Reviews

What we talk about when we talk about ‘Joker’
What we talk about when we talk about ‘Joker’ Tim Reidy Fri, 01/17/2020 - 14:57 Advertisement
Is HBO’s ‘The New Pope’ blasphemous?
Is HBO’s ‘The New Pope’ blasphemous? Tim Reidy Fri, 01/17/2020 - 13:20 Advertisement
1917
1917 takes place on April 6 of that year, which was both Good Friday and the day the United States entered World War I. The movie follows the impossible mission of two British soldiers sent to save their comrades from a trap. In both spoiler-free and then spoiled discussions, Fr. Chip Hines and Dom Bettinelli discuss the film's amazing cinematography, it's compelling story of honor, duty, and self-sacrifice, and what war movies like this have to do with a Christian call to peace. The post 1917 appeared first on SQPN.com.
The ‘fallen nature’ of humanity
Homo Lapsus: Sin Evolution and the God who is Love by Niamh Middleton(Deep River Books, $US14.99; available through Amazon UK, £11.53)   Fr 
Joseph 
McCann
 CM   Darwin’s evolution poses the most powerful challenge to belief in God and Creation and Salvation.  Evolution explains human existence as a scientifically determined process, so there is no room for a Creator God nor for human freedom. When moral choice is eliminated, humanity loses its capacity to sin. Cruel and harmful actions by humans are merely the unfortunate results of survival. Original sin is gone, but salvation and redemption have departed as well. Author Middleton lectures on theology at Dublin City University. Though herself an atheist she married a Catholic. She remained an atheist for over a decade more until a challenging life event caused her to reorient her life and thought. She fell back on her earlier religion and drew comfort from it. She became ‘a born-again Christian’ and began studies towards a doctorate in theology. This book, from a US Christian publisher, is transformation for the general reader of her thesis. In her course of Homo Lapsus: Sin, Evolution, and the God Who Is Love, Niamh Middleton faces the Darwinian challenge squarely. She recognises the evolutionary objections to Christian theology. As a moral theologian, who has studied the scientific evidence for evolution, and has researched Christian teaching on original sin to doctoral level, she is well placed to give a balanced account of the current state of the question. The term homo lapsus in the title means ‘fallen humanity’ and it refers to the Christian doctrine of the lasting results of the first human sin. The consequences of that first sin means that human beings are weakened in mind and will, open to temptation, and inclined to evil, even though basic human nature is not damaged. The theological term for this unhappy effect is ‘original sin’. St John Henry Newman towards the end of his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, refers to this strikingly as mankind being involved in “an aboriginal calamity”. Propensity By her title Dr Middleton is signalling that she is intending to discuss the nature of humanity, its propensity for evil and the responsibility of early humans for falling from innocence. She is going to place these theological discussions in the context of the fossil record and the theory of evolution based upon it. Middleton discerns in the scientific account that things are not quite as simple as they are usually portrayed. Contemporary evolutionary thinking is neither so hard-and-fast, nor is its mechanism so confined to the material as often believed. Middleton explains that there is uncovered territory there and some of it has been opened up in recent discoveries. She concludes that ample room is left for human freedom, cultural change, communal altruism, and human rationality to be in play as well. Niamh Middleton’s argument runs as follows: the fossil findings positively indicate areas for the development of self-identity, of a sense of morality and of social relationship with others.  What is more, the evidence points to where moral choice between cooperation and aggression by some early human beings could have occurred and –plausibly– did occur. Middleton explains the scientific findings clearly. She outlines their importance and hazards deductions and implications. She concludes that nothing in the scientific account of evolution positively rules out divine intervention. This presents a fascinating read, and Middleton indicates the ramifications for the theology of creation, of sin, and of grace” Further, the evolutionary account could include a single weighty decision by some influential and arrogant ancestors to send our entire race down a path of aggression, oppression, and violence that has led to the shameful shambles of society that is our situation today. The history of the relation between religion and science has had many signal moments. One of them was when Charles Coulson, the eminent British scientist and religious writer, issued a salutary warning against slotting the divine activity into areas that science hitherto failed to account for adequately. He called this manoeuvre ‘The God of the Gaps’. Some may think Middleton’s argument is looking for a convenient gap in the interaction of secondary causes in order to fit God and free will in. Middleton is refuting a strict determinism for the evolution of human behavioural and cultural and bodily development based on evidence. This is not finding a ‘gap’ in the chain of secondary causes to invoke a transcendent cause to account for a material effect. She is pointing to evidence of freedom on the part of homo sapiens to choose among options. This freedom, in turn, has had observable effects on the history of the human race. Middleton is finding clues that a crime was committed. There was an opportunity for the advance of few over the many and the chance was taken. All of this presents a fascinating read, and Middleton indicates the ramifications for the theology of creation, of sin, and of grace. It is important that both disciplines – evolutionary theory and theology – regard each other with respect. The world God has created demands both reason and observation, insight and empathy, an understanding and a relationship with reality for us to survive. Middleton is at pains to point this out. This is a lesson scientists, and anyone concerned for the planet and its population, would also do well to heed. In the meantime, Middleton has given us a sympathetic rendering of what it may have been like to live in prehistoric times, and some grasp of what our evolutionary experience means to human beings today who love to live and live to love. The post The ‘fallen nature’ of humanity appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Echoes of a great European nation in Ireland
