Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sir Gerald Kaufman RIP

Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufmann has died aged 86.

He was a man who enjoyed political combat in its rawest form. He once told a party member:

"Always remember the golden rule of politics: never kick a man until he's down.

Train versus plane

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

Michael Commane
Is it that I am getting old or that travelling has changed? I'm inclined to think it's a mix of both.

Maybe I should refine it a little and say, flying has become tedious.

The thought of an early morning flight out of Dublin must be close to the perfect 'bad thought'

The snake-like queue at security in Dublin Airport. Make sure you have your passport and boarding pass. How many times have I checked my pockets for both? How many times have I panicked thinking I had lost one or the other?

And then there’s the environment. One return flight to Europe uses up approximately 80 per cent of a person’s annual ‘fair share’ of the carbon budget needed to keep our planet habitable. Only 15 per cent of the world’s people can afford to fly yet it is the world’s poorest whose lives are already being claimed by climate change.

Is there not something unjust about that? But even if we are unwise enough to ignore environmental issues, flying is certainly not my idea of fun.

Compare all the hassle of flying and the damage it does to the environment to taking an early morning train from Heuston Station.

On Friday, February 17 I travelled on the 07.00 Heuston Cork train. I was going to Tralee.

It did mean an early rise, 04.30 to be exact. Well, I had to take my dog Tess for a walk before heading off and I can never leave my house without a breakfast.

It's lovely cycling through an almost carless city. I pass a bus stop where the real time  sign announces the next bus is in 19 minutes.

I arrive at Heuston with 15 minutes to spare.

The Spanish built train, hauled by a General Motors locomotive, pulls out of the station the instant the clock goes to 07.00.

It's still dark but with a hint of brightness in the sky. We're not far out of Dublin when daylight descends.

I share the coach with two other passengers. The comfort of these surroundings when you compare it to being squeezed into an aircraft seat, all the time hoping that you can get your elbow on the arm rest before the person beside you. Okay that too can be a problem on a busy train but if you are a train anorak, as I am, then you can, on occasions, miss the busy trains. Also, on a train you can wander about in search of a better spot.

Sheer bliss: I can use my iPad, read. And a socket too to charge electronic devices. It's worth noting, on the leading coach out of Dublin to Cork, which is the back coach travelling from Cork to Dublin ringing phones and people screaming down phones is forbidden. 

It's two hours seven minutes to Mallow and I almost miss my stop. I was reading, thought we would be stopping in Charleville so when it's announced we are approaching Mallow it is a matter of gathering my chattels at speed, pulling my bike off the rack.

It's a different type of train to Tralee, somewhat newer but the same exquisite comfort with loads of space to myself.

At Tralee assemble the bicycle and off I go.

Guess what? The train back to Dublin is crowded and not at all as enjoyable.

That's life. 

Maybe the moral of the story is always be ready for the unexpected. Never take life too seriously. "The best laid plans of mice and men........"  and that was a sentiment of Robert Burns in 1786.

Is God a God of surprises?  

Monday, February 27, 2017

A shocking quip on smoking

Seán O'Rourke, talking to film maker Neil Jordan on his radio programme on RTE Radio 1 today, quipped when replying to Jordan, saying that he was back smoking a few cigarettes every day:

If I could smoke five-a-day I would.

Is that not shocking on a State-funded radio station?

The wisdom of Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae's mum

Michael Healy-Rae TD for Kerry was in the news last week.

He was granted permission to wear his cap in the Dáil. And in that same week he called for the army to be brought in to cut down the rhododendrons in Killarney National Park.

Of course it got the headlines and not just in Ireland.

The astute MHR knows well that the cutting down of rhododendrons requires great expertise. Also, while he pronounces it rhododondrons, no doubt he knows quite well the correct way to say it - more publicity.

Michael gave a lengthy interview on RTE Radio 1's Marian Finucane programme on Saturday morning. He spent some time talking about his late mother and her wisdom.

He recalled how she once told him it's not what people do to you or what they say about you that matters. What matters is "how you react to what they do or say".

Wise words.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Looking down at Lough Dan

A line in today's Gospel:

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 

Yesterday could never have been considered in meteorological terms as a 'good day' yet walking along the side of Lough Dan, looking up at Knocknacloghoge, it was impossible not to see the fabulous beauty of it all. 

The pictures show a herd of sheep at the side of Knocknacloghoge and Lough Dan in misty rain.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trump and the press

From 'The New York Times':
"...... But Press relations in the Trump White House have taken on a tinderbox dynamic, with journalists and press aides highly suspicious of each other’s motives.

“The grass is dry on both sides,” said Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to George W. Bush, “so it only takes a very small match to light it on fire.”

VW's €5 billion profit

In spite of all Volkswagen's woes concerning the exhaust fumes' scandal, the German car manufacturer returned a profit of five billion euro last year.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Herons on the Dodder

It's seldom one sees two herons together and on dry land too. And then the heron contemplating on a waterfall.

