Saturday, May 27, 2017

Videoing the Ascension may well not catch it on camera

The 'Thinking Anew column in 'The Irish Times' today.

Michael Commane 
Tomorrow is the feast of the Ascension. In the second half of the 20th century an Anglican bishop and theologian commented that if he had filmed the Ascension of the Lord most likely he would not have caught on video Jesus rising above the clouds. 

The bishop, who was a man of faith, was controversial. He was always trying to challenge people with the mysteries of Christianity.

From time to time every organisation throws up interesting people, who are not conformists or bound to the status quo, people who are not afraid to speak their minds. When that happens within religion it is a remarkable phenomenon to observe and a blessing to behold. 

We get hints of such an attitude from Pope Francis. He's willing on occasion to say what he thinks even if it might be in the tiniest way unconventional. Of course, the church, the people of God, are duty-bound to live and preach the Word of the Lord, the story that has been handed down to us from the time of Jesus Christ.

But surely the Word of God must be lived and spoken in a language and style that makes sense in the “here and now” of our daily lives. In last week's edition of 'The Tablet', an English weekly Catholic magazine, writer Sara Maitland wrote on how the official teaching of the church has changed down through history.

She cited examples, including doctrine on the Trinity and the church's teaching on the geocentric universe. The Church too has changed its teaching on witchcraft, evolution, interest on loans and whether women can vote.

Maitland gives the example of how love changes and develops. She writes: "It is not that the beloved has 'changed' into someone else, it is that our capacity to see, to know, to understand has expanded, refreshed itself."

So, what then does the Ascension of the Lord mean to us? We could easily get “bogged down” thinking in terms of someone hovering above the clouds. Alternatively, we could move beyond literal interpretation to dwell on the mystery of the incarnation. Our belief is that God became man, lived among us in an historical time and place, returned to the Father and then through the power of the Holy Spirit is present in some mysterious, yet real way in the world in which we live.

The feast of the Ascension is part of an intricate mosaic and is intrinsically bound up with the mystery of the Trinity. Tomorrow's feast is yet another signpost directing us towards God, who places so much emphasis on the idea of union, the idea of persons being so closely related with one another that they are united in one Godhead.

Every time, we, in harmony and union with other people, speak well of others, do good to others, we are participating in the mystery of the Trinity and indeed making the reality of a Trinitarian God present in our world.

I think it is in that context that we can best attempt to get any handle on tomorrow's feast.
It's easy to be aloof, it's easy to be rigid and unbending in our views and beliefs. But when people move outside such “lifestyle-bubbles” and still manage to perform brilliantly, they are inspirational.

Last week on the Ryan Tubridy radio programme English neurosurgeon Henry Marsh was interviewed. I had just read one of his books 'Do No Harm'. It is a collection of essays about his work. He readily admits that doctors can get corrupted by power, he talks of how success makes us complacent. He is a man who has dedicated his life to helping people, making people better. 

Marsh is anything but a status quo man. He has no time for any of the nonsense that goes with privilege and position. His patients always come first.

Being involved in the betterment of humanity, working in communion for the good of one another, we are entering the mystery of the triune God. The Ascension of Jesus is part of that mosaic.

Friday, May 26, 2017

From the NCR

Editorial: Reject Trump's cruel budget proposal
by NCR Editorial Staff
Editorial: The annual budget proposal the president sends to Congress is more of a message document than a working blueprint, and the message that the Trump administration sent with its priorities on May 23 is frighteningly clear. It spells out in stark terms the Trump administration's vision for America: It would create a crueler, more selfish society. It gives safe harbor to the richest and most comfortable among us and pits the poor and working class, families and children against the elderly to fight for scraps and leftovers. President Donald Trump would leave Social Security retirement benefits untouched, but would cut Social Security disability payments. Meals on Wheels are safe, but school lunches and food stamps are not.

Universities unchallenged

Last evening's RTÉ's Prime Time programme on the Irish universities gave us an insight into the incompetence, arrogance and laziness of the management class at our universities.