The Polish Society Yearbook 2018 Jaroslaw Plachecki (Polish Society, email: ips.dublin@gmail.com; post only, Polish House, 20 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2, Ireland)   The Irish Polish Society was established in Dublin in January 1979. The members were largely Poles who migrated from their country following World War II. The Society acquired its Centre – ‘Polish House’ – in a bequest in 2001. Apart from organising charitable, literary and social events, it occasionally publishes a Year Book, which generally contains articles in both English and Polish about historical events in which Poles and Irish people have interacted. The past issues were always interesting In this issue Hanna Dowling describes the involvement of Pawel Edmund Strzelecki in the ‘Great Famine of 1845–49’. He was a Polish Count, a legendary world traveller and polymath. Having volunteered to help with the tragic situation in Ireland he was appointed as the agent to superintend the distribution of supplies in the North-West. As he progressed through Cos Sligo, Mayo and Donegal his reports on the effect of the widespread starvation and various diseases were heart-rending. Commitment Because of his competence and commitment he was appointed to supervise all the relief operations in Ireland in 1847. He continued in this role until the end of 1848 when he refused to take any payment from the British Treasury for his services. A great man whose name and achievements should be better known. Ian Cantwell provides an account of the participation of a high-level Polish delegation to the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1932. Led by Cardinal Hlond, Primate of Poland, its involvement in the activities of the Congress were reported at length by Poland’s leading journalists. Members of the delegation were immensely impressed by the religious devotion of the Irish people and the warm welcome they received. Like others, including famously G. K. Chesterton, they were enthralled by the extent to which people in the most deprived districts of Dublin had decorated their homes and streets for the Congress. As he progressed through Cos Sligo, Mayo and Donegal his reports on the effect of the widespread starvation and various diseases were heart-rending” Maciej Bogdalczk provides an important article on the renowned logician, Professor Jan Lukasiewicz, which highlights his significant scientific achievements. Born at Lvov in the Ukraine in 1878, he lectured in the University of Lvov and later in the University of Warsaw and in its Underground University during the German occupation (1939–44). With the assistance of a German colleague he was enabled to escape from Poland before the imminent arrival of the Russian army in 1944. He settled in Dublin, where he lectured in the Royal Irish Academy and later in UCD. A leading thinker in the area of Mathematical Logic, a plaque in his honour was erected on 57 Fitzwilliam Square, where he resided from 1946 to 1956. Other interesting and valuable contributions to the Year Book include a discussion on ‘The Aggrieved Party in Ireland’s Brehon Law’. Patrick Quigley reviews Irish Drama in Poland: staging and reception 1900–2000. Dr Janina Lyons, the inspirational leader of the Irish Polish Society, is interviewed and provides a survey of the manner in which members of the society and their Irish friends supported the Solidarity Movement from 1987 onwards. She singles out two outstanding friends of Solidarity during the dark days of the Communist Martial Law period: Fr Desmond Forrestal who donated the proceeds from his play Kolbe (on Fr Maximilian Kolbe) to Solidarity and Archbishop Dermot Ryan who authorised a church collection which realised €250,000 for the ‘Aid for Poland’ fund. There is also a list of the many and varied activities of the society in 2016/2017. This Year Book and the Irish Polish Society could be an inspiration to other migrant groups. It could prompt them to set up their own national society which would invigorate their own communities and facilitate their successful integration into Irish society. The post Echoes of a great European nation in Ireland appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
NCH resounds to a joyous celebration for Veronica McSwiney
Earlier this month the National Concert Hall was the venue for a significant celebration – the 80th birthday of treasured pianist Veronica McSwiney. The occasion, promoted by Dublin International Piano Competition, found her in spectacular form, playing with her usual aplomb and communicating with her audience through the mastery of her musicianship. The evening was primarily a gathering of family, friends and admirers including violinist daughter Aisling O’Dea and violist niece Carla Vedres. Cellist Violetta-Valerie Muth, soprano Virginia Kerr, clarinettist John Finucane, pianist John O’Conor and host Olivia O’Leary were the on-stage friends. There were relations and acquaintances among the audience but the majority were devotees wishing to enjoy Ronnie’s remarkable pianism. They were not short-changed. In the convivial atmosphere, Ronnie’s articulate playing, and stunning appearance, defied the passing of time. Spellbinding Born in Dublin, Veronica McSwiney studied at the Municipal School of Music under Dr JJ O’Reilly. But before that, at the age of six, her mother had taken her to hear the exceptional Polish-born pianist Artur Rubinstein. The effect on Ronnie was spellbinding with Rubinstein becoming her hero. By the age of ten she made her first Radio Éireann broadcast in its Children at the Microphone programme. With numerous Feis Ceoil awards to her credit, Ronnie made her first concerto appearance with the RÉSO at 14 and her Dublin recital debut when she was 16. After this she came to the notice of English entrepreneur Sir Robert Mayer and his wife Lady Dorothy. They assisted her studies at the Salzburg Mozarteum and with the eminent Hungarian pianist Ilona Kabos in London. After her Wigmore Hall debut Ronnie established herself on the international music circuit. With her recording of the John Field Nocturnes, she became the first Irish pianist to be invited to undertake an extensive recital tour of the Soviet Union. Three others followed with Ronnie playing with many of the USSR’s leading orchestras. Tours of the US and Europe were also par for the course and for several years Ronnie acted as music director of Irish National Opera playing its Mayer-gifted upright Steinway piano throughout the country. Following the death of her first husband and rearing her family, Ronnie joined the Classical Music Cruises organisation, where she met her second husband, who passed away relatively recently. The death of her beloved daughter, Judy O’Dea, some years previously had a profound effect on Ronnie and diverted her from music altogether for some time. She admits hearing Chopin played by Rubinstein brought her ‘back on course’. In latter years Ronnie has been invited to sit on many international piano competition juries. She also adjudicates at musical festivals at home and abroad and finds the wealth of talent in our own country refreshing. The NCH’s birthday programme presented Ronnie in several pianistic guises with Mozart’s G minor Piano Quartet as ensemble player; Schubert, Larchet and John McCabe as accompanist; Bizet, Arensky and Shostakovich as duettist on one and two pianos. For me, her piece de résistance was her solo – Chopin’s C sharp minor Op 21/1 Nocturne. It was hauntingly expressive. Ad multos annos. The post NCH resounds to a joyous celebration for Veronica McSwiney appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
The history of the Church of Ireland continues
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Sad tale of how charisma choked truth
