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Tag: faith

Film of the Year 2018

Saturday, 29 December, 2018

The award goes to L’Apparition, Xavier Giannoli’s story of a journalist (Vincent Lindon) investigating a young woman (Galatea Bellugi) who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. The film is divided into several chapters, which follow the war-worn hack Jacques as he travels back to France from the Middle East, where a a combat photographer friend died at his side, leaving Jacques with a constant pain in his ears. Out of the blue, he’s summoned to the Vatican and in a beautifully-shot sequence set in its archives, Jacques learns that an 18-year-old girl named Anna claims to have seen an apparition outside her village in the mountains of southern France. Since then, the place has become a pilgrimage destination where believers travel from around the world to witness the visionary that is Anna. The Vatican wants Jacques to find out whether the apparition occurred, or whether she made it all up.

If Dan Brown were in charge of the script, Jacques would quickly uncover a conspiracy involving Satan, the Illuminati, Donald Trump, demons and an evil Latin-speaking cardinal. Xavier Giannoli, however, takes a different path, but he tips his hat to fans of Catholic corruption with the role of Father Borrodine (Patrick d’Assumcao), whose parish has benefitted from Anna’s “vision”, and Anton (Anatole Taubman), a networked Christian guru who hopes to turn the apparition into global marketing gold. Giannoli should have made L’Apparition into a statement about religion in our era, but he opted for a thriller that ends being resolved like a whodunnit. That’s disappointing, but in a year that offered an excess of cinematic rubbish, L’Apparition was a winner.


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


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


Patrician peak

Saturday, 17 March, 2018 0 Comments

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir! (Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all!)

The holiest mountain in Ireland is Croagh Patrick, five miles from the town of Westport and overlooking island-dotted Clew Bay. According to local belief, Saint Patrick fasted for forty days and nights on the summit during Lent in the year 441 AD, and on the last Sunday in July every year (“Reek Sunday”), pilgrims from near and far climb the mountain in honour of Saint Patrick.

In 1972, the great Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka climbed Croagh Patrick and captured the quintessence of rural Irish Catholicism in one iconic image. The kneeling pilgrims pictured are, from left to right, Sean Pheat Mannion, Paddy Kenny and Martin Mannion from Connemara. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam.

Croagh Patrick


The Magi for the Epiphany

Saturday, 6 January, 2018 1 Comment

Something unexpected took place in Bethlehem and the otherworldly magi, who “appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky”, are doing their best to comprehend the incomprehensible. It’s a long way from Bethlehem to Bloomsbury, but that was where William Butler Yeats was living in 1914 when he wrote The Magi. In a mere eight lines, he follows the journey of the three wise men with “ancient faces” that resemble “rain-beaten stones”, who are forever watching and waiting, “all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more” the thing that will satisfy their search for meaning.

Is Yeats saying that the world has yet to discover the meaning of Christ’s brief time on earth? Is it so that we cannot be fulfilled until “the uncontrollable mystery” is decrypted? Today, the quest for the secret of “the uncontrollable mystery” is increasingly fervent. Anthony Levandowski, for example, is the “Dean” of a brand new Silicon Valley religion called Way of the Future that worships artificial intelligence.

The Magi

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

William Butler Yeats

Yeats uses a series of “s”-sounding words — stones, stiff, still, silver, side by side, unsatisfied — to paint a picture of the mysterious Magi, who wear “stiff, painted clothes” and “helms of silver”. His use of alliteration and repetition underpins the characteristics of the “unsatisfied ones”. On this Feast of the Epiphany, let us hope that they, and all of us, find some satisfaction this year.

The Sacred Heart Lamp


Tecla: key saint

Saturday, 23 September, 2017 0 Comments

Santa Tecla is regarded as the patron saint of Tarragona in Catalonia and her September feast day is the town’s major holiday. The event is accompanied by non-stop drumming, firecrackers and spectacular fireworks after dark.

Tecla celebrations

Note: In many Spanish-speaking countries, Santa Tecla is also considered the patron saint of computers and the internet, from the homophony with the Spanish and Catalan word tecla (“key”).

Tradition: Tecla (Thecla) was a saint of the early Christian Church and a follower of Paul the Apostle. She was miraculously saved from burning at the stake by the onset of a storm and then travelled with Paul to Antioch of Pisidia where an aristocrat attempted to rape her. Tecla fought him off and was put on trial for the crime of assaulting a nobleman. She was sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts but was again saved by a miracle, when the female beasts protected her against the male aggressors. She rejoined Paul in Myra and became a healer. Such was her popularity that the physicians in the city lost their livelihoods, so they hired a gang of young men to attempt to spoil her virginity at the age of 90. As they were about to take her, she called out to God and the ground opened up and then closed behind her. She was thus able to go to Rome and die in peace beside Saint Paul’s tomb.


The day of immaculate things

Thursday, 8 December, 2016 1 Comment

For my mother and her mother’s mother, 8 December was the day Christmas really began. And it began with Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with its intricate web of religious relationships that were as real to my mother as if the people involved regularly walked the road in front of our house. She’d patiently instruct a later generation, ignorant of most things spiritual, that today does not refer to the conception of Jesus. Rather, it marks the conception of his mother, Mary. “Wouldn’t the date tell you something?” she’d ask, and point out that the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March marks the conception of Jesus, nine months before Christmas Day. And she’d add, for good measure, “Mary’s birthday is the 8th of September. Put that in your book.”

