a good example. Every single day there is new programming, on a plethora of different channels. It all piles up. Most is forgotten by most people, some is cherished by this or that cult audience, and some enters into the cultural bloodstream.

Everything that has this perpetual feed has something sublime in it.

Some examples: politics, business, transport, religion, sport, food, cinema.

Take religion, since this is the Irish Papist blog. I'm always thrilled by the thought of all the liturgies taking place all over the country on any given day. In town centres, sleepy villages, monasteries, cathedrals, chapels of ease, and any number of other places. The internet tells me that there are 1,087 Catholic parishes in Ireland. Nobody could remember that many.

The same applies newspapers, radio programmes, train journeys, soccer matches, 

In fact, this gets to the essence of what I'm trying to describe: anything bigger than you can take in.

If you stand in a dark space which is wider than your arms on every side, in a sense it might as well be infinite.

In all these fields I'm talking about, there's always more and there's a deep delight in that. There's always more both in the sense that there's already more than you can take in, and also in the sense that more is always being made.

I think it's something worth remarking upon, worth giving thanks for.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Starting Again with Jesus

In praying the Rosary, one of the mysteries I find most difficult to pray is Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the Temple. Somehow it doesn't quite stir my imagination like many other mysteries do (for instance, the Transfiguration, the Presentation, the Descent of the Holy Spirit).

I'm never very sure what the Finding in the Temple means, its significance. I should probably do some reading on it.

The meaning I generally assign to it is the constant need to "rediscover" Jesus. I don't know whether this is impious as it applies to Joseph and, especially, Mary. But I apply it to myself.

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the need to rediscover Jesus, to start again with Jesus. It's so easy to forget that Christianity is centred on the person of Jesus Christ. I think there is a constant temptation to make Christianity something else: a social and cultural legacy, a side in a culture war, a set of attitudes, an aesthetic sensibility, etc. etc.

More than anything else, there is a temptation to shoehorn our own beliefs, priorities, and hobby-horses into the Gospel. I have fallen into this trap many, many times and struggle to escape it.

I think that even the desire to grow deeper in our Faith, to learn more about it, can put us in danger of this. It's all very well to immerse ourselves in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, the teachings of the Church Fathers, the writings of the saints, the writings of the visionaries, etc. etc. But when these become pitted against the teaching of the Pope and bishops, we're in trouble. We get drawn into faction-fighting within the Church, looking inward rather than outward.

One particular temptation I struggle with is the temptation to overlook the importance of human suffering, especially that of the poor.

I have an aesthetic view of life. I tend to worry about things like the decline of poetry or national traditions, rather than homelessness or hunger or poverty.

But reading the Gospel, the Bible, and the lives of the saints-- and even bearing in mind our Lord's rebuke to Judas in the house of Simon the leper-- it seems clear that God cares much more about human suffering than about such rather airy matters.

Although I've known poverty myself, I lack the visceral concern for the poor exhibited by the prophets, our Lord, and the saints. I feel particularly bad about this because I should have inherited it from my father and grandfather, who were always working for the betterment of the poor. I'm currently reading the autobiography of Dorothy Day, and her own concern for the poor is both inspiring and chastening. (This means poverty of all kinds, of course.)

Again and again, I find myself having to "start again with Jesus", to realize how far I've drifted off into my own preoccupations, and to try to open my heart to what he wants from me.

Pope Francis is currently delivering a series of addresses on discernment, so hopefully that will help me with my own "re-centring".

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Tonic of Nihilism

This morning I found myself thinking about a poem by A.E. Housman, a translation from Sophocles that begins: "What man is he that yearneth for length unmeasured of days?" It's an extremely bleak poem, even nihilistic, one that is based on the "wisdom of Silenus" theme.

Put simply, Silenus was a Greek companion of Dionysius who, when a human enquirer asked him what the happiest fate for humans was, answered: "Never to be born, and failing that, to die quickly."

The Sophocles poem that Housman translates has also been translated by Yeats, and is even more savage in this version:

Never to have lived is best, ancient writers say;
Never to have drawn the breath of life, never to have looked into the eye of day;
The second best's a gay goodnight and quickly turn away.