Another step closer and the pair would have been in the sky. Eventually Tess ran them.

And at the waterfall not possible to get any closer.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Russian Television's 'Lionel'

He's called 'Lionel' that's all that appears of his name and he regularly appears on Russian Television (RT). He's obviously a regular contributor.

His facial expressions, his violence, his shouting has to be seen to believed. He's an American.

For Lionel everything about the West is vile, nasty and evil, that is except for President Donald Trump.

'Lionel' constantly berates the western press and 'explains' why it is so opposed to Trump.

Is the West really as nasty as 'Lionel' portrays it?

And 'Lionel' is but one of many contributors on RT, who on a daily basis, throw scorn on the European Union and all things West.

Never a word of criticism of the Russian Federation and its leadership.

Surey it has to be crass propaganda.

Or is it the same on our screens but we just don't spot it? Unlikely.

Or is it that 'Lionel' is RT's answer to Melissa McCarthy?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Third anniversary of the death of Jim Harris OP

Today is the third anniversary of the death of Jim Harris OP.

Some months ago a brother of Jim's died. May he rest in peace.

Below is an appreciation of Jim, which appeared in The Irish Times on March 17, 2014.

Michael Commane
Jim Harris was an original. But above all he was a kind man, who had a gift for supporting those on the margins, those who depended on the help of a wise companion.

James Harris was a Dominican priest, who died suddenly at 75, sitting in the Dominican church in Newbridge, on Saturday February 22.

He was born in Caragh, Co. Kildare in 1938. His father Tom was the first Fianna Fáil TD for Kildare, serving from 1927 to 1957. Jim’s mother was Hannah O'Sullivan from Aughacasla in Kerry.

Their son was a boarder at the Dominican-run Newbridge College and from there joined the Order, making his first profession in Cork in 1958.

He studied philosophy and theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Tallaght, completing his theological studies in Rome. He did a BA and H.Dip in Education at UCG, before taking up a teaching post at Newbridge College, where he taught Latin, Geography and Religious Studies.

Jim had a mischievous sense of humour, often used to mock the status quo. On one occasion while teaching in Newbridge he set a Latin exam. On one side of the paper was a Latin text to be translated into English, on the reverse side another text, this time an English text to be translated into Latin. Not all the students realised it was the same text.

After Newbridge he moved to Galway, where as prior, he oversaw the building of a new priory.

With the job completed he moved to Athy, again calling in the architects and builders to build a priory beside the Dominican church on the Barrow.

He spent 18 years in Waterford, where he rebuilt a new priory and was a loyal supporter of the St Vincent de Paul society.

So much of his generosity was done in the greatest of confidentiality.

While he enjoyed his teaching and building projects, Jim excelled in his kindness and support of those he encountered. And that was a large number of people, whether past pupils, friends, family, but maybe above all, those who needed a shoulder on whom to cry.

The underdog, the person in trouble, knew they had his ear.

He was ordained a priest on July 12, 1964 but coming from a republican background he never admitted anything special about the day.

He had a wide interest in sport. His first love was rugby. Many of his contemporaries tell great stories of his adventures on the field.

He is survived by his sisters Annie and Kitty, brothers Michael and Sean. His sister Betty, a nurse, sustained serious injuries in Nigeria while working as a lay missionary. Betty died in 2008.

He is predeceased by his sister Mary, who died in 1994 and his brother Joe, who died in 1951. Jim's mother died in her 105th year.

Jim touched the lives of many people with his grace

Newspaper death notices

There are 32 death notices in today's 'Irish Times'. 

Five of them are ministers of religion of whom two are bishops.

Desmond Connell RIP

Former archbishop of Dublin Desmond Connell died yesterday. He was 90.

Cardinal Connell had been in Sybil Hill Nurshing Home for a number of years.

He was an academic who taught philosophy at UCD.

In 1988 he was appointed archbishop of Dublin.

Des Connell was a kind man, who enjoyed his teaching job and was a regular visitor to Lourdes.

The job of archbishop was most likely a terrible burden for him. And the system that appointed Des Connell an archcbishop is not fit for purpose.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A visit to Cloverhill prison

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

Michael Commane
Last week I wrote about John, not his real name, who is on remand in Cloverhill Prison.

On Monday 13 I left my home near Rathgar in Dublin at 11.45. Using public transport I arrived at the prison at 13.30. Imagine if I were an old person, older than I am, unwell or a parent with children in tow how at all would I manage. I say that because after  a 105-minute public transport odyssey it is approximately an eight minute walk from the bus stop to the prison gate.

The signage directing a person to the prison is nil. I find myself heading into Wheatfield Prison, which is across the road from Cloverhill Prison.

About one minute after 2.10pm the shutter on the window goes up and the queue starts to move. One or two people are refused entry as they do not have the appropriate identification. You can imagine how upset/angry/annoyed they are. The prison officer is pleasant but firm.