After Mass, the first great round of Christmas shopping took place and most of the essentials, and some treats, would be purchased. Home again, the bags of “messages” would be unpacked, the apron donned and “tidying” would begin in earnest.

The 8th of December was traditionally the last day of the year for outdoor painting, which meant whitewashing. Weather permitting, families cleaned and then whitewashed the walls around their farmyards to “tress them up” and symbolically purify them for the coming of the saviour. Only when that was done, could the indoor decoration, with berried holly and glittering tinsel, begin.

Everything had to be immaculate, and everything was done on this day, devotedly, devoutly, to ensure that this was so.

Home


The Pattern Day

Monday, 15 August, 2016 0 Comments

In 1810, the Irish antiquary Thomas Crofton-Croker recorded that up to 15,000 people had attended the “pattern” of St. Declan in Ardmore in Waterford. The event is held annually on the 24th of July and central to the occasion is a visit to St. Declan’s Well. In her thesis submitted in 1988 to the Free University of Amsterdam for a master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology, Siobhán Lincoln noted that, “Various cures have been attributed to it, and the Saint is reputed to have quenched his thirst there en route to Cashel.”

Ireland has thousands of “holy” or “blessed” wells. These ancient water sources were attributed mystical powers in pagan times and the related customs were incorporated by Christianity when it arrived on the island 1,600 years ago. Christianity then assigned a “patron saint” to each well and thus began the custom of the “pattern day” (from the pronunciation of pátrún or patron). The “pattern day”, in other words, is the feast day of a parish’s patron saint and entails a pilgrimage to the well and the saying of specific prayers in a certain sequence. The wells are too small for bathing in and, anyway, the water is cold so bottles are filled with the “miraculous” liquid, which is often applied to wounds or sprinkled on children, travellers and animals for their well-being.

Ethnologists describe patterns as “community generated festivals” or as “the dramatisation and sacralisation of rural Ireland’s own social structure”. This tradition of religious practice and the carnivalesque will be continued in Ballylanders today, the Feast of the Assumption. Our thoughts are with all those doing the “rounds of the Well.”

The rounds of the Well


Listeners at the wall of stone and hope

Thursday, 5 May, 2016 1 Comment

“Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” — G.K. Chesterton

Knock

“Every mental act is composed of doubt and belief, but it is belief that is the positive, it is belief that sustains thought and holds the world together.”
Søren Kierkegaard


The fourth Station: Faith

Friday, 27 November, 2015 0 Comments

When pilgrims visit Saint Sedna’s Well in the grounds of Clonbeg Church in the heart of the Glen of Aherlow, they tie a piece of cloth on the overhanging tree and bless themselves with its water. Faith and folklore have it that this water will cure eye ailments.

Saint Sedna's Well

My mother’s faith was a theatre of belief and the stage props included places of pilgrimage, holy wells, blessed medals, prayer books, rosary beads, candles and relics. Her spiritualism had all the hallmarks of a Catholicism that was deeply influenced by the elements and the environment. In this way, it harkened back to an ancient time when other-worldly powers could be called upon to help with suffering that no earthly treatment could heal. This confidence in “cures” was also rooted in the memories of the poverty when when people could not afford conventional medical treatment. Even when the rising tide of modest prosperity that swept over rural Ireland in the second half of the 20th century and provided greater access to doctors and hospitals, Saint Sedna’s and Saint Pecaun’s holy wells always offered hope when the diagnosis was grim.

Faith was the glue that held my mother’s notion of community together. Funerals were occasions of grief, of course, but the murmured rosary declared by the bereaved and their friends helped to soften the loss. Happy occasions were enriched by mass and precious memories were kept alive with the help of lighted candles. More candles were brought out when exams threatened or illness occurred. No trip could be made without a sprinkle of holy water on those leaving the house.

Faith was also an occasion for excursions to Knock, Lough Derg, Rome and Lourdes. It was a bond between the believers and it gave them an excuse to talk and laugh. Faith was friendship.

Above all, faith provided the strength to endure. Regardless of the hardships and the humiliations, faith gave comfort. Yes, misfortune was complained about, but it had to be “offered up” and the prayers continued to be said and the candles were lit. The faith was kept.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Writing.


Stations of a life in 14 photographs

Monday, 23 November, 2015 0 Comments

The handbag my mother took with her on the last journey of her life contained a variety of objects that encapsulated her character. Along with the practical — tissues, mints, vital phone numbers scribbled on scraps of paper — there was the metaphysical: a rosary beads, a prayer book, holy medals and a memorial card of her late husband. This combination of faith and practicality made her the person that she was. The contents of that handbag reflected a personality conscious of the detail of the everyday and devoted to a traditional Irish spiritualism that is as ancient as the water from sacred wells and as modern as using a mobile phone to find out for whom the latest bell has tolled.

Along with Mass, the Rosary, graveyard visitations and pilgrimages to Knock Shrine and Lough Derg, my mother’s canon of devoutness included the Stations of the Cross, with their depictions of Christ’s sufferings and death. As Piero Marini, Archbishop of Martirano in Calabria, puts it, these 14 images “shed light on the tragic role of the various characters involved, and the struggle between light and darkness, between truth and falsehood, which they embody.” In the spirit of the Stations of the Cross, the coming fortnight here will be given over to meditations on 14 photographs that reflect key aspects of my mother’s life. We begin tomorrow with Work.

The handbag contents