We’ve always had to put up with extremism and while it is fuelled nowadays by social media, it is not dependent on modern technology. Religious extremism is the worst of all, mimicking something that should be about love and dignity. The phenomenon is particularly evident in cults and in cultish behaviour sometimes found in mainstream religion. Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle (BBC Four) was a two-part documentary in the excellent Storyville series, Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, exploring the story of The Peoples Temple, its cult leader Jim Jones and the mass suicide he orchestrated in Guyana in 1978. It was a riveting and shocking film, with compelling and heart-breaking survivor testimony, interviews with two of his sons and disturbing audio of Jones ranting at his followers and of the final tragic hours. How people could be so naïve and gullible was mystifying, but Jones’ charisma was so intense that people were taken in. A few left, but others rationalised, thinking the main thing was the creation of a paradise on earth. Jones started as an apparently idealistic preacher, promoting socialism and campaigning against racial segregation. Whether this was ego tripping or not, he soon became what one contributor called a “power addict” and eventually it was all about him. He seemed to regard himself as god and saviour and expected adulation accordingly. He became a drug addict as well, and while initially he was favoured by many powerful people in the US, the truth began to creep out with the help of journalists and defectors, and so he fled to Guyana with hundreds of followers, ostensibly to set up a paradise-like community. But there was violence, extreme control and terror. Paranoia was encouraged so that they could claim persecution – in one incident Jones staged an assassination attempt on himself, and there were fake miracles – the ultimate cynicism. Warning Programmes like this provide a salutary warning but, no doubt, there will be more charlatans eager to prey on well-intentioned believers. If there was religious extremism in that programme, there was no religion at all in the drama series Virgin River (Netflix) which I finished last week. The story was about a young nurse who leaves the city after a personal trauma and goes to work in an idyllic rural community in the US. Now, given the strong religious practice in rural America it was surprising that there wasn’t some element of religion in the community. What was noteworthy however was how relatively innocent and old fashioned the show was - quite refreshing. There was no foul language, nothing graphic, and the characters were almost universally likeable, though the lady mayor was quite irritating. There was warmth towards the characters, while the problems they faced in relationships were entirely credible. However, and unfort-unately, while it was passable and undemanding entertainment, it was a bit soapy, quite predictable and repetitious at times, with more than a few stereotyped characters and situations. The flashbacks were so annoying and you could see them coming a mile away. Alexandra Breckenridge was appealing in the main role, and without her commanding presence the whole thing might have fallen apart. I was glad to see Tim Matheson in a leading role – I fondly remember him playing Jesus in an old Paulist video about the Holy Trinity – Jesus B.C. - which you can see on YouTube. Religion is certainly a strong presence in Northern Ireland communities but too often it is marred by religious extremism and sectarianism. It was good to see the restoration of the Northern Irish Assembly last weekend, though it was too late to prevent the decriminalisation of abortion in the North, which was introduced rather cynically through the back door – the death toll from this, if it’s not reversed, may be worse than that of the Troubles. It was quite frustrating to see the collapse of the Assembly for three years and those who kept it collapsed have a lot to answer for, taking unacceptable risks with the peace process. On Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster) last weekend historian Eamon Phoenix pointed out that technically the new measures involved in the restoration of the Assembly puts a formal end to the Penal Laws – those 18th-Century laws that discriminated against Catholics and Irish Speakers. Good news there and I thought last Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm hit a relevant and optimistic note – ‘the Lord will bless his people with peace’.   Pick of the Week: Service RTÉ1, Sunday, January 19, 11 am Service to mark The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity led by Rev. Ken Rue and Fr Kieran O’Mahony with music led by Ian Callanan. Songs of Praise BBC1, Sunday, January 19, 1.15 pm Human interest stories with hymns from around Scotland, and Eddie Reader singing ‘Amazing Grace’ in Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire. NEW! MARCH FOR LIFE EWTN, Friday, January 17, 2 pm Live and complete coverage of the annual March For Life in Washington DC. The post Sad tale of how charisma choked truth appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
‘The Cave’ Review: An oasis of hope amid Syria’s bloodshed
‘The Cave’ Review: An oasis of hope amid Syria’s bloodshed Tim Reidy Fri, 01/10/2020 - 15:03 Advertisement
The smouldering issue at the heart of Northern politics
Burned: The inside story of the ‘cash for ash’ scandal and Northern Ireland’s secretive new elite by Sam McBride (Merrion Press, €19.95)   The scandal of Northern Ireland’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is one of bureaucratic failure, sloppy political oversight, and culpable procrastination, all leading to a colossal waste of public money. This book will be avidly read in the UK Treasury, from which a large overall net subsidy comes to maintain Northern Ireland’s excellent public services. The author draws heavily on evidence given to the Public Inquiry into RHI, which will publish it’s findings in the New Year, though no date has yet been set. Sam McBride shows that, even when the power sharing administration was working, there was no collective responsibility or proper communication among ministers. Each government party (DUP and Sinn Féin) treated the ministries it held as independent fiefdoms. Checks and balances did not work. The opposition parties (SDLP, Ulster Unionist, Alliance and others) did not call the government to account, until it was too late. The RHI started with a good idea, that of incentivising businesses in Northern Ireland (NI) to use renewable fuels (like wood), rather than ones that would eventually run out (like oil, coal, and gas) to heat their premises. It followed the model of a scheme already launched in Britain. That scheme was deliberately generous in the initial period, in order to promote a step change in business mentality about heating. The book’s conclusions are troubling, but it is not light reading” But the Northern Ireland version of RHI went further and contained some fatal flaws. The rate of subsidy was so generous that it exceeded the cost of the fuel! So the more heating used, the more profit was made. And the overall budget for the scheme was not capped. These were elementary errors. When firms discovered big upfront profits could be made from abusing the scheme, there was a huge rush of applications, and no limit on the UK taxpayer’s liability . The fact that such a flawed scheme could ever have been put forward by civil servants for approval by their minister (Arlene Foster at the time) is a damning indictment of the culture of public administration in Northern Ireland. This book shows that that culture is characterised by an unwillingness to ask hard questions, evasion of responsibility, and poor record keeping. Restoring the Assembly alone will not solve that. The motivation for the poor design of RHI in NI is even more troubling. The working assumption was that the full cost would be met by funds coming from London, and not from Northern Ireland’s own budget. So nobody bothered to look out for loopholes that could be abused. As money was coming in from outside, controls were not important. If the money had had to be raised from NI taxpayers themselves, much more care would have been taken, both by civil servants and by Ministers. In this sense, the careless attitude to money calls the current model of devolution into question. Devolving spending power, without equivalent tax raising responsibility, inevitably leads to poor decision making. This was also shown when the decisions on welfare reform had to be handed back by Belfast to Westminster, because the NI parties in the Executive could not agree or take responsibility. Arlene Foster of the DUP was the responsible minister when the flawed scheme was launched. When the scandal was uncovered, her party sought to delay the closing down of the scheme, because so many NI businesses were by then exploiting it. When they found out, Sinn Féin ministers were also slow in taking action. This book contains a mass of information. Its conclusions are deeply troubling, but it is not light reading. It contains salutary lessons for all who would like to see responsible government restored in Stormont. The post The smouldering issue at the heart of Northern politics appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Reports of God’s death much exaggerated
