Faith

Pilgrims

Thursday, 28 July, 2016 0 Comments

Justin Gomez says: “This is a video of a couple friends and I walking the Camino de Santiago during the month of August… We started in France and walked about 800 km to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.” Talking of pilgrims, more than one million are now in Kraków to join Pope Francis at the 2016 World Youth Day.


The Feast of Saint James the Great

Monday, 25 July, 2016 0 Comments

Today is the Feast of Saint James, patron of pilgrims. His symbol is the scallop shell, which marks a network of pilgrimage routes that leads to the Romanesque cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where his remains are said to buried. Saint James’ Day is a public holiday in the autonomous communities of the Basque Country and Galicia, and the feast day is celebrated in the Canary Islands, Castile-Leon, La Rioja and Navarre.

This magnificent scallop-shell door handle was spied last week by a pilgrim in the Benedictine Abbey in Schäftlarn, which is 2,208 km from Santiago de Compostela.

The pilgrim door


Under that high and insolent dome

Thursday, 21 July, 2016 0 Comments

There’s a lot of history in the baroque wrinkles of Kloster Schäftlarn, the Bavarian Benedictine abbey where monks continue a tradition that stretches back 1,500 years to what Saint Benedict of Nursia started at Subiaco in 529. According to legend, the Benedictine motto is Ora est labora, which would mean “Pray equals work.”; the actual motto, however, is Ora et labora, meaning “Pray and work.” Daily life in the monastery is governed by The Rule of Saint Benedict, which emphasizes prayer, work, study, hospitality and renewal. The result is a legacy of enduring value.

Kloster Schäftlarn

“This was my conversion to the baroque. Here under that high and insolent dome, under those tricky ceilings; here, as I passed through those arches and broken pediments to the pillared shade beyond and sat, hour by hour, before the fountain, probing its shadows, tracing its lingering echoes, rejoicing in all its clustered feats of daring and invention, I felt a whole new system of nerves alive within me, as though the water that spurted and bubbled among its stones was indeed a life-giving spring.” — Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited


Neither forgiving nor forgetting

Thursday, 26 May, 2016 0 Comments

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi and the Gospel according to St. Matthew (26:26-29) will be quoted during the ceremonies: “Drink of it all of You; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” One of the principles of the Christian tradition is forgiveness, which often implies forgetting, but Laura Kennedy pours cold water on the notion that it’s wise to forgive and forget. Nor is it possible, she writes, because the notion is modeled after God’s divine forgiveness:

“But I’m not God, and neither are you. We are not much like him — or it, or her — at all, and it’s not clear that forgiving because it’s what God would do is a good idea. A policy of blanket forgiveness regardless of how any person might behave toward you may be pious, but it’s also naive and can invite unworthy individuals to take advantage…

…Punishing ourselves with the idea that we ‘should’ be able to forgive is nonsense. When we are truly and unjustly morally injured by others, we owe a debt of magnanimity only to ourselves — to stop considering the wrongdoer, and do what is necessary to heal the injury ourselves.”

“Forgiveness is the final form of love,” said Reinhold Niebuhr, but Laura Kennedy’s “It is not always wise to forgive and forget” challenges the American ethicist’s famous statement. Her’s is a contrarian view and a valuable one.

The Faithful

Note: During Corpus Christi, Catholics take part in a procession after mass, praying and singing as the Blessed Sacrament is held aloft in a monstrance by a member of the clergy. The feast was suppressed in Protestant churches at the Reformation and in one of his postils (homilies) Martin Luther wrote: “I am to no festival more hostile than this one. Because it is the most shameful festival. At no festival are God and his Christ more blasphemed, than on this day, and particularly by the procession.”


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


Amoris Laetitia backgrounder

Friday, 8 April, 2016 0 Comments

Pope Francis to make key marriage pronouncement” is how the BBC puts it in the run up to today’s publication of Amoris Laetitia, the Apostolic Exhortation about Catholic teaching on the family. The text, rumoured to be 250-pages long and divided into 300 points, will be presented by Cardinals Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, at a press conference in Rome. Scheduled to begin at 11:30 Central European Time, the event will be broadcast live via the Vatican’s Television Centre.

