‘By the Grace of God’: A real-life tale of sex abuse in the French church
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Newman’s long life in brief
A Perfect Peace: Newman Saint for Our Time by Bishop Fintan Monahan (Veritas, €7.99) Newman: A short Biography by Michael Collins(Messenger Publications, €9.95) The canonisation of John Henry Newman last Sunday had brought his life and spirituality before a great many people who were perhaps only vaguely aware of their true complexity. Many of these people are interested in learning more about a man who contributed so much both to the Church and to the culture of his times. Frustrated This is especially true in Ireland, where his great gifts, however, were not fully appreciated by many of the hierarchy, or indeed the middle-class Catholics who had so many hopes for the Catholic university he came to establish, hopes which were frustrated largely by the government at the time, refusing the new university a charter to grant degrees. Joyce’s degree, for instance, though he studied at Newman House, was granted by the Royal University of Ireland, a sort of umbrella body covering a variety of institutions who sent in their students to be examined. These two short books will provide those many people who would like to know the essential facts about Saint John Henry. Indeed, these kind of short books and booklets – which only a handful of publishers offer these days – play an important part in the prayer life of many people, who would be quite flummoxed by say the likes of John Moriarty. Fintan Monahan is the Bishop of Killaloe. He has over some 30 years devoted time to collecting the books of Newman (which in itself is a task, as these pages indicated last week) and thought to understanding their author, as a “saint for our time”. Collins rightly emphasises another side of the saint, namely his great tenderness and compassion” But Newman is rather like the true Christian St Paul alludes to, he is “all things to all men” – few kinds of people seem to be outside the circle of his understanding, from traditionalist to gay Catholics. This little book will help many people begin their own explorations of the new saint. Fr Michael Collins, now retired for health reason from work in the diocese in Dublin, has spent many years in making aspects of the Catholic Church and its history and beliefs accessible to the very widest kind of modern audience . As Newman was a pre-eminent scholar and teacher, Collins rightly emphasises another side of the saint, namely his great tenderness and compassion. He hopes, he says, that his book will provide “a window into the heart and mind of the shoe-shine boy who wound up a saint”. The post Newman’s long life in brief appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
The making of a saint – in her own words
The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila: 
A Biography by Carlos Eire (Princeton University Press, £21.00) The Autobiography of Teresa of Avila is a rightly famous book, and remains widely read. But the title is slightly misleading, for the text was composed not at the free volition of the saint herself, but at the insistence of the officers of the Inquisition into whose pious hands she had fallen, due to the suspicions that many had in her time of women of powerful spirituality and intelligence. The document she wrote was not for publication; some members of the Inquisition who read it thought it should be destroyed. The book was not burned, but neither was the saint. Shared In this short book, an eminent Spanish historian who teaches at Yale, has been asked (as part of an ongoing series from Princeton on “the lives of great religious books” ) to write a biography, not of the saint (there are many of them), but of the autobiography itself, how came into existence, what it had to say and why, and how in the end it came to be shared with the wider world, and continues to hold countless readers in thrall, with as Dr Eire outlines a bewildering range of interpretations, depending on the critics view. It is a fascinating story, and one that casts a great deal of light on the manner in which the bureaucracy of the Church goes about the task of dealing with individuals of exceptional holiness. Saints are in a way like everyone else, they have their flaws and faults. But they have also what so many others lack, the quality of heroic virtue. It is, however, how they deal with those flaws, those faults, and overcome them, that make them so different. In the end the suspect of the Inquisition has been elevated to be a Doctor of the Church, an indication of just how radically attitudes can change over time. “In fact,” Dr Eire concludes, “it could be argued that few other texts propose as optimistic and evaluation of human existence and human potential, or as eloquent a defence of the power of love over evil and out own short comings. This is what makes a great religious book.” The post The making of a saint – in her own words appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Behind the door of No. 10: a satiric view of Brexit
The Cockroach by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape, £7.99/€11.00) Felix
 Larkin Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, it often seems that events have overtaken satire – indeed, have made satire redundant. However, the distinguished author of such contemporary masterpieces as Atonement and Amsterdam, Ian McEwan has produced a novella which will stand as the definitive satirical commentary on the political disaster that has befallen our neighbours in the United Kingdom. In a mirror image of the conceit in Kafka’s Metamorphosis (in which Gregor Samsa awakes to find that he has been transformed into a beetle), McEwan has cockroaches take over the bodies of an ineffectual British prime minister, Jim Sams, and his cabinet in order to implement a bizarre policy initiative which is stalled – because of its monumental stupidity. That policy is Reversalism, and what it seeks to do is reverse the flow of money so that employees pay to work and when they go shopping, they are given in cash the retail price of everything they buy. They would then use that money to enable themselves to continue working. The policy has been endorsed by a referendum, but the cockroaches fear that it is going to be abandoned and are impelled to act in order to save it. Once they have invaded the bodies of the cabinet members, nothing is allowed to stand in the way of putting the policy into effect. Dissenters are mendaciously defamed and sidelined, constitutional sleights-of-hand are resorted to, the misgivings of allies overseas are contemptuously dismissed and the assistance of an unscrupulous US President is bought. When the policy has been successfully foisted upon the country, the cockroaches abandon the human bodies they have colonised and return to their natural state – leaving the humans, now restored to their bodies, to deal with the mess created by Reversalism. Dissenters are mendaciously defamed and sidelined” And what motivated the cockroaches to act as they did? It is all explained at the end of the novella: “Where they [humans] have embraced poverty, filth, squalor, we [the cockroaches] have grown in strength. And by tortuous means, and much experiment and failure, we have come to know the preconditions for such human ruin.” The message is that the cockroaches embraced Revivalism in order to weaken the fabric of human society, and that is clearly McEwan’s view of the likely effect of Brexit in the UK. He does, however, assure us in a witty disclaimer that “this novella is a work of fiction...and any resemblance to actual cockroaches, living or dead, is entirely coincidental”. The post Behind the door of No. 10: a satiric view of Brexit appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Listening to the edges of the Church
The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region may seem almost irrelevant to many Irish Catholics: sure, Pope Francis talks often of growth in the Church coming from the peripheries, but there are peripheries and there are peripheries. Austen Ivereigh’s piece ‘When the Amazon meets the Tiber’ should help banish such scepticism, working  well too as an introduction to, for instance, Bro. Mark O’Connor’s regular ‘Letters from the Synod’ on Sadly, suspicion, scorn and naked racism have marked far too much coverage of the synod in the English-speaking world, with perhaps the most alarming comment coming from Rome-based historian Roberto de Mattei. Through her @dianemontagna Twitter account, Diane Montagna of reported him as saying at a summit in Rome: “The Amazon Synod does not propose to civilize the savages but to make the civilized savages.” Commenting on this, D.W. Lafferty remarked on his @rightscholar account: “What a fool. I’m glad this #AmazonRoundtable is happening, because the darkest corners of the Church are being exposed to the sunlight.” Much distress and indignation being stirred up around the synod has related to a couple of statues of pregnant women, one of whom native Amazonians and missionaries who work with them have explicitly identified as ‘Our Lady of the Amazon’. With Fr Gerald Murray being especially scathing on EWTN about these images, Adam Rasmussen tweeted from @Chrysologus to put his finger on an obvious problem with lazy Western critiques. “In attacking the indigenous statue of Our Lady pregnant, this priest redeploys centuries-old Protestant apologetics against Catholic veneration of statues as ‘idol worship’ and superstition. He literally attacks his fellow Catholics with an anti-Catholic trope! Stunning,” he writes. “This is an example of colonialistic ideology within the Church,” he continues, “where Amazonian Catholics are treated as ‘pagans’ because they had the audacity to receive the Gospel into their own cultural matrix instead of imitating European forms.” Pope Francis talks often of growth in the Church coming from the peripheries” Pedro Gabriel’s ‘Our Lady of the Amazon, Pray for Us’ on is particularly valuable on this affair and should be read in full by anyone sincerely interested in these matters; his previous post ‘Paganism in the Vatican? Hermeneutic of suspicion at its peak’ is worth reading too, as is Nathan Turowsky’s ‘Inculturation and syncretism’. “Early missionaries found that Celtic paganism had a very strong relationship to its geographical place; the worship sites of Celtic polytheists, like the ‘high places’ of the Hebrew Bible, had religious meaning of their own even apart from the gods with whom they were associated,” Turowksy writes. “To ease the transition to Christianity, the missionaries built churches on many of these sacred sites. Protestants tend to regard this with suspicion and neopagans see it as appropriative. However, nobody thinks that it would somehow have been better if the Church had simply declared Year Zero and systematically obliterated every trace of Britain and Ireland’s preexisting culture.” Irish Catholics in particular should be wary of shouting down suggestions that the particular Faith traditions and cultural languages of Amazonian Catholics should be looked on askance, given our own history; viewed in Antiquity as incestuous cannibals from the edge of the world, the Christianised Irish famously helped rejuvenate the early medieval Church in a distinctly Irish style that wasn’t always comfortably received.   **** Speaking of distinctively Irish styles, fans of podcasts can do far worse than listen to some fine commentary on St John Henry Newman by Fr Eamonn Conway with the ‘Come and See Inspirations’  team at, and by Rachel Sherlock and Maria Connolly who talk about Newman and sainthood through friendship at From further afield, it’s worth listening to Bishop Robert Barron’s many lectures on St John Henry at while his episode on Newman in Catholicism: The Pivotal Players can be watched on Elsewhere, Fr Erich Przywara’s prescient 1955 article ‘Newman: Saint and Modern Doctor of the Church?’ is well worth a read at, as is Mark Gallagher’s ‘Newman as Novelist’ at, along with pretty much everything at the wonderful, an example of how to help educate and evangelise today’s Catholics. The post Listening to the edges of the Church appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