Has Science Killed God? Faraday Papers on Science and Religion edited by Denis Alexander (SPCK, £19.99)   Christopher
 Moriarty   This is a truly amazing book. Written by a team of eminent scientists, who are also believers in the reality of the spiritual, it provides a great deal of comfort to people of faith who feel assailed by the arguments of materialists. In this context, it is always important to remember that atheism, however skillfully presented, is a belief system – many of whose tenets are at least as questionable as those of people of faith. Twenty chapters by 17 authors explore different aspects of the nature of the material universe and its spiritual creator or guiding force. They are papers from the Cambridge-based Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. The name of the Institute commemorates the work and beliefs of Michael Faraday, one of the greatest scientific innovators and communicators of all time – and a sincere traditional Christian believer. Founded in 2006, one of the Institute’s earliest initiatives, under the guidance of David Alexander who edited this book, was to generate a series of four-page papers written by experts in the science and religion field. Although the authors had all distinguished themselves at the top levels in specialised fields of science, their brief was to write papers for a wide readership – many of whom would know nothing of science. At the same time the papers were to be of the highest academic standards and provided with reference lists. These papers were published at intervals and this book is the first collection of them to appear. Each one, in the short space allotted, gives a concise account of the science involved together with the author’s conclusions on the likelihood that, besides the wonders of the material universe that they describe, there exists a creative, controlling and extremely complex spiritual force. Scripture Christians by and large believe that this is expressed in the form of the Trinity with its scriptural basis. Many books have addressed these topics, increasing in numbers in the course of the past two or three decades. Indeed, most of the authors of these 20 papers have published one or more of such books. They include the Editor’s Genes, determination and God, John Polkinghorne’s Science and Theology and Alister McGrath’s Dawkins’ God: Genes, memes and the meaning of life. There are chapters on the birth and development of the universe, on the need to care for our own earthly environment, on the origins of life and so on. Effectively most of the details would be far beyond the comprehension of us ordinary mortals. Relatively few have the mathematical abilities or scientific insight to come fully to terms with the matters involved. Nevertheless, those amongst the few, who have great skills in communication, are capable of writing meaningful summaries of the essentials of these immense topics. And that is what makes this book so exceptional. It is very readable and as easy to understand as anything of this magnitude can ever be. The shortness of the chapters ensures that every reader can at the same time both grasp the outline and marvel at the complexity of the facts – and then put the book aside for a while without interrupting the flow. A most valuable addition to each chapter is a reference list, again short, but clearly indicating sources for those who have the time, energy and understanding to pursue the topics in greater depth. This is a book to read once for immediate spiritual and intellectual revelation – and to come back to again and again. The post Reports of God’s death much exaggerated appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Bad news continues to drive the agenda
As we ease into the early days of 2020, with threats of global conflict and environmental disaster prominent in news and current affairs coverage so far, anything that gives us well-grounded hope is welcome. But good news doesn’t tend to get much prominence. The dilemmas and paradoxes surrounding these issues were aired in a leisurely and insightful way in A Small Matter of Hope (BBC Radio 4) last Saturday morning. Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, explored these issues with a variety of contributors, including his own staff. His thesis was that the world is getting much better by many important measurements, including life expectancy, child mortality and education, but the media still reports primarily the bad stuff. It’s as if our brain looks out for danger and negativity, perhaps as a survival mechanism. Maybe the optimists were all eaten by wolves and we are the descendants of the pessimists! Not all theorists take this evolutionary line, concentrating more on choice and different personality types. Negative headlines tend to get more clicks online which suits the commercially driven. Disaster stories attract more attention – ‘if it bleeds it leads’. Author Steven Pinker puts a lot of this down to the news. He finds an “optimism gap” where people are positive about their own lives but negative about the state of the country in general. But Sarah Baxter of the Sunday Times thought readers didn’t want to be patronised with feel-good stories – journalists should show what’s wrong and what can be done to put things right. She instanced brave journalists who risked their lives to report from war torn areas to bring us the truth of what was happening. It was suggested that some journalists had a “bad news bias”, fearing that too much positive news would create complacency. Yet lack of awareness about the progress we are making can create potentially harmful discontent. Pinker suggested that what was needed in news media was neither optimism nor pessimism, but accuracy. He believed we could make real progress and stressed the importance of sympathy, self-control and reason. You can catch up on this discussion on the BBC website or the BBC Sounds app and likewise with the BBC World Service programme In the Studio – Singing for the Pope (New Year’s Eve). This fascinating documentary explored the work of the Sistine Chapel Choir as they prepared for the Christmas vigil Mass in the Vatican.  