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Faith

Miraculous medals

Thursday, 6 December, 2018

During her lifetime, my mother supplied a constant stream of medals, some of them “miraculous”, it was claimed. She knew that they’d be needed some day and so it came to pass. And the medals have, indeed, worked miracles. One of the results is that the first drop of stout since the far-off sweltering days of July will be tasted tonight.

As Dostoyevsky said: “Since man cannot live without miracles, he will provide himself with miracles of his own making.”

Stout miracle


Adventus

Saturday, 1 December, 2018

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” and the central theme of Advent is the coming of Christ to earth. The Advent season begins tomorrow and it’s observed by Christian churches as a time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.

The Coming by R.S. Thomas, a 20th century Anglican poet-priest from Wales, centres on a conversation between the Father and Son about the suffering of humanity. Thomas invokes the hardship of life in a small farming community in rural Wales, but his “scorched land” could refer to any country torn by conflict: Syria, Yemen, Ukraine…

Thomas imagines the Son’s response to the suffering and pain the Father asks him to look at, but the decision is reserved until the final line. Looking at the “bare hill” and the “thin arms” of the hungry people, the Son finally responds: “Let me go there.”

The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

R.S. Thomas (1913 – 2000)


Today is Saint Edmund’s Day. It’s personal

Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

According to Bernard Burke’s Vicissitudes of Families, the banner of Saint Edmund, with its three crowns on a blue background, was among those borne during the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. The bearers included Maurice FitzGerald, Robert Fitz-Stephen, Redmund Fitz-Hugh, Meiler FitzHenry and Robert Fitz-Bernard. From then on, Saint Edmund’s banner became the standard for Ireland during the Plantagenet era. By the way, Richard de Clare and Raymond le Gros, who featured prominently in the Norman invasion, dedicated a chapel of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin to Saint Edmund.

The banner of Saint Edmund Who was Saint Edmund? Well, when the Great Heathen Army advanced on East Anglia in 869, the obscure King Edmund led the resistance and he met his death on 20 November at a place known as Haegelisdun, after he refused the Vikings’ demand that he renounce Christ. They beat him, tied him to a tree, shot him with arrows and then beheaded him on the orders of Ivar the Boneless and his brother Ubba. Legend has it that his head was then thrown into the forest but was found by searchers after following the cries of a wolf that was calling out, in Latin, Hic, Hic, Hic (“Here, Here, Here”.)

The name Edmund contains the elements ēad (“prosperity, riches”) and mund (“protector”). The Irish Gaelic forms are Éamon, Éaman and Éamann. The corresponding Anglicised forms are Eamon and Eamonn.

Your blogger’s grandfather on the maternal side was Edmund O’Donnell. He is buried in the graveyard of Lisvernane Church in the Glen of Aherlow, County Tipperary.


All Souls’ Day

Friday, 2 November, 2018

“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

All Souls' Day

One of the key figures in the Harlem Renaissance, a literary movement in 1920s New York, was Claude McKay. His work ranged from verse celebrating rural life in Jamaica to poems challenging authority in America. We remember him today, All Souls’ Day.

I Know My Soul

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

Claude McKay (1889 – 1948)


Believe in miracles

Thursday, 11 October, 2018

Healing wells were traditional shrines dedicated to the miraculous powers of water, which is the fons et origo of life itself. They were incorporated by Christianity and country people still make pilgrimages to the holy wells to seek relief for a variety of ills from rheumatism to cancer. A great many wells are supposed to cure eye problems and it’s customary for the petitioner to leave a token piece of clothing, usually hung on a bush or a tree, so that the healing power of the water can act through it.

Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

At the holy well


Necessary superstition

Monday, 3 September, 2018

Writing in UnHeard, Giles Fraser recalls a visit to Fátima and his impressions of that place of pilgrimage: “This is the sort of religion that so-called ‘thinking people’ tend to dismiss scornfully as popular superstition — ‘the religion of feeble minds’ — as Edmund Burke once called it. But I have something of a soft spot for this sort of superstition, and regret that I have been distanced from it by a ploddingly empirical, secular education that means I find it all but impossible to suspend my disbelief.”