At least we’ve on from eugenics…maybe
A recurring line from the Twilight Zone movie came back to me last week: “You want to see something really scary?” Eugenics: Science’s Greatest Scandal (BBC4) over the last two Thursdays made for very scary viewing. We’re familiar with eugenics, pure race theory and the like from Nazi ideology, but the programmes showed that the seeds of it began in Britain. Journalist Angela Saini and Adam Pearson were in no doubt about the ugliness and evil consequences of this patronising an arrogant ideology, where the individual was sacrificed, ostensibly for the good of society and the gene pool. We heard the ideology described as “bizarre”, “creepy”, “this terrible idea”, “malicious and terrifying”. The language of the eugenicists was repulsive, with quotes like “imbecile girl”, “mentally defective family”, “parasitic race”, “superior stocks” and “racial hygiene”. Prominent figures were in the dock – apparently Churchill was a fan of eugenics, at least before World War II, and several prominent scientists developed and promoted it, even though it took the Nazis to follow it to the conclusion that the weak, infirm and disabled should be experimented on and murdered. Likewise with Marie Stopes (she of the clinics) – she promoted birth control for the poor so that they wouldn’t reproduce so much. I was glad to see that the Catholic Church and some MPs successfully campaigned to halt forced sterilisation in Britain in the early 20th Century. It’s easy to see the moral failures of the past and be smug about it, when maybe we should just be glad we’ve moved on and learned lessons, but the programme suggested that maybe we haven’t moved on. At the start of last week’s episode we saw protests from the ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’ campaign – against the aborting of babies because they have Downs syndrome. In fact abortion had been used in Britain in the past when efforts to stop the ‘mentally defective’ from procreating didn’t work. And it definitely rang a bell when I heard of two doctors casually certifying a woman, Mabel Cooper, as unfit and incarcerating her into an institution – unbelievably in 1957. Eventually she got out, received an honorary degree and ran a disability rights campaign. That latest episode dealt with more contemporary manifestations of eugenic ideology, for example the worrying news that it continued after the second world war and fed into forced sterilisations, apartheid and far-right ideology (do media people ever worry about the far left?). The eugenicist attitudes of birth control advocate Margaret Sanger (she of Planned Parenthood) was also outlined. Fears were also expressed about modern scientific developments, especially non-invasive  screening of babies in the womb – leading to the destruction of most unborn babies diagnosed with Downs syndrome (90% in the UK we were told). Relevance Finally, compliments to RTÉ and EWTN for live coverage of the canonisation ceremony for Cardinal Newman. It was quite an event, with significant relevance for Ireland, and also it wasn’t until the live coverage that I got a handle on the four holy women that were canonised as well. The Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio 1) was early into the breach two Fridays ago with an informative interview with Newman biographer Fr Dermot Mansfield. He described the saint as a man of integrity, truth, humanity and prayer. Last weekend’s Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 featured a thorough and very positive exploration of Newman’s life and influence. They reported one priest claiming that Newman would have been a ‘remainer’ in relation to Brexit – a rather large and divisive assumption! This was followed by a dignified service from the Birmingham Oratory, where Newman ministered. This newspaper’s Managing Editor editor Michael Kelly contributed to Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster), pointing out how the gathering in Rome illustrated the universality of the Church, stressing how Newman can be a unifying figure in a Church with divisions and drawing attention to the “hastily arranged visit”of an Irish Government representative to the event. On Sunday Morning Live (BBC1) Bishop John Arnold of Salford emphasised how Newman was both intellectual and pastoral in his approach. Later on Songs of Praise (BBC One, Sunday) Rev. Kate Bottley visited Birmingham Oratory where we got a look at Newman’s study, left as it was when he died. Fr Anton Guziel pointed out how Neman ministered to the rich and the very poor. I hope all the coverage inspires more people to look into the saint’s writings.   **** Pick of the Week   Mass RTÉ1, Sunday, October 20, 11 am Mass for Mission Sunday with music from the choir of the National Centre for Liturgy, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Co-celebrants are Fr Frank Conlisk and Fr Martin Smith. Father Delaney, Silent Witness RTÉ1, Thursday, October 24, 10.15 pm Joe Duffy narrates the story of a Dublin priest and amateur filmmaker, Fr Jack Delaney, who captured all walks of Irish life in the days before television.   Gardeners’ World BBC2, Friday, October 25, 8 am This special programme takes a close look at the role that plants and gardening play in mental and physical wellbeing, exploring the idea that gardening is good for you. The post At least we’ve on from eugenics…maybe appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Universal charity in time of war and ‘peace’
A History of the Irish Red Cross by Shane Lehane (Four Courts Press, €45.00)   Following the estab-lishment of the Red Cross in Geneva in 1863, the British branch was founded in 1870 as the ‘British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War’ and reconstituted as the British Red Cross in 1905. Red Cross activity in Ireland prior to the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 was carried out under the auspices of the British Red Cross. The earliest reference to this activity in Ireland dates from 1907, when 12 Red Cross branches were established across the country. World War I provided an enormous stimulus to the development of the Red Cross in Ireland. A great number of Irishmen enlisted with the British armed forces and many Irishwomen mobilised to help the men and the Red Cross provided the ideal opportunity to do so. Theirs was a significant contribution to the war effort. Between October 1914 and February 1919, 46 hospital ships arrived in Dublin with some 20,000 patients. These were transported to the 30 military hospitals by the Red Cross and St John Ambulance Brigade. Apart from vast quantities of clothes and other textiles, the Red Cross also sent £40,000 worth of dressings and other medical supplies to the battle fronts. Challenge The 1916 Easter Rising provided the Red Cross with an unexpected challenge. During the Rising over 400 people were killed and 3,000 were wounded, combatants and non-combatants. Despite the danger to themselves, members of the Red Cross were on the streets during the week-long fight assisting civilians, insurgents, the police and British soldiers alike. They were assisted by members of Cumann na mBan, who also wore the Red Cross insignia. The war of independence effectively ended the first phase of the Red Cross in Southern Ireland. According to a 1922 report some 100,000 people were reduced to destitution and more than 1,000 buildings were destroyed during the hostilities. The American Committee for Relief in Ireland and the Irish White Cross were founded to provide funding and relief in the war’s aftermath. Apart from attempting to cope with the widespread distress, the Irish White Cross also took responsibility for the role normally carried out by the Red Cross. The earliest reference to this activity in Ireland dates from 1907” The Red Cross was re-established as the Irish Red Cross Society in the Irish Free State in 1939. It soon became a constituent element in the overall plan prepared by the government for the ‘Emergency’. The Red Cross organised classes in first aid and nursing.  From an Emergency Hospitals’ Supplies Depot, it distributed about a million dressings and bandages within Ireland and overseas, as well as providing the medical supplies required by a hospital it established at Saint-Lo in France (where Samuel Beckett helped out). Most importantly the Red Cross established a national blood transfusion service and financed an anti-tuberculosis campaign. It facilitated the reception of $500,000 worth of aid donated by the American Red Cross Society for relief in Ireland. Lesley Bean de Bara was chairman of the Red Cross from 1950 to 1975. She successfully instigated a period of re-organisation and development. A Junior Red Cross, a Water-Safety section and Geriatric Services were established. Under her stewardship the society provided care for Hungarian refugees in 1956, and support for an Irish Peace-Keeping Mission in the Congo as well as relief to the Congo and Nigeria/Biafra in the 1960s. In Northern Ireland the ‘Troubles’, as they came to be called, coincided with de Barra’s time at the helm. She placed the Red Cross at the centre of delivering assistance to the families and refugees following the upheavals in Belfast. Notoriously some of the funds it transferred were used to purchase arms for the Provisional IRA. Subsequent investigations failed to establish who was responsible for the misappropriation of these monies and this left a cloud of suspicion hanging over the Red Cross leadership of the day. Infighting Dr Lehane describes infighting between staff, branches and members of the organisation, difficult and strained relations between the Red Cross and various national administrations and cognate organisations and ever-reoccurring financial challenges, owing to members’ lack of enthusiasm for fund-raising. However, he does not allow his discussion of these issues to obscure the compassion and generosity of the members of the Irish Red Cross who committed themselves to carrying out the noblest ideals of their organisation. The post Universal charity in time of war and ‘peace’ appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Heart-rending portrait of a diva in distress