Presenter Glyn Tansley told us that this choir is one of the oldest choirs in the world dating from before the building of the Sistine Chapel itself – with its origins in a group of Vatican singers from the 4th Century. Tansley himself wasn’t particularly religious but found the chapel awe-inspiring and was hugely enthusiastic about the music. I liked his idea that the music breathed life into the amazing paintings in the chapel. Composers We learned that one of the famous composers for the group, Palestrina, worked in the chapel at the same time as Michelangelo, and that the choir gallery even had some historical graffiti from 16th Century composer Josquin Des Prez. Pope Francis had described the choir as “a high place for artistic liturgical expression” and there was a funny story about how he inadvertently interrupted a choir recording by ringing the chapel doorbell to pay a visit. One chorister, a Polish man honoured to be the first Polish singer in the choir, spoke of how it helped him to feel “completely connected” with his religion, making him feel like a “true person” – the music wasn’t just something nice and aesthetic. Standing in as presenter of the Ryan Tubridy Show (RTÉ Radio 1) for a day on Monday, comedian Oliver Callan had a cheerful and optimistic approach to the New Year. He also acknowledged the feast of the Epiphany, which was welcome, and linked in the ‘Nollaig na mBan’ and ‘Little Christmas’ traditions. He was conscious of valuing people who were national treasures while they were still with us and probably he had the unexpected death of Marian Finucane in mind. I didn’t always agree with her but she was an institution in broadcasting, made her weekend shows on RTÉ Radio 1 essential listening and uniquely her own, exuding a calm and genial reasonableness. She will be sorely missed – may she rest in peace. Spare a thought for RTÉ staff, suffering a series of bereavements – Larry Gogan the most recent – among their colleagues in recent months. That has to hurt. *** Pick of the Week  The Great Give Back Virgin Media 1, Tuesday, January 14, 10 pm Hairdresser Dylan Bradshaw and his wife Charlotte provide assistance for brothers Conor and Colin Grassick from Drumcondra in Dublin. FATAL FLAWS-LEGALISING ASSISTED DEATH EWTN, Wednesday, January 15, 9.30 pm Filmmaker Kevin Dunn delves into the real life consequences of legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide. Dunn discusses his film on EWTN Live on Wednesday night at 1am, repeated Thursday at 8 pm and Friday at 11am. All Walks Of Life RTÉ1, Friday, January 17, 8.30 pm Mary McAleese brings a diverse selection of people on spiritual journeys along some of Ireland’s ancient pilgrim trails. The post Bad news continues to drive the agenda appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Little Women leads the way into a bright new decade
Cinemas usually experience the celluloid equivalent of haemophilia at this time of year, either due to ritualistic hibernation, post-festive lethargy and/or the sedentary hangover of a Yuletide addiction to television. To draw patrons away from the sofas to which they seem to become almost surgically attached over the 12 days of Christmas – if not the whole 31 of December – something special is usually called for. This year it was Little Women, the eighth adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved tale of four sisters coming of age in New England in the aftermath of America’s Civil War. Saoirse Ronan has been widely praised for her performance. The stellar cast also includes Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. The film re-unites Ronan with her Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig who’s all over the production. She directs, produces and also wrote the screenplay. Another period drama, The Personal History of David Copperfield, has drawn more mixed reviews. Dev Patel plays Charles Dickens’ rags-to-riches hero. Armando Iannucci is as involved here as Gerwig is in the other film, managing to direct, produce and co-write it. Also in the cast are Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw and Peter Capaldi. Bombshell is a film that’s timely for the post-Harvey Weinstein era, starring three of Hollywood’s most famous actresses – Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie – as employees of Fox News who take on network head Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. Along similar lines from a previous era is Seberg, a biopic of the troubled actress Jean Seberg. She was basically hunted to her death by J. Edgar Hoover after rumours circulated that she’d had a child by a Black Panther. Her career began auspiciously after she was chosen from hundreds of other hopefuls to play Joan of Arc in Otto Preminger’s movie Saint Joan but her elation was short lived. Preminger bullied her ferociously and the film was lionised by the media. “I was burned twice,” Seberg lamented, “first at the stake and then by the critics.” Misfires Her career descended into a plethora of misfires as the witch-hunt against her continued. She took to drink and drugs and eventually committed suicide. By the time she died she was a tragic figure whose premature demise was almost inevitable. Kristen Stewart plays her here, the film concentrating on her problems with the FBI. Waves investigates the life of an African-American family led by a kind but domineering father. On a more whimsical note, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is a satirical black comedy about a boy who discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. What to do? That’s easy:  ask his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler for advice. Finally, A Hidden Life concerns  the Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jagerstetter (August Diehl) who refused to fight for the Nazis during World War II. He was executed for treason but later declared a martyr and beatified. Terrence Malick directs this poignant tale of heroism and love. The post Little Women leads the way into a bright new decade appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
The romantic historian of the Irish Republic
Dorothy Macardle by Leeann Lane (University College Dublin Press, €25.00)   In this study the author sets out to explore Dorothy Macardle’s writings to reveal the development of her political thought and feminism. In so doing she has provided an excellent biography of her subject. Dorothy was born on March 7, 1889 in Dundalk, Co. Louth. Her father was the proprietor of a brewery – Macardle, Moore & Co. She was educated at home and later in Alexandra College and University College Dublin. In her early years, owing to the strong influence of her English mother, she was very much an anglophile. Her two brothers were educated at the Oratory School in Birmingham – which some called the ‘the Catholic Eton’. Both enlisted and fought in World War I and one was lost during the battle on the Somme. Following her graduation Dorothy secured a teaching post at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, where she immersed herself in the lore surrounding Shakespeare. Dorothy was appointed a member of the staff at Alexandra College in 1917. Back in Dublin she moved in theatrical circles. She had a number of her plays produced and one was staged by the Abbey in December 1918. Theatre Through her theatrical activities she became associated with Maud Gonne MacBride and Constance Markiewicz, then under their influence she became a zealous republican, joining Cumann na mBan in 1918. During the war of independence, she assisted Erskine Childers, the Director of Sinn Féin Publicity, for whom she reported on Black and Tan atrocities. Among other assignments she visited Belfast to provide a first-hand account of the anti-Catholic pogroms in June 1922. She was also involved in relief work with the White Cross established in 1920 to aid victims on both sides of the conflict. Like Childers, for whom she had a high regard, she opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Following the outbreak of the Civil War she worked with him on An Phoblacht until he was arrested. Later she produced a journal, Irish Freedom, with Countess Markiewicz. She was arrested on November 9, 1922 and interned in Mountjoy, Kilmainham and the North Dublin Union. During her incarceration she wrote a jail journal and short stories. She was also involved in the disruptive actions of her fellow