That’s a snippet from Why we need more superstition. Fraser places the enigma of Fátima in historical and political context by pointing out that the First Portuguese Republic, which overthrew the monarchy in 1910, was enthusiastically hostile to the Catholic Church and ordered the closure of its schools and monasteries and banned the ringing of church bells. “Fátima was religious populism springing up as a groundswell of resistance against the totalising ideology of state atheism,” he notes, adding: “And there is something of a class aspect to all of this. The Fátima pilgrims were, and continue to be, generally working class. Their cultural despisers are generally middle class.”

For my mother, Knock in the West of Ireland was Fátima and the ritual of visiting the shrine, the “devotions” observed there and the bottling of the Holy Water were all part of a belief system that she believed protected her and those she loved from the many threats that faced them. It meant something. It was part of being human.

Knock


Happy Pattern Day!

Wednesday, 15 August, 2018

The “drawing in” of the hay was a typical activity around the Pattern Day and a trip to the meadow on the horse-drawn “float” was a really big adventure. On board (right to left): Madeleine, Jacqueline, Helen, Mary, Eamonn and Michael John. Head and shoulders above us all is Father, in his prime.

On the float

Background: Ireland has thousands of “holy” or “blessed” wells. These ancient water sources were attributed mystical powers in pagan times and the related customs and beliefs were incorporated by Christianity when it arrived on the island some 1,600 years ago. The converts assigned a “patron saint” to each well and thus began the custom of the “Pattern Day” (from the pronunciation of the Irish Pátrún, “patron”). The “Pattern Day”, then, is the feast day of a parish’s patron saint and entails a pilgrimage to the sacred well and the saying of specific prayers in a certain sequence. Bottles are filled with the “miraculous” water, which is often applied to wounds or sprinkled on children, visitors, travellers and animals for their well-being.

Ethnologists describe patterns as “community generated festivals”. In 1810, Crofton-Croker counted up to 15,000 people at the Pattern of St. Declan, which is still held annually on the 24th of July in Ardmore, County Waterford. This tradition of vernacular religious practice and the carnivalesque continues in Ballylanders, County Limerick, where the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption, is the local Pattern Day.


Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word

Monday, 16 April, 2018 0 Comments

German director Wim Wenders will be back at the Festival de Cannes (8 to 19 May) with a new documentary titled Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word. According to Wenders, it’s “a personal journey with Pope Francis rather than a traditional biographical film about him. A rare co-production with the Vatican, the pope’s ideas and his message are central to this documentary, which sets out to present his work of reform and his answers to today’s global questions from death, social justice, immigration, ecology, wealth inequality, materialism, and the role of the family.”

Note: Today is the 91st birthday of retired Pope Benedict XVI. Felix dies Natalis tibi!


Buona Pasqua!

Sunday, 1 April, 2018 0 Comments

Easter Sunday dawns to the choir of Clare College Cambridge celebrating the Resurrection. Aurora lucis rutilat is a unique example of Venetian polychoral technique in motet form by the Franco-Flemish composer Orlande de Lassus. Happy Easter!


Sabato Santo

Saturday, 31 March, 2018 0 Comments

Questo è il giorno che arriva prima o poi nella nostra vita
quando la tenebra sembra vincere sulla luce,
ogni porta è chiusa e sbarrata,
il silenzio inghiotte ogni voce
e la morte sembra aver l’ultima parola.
Ma noi speriamo la luce al di là della porta chiusa!

Enzo Bianchi

Ma noi speriamo la luce al di là della porta chiusa!

For our friend Jim Martin, because we all hope for the light beyond the closed door.


The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John

Friday, 30 March, 2018 0 Comments

This powerful image of by Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen was painted around 1624 for a Catholic “hidden church” in the city of Utrecht, where Catholicism was tolerated but not encouraged. The colour combinations and the light evoke Ter Brugghen’s experience of Caravaggio in Rome, but the angular figure of Christ and the reverential figures of Mary and John are very much his own. The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John expresses the devotional intensity that Good Friday has evoked down the centuries.

Good Friday