 (12A) “If I’m a legend,” Judy Garland said once, “why am I so lonely?” Maybe that was precisely why. “I was born,” she said, “at the age of 12 on the MGM lot.” A tendency towards weight gain caused Louis B. Meyer to put her on a punishing regime of slimming tablets. An addiction to pills and alcohol formed the cornerstone of a rollercoaster life for the emotionally-charged actress before her death in 1969. By then she was only a shadow of herself. She’d been dropped by the studio she made millions for, reduced to stage performances in London to earn a crust. Judy goes straight from The Wizard of Oz to the autumn of her career. The trajectory underlines the manner in which she failed to find the magic place ‘over the rainbow’ that she sang so poignantly about. Twinkle Renee Zellweger is a ringer for her. It’s not just her appearance, it’s everything – the hair, the walk, the expressions, the voice, the twinkle in the eye, even the way she holds a cigarette. When she bends her back in that concave arch she becomes her. Can this really be the same actress who was so pudgy as Bridget Jones? What a chameleon. She’s stick-thin here. We see Garland as a gay icon, as a woman struggling with a quickfire temper and child custody problems. Zellweger conveys both girlishness and desperation. She gives us the humour and pathos of a woman at the end of her tether. She clutches at straws of past grandeur in a foreign country after her own one disowns her. Are we talking Oscar? We should be. Zellweger’s performance is up there with the Meryl Streep of The Iron Lady, the Natalie Portman of Jackie. I was also reminded of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard – and even Vivien Leigh from A Streetcar Named Desire. The same raw pain is there. In one scene she’s asked what she took for depression. “Four husbands,” she replies. She’s about to marry her fifth, Micky Deans, as the film begins. I love what her daughter, Liza Minnelli, said to her after she asked her to the wedding: “I can’t make it, Momma, but I promise to be at your next one.” She died in a bathroom, like Elvis. He was 42, she 47. The cause was given as the same – substance abuse – but if we look deeper it was burn-out. Despite all the fame and fortune, both of them were singing for their supper as their stars waned. This is a fabulous film about a tragic figure who mixed huge determination with equally substantial emotional fragility. In that seesaw she loved and lost, rose and fell, lived and died. Drowned in eye shadow as she tries to roll back the years, the star who was born Frances Gumm will give you goosebumps as she belts out big band showstoppers in this sensitive lament for a troubled soul. Excellent ***** The post Heart-rending portrait of a diva in distress appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Saint Maud
Some reviews suggested, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that to watch this film is in itself a religious experience. Without going that far, it does suggest that faith needs discernment as well as fervour.
Review: Ann Patchett’s liars and questionable saints
Review: Ann Patchett’s liars and questionable saints If Elna Conroy had not been a Catholic and had not taken the Bible seriously, especially the parts about following Christ and turning the other cheek, her life and that of her family would have followed a path entirely different from the tortuous one described in Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House. When the novel opens, Elna has been missing for five years, leaving behind her 15-year-old daughter, Maeve, and 8-year-old son, Danny. The two are preparing to meet Andrea, who will become their stepmother. Maeve rightly believes that things will be difficult for them.Advertisement Praised for her simple, though elegant, writing style, Patchett is a best-selling author whose work has won numerous awards, including the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award. She received a New York Times Notable Book award for her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars (1992), which bears a striking resemblance to her latest. Both novels concern Catholic women who wish to help an order of nuns in their work. Both books are set at similar times in the 20th century, and both feature splendid, somewhat ostentatious mansions that fall into disrepair and are restored. More important, both novels also spotlight lying and its ill effects on characters who at best are unreliable narrators and at worst, just plain liars. In the first novel, it is Rose, the mother, who lies about being pregnant and commits what she identifies as a lie of omission. In this book, Danny commits lies of omission as he does not tell his sister how much he hates Elna for essentially leaving them to whatever fate throws their way. One major difference between the two novels concerns the narration. The Patron Saint of Liars is told by three narrators from three points of view. Each view spins off from and informs the others. The Dutch House has one narrator, Danny, whose views develop as he grows older. His views also spin off of those of other characters, primarily his sister, Maeve, as the two try to unravel the past. At first, Maeve serves as Danny’s protector. He was only 3 years old when his mother left and he has no memory of her. But after Danny grows up, Maeve experiences serious health issues, and he then protects her. In addition, his opinion of his mother changes as he learns more about her—or so he thinks. Who are these women who seem like evil and good incarnate? Does one ever know another person? We learn that Elna had planned to become a nun and was already a postulant when Cyril Conroy persuaded her to leave the order and marry him. After they married and bought the Dutch house, Danny was born and Elna supposedly read an article in Time magazine about Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Elna’s sense of vocation seemed to return, and she planned to help Mother Teresa minister to the poor. But some say Elna miscalculated and wound up in Bombay. From there, she evidently wandered to California and other states where she volunteered in homeless shelters. She believes that “you have to serve those who need to be served not just the ones who make you feel good about yourself.” There is speculation that Elna is a saint. Whether that is a valid consideration is central to the novel. “I think it’s hard for people like us to understand,” observes Sandy, one of the servants. “But when you think about saints, I don’t imagine any of them made their families happy.” As Danny sees it, “Taking care of someone who doesn’t know you doesn’t make you a saint.” He asks himself what kind of a person—let alone a mother—would desert her two young children for any reason, even out of a deep spiritual sensibility? An overly long and winding plot corkscrews from present to past and back again—revealing, among other things, that in 1946, Cyril bought and restored the Philadelphia-area VanHoebeek mansion (a.k.a., the “Dutch House”) after the owners went bankrupt during the Depression. Elna often attended daily Mass and visited with the nuns when Maeve was in school. The siblings attended Catholic elementary school, where Maeve was religious but Danny less so. Their father was Catholic but not particularly devout. When Elna disappeared, Maeve nearly died. At Maeve’s insistence, Danny goes to medical school, but ends up a landlord and builder like his father. And like him, he also marries the wrong woman, though he remains very involved with his two children. Cyril was a distant father who mostly ignored his family, although it turns out that Cyril was more aware of his children than Danny realized—as was Elna, who unfortunately had not foreseen the coming of Andrea. Andrea is thoroughly enamored of the Dutch house and its rounded glass front doors, held in place with wrought iron vines. She loves the exquisite ballroom on the third floor, the Delft Blue mantels in the drawing room, library and master bedroom, which was “said to have been pried out of a castle in pay a prince’s gambling debts.” Unlike the tall, dark Elna, who wears jeans and who is focused on religious matters, Andrea is a short, petite blonde. She is also materialistic and manipulative and wears pantsuits. Before anyone realizes it, she talks Cyril into changing his will, thereby making his successful business, multimillion-dollar Dutch house and all his assets hers. When Cyril dies from a heart attack a few years after marrying Andrea, she admits her hatred for all things Catholic, refusing to allow Cyril to be buried in a Catholic cemetery because she does not want to “spend eternity” buried beside Catholics. She also fires the servants who raised Danny and Maeve.   She cheats the children (and possibly Elna) out of their rightful inheritance, insisting they fend for themselves. There is speculation as to whether Cyril and Elna are actually divorced, with hints dropped on both sides of the issue. (If they weren’t divorced, that would change the inheritance). There is also some question about the family connections of Andrea’s two young daughters. Years later, when Andrea’s health deteriorates, one wonders whether Andrea is as vicious as she seems—and whether Elna is a saint or just another goody-two-shoes. And is there a difference? Who are these women who seem like evil and good incarnate? Does one ever know another person? These questions reverberate throughout the puzzle of this novel. This circuitous plot develops through numerous flashbacks and subtly seeded questions in the storyline—which goes on to just as subtly suggest answers. Some of the answers stare Danny in the face, although he fails to recognize them until much later, when he hears from someone with another perspective. It is difficult to decode the past, Danny tells Maeve, since it is colored by the perspective of the present. As an adult, Danny puts the idea in a statement that could serve as the novel’s theme: “We overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.” Danny realizes just how altered the past has become when this novel ends on an unexpected note that doesn’t make sense—at first. email_registra… Sun, 10/13/2019 - 16:33 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Advertisement