Can one imagine a similar programme on the management class of the Irish Catholic Church?

A wise man who reads this blog has been in touch to say that the blog comment is a 'tad of a generalisation'.

Accepted. Watching the programme and listening to politicians comment on the behaviour of university personnel at the Oireachtas committee, the writer of this blog was reminded of an arrogance that so often develops when people are not challenged. It happens everwhere.

But, yes, always dangerous to generalise. And point accepted.

A church of many parts

It's good to know that the Catholic Church is made up of different parts.

On Sunday Pope Francis named five new cardinals.

Among them is Gregorio Rosa Chávez, auxiliary bishop in San Salvador.

On the death of Archbishop Rivera in 1994 it was generally expected that Bishop Rosa Chávez would be appointed as his successor. To the surprise of many, he was overlooked and an Opus Dei sympathiser, who held the rank of brigadier general in the Salvadorian army became the new archbishop of San Salvador.

Rosa Chávez, who lives in a poor and run-down area of San Salvador, will be created a cardinal at the next consistory in Rome on June 28.

Some days later on July 8 in Dublin Archbishop Augustine De Noia will ordain to the priesthood an Irish Dominican.

Two different trends, two different groupings within the Catholic Church.

But the church of Chávez seems a more open, a kinder and nicer place to be. Less pompus and self-righteous too.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ascension in Germany

Today is a public/Sate holiday, across all Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany


Because it is the feast of the Ascension.

Shops, banks, businesses are closed. Germany closes down today, even on the railway, services are similar to Sunday service.

In Ireland? It was never a public or State holiday. 

Some years ago, the Irish bishops moved the feast of the Ascension to the following Sunday.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Harding in 'The Irish Times'

Columnists, priests, teachers, anyone who is writing or talking regularly have some good days, some bad days.

Sometimes what they say is exciting and interesting, other days it is boring and annoying and more days pure piffle.

And in that context or in that vein, Michael Harding's piece in 'The Irish Times' today is a laugh-a-sentence. So if you want to give yourself a smile, it's well worth a read.

People forced to flee home

 Last year 31 million people around the world were forced to flee their homes.

The large majority moved because of war, others moved as a result of natural disasters.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

'Do No Harm"

This week's Independent News & Media column.

Michael Commane
A friend suggested I read 'Do No Harm' by Henry Marsh. 

It's a gem. Marsh is a 67-year-old neurosurgeon, still doing occasional surgery in  Atkinson Morley's/St George's Hospital in London, where he has been working as a consultant neurosurgeon since 1987. These days he is working in Ukraine and Nepal.

Two documentaries have been made about him and he received a CBE in 2010.

Last Tuesday Ryan Tubridy interviewed him on his RTE Radio 1 morning show. 

I remember once hearing Maeve Binchy say that it's a great skill to write as you talk. And the moment I heard Marsh on the Turbidy Show it was so clear to see that he writes just as he talks.

He comes across as a lovely man. Reading the book and listening to him on radio I found myself being enthused to do a better job at my own work. Nothing 'grand' or pompous about him. Indeed he told Turbridy that it's easy for doctors to get corrupted by power.

His latest book 'Admissions' is a personal follow-up where he looks back on a life in medicine.

"Do No Harm' is a diary-style collection of accounts of different operations he has performed. It's the perfect book to carry with you for a bus or train journey as you can dip in and out of it. Each story is a unit in itself.

His genuine interest and compassion for his patients is striking. On one occasion he is heading to Heathrow to go on a short holiday with his wife when he gets a call from the hospital. He leaves the motorway and heads to the hospital.

He recalls how the working hours of junior doctors were reduced in the UK. It was believed that hospital doctors were overworked and patients' lives were at risk. But Marsh saw the change as having some negative results. 

"It seemed to me that this had lost the sense of importance and belonging that came with working the long hours of the past," he writes. I know exactly what he means. When I was at 'The Kerryman' we worked on Tuesdays until midnight. We complained but there was a great sense of camaraderie, 'importance' too.