internees. With the end of the Civil War, Dorothy was released from prison in May 1923. She was unemployed, as she had been dismissed from her position in Alexandra College. However, she was hired as a political propogandist by Sinn Féin. She contributed to republican newspapers such as Éire and in 1924 she published Tragedies of Kerry. This was an exposé based on eye-witness accounts of atrocities committed by Free State troops in Co. Kerry during the Civil War. Next came her magnum opus – The Irish Republic – published in 1937. It was a documentary account of the war of independence and the civil war entirely narrated from an Anti-Treaty perspective. Commissioned by Éamon de Valera, it was more a polemic than a history. Dorothy was a life-long friend and supporter of de Valera. She supported him when he broke with Sinn Féin and set up Fianna Fáil, of which she was a founder member and its Director of Publicity. She was a frequent contributor to the Party’s newspapers The Nation and later the Irish Press. She campaigned for his 1937 Constitution, but was critical of its emphasis on women’s domestic role. Earlier she had been outspoken in her opposition to the Conditions of Employment Act of 1936, which excluded women from certain industries. This study shows that Dorothy Macardle was a remarkable literary figure’ Dorothy supported de Valera’s policy of neutrality during World War II. However, in a gesture of solidarity to the embattled British, she opted to reside in London during the war. In the post-war period she spent most of her time in mainland Europe assisting war orphans and refugees. During her imprisonment Dorothy abandoned adherence to her Catholic Faith in reaction to the bishops’ condemnation of the Anti-Treatyites for their prosecution of the Civil War. She died a member of the Church of Ireland on December 23, 1958. This study shows that Dorothy Macardle was a remarkable literary figure and a political propagandist with few peers, but the author is also at great pains to show her to have been an iconic feminist in the context of her own time. The post The romantic historian of the Irish Republic appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Review: A pilgrim in search of grace
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Review: A novel for the age of ‘Laudato Si’’
Review: A novel for the age of ‘Laudato Si’’ Grief is a theme that guides my academic research. Grief is the loss of another experienced as the loss of an integral part of oneself. Christianity is shot through with grief. Our fundamental act as Christians is to keep alive our grief over Christ, and the unjust death of a man whose ministry we (strive to) make the backbone of our identity. Grief is also an act of wild hope. It holds within it the belief that the future can be marked and changed by the value of the lost. The resurrection tells us we do not hope in vain.Advertisement A question I return to in my work again and again is: Whom do we grieve? Further, what circumscribes where we see Christ? How can we expand our grief, the stories we tell about ourselves, to include more?Pope Francis and other theologians encourage us to see that our circle of grief is not yet wide enough, that our understanding of grace is limited by anthropocentrism: “The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures” (“Laudato Si’,” No. 68). The Catholic Catechism, too, calls us away from a human-centered notion of Grace: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection.... Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness.”Elizabeth Johnson has asked us to see ourselves not as the pre-Galileo centers of the universe but, with Darwin, as part of a wide and beautiful expanding web of ecological diversity that includes all life. We share common ancestors and a quarter of our genetic material with trees. We are not the apex of creation but a mere strand. Can we experience that ecological web not as our resource, or even our (necessary) habitat, but as our kin? Richard Powers’s brilliant novel The Overstory, which won the the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a story about people who do this, challenging us to feel that kinship with that web.Powers masterfully brings the story together, structuring the narrative as a tree itself: roots that stretch out, the trunk that brings them all together, a crowning flourish and seeds that disperse.Like the depiction of small-town Victorian life in Eliot’s Middlemarch, or the shifting national identity in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, The Overstory’s breadth offers more than plot. It offers a grand and compelling view, detailed and wide-lensed, of our interdependence. In The Overstory, trees that span generations and plotlines provide the wide scope. More than a framing device, trees become a part of the story and live in a way that I have never before encountered in literature.Powers masterfully brings the story together, structuring the narrative as a tree itself: roots that stretch out, the trunk that brings them all together, a crowning flourish and seeds that disperse.A taste of the protagonists: Patricia is a dendrologist who discovers the mechanisms by which trees communicate; Mimi is an engineer who leaves her corporate life to protest deforestation; Neelay is a Silicon Valley coder whose lucrative game, Mastery, allows players infinite resources to create their own worlds; Nicholas is an artist equal parts Banksy and Andy Goldsworthy; Ray is a property rights lawyer with a mischievous wife, Dorothy; Adam is a professor of psychology who becomes entangled in his research subjects’ activism; Doug is a wounded Vietnam veteran; and Olivia is a college student whose mystical visions lead her to live 10 months atop a Northern California giant, hoping to save it.The Overstory gives us the generations-deep story of each character. All of them come to see and ultimately give their lives to the bigger story, which moves so slowly, which is so grand and so still, that it is nearly impossible to see in a single human life. “You can watch the hour hand,” Powers writes. “Hold your eyes on it all around the circle of the clock, and never once see it move.”I heard once that trees talk to each other, and I laughed it off immediately as clickbait science. But the truth, which The Overstory shows through elegant narrative, is: They do. They heal one another, sending targeted nutrients and medicine and water through their massive root systems. They make the air, and they grow with it. (Plant a tree in a pot of 50 pounds of soil, come back in 15 years; you will find 50 pounds of soil and a 100-pound tree.) With air they aid and warn each other. Forests even, over time too extended for us take in, migrate in response to their environments.I had often assented to the notion that the human brain is the most complex organ in the universe. How could I have ever taken a bite from such an apple?I had often assented to the notion that the human brain is the most complex organ in the universe. How could I have ever taken a bite from such an apple? A forest, regenerating, communicating, growing in a billion directions—with trees over twenties centuries old—surviving and adapting. “There are a hundred thousand species of love,” Powers writes, “separately invented, each more ingenious than the last, and every one of them keeps making things.” Forests are clearly complex, resilient and beautiful systems, things we hardly understand but that created us and on which we remain integrally dependent.And yet we have destroyed nearly half of all forest area in recorded history, and continue to harvest 15 billion trees a year. We replant some, clones in rows. If