Review: A brief life of John Henry Newman
Review: A brief life of John Henry Newman By the time John Henry Newman entered into the Catholic Church in 1845, he had grown disillusioned with his former Anglican faith.  In 1839, after reading about the heresy of monophysitism, Newman spoke of “doubts about the tenableness of Anglican tenets.” In 1841, his sermon declaring the Catholic character of the Church of England caught the ire of the Bishop of Oxford, who demanded Newman’s silence. Advertisement And on Sept. 25, 1843, after concluding his final sermon as an Anglican priest, Newman symbolically removed his stole, eliciting public lament. As the clever typesetting on the cover of the Rev. Michael Collins’s excellent new biography suggests, John Henry Newman, who is to be canonized by Pope Francis on Oct. 13, truly became a new man—and not just once.  Long before his conversion to Catholicism, Newman had committed himself to celibacy and a life of faith following a formative religious experience at age 15. Father Collins depicts this experience as “a conversion that made him more aware of the presence and majesty of God.” This brief biography of Newman and his often complicated times succeeds in portraying Newman as more than a formidable, occasionally irritable prelate or an eminent Catholic theologian, although both descriptions are apt. Instead, he portrays Newman as a human being, the kind that loves, grieves, struggles and at various times, triumphs.  At his death on Aug. 11, 1890, Newman left behind nearly 20,000 letters, numerous books and two autobiographies—not surprising for someone who read a library’s worth of books. What emerges from his writings, and through Father Collins’s recent work, is a man dedicated to his friends and his beliefs; a man unafraid of conflict at first hesitant to accept the august title of cardinal.  Newman was abandoned by his siblings following his conversion to Catholicism. His sister, Harriet, never communicated with him again. Father Collins explains that Harriet saw Newman’s conversion as “an act of betrayal” and feared that Newman “would infect her husband with the ‘Roman superstition.’”  At his death on Aug. 11, 1890, Newman left behind nearly 20,000 letters, numerous books and two autobiographies. Newman publicly clashed with various church leaders throughout his life, including some Irish Catholic bishops who proved antagonistic toward Newman’s establishment of a Catholic university in Ireland in 1854. He found his life in Dublin a period of demoralizing setbacks and personal strain, and labeled his life “dreary.” He endured the insults of the Cambridge University professor Charles Kingsley and sparred in writing with Prime Minister William Gladstone of England.  But Father Collins also pays special attention to Newman’s rich, “intense” friendships, particularly with the Oratorian Ambrose St. John. Upon the death of Father St. John in 1878, Newman suffered tremendous grief. “I have ever thought that no bereavement was equal to that of a husband’s or wife’s, but I feel it difficult to believe that any can be greater, or anyone’s sorrow greater than mine,” wrote Newman about his friend’s death. According to his final wish, Newman was buried in the same grave as St. John and remained there undisturbed until Newman’s exhumation in 2008.  Newman is chiefly remembered today for his rejection of moral relativism and his theological contributions, especially his 1845 work, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. In this work, Newman contends, as Father Collins puts it, “that doctrine developed organically from the Bible.” This essay garnered respect from some in Rome and from certain theologians, including Giovanni Perrone, a Jesuit professor at the Gregorian University.  In all, Father Collins understands Newman not as “a stainless saint,” but as a dutiful friend and a multifaceted defender of the Catholic faith.  Correction, Oct.11: This review originally referred to the Jesuit college in Rome by its original title, the Roman College. It is now the Pontifical Gregorian University. email_registra… Fri, 10/11/2019 - 15:28 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Catherine McKeen18 min 58 sec ago I would guess that this short biography has little new to tell us about John Henry Newman. The historian John Cornwell called Newman "The Reluctant Saint" in his extraordinary book titled "Newman's Unquiet Grave," published in 2010. That was during a media storm in England about what was actually found or not found in Newman's grave, where he had been buried with Ambrose St. John. I for one believe that Newman's canonization will open further that bridge to the LGBT community that Fr. James Martin has urged for the Catholic church with his own writings and possibly in his private conversation with Pope Francis. Robert Lewis15 min 5 sec ago I think so, too. For those who insist that Newman wasn't a "same sex lover," I suggest they take a look at the language that Charles Kingsley used to attack him. In euphemistic Victorian-parlance, the whole ugly screed screams "gay." Advertisement
Review: A modern-day pilgrimage with Timothy Egan
Review: A modern-day pilgrimage with Timothy Egan In 2016, I accidentally earned a plenary indulgence. I was in Rome with a group of international journalists studying reporting on religion in turbulent political times and had wandered into St. Peter’s Square on my day off. It was the Year of Mercy, and a pilgrim who fulfilled all the qualifications would be granted a plenary indulgence by walking through the special Mercy Door of St. Peter’s while reciting prayers with a group.Advertisement I Googled the qualifications, did my best to check off the list and started the walk among a group that had traveled from Eastern Europe; but I found the heat and humidity of a Roman September too much to endure. The next day, I decided to skip the indulgence and just walk in to see the church again. However, the security guards waved me through the Mercy Door in front of a group of exhausted and sweaty pilgrims by mistake. I got the indulgence but hardly felt like a pilgrim because I had taken a cab. The question of what a pilgrimage means in the modern day loops throughout Timothy Egan’s A Pilgrimage to Eternity. Many modern pilgrims, including nonbelievers, seekers and lapsed believers, still set out on the Camino de Santiago, which Egan acknowledges is what most people think of when they consider a pilgrimage. Egan, however, decides to undertake the longer and lesser-known Via Francigena, which takes him from England to Rome. He also gives himself a bit of an out on the 1,200-mile route, choosing to walk most of it but allowing himself “two wheels, four wheels, or train,” or any method that keeps him on the ground. Like many American Catholics, Egan is “lapsed but listening.” Egan has a Jesuit education and writes frequently about the church in his New York Times columns, but he freely admits that he drifted from the Catholic Church years ago. But this trip begins with a desire to meet Pope Francis, whom Egan sees as one of the few hopes the church has during its “worst crisis in half a millennium.” As the book unfolds, it becomes clear that Egan’s stake in that crisis is personal. His family has been directly damaged by the abuse crisis, and his own faith deteriorated as a result. But as another writer of Egan’s generation—Bruce Springsteen—recently put it, “once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic.” Egan is not so much God-haunted as he is Catholic-haunted. Egan’s reading material during his pilgrimage speaks to the liminal space he occupies in his faith life. He brings along both St. Augustine and a book by the late Christopher Hitchens, whose snarky cynicism about religion seems to help Egan keep Augustine’s pious self-loathing in check. And Egan may be a lapsed Catholic, but he begins the book looking for a “stiff shot of no-bullshit spirituality.” Like many American Catholics, Egan is “lapsed but listening,” and ready to “force the issue.” The pilgrimage will determine whether he is a believer or not. Without spoiling the conclusion, I can tell you that Egan remains mostly in a liminal space at the end of the book, but as a Jesuit friend once told me, “if we didn’t have doubt, we wouldn’t be human.” The purpose of a pilgrimage may ultimately be to seek God, but more often, we meet ourselves and ultimately have to decide what kind of person we will be upon our return. Egan begins in England and in Chaucer’s Canterbury, the Medieval origin of the Via Francigena, but finds that The Canterbury Tales itself is too raunchy to be sold in the cathedral gift shop. The purpose of a pilgrimage may ultimately be to seek God, but more often, we meet ourselves and ultimately have to decide what kind of person we will be upon our return. Egan’s historical chops are on show throughout his journey. His well-regarded books on Irish and American history have in the past demonstrated his engagement with history as something we grapple with in our everyday lives, but in this book his personal history is interlaced with the journey into the past. His family’s deeply Catholic roots have been severed and starved by clergy abuse, and his long marriage to a Jewish woman has produced two children who, like many American millennials, are agnostic in temperament. All three of these family members join him for jaunts along the way, providing some breaks in the narrative overview of Europe’s Christian history. Depending on a reader’s own interests, that overview may occasionally prove somewhat redundant, but Egan is an engaging narrator, aware of the American problems that he has dragged with him to Europe. An exchange with the abbot of a French monastery captures some of this: “How are things in America?” “Troubled.” “Why is that?” “Trump.” “What’s wrong with him?” “Everything.” “I’ll show you to your room.” Although the presidency is not the topic of Egan’s pilgrimage, the crises the United States is facing at the border and in our churches are inescapable in Europe as well. Egan’s route and Europe alike are haunted by the Crusades and the Reformation, and the violence entrenched in European Catholic history