The book is so well written. Before studying medicine he did a primary degree in politics, philosophy and economics. Obviously his dabbling in philosophy gave him  an entree into writing. 

To say it's a 'page turner' is one of those cliches that easily loses its meaning but having read a few short sentences of this book it's difficult not to keep reading.

Anyone who has anything at all to do with sick and fragile people, and that includes most of us, this book gives a fabulous insight into aspects of the world of medicine. Marsh stresses that he's no god. Nor does he want people to see him as such.

He keeps fit, runs approximately 45 kilometres a week and  has no trouble telling Ryan Tubridy that his exercise campaign keeps depression at bay.

Reading the book and listening to Henry Marsh talk I felt he was writing and talking to me. That's always a sign of genius.

While writing this column I met a young doctor who worked with Marsh in an operating theatre in a London hospital and he told me clearly and emphatically that he is a great man and a superb surgeon. No time for nonsense or any sort of pomposity. He hints too that he's 'different'. 

Conformists, status quo people can be so boring, silly too.

I recommend you read Henry Marsh, a man of skill, hope and humanity.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Irish Rail's confusing info on travelling with a bicycle

This leaflet is available at Irish Rail stations.

It is about carrying a bicycle on a train.

If you read the first two main paragraphs the flyer seems to give contradictory information.

Paragraph two states the opposite to what is written in the first paragraph.

Should the word 'including' be 'excluding'? Or is it that the rule does not apply to Intercity services?

Whether or which, it is confusing and certainly a waste of scarce resources.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bombs made in the USA

Yesterday President Donald Trump signed an agreement with the Saudi Arabian government to sell them €87 billion worth of armaments.

During the Vietnam war between 1964 and 1973 there were more than 580,000 US bombing missions in the skies of Laos.

A staggering 270 million bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam war.

BBC'S Fergal Keane on Marian Finucane's RTE Radio 1 programme yesterday spoke about his work in conflict zones.

He wondered if the pilots who dropped all the ordnance would only park their planes and come back, visit the places where they bombed and saw the human misery they cause.

In an interview today US President Donal Trump referred to the "beautiful military equipment' that the US makes.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Official Church teaching has changed throughout history

The current issue of 'The Tablet' carries an interesting piece by Sara Maitland, who is a regular contributor. She is a novelist and writer.

She is 'baffled' that the teaching of the Catholic Church cannot change.

Maitland writes: Official teaching - not just on ethics, but on fundamental doctrine - has changed (or 'developed' to the point that it might more honestly be called changed) throughout the whole history of the Church.

"The Church has changed its teaching on the geocentric universe. In 1615 the Inquisition declared that heliocentrism was 'foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture'.

"In 1992, after 'only' nearly 400 years, John Paul ll officially announced that Galileo had been wrongly  condemned.

"The Church has changed its teaching on witchcraft more than once."

Maitland also gives examples about changes on the doctrine of the Trinity and on marriage.

"But, for me, it is not just that manifestly the Church's teaching does change (though usually very slowly); I find it delightful, proper and enriching that it changes. This is because both as individuals and particularly as a Church we are in a love-relationship with God; the relationship is - to push language to the deepest level of metaphor and almost to the point of collapse - spousal. And if you talk to two people who have been married, or who have been in love with each other for a long time, they will often speak of 'always learning something new about him', 'she can still really surprise me' or 'it's an ongoing conversation - it deepens and deepens'.

"Such blessed people are talking about a relationship that is dynamic not static, increasing not diminishing, exciting not repressive.

"It is not that the beloved has 'changed' into someone else, it is that our capacity to see, to know, to understand has expanded, refreshed itself."

A lovely piece of writing that makes such good sense.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Elections in Iran today

Iranians go to the polls today to elect a new president.

The President of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the highest directly elected official, the chief of the executive branch, and the second most important person after the Supreme Leader.