I tore apart every word in the Gospel of Mark, then lined each back up neatly in alphabetical order, would you still call it the good news? Carbon excess in our atmosphere and the heat it traps fell trees and species we have not yet even reached in our knowledge. Powers is right: “Things are going lost that have not yet been found.”Four billion years of evolution, the infinite web of life on which we are but one dependent strand, and over a few short decades we are cashing it all in. As I finished The Overstory, I imagined this cash-out, all done in the quest to keep the sun rotating around us, to square and submit every plant and inch of the earth, to imagine our brains the zenith of reality. Gods of convenience, ownership and mastery. We have, in slow motion, been picking the apple from the tree all that time, with the reckless shortsightedness of Adam and Eve. It feels now that there is little we can do to stop it. Our economies are forcing a mass suicide of people affected with bystander apathy. We are at the gate.The corollary to all this is that perhaps we could have been in Eden this whole time, if only we had been still and humble enough to experience it. I have long known the facts of climate change. But reading The Overstory, I felt the loss of trees and forests not as a loss of resources or even the loss of my human home—though I fear and despair over that. I experienced the destruction for the first time as a loss of an integral part of myself, as a creature who participates in the glory of being alive on Earth. Like the Fall itself, the truest sin, I experienced the destruction as a break with my maker and kin. The Overstory accomplished its goal: I grieved. James KeaneMon, 12/30/2019 - 15:53 Show Comments () Join the conversation: Login or create an account Before you can comment, you need to update your profile to include your first and last name, as required in our comments policy. 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Exploring Kierkegaard’s faith and feelings
Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle (Allen Lane, £25.00) Patrick
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   This exploration of the tortured mind and faith of Kierkegaard is a challenging title with which to begin a fresh year of reading. Clare Carlisle opens her preface to this book on the philosopher with a reference to what was surely one of the three most important relationships of Kierkegaard’s life, with his fiancée Regine Olsen. The others having been with his father and with God. Following the painful breakup of what was to be his only love affair, Søren wrote: ‘A love affair is always an instructive theme regarding what it means to exist.’ The chill distance of this remark belies the fact that he remained obsessed with Regine, whom he had loved from her childhood, but abandoned less than a year after their engagement, for the rest of his life. She tells us that Kierkegaard ‘always found Christianity disturbing as well as inviting’, and he certainly despised any attempts to soft-peddle it in any way, particularly in the established Lutheran Church” The focus of Kierkegaard’s thought was ‘what it means to exist’. He would argue that he broke with Regine to devote his life fully to God and to the pursuit his ‘authorship’. To a less sympathetic reader, it might appear that there was not enough place in his life for Regine and his own ‘greatness’. Søren came from a humble and devout family rooted in Moravian pietism. While close to his mother, a simple and illiterate housewife, his father was certainly the dominant influence in his life. Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard escaped the poverty of remote Jutland to amass a significant fortune and social standing in Copenhagen, which eventually allowed his son to give himself full time to his ‘authorship’, while he lived in modest but secure Lutheran comfort. In the pietist tradition, Michael Pedersen aspired “to a holy life that follows the example of Christ [seeking] to imitate Jesus deep, inward faith in God, and his pure-hearted obedience, humility and poverty”. He passed this on to his family. There was, however, a deep shadow from the past which profoundly marked his relationship with Søren, although we never find out what it was, and Carlisle does not engage in psychological speculation. Disturbing She tells us that Kierkegaard ‘always found Christianity disturbing as well as inviting’, and he certainly despised any attempts to soft-peddle it in any way, particularly in the established Lutheran Church. He is, rather, “drawn to a truth that lies at two opposite extremes at once, – and the truth of human experience is often like this”. As his biographer puts it, “he sees in the example of Jesus the dual extremities of human existence that […] constitute his own deepest truth”. While Carlisle admits to being sometimes irritated by Kierkegaard, mostly, I imagine, his somewhat adolescent self-absorption, she tells us that his ‘romantic crisis yielded insights into human freedom and identity that earned him an enduring reputation as “the father of existentialism”’. Focus His focus ever remained ‘rooted in the inward drama of being human’ and in this, she argues, he was inspirational in his willingness to bear witness to the human condition.’ The stuff of his philosophy was love, suffering, humour and anxiety, despair and courage. It is therefore hardly surprising that his persona, if not perhaps so much his work, continues to fascinate readers. Carlisle sets out to write what her editor described as “a Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard”, and this no doubt explains some of the peculiarities of the book. She eschews a chronological approach in favour of chapters that are thematic. Much of the text is written in the present tense. These are challenges for the reader, but not insurmountable ones, in what is a very fine book. The post Exploring Kierkegaard’s faith and feelings appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Frederick II: Emperor, scientist and truly great visionary
Mainly About Books by the books editor   Recently we reviewed Elizabeth Mac Donald’s novel A Matter of Interpretation about Michael Scot and his lifelong interaction with the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1195-1250), the Norman who ruled Sicily and Southern Italy, and was one of the leading figures in the political and cultural power struggles between the Papacy and the rising nation states of Europe. At the launch in Dublin I discussed with the author her presentation of the Emperor who was very effective in his role as a man and a leader, especially in his conflicts with the Pope. Yet this it seemed to me was only a partial image of a great man. Nor indeed does David Abulafia in his recent biography give a fully rounded picture of the Emperor. He plays down and makes light of the importance of Arab culture at the Emperor’s court in Sicily. This too was not my view of the man. What both the novelist and the historian in their strong treatments of the Emperor neglected to make clear was that Frederick was also a true man of science, his investigations being centuries ahead of his time. Modern