Where did the BBC gets its headline? The document has been surrounded by secrecy, with no leaks to the media before its presentation. This makes Amoris Laetitia unusual, seeing that Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, was published by the Italian magazine l’Espresso three days ahead of the official presentation.

What can we expect? The focus will be on the “many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care.” In other words, partners living together before marriage, communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and homosexual unions vs. heterosexual marriage, to name just three areas of contested cohabitation that are facts of 21st century life. The Guardian has already pre-empted liberal disappointment: “Pope Francis to dismay reformists with ‘modern families’ document.” Francis wouldn’t be Francis, however, if he didn’t have a surprise or two up the sleeve of the papal cassock.


Good Friday meditation

Friday, 25 March, 2016 0 Comments

One of the earliest Christian poems in English is The Dream of the Rood. Language note: The Old English word ‘rood’ means ‘crucifix’. Recorded by scribes in the 10th-century Vercelli Book, The Dream of the Rood is carved in Anglo-Saxon runes on the 8th century Ruthwell Cross, and is one of the most valuable works of Old English verse.

The sorrowful quality of the religious rites of Good Friday day reminds us of Christ’s humiliation and suffering on this day. This excerpt from The Dream of the Rood is dedicated to all those who were humiliated and tortured in life. Their brave defiance of “wicked men” inspires us every day.

“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honour me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”

Mammy praying


Shrove Tuesday: Between Carnival and Lent

Tuesday, 9 February, 2016 0 Comments

Strijd tussen Carnaval en Vasten (The Fight Between Carnival and Lent) was the title Pieter Bruegel the Elder gave to this painting, which dates from 1559. Today, Shrove Tuesday, the day when we transition from indulging our appetites to curbing them for 40 days and 40 nights, is a good time to ponder its depiction of feasting and fasting, winter and spring, burlesque and piety, the inn and the church.

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

“The artist lived at a time of great religious upheaval, when the Protestant Reformation was in full swing, and when many of the old customs were coming under threat. The Catholic attachment to Lenten rites of observance was heavily criticised by the Protestant reformers, while the spirit of Carnival was being crushed by those in authority on both sides of the religious divide. Catholic authorities became suspicious of Carnival because its parodies of church ritual seemed suddenly more pointed and subversive after the assaults of Luther and Calvin; while Protestant church leaders, for their part, disliked its spirit of excess and indulgence, distrusted its theatricality, and abominated its pagan origins. Bruegel’s view of the customs that he so vividly recreated is hard to establish, although there is a clue perhaps in the elevated perspective from which he has chosen to look down on the scene. I suspect his attitude to popular faith and festivity may have been one of amused but affectionate detachment — touched, too, by nostalgia for a world that was disappearing even as he painted it.” — Andrew Graham-Dixon


The feast day of Saint Brigid

Monday, 1 February, 2016 0 Comments

“Anois teacht an Earraigh
beidh an lá dúl chun shíneadh,
Is tar eis na féil Bríde
ardóigh mé mo sheol.”

So wrote Raftery (1779 – 1835), the last of the wandering Gaelic poets. His verse says that spring is coming and the days will begin to lengthen, so he’s going to move out in the world once the feast of St Brigid has been celebrated.

Today, 1 February is the Saint Brigid’s Day that Raftery commemorated in Anois teacht an Earraigh (“Now, the coming of the Spring”), but there’s little evidence of the coming of spring where Raftery once roamed. The weather there is anything but vernal. To be sure, there’s “a stretch in the evening”, as the people say, but it’s wild, wet and windy in Mayo. An unscientific analysis of Raftery’s poem then might lead one to conclude that our winters are getting colder, not warmer, as some now claim. The poet certainly suggests that it was quite mild in early February at the beginning of the 19th century.