Fifty-five million people are entitled to vote today.

The current president, Hassan Rouhani is a candidate in today's election.

The Supreme Leader is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini on his death in 1989.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

US Catholic Church leaders with different views

From the National Catholic Reporter. 

A clever example of how there are so many different views and opinions within the Catholic Church.

Trump's normality

BBC's Washington correspondent, Jon Sopel commenting on the shenanigans in the Trump White House quipped on the 10.00 News last evening that the "abnormal is becoming normal".

A clever observation of the daily behaviour of the 'most powerful man' in the 'free world'.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

In times of personal grief we all need love and kindness

This week's Independent News & Media Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
Fr Pat Moore, a priest of the Kerry diocese, died on May 1.

I got to know Pat when I was working at The Kerryman newspaper. He was a kind man, who was wise and helpful and had the ability to calm me, to talk sense to me when I needed it.

I phoned him on one occasion and we disagreed over something.

Some weeks later we were in contact again by phone and we agreed to disagree and got on with our talk and laughs. It was my last time to talk with Pat.

Now that he has died I feel annoyed that I had not gone to see him when he was still healthy and fit.

I recently attended a bereavement day. I came away from it a wiser person. I listened to the stories of people who had lost loved ones and concluded that there are no rules about how to handle death. 

One woman spoke about how people, the bereaved and the listener, cannot cope with tears. She pointed out how tears are like putting ointment on a sore. She lost her adult child some years ago and while the grief is now less, she still gets dark days.

A man recalled how praying came naturally to him on the loss of his son. He found comfort in his faith.

During the day it was brought home to me how everyone grieves differently and the only thing for grief is to grieve.

Grief pulls and pushes us in many different directions. A bereavement counsellor related how some people try to keep grief at bay all day, the damn bursts when they go to bed and then they can't sleep. She suggested that it is better to manage grief than for grief to manage us. But that surely sounds easier said than done.

A man, who lost his wife some months ago said that he simply could not access his tears. He could not shed a tear but he cried every day inside.

Some people were angry, angry with God too, and there were those who did not believe in God.

What do you say to someone who has lost a loved one? There is no answer. But it's wise to avoid glib phrases. It hardly makes sense to tell someone to get on with it or to mind themselves. It is of paramount importance to listen to people in their grief.

John Bowman last October in 'The Irish Independent' wrote about the death of his son:

"One of the phrases people use about loss that I think is probably wrong is, "You'll get over it". Not only do you not get over it, you don't want to get over it. It becomes part of the furniture, and part of your life story. "

We all fumble with death. Death overwhelms us.

The people who stood out for me when my parents died were those who were kind, those who helped, those whom I knew understood my plight, those who comforted me and were empathetic.

Patrick Kavanagh's poem on remembering his mother catches a tone of that terrible break that comes with death.

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay/Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see/You walking down a lane among the poplars/On your way to the station, or happily/Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday -/You meet me and you say:/'Don't forget to see about the cattle - '/Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

In times of grief it's so important to support one another with our love and genuine kindness.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Poor design at LUAS and Dublin Bus stops

Poor design at LUAS and Dublin Bus stops.

The shelters at both the LUAS and Dublin Bus stops are designed in such a way that it is not possible to see the real-time display if one is standing at particular places at the stop.

Next time you are waiting for a tram or a bus take note.

Will the design be changed for the CrossCity LUAS?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

SPD lose in NRW

A bad day for the SPD Green coalition in Germany's most populated state.

Hannelore Kraft has conceded and the CDU will be the new force in Nordrhein Westfalen.

The right-wing AfD won over five per cent of the vote so they will be in the new parliament in Dusseldorf.

The Left Party hovers at 4.9 per cent and still hopes to cross the five per cent hurdle.

It's more good news for the CDU and strengthens Angela Merkel's chances of winning the federal elections in September.

Trump demands loyalty

The story of the Trump sacking of Comey continues to run and run.

It seems at a dinner in January President Trump asked FBI director James Comey if he would pledge his loyalty to him.

