Tag: Catholic

Houellebecq on restoration beyond Notre-Dame

Saturday, 20 April, 2019

It has been described as “an ecumenical, conservative and, in some views, neoconservative religious journal.” It’s First Things and among the contents of the May issue is an essay titled “Restoration,” which is an “exchange of views on religion between Michel Houellebecq and Geoffroy Lejeune.” What can one say about Houellebecq? He’s a French author of international fame whose latest novel is Serotonin. There’s much, much more, of course, but that’s sufficient for now, and Geoffroy Lejeune? He’s the editor of Valeurs actuelles, a French conservative weekly news magazine published in Paris.

Their conversation took place quite some time before Monday’s catastrophic fire in Notre-Dame cathedral, but whenever Houellebecq is involved, prescience is to be expected. Snippets:

Houellebecq: “In a Romanesque cloister I feel at peace, connected to the divinity. With Gothic cathedrals, it’s already something different. Beauty takes on a character there that Kant will later call sublime (beauty accompanied by the sensation of danger, such as a great storm at sea, or a thunderstorm high in the mountains). In a baroque church it’s no good at all, I could just as well be in a palace, or at the theater.”

Lejeune: “If you choose to go by architecture, there is indeed a striking aspect: In the time of the cathedrals, monumental places of worship were erected and their construction lasted longer than a man’s lifetime. The cathedrals of Chartres, Reims, and Paris were built in 75, 134, and 182 years, respectively. At that time, preference was not for the minuscule. By comparison, Trump Tower in New York was designed, constructed, and delivered in four years, between 1979 and 1983. You can say that motorization, technological progress, and materials explain this difference. So much for the business angle, but when we see the ugliness of modern churches, these unhappy cubes of faded cement, sometimes so hideous, which hardly ever tower above the horizon traced by the surrounding houses, one understands above all that what differentiates us from the Christian builders is ‘functional thinking,’ instead of dedicating the construction to God. It was better before, when the supernatural was seen everywhere, even in the cathedral spires pointing toward heaven.”

The big question posed by First things is: Can the Catholic Church regain her former splendour? Lejeune feels it probably can but the road will be long: “Today, the Church in Europe has shrunk back into certain hard cores, sociologically very homogeneous – a social class – cut off from the majority of souls. Its embourgeoisement is perhaps, in the end, the greatest scourge that strikes the Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”

Houellebecq, noted for his pessimism, is more optimistic: “Can the restoration of Catholicism to its former splendour repair our damaged civilization? Here we are in agreement – it’s much simpler, almost self-evident. The answer is ‘Yes.'”


Shrovetide

Monday, 4 March, 2019

“Shrove” is an interesting word. Has its origins in the Catholic practice of confessing one’s sins and being absolved or “shriven” of them. The word comes ultimately from the Latin scribere “to write”, which is the source of the English “scribe” and the Christian meaning evolved via the sense of “to prescribe penances”. The three days prior to Ash Wednesday are known as Shrovetide and, traditionally, it was a time of eating, drinking music making and card playing. Then came the fasting, one of those ancient rites in which food intake is limited and physical activities are reduced to the point where the person fasting enters a state of quiescence comparable, symbolically, to death. Today, it’s much less extreme, but if the “digital detox” trend ever gains traction in Lent, phone addicts who give up their addiction for the required 40 days and 40 nights may enter a state comparable, symbolically, to death.

Shrove Monday is an observance falling on the Monday before Ash Wednesday every year and it’s part of diverse Carnival celebrations that take place in many parts of the Christian world. Shrove Monday (Rosenmontag) is central to German, Swiss and Austrian Carnival calendar. In the Rhineland, as part of the pre-Lenten Fasching (Feast of Fools) festival , it’s a day of parades, marching, revelry and the display of satirical floats that poke fun at the political class.


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 Silence of the Scorsese

Saturday, 4 March, 2017 0 Comments

In the 17th century, two Portuguese Jesuits travel to Japan to find their mentor, who has disappeared and supposedly renounced his faith. The Japanese authorities, fearful of colonial influence, have outlawed Christianity, which makes the priests’ mission mortally dangerous. In his 1966 novel, Silence, Shusaku Endo explored the many intricate, terrible torments feudal Japan devised to kill priests. Snippet:

“Two trees, made into the form of a cross, were set at the water’s edge. Ichizo and Mokichi were fastened to them. When it was night and the tide came in, their bodies would be immersed in the sea up to the chin. They would not die at once, but after two or even three days of utter physical and mental exhaustion they would cease to breathe.”

The plight of those “hidden Christians” (隠れキリシタン Kakure Kirishitan) portrayed by Endo was one of the reasons Martin Scorsese decided to turn the book into his latest film. The severity of his Silence is complete. The priests who survive capture and torture are forced to live as Japanese subjects, with Japanese wives, and are finally buried as Buddhists. Their notions of religious community and cultural identity are consumed by the flames of the pyre. But there is a ray of hope as Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) secretly gives absolution one last time to a hidden Christian.

Silence has not done well at the box office and the Oscar for Cinematography category in which it was nominated, went to La La Land. Still, it is a powerful statement about faith and despair and the performances of Issey Ogata as the Inquisitor and Tadanobu Asano as the Interpreter are stellar. In time, people will come to treasure Silence.


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


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.”


On The Birthday Of Synge

Saturday, 16 April, 2016 0 Comments

The playwright and poet John Millington Synge was born on this day in 1871. A key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre, he is best known for his play The Playboy of the Western World, which caused riots in Dublin during its opening run at the Abbey. Although he came from a privileged Anglo-Irish background, Synge’s writings are mainly concerned with the Catholic culture of rural Ireland and with the earthy spiritualism of its world view. Synge developed Hodgkin’s disease, which was then untreatable, and he died shortly before his 38th birthday.

On A Birthday

Friend of Ronsard, Nashe, and Beaumont,
Lark of Ulster, Meath, and Thomond,
Heard from Smyrna and Sahara
To the surf of Connemara,
Lark of April, June, and May,
Sing loudly this my Lady-day.

John Millington Synge (16 April 1871 — 24 March 1909)

The Playboy of the Western World


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.


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…