is inescapable. European Catholics have for decades been drifting from the church. Like Egan, in a 2016 trip to Europe I saw soaring cathedrals with maybe a dozen people in the pews for Mass, heard the regular reports of immigrants drowning and dying trying to reach European shores and saw the nationalist tides beginning to rise. I too had the experience of walking into poorly attended church services and “feeling like a hemophiliac at a vampire convention,” but I regularly repeat that experience here in the United States as well. So what is truly at stake when it comes to the question of faith today, and how can a pilgrimage answer the questions that keep arising on such a trip? Or, as Egan asks us and himself, “How can you believe in a savior whose message was peace and passive humility, when the professional promoters of that message were complicit in so much systematic horror?” It is a fair question, and one which no book can really hope to answer adequately. But a pilgrimage is ultimately more about questions than answers. At the end of the book, Egan, crowded among thousands at a papal audience, looks around and sees not the Catholics who “want a museum for a religion” with “doctrine mortared to the statues,” but instead, a mostly nonwhite, mostly female crowd: the “future of the church, if it can keep from betraying them,” pilgrims drawn not by the grandeur of their surroundings but by “something else.” Egan does not name that thing, but it is the same thing that keeps him moving throughout the Via Francigena, the same thing that keeps the leaky ocean liner of the Catholic Church afloat and the same thing that motivates the current pope whose humility Egan admires. It’s called faith. email_registra… Thu, 10/10/2019 - 11:59 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Advertisement
The life-long literary vocation of John Henry Newman
Many saints have written on spirituality or theology. But few have been what John Henry Newman was, a writer by vocation, the author of lasting works in a wide variety of genres. The seeds of his sainthood, indeed the full flowering of his sainthood, are to be found in his writings, the whole range of which very few of his admirers can be acquainted. Indeed, one has sometimes to wonder if it was not the sheer volume and breath of what Newman wrote during his long life that made those who dealt with the matter of his cause at Rome delay his canonisation for so long. Many saints have also written and published books. That in some ways is no real achievement. But Newman was something more: all his life he was a writer by nature and inclination. His pen it seems was never out of his hand. His true metier was literature. In this week’s books page we will provide a brief overview of these writings, which will hopefully encourage readers of all points of view to explore them. My first real encounter in depth with the writings of Newman — aside from a couple of essays read at school — was at my American university in the honours course in English which I was taking, where he was presented to a very varied student body, along with Ruskin, Mathew Arnold and Wordsworth, as one of the giants of Victorian literature. This indeed he was, but as the ceremonies in Rome on Sunday will merely confirm, he was also a great deal more. As other contributors are dealing with the chronological developments in Newman’s life, here my remarks will be arranged under literary categories, which will try to treat Newman’s career as a continuity of a Christian writer’s intellect, albeit one divided into two main parts, his years of growth as an Anglican (1801-1846), and his mature years as a Catholic (1846-1890). The poet and hymn writer He was a skilled poet and hymn writer. Elgar’s choral work of 1900 based on Newman’s long poem The Dream of Gerontius (1865) is still widely performed and enjoyed. For some people this would have been enough to fill a life. But for Newman poetry was a mere corner of his work, which he turned to from time to time, to give his thoughts and feelings a special treatment. I have often felt that his hymns retain something of the Anglican manner in their style. But in these days that is not fault, but merely an added interest. Yet one of his hymns can truly be said to have entered the popular culture of the English-speaking world — it was sung on the listing deck of the sinking Titanic. This is Lead Kindly Light, written in 1833 when he was becalmed for a week off the coast of Corsica in a mood of deep discouragement and anxiety. It has struck a chord with many over the decades and still does. Lead, lindly light, amidst th’ encircling gloom, Lead thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home, Lead thou me on! Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene; one step enough for me ... . Newman the novelist The historical novel was the great literary invention of the 19th Century. Created by Walter Scott with Waverley (1814), a tale of the Jacobite rising out in 1745, it aided individuals, and indeed whole communities, come to an appreciation of their history and of the religion or politics they followed. They were written by surprising people. The author of Ben Hur (1880), for instance, Lew Wallace, was a US army general and governor of New Mexico. It proved to be one of the great popular successes of all time, selling many millions of copies and remains in print to this day. For Newman the historical novel was a vital form of communication, using a form of entertainment to achieve emotional understanding” One might mention too other novels about the history of Christianity: Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Quo Vadis (1896) and Cardinal Wiseman’s Fabiola (1854), a novel of the Church of the Martyrs, are well known. Newman’s novel, Callista: a tale of the third century (1855) was a sort prequel to Wiseman’s book. But Callista is not just a period piece, for the novel in its presentation of denial, faith and acceptance reveals much about Newman’s own outlook. Anyone seriously interested in Newman should read it at least once. But though they both had beautiful heroines, Wiseman also had gladiators, which led to his book being filmed three times. Newman’s novel, so far as I can discover never reached the screen; it was too intellectual. But it was, nevertheless, a popular success and remained in print into the first decade of the last century, with a occasional reprints since. Ordinary readers cannot be expected to give attention to learned theological controversies. But historical novels expressing a Catholic point of view allowed a great many people to make contact with what had been in so many ways a form of outlawed thought in Britain down to 1829, to understand a little of what the restoration of the English hierarchy in 1850 meant for their Catholic compatriots. For Newman the historical novel was a vital form of communication, using a form of entertainment to achieve emotional understanding. This was not Newman’s only novel. Earlier, just after his conversion, he had written Loss and Gain (1848), a philosophical novel dealing with the nature of religious experience. This too was a very typical product of the century, but it did not prove as popular as his later novel. Yet it inevitably cast a great deal of light on the development of Newman’s own religious ideas, drawn as it was directly from his own experiences at Oxford. While important for Newman’s life, the novel is also interesting for the revelations of the high seriousness with which the Victorians took religious belief, and how doubt as much as faith prevailed in the hearts of many, especially in the Tractarian era (1833-1841). The controversialist Perhaps Newman’s most widely known book is his Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864). This account of the growth of his religious opinions has long been the book most famialr to readers of Newman, and it has indeed a special place in Victorian literature. It arose from a controversy initiated by the ‘muscular Christian’ Charles Kingsley (author Westward Ho!, a book once placed on the Index because of the excesses of its anti-Catholic comments). Kingsley claimed that Newman taught that truthfulness was not necessary quality in a priest. He presented Newman with an opportunity to explain not just to Kingsley, who was well beyond persuasion, but to the wider world, the nature both of Catholic belief as he had experienced it and the nature of the priestly vocation has he saw it. At the present day when the discussion of belief is often carried on at a very shallow level Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua remains a pre-eminent piece of literary expression. Newman the historian Newman was at the beginning of his career an historian of early Christianity, for its was in those first centuries that many of the Church’s fundamental doctrines were forged, not so much from the gospels, as from the difficulties in establishing a common set of beliefs, coherent with Greek philosophy, for all Christians – a task which still proves difficult today. Newman’s monograph The Arians in the Fourth Century appeared in 1833. This was one of many historical or quasi-historical writings, but in everything he wrote the historical ideal of knowing when and how things happened, and why, underlay every aspect of his thought. Later, after he had become a Catholic, he remarked about the course the work followed: “I saw clearly that in the history of Arianism, the pure Arians were the Protestants, the semi-Arians were the Anglicans and that Rome now was what it was then. The truth lay, not with the via media, but with what was called the ‘extreme party’.” His inquiry into Arianism was a key step on his path to Rome. The Anglican theologian Today we still hear people speak about the “unchanging doctrines” of the Church. Would it were that simple. In the early 19th Century biologists still believed in the immutability of species. This idea was shattered by the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Life, he observed, can be seen to be a developing matter, getting more complicated and more deeper, so to speak as times advances, from simple organisms to complex ones. Through his historical and doctrinal studies Newman now found that he could no longer remain within the Anglican fold” Fourteen years before that in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845), Newman had written of “the development of doctrine”, how over time the Church’s understanding of its teaching, through the efforts of theologians, changed and deepened. What had been understood in an earlier century was still true, but now theologians, and hence the faithful, could have a deeper, more refined understanding of it. This was, so