Comey refused and explained his loyalty was to the United States constitution.

Early in his rule of terror Hitler made a significant change concerning the German Army. Instead of new recruits swearing an oath to Germany or to the German leader, they would now swear an oath to the personal figure of Adolf Hitler.

Before Hitler took office, German soldiers swore an oath to the German constitution and president.

The Hitler oath:
"I swear to God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German Emprire the and people, Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath."

Among those who refused to take the Hitler oath were:

  • Karl Barth (Swiss theologian); Consequences: loss of professorship
  • Martin Gauger (probationary judge as a state prosecutor in Wuppertal); Consequences: forced retirement of his position as a state prosecutor
  • Franz Jägerstätter (Austrian conscientious objector); Consequences: execution in 1943; beatified in 2007
  • Josef Mayr-Nusser (from Bozen), after call-up for duty in the Waffen-SS; Consequences: Death penalty, died on the way Dachau
  • Joseph Ruf (Brother Maurus, a religious brother) Consequences: Death penalty
  • Franz Reinisch (A Pallotine priest) after call-up for duty in the Wehrmacht; Consequences: execution by beheading in 1942.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Anglican orders

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio has suggested that Pope Leo Xlll's " absolutley null and utterly void" comment on Anglican orders was overly rigid.

The cardinal, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Text, has referred to the importance of Pope Paul Vl's meeting with the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, in 1966.

On that occasion the pope gave his episcopal ring and a chalice to the archbishop.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio points out that the giving of the chalice was most significant.

"When someone is ordained in the Aglican Church and becomes a parish priest in a community, we cannot say that nothing has happened, that everything is 'invalid', Coccopalmeiro has written in a recently published book.

The cardinal is an ally of Pope Francis.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Michael Hayes RIP

The current issue of 'The Tablet' carries an obituary on Michael Hayes, President of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.

In the piece the reader is told that Fr Hayes, in his inaugural address as President of Mary Immaculate College, spoke with an assured daring, which conveyed an unforgettable vision of Catholic education which startled even those who knew him well.

Yet, never once in the obituary is there a single quote from that inaugural address.

Michael Hayes, priest, teacher and Limerick man, was born in Limerick on September 17, 1957 and died on Easter Saturday, April 15, 2017. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The work nurses do

Tomorrow is International Nurses Day.

Every year it is celebrated on May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth.

The theme this year is Nursing: A voice to lead – Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Hospitals around Ireland will be commemorating the event.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Frost in May

Ice on the roof and windscreen of a car in Dublin at 06.15 today, Wednesday, May 10.

RTE's 'The Undocumented'

On Monday evening RTE One Television screened 'The Undocumented'.

The programme was billed as "An intimate portrait of what it is like to be undocumented in Trump's America, focusing on Irish people threatened by the policies brought in by the new administration."

In the course of the programme young Irish people, living in the US without correct visas were interviewed.

They all appeared on television, gave their names and where they come from in Ireland. Some spoke openly of their 'illegal status', others explained how being 'illegal' they were also not paying taxes.

It seemed most irresponsible television. All the people who appeared and spoke on the programme made public their 'illegal status'.

Will the US embassy in Dublin now send details to the relevant authorities in the US of those interviewed on the programme?

If the US authorities take no action then it would appear they are not too concerned about 'illegals' within their shores.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Councillor's gobbledegook

Fine Gael Galway councillor and chairman of Galway City Council Pearce Flannery on Morning Ireland today spoke about things being 'more equal'.

He was being interviewed about the dropping or prayer before council meetings.

It was a seven seven vote and Councillor Flannery had the casting vote.

What exactly does 'more equal'mean? Surely gobbledegook.

Wooing passengers with flexi tickets and a tunnel

This week's Independent News & Media regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
Irish Rail has launched a new website. At a first glance It looks a great improvement on the old one. It went live on Monday, April 24.

It has many advantages on the previous one. It's easier to navigate. 