Why was the wandering poet Raftery so aware of St Brigid’s Feast? Back in his day, the first of February was considered the start of the growth season in rural Ireland. The date had long been held sacred as Imbolg, the Celtic festival of Spring, but after Christianity arrived, Saint Brigid was honoured instead of the pagan gods. The Greatest! She was a fifth-century mystic who became the patron saint of blacksmiths and healers. My mother always attended the “blessing of the scarves” in the local church on this day and, like many believers, she regarded the wearing of such a scarf to be far better protection against a sore throat than any amount of antibiotics. Saint Brigid was also the patron saint of poets, a second reason, perhaps, for Raftery’s mentioning of her feast day.

Being a saint, Brigid was able to perform miracle. Most of hers involved the multiplication of food such as providing butter for the poor, and the not-so poor. It is said that she once caused cows to give milk three times the same day to enable some visiting bishops to have enough to drink. As Irish monks wandered through Europe, they carried their belief in Brigid with them. In England, many churches were dedicated to her, most notably St. Bride’s Church in London’s Fleet Street. Designed by Wren, it was the spiritual home of the printing and media trades for 200 years. And now it’s in cyberspace — where most hacks and ink-stained drudges such as St. Matt (?) hang out.

RTE logo 1961 Apart from the blessed scarves, the last vestiges of the Brigid devotion in Ireland today are plaited crosses fashioned from rushes. In 1961, when the Irish Republic decided to launch a national television service, the St Brigid’s Cross was chosen as its logo and it remained part of the station’s corporate identity for many years before being reduced to such a stylized form as to be all but unrecognizable.

The spiral of the Saint Brigid’s Cross invokes the pattern that the seven stars of the Plough asterism makes in the night sky during the course of a year. The Plough turns through the seasonal year like the hands of a clock and it is now bringing us into the spring of renewal. Anois teacht an Earraigh…


The well of mystery

Sunday, 31 January, 2016 0 Comments

It was my mother’s custom to fill bottles with water from each holy well she visited. “A neighbor from another world / Residing in a jar / Whose limit none has ever seen” is how Emily Dickinson describes the mystical spirit, the magical genii, that was conserved in those bottles. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson contains 1,775 of her compositions. Number 1,400 begins: “What mystery pervades a well!” Here, the well is not just a vital source of water but a spring of spiritual refreshment.

In the fifth verse, Dickinson issues a stern warning about the arrogance of those who fail to respect “nature”, with its “ghost” of the supernatural, and she concludes by addressing a universal remorse: The regret “That those who know her, know her less / The nearer her they get.”

What mystery pervades a well!

What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far–
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar

Whose limit none have ever seen,
But just his lid of glass–
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss’s face!

The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.

Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands next the sea–
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray

But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Going to the well for water: St. Pecaun's well is at the eastern end of the Glen of Aherlow, between Bansha and Cahir

Going to the well for water: St. Pecaun’s Well is at the eastern end of the Glen of Aherlow, between Bansha and Cahir in Tipperary


Laelius de Amicitia

Friday, 8 January, 2016 0 Comments

“The life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living.
Anyone who was given love will always live on in another’s heart.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero (3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC)

Lisvernane church

Cicero concluded his great treatise on Friendship, Laelius de Amicitia, thus:

“We had one house, one table, one style of living; and not only were we together on foreign service, but in our tours also and country sojourns. Why speak of our eagerness to be ever gaining some knowledge, to be ever learning something, on which we spent all our leisure hours far from the gaze of the world? If the recollection and memory of these things had perished with the person, I could not possibly have endured the regret for one so closely united with me in life and affection. But these things have not perished; they are rather fed and strengthened by reflection and memory. Even supposing me to have been entirely bereft of them, still my time of life of itself brings me no small consolation: for I cannot have much longer now to bear this regret; and everything that is brief ought to be endurable, however severe.

This is all I had to say on friendship. One piece of advice on parting. Make up your minds to this: Virtue (without which friendship is impossible) is first; but next to it, and to it alone, the greatest of all things is Friendship.”