to speak, ‘Darwinism’ in the cloister avant l’heure of Darwin himself. Through his historical and doctrinal studies Newman now found that he could no longer remain within the Anglican fold. He would have to seek a new shepherd in the pastor of Rome. Essentially this book argued Newman out of his position as a High Church Anglican espousing the Catholic tradition, forcing him to make the next step and simply abandon what he had come to feel was only a limited position. He left Littlemore and sought acceptance into the Catholic Church. Though perhaps not so obvious to modern readers this was not just a step for one man: it was a positive move towards the emergence of the Catholic Church as an accepted part of English society once again. His passage into the Church of Rome in 1846 was a momentous moment not only in his life, but in the intellectual history of Victorian England. The Catholic theologian In the Apologia Newman had provided an account of the evolution of his own religious views. Over some 20 years he worked on A Grammar of Assent (1870). Here he developed his ideas that formal logic (such as is so often invoked by many modern sciencists) was not applicable in all real life situations. He argued that it was possible to assent to a proposition without in fact understanding it. This book would become a key work in his lifetime’s work, and remains one of two or three most influential books. Newman the correspondent From an early age Newman was a tireless correspondent. The letter was then the most urgent way of keeping in touch with family, friends and disciples. His correspondence went on to the end of his life in 1890 – he was born in February 1801- Newman was a great letter writer, for the letter was the only reliable form of communications with his friends and colleagues in the British Isles and elsewhere. The publication of his correspondence is one of the great publishing enterprises of the present day. It was initiated under the supervision of the Oratorian fathers to be published originally by Longman, and is now in the hands of the Oxford University Press. It began, given the peculiar circumstances of Newman’s life and career, with a ‘Catholic series’ which ran from 1845 down to his death. When that was completed (is so far as a project of this kind is ever complete), the editors turned back to the beginning of his life with an ‘Anglican series’. In any relevant library these volumes occupy, as may be imagined, a great many shelves. It is no disrespect to the eminent writers who have provided critical biographies of Newman, that his real biography, the true account of the struggles and resolutions of his life is to be found in these massed volumes. Anything else is, in reality a mere epitome, and for those who would try know the man these volumes are what have to be read. These papers will have inevitably formed a major part of the documentation which those dealing with his cause in Rome will have examined. In these one can hear the essential voice, manner and spirit of the man – and in them from now on his admirers and others will be able to see the slow emergence not just of the man, or the intellectual, but of the saint. Essentially, in what he wrote through the course of his life Newman pleaded his own cause for canonisation. *** Newman and Joyce James Joyce was an admirer of what he called Newman’s “silver-veined” prose. Today his name and that of Gerard Manley Hopkins are linked with the saint’s on a plaque outside Newman house (now the setting for a new museum dedicated to Irish literature). But the extent of Joyce’s admiration for Newman was limited. It has been shown that all of the quotations and allusions to Newman in Joyce’s work come from one book Characteristics from the writings of J. H. Newman (1885), selected by W. S. Lilly, a dumpy anthology of extracts, which had a very wide sale in its time. This shows two things. One that Joyce was perhaps less deeply read than some imagine, and two, that Newman’s influence in his lifetime seeped into many corners of life where we might not expect to find it. Through this volume Newman was read and appreciated by many who were not Catholics. The post The life-long literary vocation of John Henry Newman appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
‘Pain and Glory’ review: A rich and moving memory play from Pedro Almodóvar
‘Pain and Glory’ review: A rich and moving memory play from Pedro Almodóvar email_registra… Wed, 10/09/2019 - 10:24 Advertisement
Review: We don’t need our saints to be perfect
Review: We don’t need our saints to be perfect Saints are, to rebaptize a term much in use these days, the populists of spirituality. They emerge from the fertile soil of ordinary and extraordinary moments in religious life so that with their deaths they are transformed by the exercise of popular piety into objects of veneration and sources of inspiration. That establishment elites—read: the popes—formally beatify and canonize these holy women and men is a relatively late development in the process, and is by tradition almost incidental to their wider appeal. Advertisement Anyone who has found inspiration or consolation in the stories of the saints is most likely familiar with the writings of Robert Ellsberg, who in his latest book, A Living Gospel: Reading God’s Story in Holy Lives, confesses that he finds himself surprised to have become a hagiographer, a word that has become identified with “a particularly saccharine, credulous, and pious style of writing.” Ellsberg’s writing is none of those things, nor are his saints. Indeed, this compact volume is a wonderful read whether you are familiar with his earlier work or merely curious about saints. Echoing Pope Francis’ exaltation of the “middle-class of holiness,” Ellsberg prefers to describe saints simply as “those who walk in the paths of holiness.” Ellsberg underscores Pope Francis’ admonition not to get “caught up in the details” of the lives of saints or in determining whether they were perfect or pious, because they were not. And that is the point. Echoing Francis’ exaltation of the “middle-class of holiness,” Ellsberg prefers to describe saints simply as “those who walk in the paths of holiness.” That allows him to range widely and tell numerous stories (including his own saint-inspired conversion) about men and women who may never make the official calendar of saints but whose lives help Ellsberg “rehabilitate” the very concept of holiness—and help us along the way.   Lesser-known names like Madeleine Delbrêl and Ellsberg’s own friend Daria Donnelly are highlighted along with well-known but still uncanonized figures like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Flannery O’Connor. A personal favorite of mine is Charles de Foucauld, a spoiled aristocrat who became a happy hermit in the Algerian Sahara, where he was martyred in 1916. Ellsberg’s retelling of de Foucauld’s story shows how truly odd holy people can appear by the world’s standards. De Foucauld died alone and in obscurity, his dream of founding a religious community come to naught. Yet his death inspired the founding of several congregations of religious, and it shows how a single, seemingly insignificant life can shake the world. From such examples we should draw hope for our own modest efforts at holiness, and we could have no better guide than Ellsberg’s new book. Ashley Mckinless Fri, 10/04/2019 - 10:50 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Leonard TIGHE49 min 54 sec ago Advertisement
Review: The unknown story of Czech priest, Tomáš Halík
Review: The unknown story of Czech priest, Tomáš Halík The name Msgr. Tomáš Halík first came to my attention in 2014 when he was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize. I only learned as much about him as the press release allowed. If readers of this review are similarly unaware of Halík’s story, then this book is essential reading. From the Underground Church to Freedom is equal parts memoir, history, theology and spirituality, with a little bit of psychology mixed in for good measure. It does not hurt that Halík also punctuates his life story with wit and humor.  From the outset of the book, it is evident that Halík is a polymath whose influences range from Mother Teresa and Fyodor Dostoevsky to Jan Hus and Karl Rahner, but what follows in the ensuing pages is delightful, profound and easily digestible by all readers. The text is populated by dozens of Halík’s acquaintances and wonderful anecdotes about them.Advertisement This book, the story of a Czech priest working under communist oppression, constitutes a profound reflection on the 1989 collapse of communism and the liberation of the Czech people. This context permeates the entire book. “Freedom” is not only part of the title of this book; it also underlies every page. Readers will constantly ask if they themselves are really free, or if they are beset by fear.   This book, the story of a Czech priest working under communist oppression, constitutes a profound reflection on the 1989 collapse of communism and the liberation of the Czech people. Much of this book reads like a thriller. Take, for example, Halík’s account of his clandestine ordination in which he was whisked into the bishop’s private residence under an overcoat to avoid detention (or worse) by the secret police. Moments like these make this account seem like it must be fiction. In what would normally be an exceptionally dramatic conclusion, the final chapter details how Halík almost died in Antarctica. After interrogation by the secret police decades earlier, though, this near-death experience seems mundane by comparison.  While every reader will take away different things from this text, I was most profoundly moved by Halík’s understanding of the ordained priesthood. His greatest personal influences are mostly members of the Czech clergy and hierarchy, and yet Halík proclaims, “A priest without a parish, a church, a clerical collar, or a rubber stamp was obliged to reflect constantly, and ever more deeply, on what constituted the true essence of priesthood; he must seek it deeper.” Equally comfortable in the company of St. John Paul II, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus or Bishop Walter Sullivan, Halík constantly reminds the reader that God is “no-thing,” to borrow Meister Eckhart’s (a favorite of Halík’s) description. Therefore, the only way to find God is to empty ourselves. It is possible that Halík is the most thoughtful, learned and interesting Catholic that is widely unknown in the United States today. Hopefully, this book will right that wrong. osegura Thu, 10/03/2019 - 15:09 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Advertisement
Review: Are unions making a comeback? It’s complicated.