The new site allows you see  the direction you will be sitting. With the old site people often complained that they would prefer to be facing in the direction of travel but were unable to make such a decision when booking online. 

According to a spokesperson for Irish Rail 83 per cent of passengers book on line, have Leap Cards,  monthly tickets or buy annual Taxsaver Tickets. Those figures would seem to indicate  that the overwhelming majority of the paying travelling public are computer literate.

Last year, 2016, Irish Rail carried 42.8 million passengers, which was an increase of eight per cent on the previous year. And so far this year their numbers are up four per cent on the corresponding period for 2016.

On the May Bank Holiday Sunday I made a return trip from Dublin to Tralee. Yes, the fabulous blue skies added to the adventure but I have to say I was greatly impressed with the service.

We do a lot of giving out in Ireland but so often when things work well there's not a whisper from us.

My morning train to Tralee, which cut right through the finest land in the country was fabulous. The train was clean and arrived on time in Tralee. The fact that it was a quiet train added to the luxury. By Sunday most people had done their travelling and were at their destinations.  

The return journey later that day meant a crowded train back to Dublin. Again, it all worked to excellent timing and we arrived in Dublin one minute early, three hours 44 minutes from Tralee to Heuston Station is most acceptable.

It did occur to me on both journeys Irish Rail have been ever so quiet about their new website. I only found out about it from the passenger sitting beside me on the up journey that Sunday. Why not advertise it and tell passengers about the positive changes. They could use the on-board intercom system to tell passengers.

The most significant change on the new site is the range of tickets that can be purchased. Before this there was just first and standard class. There was a rule of thumb the earlier you bought the ticket the cheaper it would be.

With the new website there are different types of tickets, all at different prices. There are Non Flexible, Medium Flexible and Fully Flexible tickets. If you go for the Non Flexible ticket you have to travel on the booked train but if you book a Medium Flexible ticket you can change to the train before or after the one you have booked. The Fully Flexible option is an open ticket, which allows the passenger to travel at any time.

There are rules and conditions, which have to be fulfilled but the new system is imaginative and smart.

And more good news, over 1,000 passengers are using the new service through the Phoenix Park tunnel at peak times every day. It is planned to extend this service to weekends and off-peak times. 

The tunnel was built in 1877. The track has been relayed and automatic signalling installed. The new service began rolling through the tunnel in November. At present trains travel  no further south than Newbridge but it can't be long before they steam on to Portlaoise. Who knows where they might stop? 

Well done Irish Rail.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Look out for it

Why are so many sportspeople saying 'look'?

Was it horse trainer Aidan O'Brien who started the fashion.

Look out for it.

Political news, memories too

While Emmanuel Macron wins 65.8 per cent of the electorate to become President of France, in the German State of Schleswig-Holstein, 43-year-old Daniel Günther tops the poll for the CDU.

His victory was not expected and it now looks likely that SPD Minister President Torsten Abig will resign and a new government will be formed in Kiel with Günther as premier.

The Schleswig-Holstein results must be worrying for the SPD chances of winning next September's Federal elections.

Next weekend the people of North Rhein Wesphalia vote, where the SPD are expected to remain in power under the premiership of Hanelore Kraft. The present government in Düsseldorf is made up of an SPD Green coalition.

On this day, May 8, 1945 in Berlin-Karlshorst Red Army Marshal Georgii Zhukov accepted the unconditional surrender of the German Army. The previous day in Reims western allies accepted the German surrender.

It was Georgii Zhukov, who against the odds, defeated the German Sixth Army under the leadership of Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus at the Volga in Stalingrad, now Volgograd, in February 1943. It was the first significant defeat for the Wehrmacht and many historians will say it was the turning point in World War ll.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

CSO statistics on earnings

The Central Statistics Office has relased data on average earnings and hours worked between 1938 and 2015.

Real earnings fell seven per cent from 2009 to 2011, the largest fall since World War ll.

Since 2011 real earnings increased to above Celtic Tiger levels.