 sense In his spare time – though what spare time a medieval ruler could have had in the modern sense is hard to imagine – he loved hunting, particularly falconry. Over many years he carefully studied the birds that were maintained in his mews. Eventually he wrote and had illustrated an epochal work, The Art of Hunting with Birds. Whatever about a research expedition to Ireland, this is a good example of the detailed investigating work from his own observation or those of his agents that went into Frederick’s great book” This book was first written in Latin about 1241, and was first published in two volumes by his son Manfred. The illustrated original is in the Vatican. Next it was published in French in 1300 in six volumes. This six-volume version was translated into English and combined into one book in 1931 by Dr Casey Albert Wood and F. Marjorie Fyfe. Dr Wood’s interest arose from his researches as an ophthalmologist specializing in the eyes of birds. The Emperor, however, was a part of the Norman diaspora across Europe, from Ireland to the shores of the Ottoman Empire. The Art of Hunting with Birds reveals an interesting Irish connection. One of the topics discussed by Frederick is the legend of the origins of the Barnacle Goose. In the 1180s, Gerald de Barri’s account of Ireland (which he wrote from the observations he made while living at the time of the Norman invasion) introduced to the world the idea that some kinds of geese were not hatched from eggs, but were generated from a plant found along the western shores. Some species of geese never nested in Ireland, and the legend arose that they actually developed from the feathery integuments of the creature found inside barnacles shells. I have given an account of this legend in my book The Magic Zoo (1979), on the natural history of imaginary animals. Gerald read his account of Ireland at Oxford in 1187 and in a few years manuscripts of it were circulating all over Europe, especially in Norman kingdoms. Frederick discusses the legend, but was sceptical about it. He tells us that he sent his own agents to the north to investigate on the spot. I once imagined that this meant that some of Sicilians were dispatched to the wild and distant shores of Mayo. But, ‘on more mature consideration’, I suspect that Gerald saw the phenomena he describes in the slobs lands of Wexford, a well-known haunt of myriads of geese to this day. Whatever about a research expedition to Ireland, this is a good example of the detailed investigating work from his own observation or those of his agents that went into Frederick’s great book. I discussed with the author her presentation of the Emperor who was very effective in his role as a man and a leader, especially in his conflicts with the Pope” But this way of proceeding was quite contrary to medieval academic minds which, influenced by the idea of classical and scriptural authority, sought to support their views from ancient texts. This was not for Frederick. He observed and thought for himself. In this he is one of the earliest examples of a revival of the sort of thing we find almost uniquely in the biological writings of Aristotle, which didn’t revive again until the 17th Century and the emergence of the modern scientist. The post Frederick II: Emperor, scientist and truly great visionary appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Make yourself a free person
Personal Struggle: Oppression, healing and liberation by Dr Seán Ruth (Atrium / Cork University Press, €14.95) The title may, for some, carry echoes of the 1970s. But in a sense the problems identified then by theologians and social activists have not gone away. They have got worse in many respects (especially in Latin American). Worse the symptoms of oppression have moved to the more advanced economies where the homeless, the low paid, women, young people, and migrants continue to suffer. They have entered also in the wider fabric of society, witness the treatment of many people in employment and dependent situations. Here, however, Dr Seán Ruth suggests that a way forward can be found in leadership strategies applied not to society as whole, but to one’s self. The idea is to lead yourself to true freedom. Destiny Though aspects of this book imply a professional readership, it is in fact written for an independent general readership. The advice to take control of one’s own destiny is always timely – not always easy to do, of course, when aspects of society, even in a Christian setting aim at control and the exercise of power over individuals. Lead yourself to freedom: that could be good intention for the New Year for nearly all of us. This book appears in the ‘Mind Your Self’ series, edited for Atrium by Dr Marie Murray. The post Make yourself a free person appeared first on The Irish Catholic.
Music world will long remember Mawby and Cleobury
A happy and celebratory New Year as we remember Beethoven’s 250th anniversary. Born in Bonn in December 1770, he was the second son of court musician Johann and his wife Maria Magdalena. Somewhat harsh and severe, Johann was Ludwig’s first teacher. The composer’s mother was a quiet and serious person and Beethoven was very fond of her. He spoke affectionately about her:  “She was a good mother to me and indeed my best friend.” I hope to return to Beethoven as the year progresses but now I want to mention two highly-respected choral conductors who died within a few days of each other in November. Colin Mawby and Stephen Cleobury were English and while the latter spent his life in his native country, Colin Mawby worked and lived in Ireland for nearly 40 years. His funeral Mass took place in Dublin’s Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church on November 30. Born in Portsmouth in 1936, Colin Mawby was educated at Westminster Cathedral’s choir school. From the age of 12 he acted as assistant to the master of music, George Malcolm. In 1961, Mawby assumed the master’s role having also studied at London’s Royal College of Music.  While still holding his cathedral position, Mawby conducted the Belgian Radio Choir and BBC Singers. Leaving Westminster in 1978, Mawby came to RTÉ being appointed its choral director in 1983. Under the guidance of head of music John Kinsella, he revitalised the music department’s choral section, establishing its Philharmonic Choir, Chamber Choir and Cór na nÓg. Following his retirement from RTÉ, Colin Mawby became artistic director of the National Chamber Choir (now Chamber Choir Ireland) and vacating that position was appointed the ensemble’s artistic director emeritus. Services A prolific composer with worldwide performances, Mawby wrote over 50 Masses, five song cycles and a plethora of other religious and secular choral settings. In recognition of his services to church music, Pope Benedict XVI awarded him a Knighthood of St Gregory in 2004. Commenting on Mawby’s work, Evonne Ferguson of the Contemporary Music Centre said: “His beautifully crafted music for the human voice never ceased to inspire through the many decades of his career as a successful composer and conductor. Colin will be sadly missed by the music community in Ireland.” Twelve years Mawby’s junior, Stephen Cleobury received most of his music education at Worcester Cathedral under the eminent Douglas Guest. He later became organ scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge. In 1974, Cleobury was appointed sub-organist at Westminster Abbey later becoming, like Colin Mawby, master of music at Westminster Cathedral – the first Anglican to hold that position. He remained at the Cathedral until 1979 and three years later returned to Cambridge but to King’s College and its internationally famous choir. Globe Renowned for the standard of its music making, King’s annual Christmas celebration of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast and televised across the globe. Cleobury extended the choir’s repertoire to include a broad spectrum of contemporary works. Diagnosed with cancer, he directed his last Evensong in July 2019. May the souls of Stephen Cleobury and Colin Mawby rest in peace. The post Music world will long remember Mawby and Cleobury appeared first on The Irish Catholic.