Review: Are unions making a comeback? It’s complicated. This summer, I visited Scranton, Pa., with my family. We saw the New York Yankees’s AAA team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, beat the Louisville Bats, 5-4, and visited various locales referred to in NBC’s classic sitcom “The Office.” We also plunged 300 feet underground for the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour, hosted by a knowledgeable young woman who did not shy away from the more gruesome details of mining: deadly explosions, deplorable conditions, laborers who were sometimes younger than my youngest child, age 11.  Advertisement At one point, our tour guide asked: “Any questions? You really should have questions!”  This was meant as comic relief, but it also illustrated a crucial point. Too often, we simply assume the profound wear and tear of mine work—hauntingly illustrated in a series of iconic photos taken by Lewis Hine only about 100 years ago—was the natural order of things, and that things simply were fine and dandy on their own. But if anyone inquired as to why things finally got a little better for Scranton’s miners, a big part of the answer would be unions. They were “the major force in ending sweatshops, making coal mines safer, and eliminating many of the worst, most dangerous working conditions in the United States,” the veteran New York Times journalist Steven Greenhouse writes in Beaten Down, Worked Up, an inspiring if occasionally frustrating book. By now, the grim state of affairs for American workers has been well documented. “Labor unions represent just 6.4 percent of America’s private-sector workers and 10.5 percent of workers overall,” writes Greenhouse. “That’s the lowest percentage in more than a century and down from 35 percent in the 1950s.” He adds: “Labor’s share of national income has fallen at a faster rate in the United States than in any other major industrial nation since 1995”—this at a time when “the income of the richest one percent has risen to its highest level since the 1920s.” In short, Greenhouse argues, “Something is fundamentally broken in the way many American employers treat their workers.” From here, things get a little messy. First, there are certain inconvenient political realities. In 2016, “blue collar whites”—many of them union members and beneficiaries—“gave Trump the margins he needed to win Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and with those states overall victory,” writes Greenhouse. In short, Greenhouse argues, “Something is fundamentally broken in the way many American employers treat their workers.” This happened even though as a candidate Donald Trump, like most national Republicans, was explicit about his plans to appoint judges and cabinet heads with anti-union records. Look no further than the president’s nomination of Eugene Scalia as labor secretary back in July. Not only does Scalia have a long, pro-corporate record as a lawyer; it was the death in 2016 of Scalia’s father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, that thrust pivotal union court cases back into the political spotlight. Had Trump lost in 2016, a more labor-friendly replacement for Antonin Scalia might have made it to the Supreme Court and might have voted to reconsider cases like Janus vs. A.F.S.C.M.E., which made it much more difficult for public sector unions to organize. (Full disclosure: I belong to two such unions.) But Trump won, then nominated Neil Gorsuch to the court, and the rest is yet another sad chapter in American labor history. So, what now? Greenhouse attempts to make the case that amid these dark clouds, there are silver linings: Las Vegas’s Culinary Workers Union Local 226, The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (C.I.W.) in Florida, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, the Fight for $15 campaign, which successfully lobbied for minimum-wage increases in numerous cities. All of these success stories are vividly sketched by Greenhouse, who illustrates the tangible ways they have improved the lives of workers like Francis Garcia, a 39-year-old housekeeper at the MGM Grand on Las Vegas’s famous strip. Garcia can now “support a family without needing food stamps, Medicaid, or housing subsidies.” These reports from the front lines are encouraging, and they make it painfully clear that some corporations are as “dependent” on the social safety net as the “public charges” fiscal conservatives love to shame. Somewhat more muddled are Greenhouse’s forays into the past. Chapters on showdowns at General Motors in the late 1930s and the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike make vital connections between labor’s past and present. But as Greenhouse acknowledges, this book is “not a detailed, comprehensive [labor] history.” And so explorations of figures like Walter Reuther and George Meany veer into cultural terrain Greenhouse does not explore with sufficient complexity. The past, after all, can be as misleading as it is revealing, especially when it comes to the postwar United States.  “The decades when unions were strongest—the 1940s through 1970s—were the decades when there was the least income inequality,” Greenhouse writes. True enough. But it can just as easily be argued that strong unions did not lead to that equality, that they were more a byproduct of historical developments highly favorable to the United States and not likely to be replicated. Greenhouse might have gone further back to labor struggles during the 19th-century Industrial Revolution, when the rapid pace of innovation, the levels of radical violence and the immigrant-heavy workforce might  have offered more provocative lessons for today. (Following our Lackawanna mine tour, my children could have purchased a T-shirt celebrating an Irish mining society, the Molly Maguires, some of whose members countenanced violence. Imagine the furor over an equivalent immigrant labor organization today.) In the end, for all the energetic organizing Greenhouse chronicles, he reminds us: “Nowadays, the political landscape in Washington and many states is...more hostile towards labor than at any time in decades.” Then there is the highly fractured, rapidly evolving ways technology has altered the nature of work and the lamentable belief that there is something cool about juggling multiple “gigs” and “hustles.” “The decades when unions were strongest—the 1940s through 1970s—were the decades when there was the least income inequality,” Greenhouse writes. Finally, there is the inconvenient truth that it is actually conservatives who have built the most effective job-building coalitions in recent decades. Their pro-business agendas are beloved by more affluent, corporate types, while populist messaging—including racially charged punches aimed downward at the already-marginalized—appeals to many voters of more modest means. Following a Democratic presidential debate this summer, the famed conservative power broker Karl Rove practically gloated: “The idea they’re going to provide illegal immigrants free health care, that’s not going to go down in union households in Michigan.” It is easy to lament this “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” kind of thinking, that blue-collar Americans can be duped into voting against their economic self-interest. But it is going to take much more than moral superiority to build on the (modest) gains Greenhouse highlights. He notes that “Pope Francis has championed unions, especially for workers on the bottom.” There are also references to the National Council of Churches’ work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers., as well as “labor-religion coalitions” formed under the former A.F.L.-C.I.O. president, John Sweeney, suggesting that faith-based organizations are fertile ground for further coalition building. It would also help if lawmakers who tout their Christianity could explain what aspect of their devotion justifies a terrible record on labor issues. Because, in the end, the biggest challenge unions face is not technology or internal division, but the depth, intensity and brazenness of their opposition. Not long ago, a Lewis Hine photo of child mine workers whipped its way around the Internet. Was it a plea to organize today’s exploited and downtrodden? A testimony to the fraternity and dignity of all workers? Nope. It was used as “proof”—historically false in countless ways—that the Irish in America were “slaves” who were “treated worse than any other race in the U.S.” but didn’t “moan about how the world owes them a living.” Any questions? We all should have questions. email_registra… Wed, 10/02/2019 - 16:55 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Advertisement
Jeannie Gaffigan confronts the unknown with courage and humor in new memoir