As most people will know, A.E. Housman's poems are full of this sort of nihilism. An epicurean college don who died of a good old age, he wrote many an ode celebrating the death of young men on the battlefield. Surprisingly, his poems were very popular in the trenches of World War One

What puzzles me is that this is the sort of thing I should hate. Although I'm of a melancholy temperament, my outlook is very much pro-life in the most fundamental sense. I think life is a good thing, a good beyond all words. I agree with Chesterton:

There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we ourselves are incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real. It is the fundamental fact of being, as against not being; it is unthinkable, yet we cannot unthink it, though we may sometimes be unthinking about it; unthinking and especially unthanking. For he who has realized this reality knows that it does outweigh, literally to infinity, all lesser regrets or arguments for negation, and that under all our rumblings there is a subconscious substance of gratitude. That light of the positive is the business of the poets, because they see all things in the light of it more than do other men.

I believe this with all my heart. And yet, there is also a certain truth to this bleak, uncompromising verse of Philip Larkin, "Wants":

Beyond all this, the wish to be alone:
However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards
However we follow the printed directions of sex
However the family is photographed under the flag-staff -
Beyond all this, the wish to be alone.

Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs:
Despite the artful tensions of the calendar,
The life insurance, the tabled fertility rites,
The costly aversion of the eyes away from death -
Beneath it all, the desire for oblivion runs.

Another example are the works of Samuel Beckett. As much as I dislike modernism, and especially the bleaker aspects of modernism, there's something in Beckett that draws me. Perhaps it's a sort of relief to have come to the very bottom. There's certainly a stark beauty in his plays (and even in photographs of the man himself).

My own view is that this sort of nihilism, occasionally indulged in, is a healthy tonic-- as long as we remember it's just a tonic. Life is wonderful and precious beyond all words, but it's also full of pain and suffering and grief. Every now and again, articulating the deepest darkness of life-- as the Bible itself does in Ecclesiastes-- is warranted, I think. Only to return once again to the light of gratitude and joy and affirmation.

Here is the whole of the Housman poem:

What man is he that yearneth
For length unmeasured of days?
Folly mine eye discerneth
Encompassing all his ways.
For years over-running the measure
Small change thee in evil wise:
Grief draweth nigh thee; and pleasure,
Behold it is hid from thine eyes.
This to their wage have they
Which overlive their day.
And He that looseth from labor
Doth one with other befriend,
Whom bride nor bridesmen attend,
Song, nor sound of the tabor,
Death, that maketh an end.

Thy portion esteem I highest,
Who was not even begot;
Thine next, being born who diest
And straightway again art not.
With follies light as the feather
Doth Youth to man befall;
Then evils gather together,
There wants not one of them all-
Wrath, envy, discord, strife,
The sword that seeketh life.
And sealing the sum of trouble
Doth tottering Age draw nigh,
Whom friends and kinsfolk fly,
Age, upon whom redouble
All sorrows under the sky.

This man, as me, even so,
Have the evil days overtaken;
And like as a cape sea-shaken
With tempest at earth's last verges
And shock of all winds that blow,
His head the seas of woe,
The thunders of awful surges
Ruining overflow;
Blown from the fall of even,
Blown from the dayspring forth,
Blown from the noon in heaven,
Blown from night and the North.

Monday, September 12, 2022

De Alfonce Tennis (II)

The second part of this review has been cancelled due to lack of interest.

Friday, September 9, 2022

On the Loss of Queen Elizabeth II

Two verses come to mind today. One is Phillip Larkin's four-line tribute to Queen Elizabeth II. I can't easily find when it was written but I know it was in his later years, before his death in 1985:

In times when nothing stood
But worsened, or grew strange,
There was one constant good:
She did not change.

The other is a verse from "The Mountains of Mourne" by Percy French, one that always makes me a bit dewy-eyed. The song is in the form of a letter home from an Irish emigrant to London:

I've seen England's king from the top of a bus
And I've never known him, but he means to know us.
And tho' by the Saxon we once were oppressed,
Still I cheered, God forgive me, I cheered with the rest.
And now that he's visited Erin's green shore
We'll be much better friends than we've been heretofore
When we've got all we want, we're as quiet as can be
Where the Mountains o' Mourne sweep down to the sea.

RIP Queen Elizabeth II. God save King Charles III, and long may his line continue.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Hail to my Namesake

A thousand years ago today, Máel Seachnaill mac Domhnaill passed away, after a long and energetic life, which you can read about here.

It's from him I take my name, so I want to salute his memory now-- even though I rather suspect he would despise me as a wimp who never once swung a sword in battle.