Jeannie Gaffigan confronts the unknown with courage and humor in new memoir As a child from a homeschooling family of six, I find Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan and their brood of five both intimately familiar and breathtakingly alien. Although Jeannie Gaffigan’s new book, When Life Gives You Pears, chronicles an extraordinary crisis in her family’s life, it is really the family’s ordinary day-to-day routines that inspire awe. Understanding the chaos of a large family, particularly a large family under the supervision of a high-functioning supermama, I find the metropolitan milieu of the Gaffigan’s family circus all the more mind-boggling. To take the revered tradition of a large Midwestern family to New York City is a gutsy act of defiance; bringing a child into brunch hour at a twee NoLIta restaurant is a veritable act of revolt. To bring five is practically a cultural revolution. Advertisement Even Jeannie Gaffigan’s life before her brain tumor sounds like it demanded superhero levels of chutzpah. Jeannie’s morning ritual of circling Manhattan to conduct school drop-off before her workday has me exhausted in half a page. Searching for a brunch spot after Mass that seats all the family and friends, managing doctor’s appointments, juggling the demands of everyone all at once: In all these trials, Jeannie Gaffigan is a bold apologist for New York City as a breeding ground for the communal life of big families.  Perhaps it is no surprise then that Jeannie has grit and fortitude in spades to carry her family through the harrowing ordeal of a brain tumor. Jeannie Gaffigan is an infinitely touching and personable writer, and her charm and force-of-nature persona saturate each page. In both structure and tone, When Life Gives You Pears reads as a polished version of a long catch-up conversation with a good friend. According to Aristotle, poetry and drama do not, like histories, merely narrate singular events or tell one particular person’s story. Reading literature or watching drama is supposed to give the listener or reader an insight into the nature of our shared humanity. Who are we: Who am I and who are you, my neighbor? As a genre, memoirs like Gaffigan’s give us insight into specific histories of their family life, often chronicling the extremities of human experience—like brain surgery—but providing insight into common human experience. In both structure and tone, When Life Gives You Pears reads as a polished version of a long catch-up conversation with a good friend. Despite its initial hook as a book about persevering heroically in the face of a pear-shaped brain tumor, Jeannie Gaffigan’s odyssey is primarily a spiritual journey. Incidentally, pears are also a pivotal plot point on the path to conversion of Augustine, whose Confessions is arguably the most famous conversion memoir in the history of Christianity. Like Augustine, Jeannie Gaffigan’s pear also leads to a deeper spiritual conversion. After the initial build-up to diagnosis and then surgery, the second (and slightly longer) half of Gaffigan’s book focuses almost exclusively on her recovery. Completely immobilized in a hospital bed, Gaffigan allows the inner movements of her heart and soul to become the central action. I found the most moving moments of the book to be Gaffigan’s encounters with her own vulnerability and weakness. After the initial operation, Jeannie spends two brutal weeks in the ICU. During that time, she is unable to speak, see her children, drink or eat. She grapples with her perfectionist, type-A personality and how it has prevented her from simply being present for those she loves most. Ignatius’ cannonball-sized crisis led to a moment of conversion, and Jeannie’s pear-shaped medical emergency provides the same catalyst for conversion in her own life. A constant theme of Jeannie’s recovery is her inability to eat. She is not allowed to consume anything through her throat—not even water—as her recovering brainstem is unable to regulate her swallowing muscles or reflexes properly. She receives nourishment by food being delivered directly to her stomach, which doesn’t truly satisfy her urge to eat.  The human tongue is a dense network of nerves that connect to our brains. Eating not only delivers nutrients to our bodies, but the nerves on our tongues also stimulate the pleasure centers of our brains. Our tongues tell our mind and body that not only are we alive, we are living, drinking it up to the very last drop.  Jeannie’s inability to eat aptly sacramentalizes the interior desolation she experiences in the hospital. Like Saint Ignatius recuperating in his father’s home in Loyola, Jeannie spends her mind-numbing weeks in the chaotic ICU. Like Ignatius, she discovers both her susceptibility to boredom and bitterness and that an encounter with God can provide relief and consolation, even in the midst of desolation.  Ignatius’ injury prompted his extended encounter with the story of Christ and with the men and women who had followed Christ’s command to discipleship. Ignatius’ cannonball-sized crisis led to a moment of conversion, and Jeannie’s pear-shaped medical emergency provides the same catalyst for conversion in her own life. While Jeannie salivates over a still life painting of fruit, hungering and thirsting for just a drop of water or bite of Shake Shack, she discovers the interior hunger underneath her busy life. She hungers for presence: to spend time with her children, to enjoy the life she and her husband have built. She strives to focus less on keeping the ship running seamlessly and to concentrate more on the reason they’re on the voyage: one another. She vows to live her life differently—to let love and gratitude lead her rather than worry or control. It’s a lesson that resonates deeply, at least with this reader. When Life Gives You Pears offers a vulnerable look into the power of walking through a precarious moment of life with the courage of faith. One of the book’s most compelling moments is a slight aside leading up to the climax of brain surgery. Right before surgery, Jeannie learns from her doctors that they discovered a disease affecting the carotid arteries in her neck, which they would not have found if she had not  required brain surgery. It’s a true throwaway line; Gaffigan never extrapolates on the moment. But it’s a wonderful statement of mystery—that when life gives you pears, even the pears can be a gift. kjackson Wed, 10/02/2019 - 16:52 Show Comments ( ) Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more. Advertisement
Herman Melville: obsessed by good, evil and ‘Moby Dick’
Herman Melville: obsessed by good, evil and ‘Moby Dick’ email_registra… Wed, 10/02/2019 - 15:35 Advertisement
Sr Wendy and the spirit of art
Sister Wendy’s 100 Best-loved Paintings compiled by Sr Wendy Beckett (SPCK, £25.00) This is both the latest and the last book of the celebrated TV art critic, Sr Wendy Beckett, who died last Christmastide at the age of 88, on the feast of St Stephen. She was not, as many seemed to think, a nun but a religious sister. By her vows she was bound to adminster to the needs of society; in her case through her work in telvsion and books she met those needs through exploring the relations of art with daily life and spirituality. She undoubtedly enlarged the lives of many people. However, before she became a celebrity she had already lived a very full life, and it was that which in an extraordinary way fed her abilities as an art teacher. Though born in South Africa, she was educated in England. In 1946 she became a Notre Dame nun, and after completing her noviciate she went to study at Oxford. There she came under the influence of J. R. R. Tolkien, who in fact wanted her to stay in the academic world in Britain. But she returned to South Africa, where she taught Latin and English in a Notre Dame school. Health issues In 1970 she came to England due to health issues. She began her art studies and published her first book on contemporary female artists in 1988. By now she had changed her vocation. Having left her order by Papal permission, she became a recluse (a different thing from a hermit) and lived alone in a caravan in the grounds of a Carmelite convent. By chance she was introduced to the BBC and the result in 1992 was a series of six programmes, Sister Wendy’s Odyssey. This was the first of 16 series over the following decades. That first book was the first of some 40 odd titles. On television she was renowned for her delighted exposition of the naked human figure. This, in a secular society surprised many viewers, but she (well aware of what St Thomas says in the Summa), knew that it was all a matter of context. If God had created the human form she was prepared to accept as a matter of nature. Though many of the books she wrote were of a very popular genre – which was intentional and part of her vocation to share what she knew – she also wrote many which dealt specifically with religious art. These ran from The Mystical Now: Art and the Sacred in 1993 to Sister Wendy Contemplates the Iconic Christ in 2011. Icons were indeed a special interest, which she wrote about in Encounters with God: In Quest of the Ancient Icons of Mary. The new book is a sort of summary or epitome of what she thought were the finest things in painted art. But it has to be emphasised that once embarked on reading her admirers have the whole realm of art, worldly and other-worldly, to explore back in her other books. Criticism These days art criticism seems to very much the domain of younger critics, fresh from college. Some have little grasp of anything in this world or the next, bar art history in the academic mode. But Sr Wendy in her time had not only taught at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, but had been the superior of her local convent. She is a reminder that art and religion and life are not in separate compartments, as we so often try to keep them” This breadth of experience and engagement was what gave her her special talents, her special attraction to her audience. Also the sight of a religious sister in her full habit talking with warm enthusiasm on television was not for her a novelty, but necessity. In her time she fulfilled her vocation in many admirable ways. She is a reminder that art and religion and life are not in separate compartments, as we so often try to keep them. For her the art was not a reflection of life, it was a part of life, for her (and through her for others) a life focused on the divine. The post Sr Wendy and the spirit of art appeared first on The Irish Catholic.