It's my turn at the window. I give the prisoner's name and my name. The officer looks up a list and tells me my name is not on it. Eventually I discover I am on a 'professional visit' and should be in another part of the prison. I saw no signs suggesting there were different 'types' of queues.

I go back to the locker where I had stored my belongings, take them out and head to the 'professional gate'.

All the time the prison officers are courteous and polite. But I'm nervous and on a number of occasions let my passport fall on the ground.

Through security, frisked and I'm sitting down in the final waiting room. The man sitting beside me is from India and he tells me a little about Indian prisons.

After about 10 to 15 minutes my prisoner's name is called out and I am brought into a room. It's bare, cold cement walls, a table and at the far side of the table is my man. We shake hands and we are both delighted to meet each other.

I have never seen him look so well, spotless, in a tracksuit and his hands immaculately clean. And he's in good form.

After a few pleasantries I ask him if he had received my letter. I had posted a letter to him on Monday, February 6 and he tells me he had not yet received it.  I'm confused as I know of at least one other person who had written to him. I'm later told by a prison officer that they might still be in the censor's office.

John and I spend about 20/25 minutes chatting and it is a most constructive encounter. I pass him on the greetings of a number of people. He tells me something of his history and how he first landed in prison as a 15-year-old child. It is a profoundly sad story and of course the man should not be in prison. It's most unlikely that he is going to benefit anything from his prison sojourn.

They say prison makes people angry. I got a tiny glimpse of that feeling of anger. Under no circumstances would I have been silly enough to have expressed a hint of criticism of some of the practices in place at the  prison. How must prisoners feel? Yes prison is a place of punishment but surely also a place of rehabilitation.

I'm thinking of that line in St Luke's Gospel: "He has sent me to bring good news to the poor/to proclaim liberty to captives.

And what happens John when he leaves prison?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Tony Blair on Brexit

An intersting article in today's Guardian by Matthew d"Ancona on Tony Blair's talk on Brexit.

The short video clip is a-must-watch. And makes great sense.

President Trump and Bishop Schneider speak gibberish

While President Trump talks gibberish in Florida, in far-off Astana auxilary bishop Athanasius Schneider talks more gibberish.

And while that's going on, right-wing blog Rorate Caeli, which has always, at least until Francis became pope, spoken of total allegiance to Holy Mother Church, now has a headline on one of its stories "I'm tired of Francis". It always speaks of Saint John Paul or Pope Benedict, but then it's 'Francis'.

The world is a hilarious place but maybe more, a scary place.

Australian Jesuit Richard Leonard writes:

I have lost count of how many times I have been told that "the church is not a democracy".

Throughout the pontificates of St John Paul ll and Benedict XVl we were told that fidelity to the Pope was a touchstone of orthodoxy. But now that some Catholics strongly disagree with what the present 'Universal Pastor' says, all bets off when it comes to garnering and mobilising support.

Brilliant and perfectly catches the moment.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Fly Kerry to Berlin

Ryanair has announced a new twice-weekly service between Kerry Airport and Berlin Schönefeld.

The new service will begin in the 2017 winter timetable.

It's surprising that no airline has operated between Kerry and Berlin before this.

The not-yet-open Berlin Brandenburg Airport is now due to open in 2018.

The ariport was due to have been opened some years back but because of incompetence, corruprtion and politics Berlin has not yet got its 21st century airport.

The not-yet-open airport is close to Schönefeld and can be seen from the air when flying into the main airport of the former German Democratic Republic.

It was to Schönefeld that Gorbatschev flew on that famous occasion when he told the then GDR leader Erich Honecker 'wer zu spät kommt den bestraft das Leben' - life punishes latecomers.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Damian Byrne's anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the death of Damian Byrne. He died on this day in 1996. Certainly tempus fugit. Difficult to believe that he is dead 21 years. He is buried in St Mary's Priory, Tallaght.

Damian, who was from The Claddagh in Galway, was Master of the Dominican Order.

How Radcliffe welcomed Sr Pauline with open arms

Lovely piece in this week's 'The Tablet' by Timothy Radcliffe.

He tells the story of Sister Pauline Quinn OP, who survived years of self-harm, sexual abuse and street living to become a champion of the poor and marginalised.

In his early days as Master of the Order he was told there was a woman in a Dominican habit demonstrating outside the priory at Santa Sabina. She had a placard which read: "Dominicans wake up your hearts". She also had a dog with her.

He went down to her and brought her and the dog up to his office.

Sister Pauline, who is a Dominican tertirary, took her final private vows to the Mexican bishop Raul Vera Lopez OP in 1995.

Her story is told in Secrets Shared: The Life and Work of Sister Pauline Quinn OP by Susan Nagelsen and Charles Huckelbury, published by Dogs&Jobs.

Radcliffe says of the book:
"The biography is expensive; it is neither well edited nor well printed, but it is worth every penny. Sister Pauline is now having chemotherapy for stage three cancer.

"In between bouts, she is back in California seeing how one of her prison programmes is doing.

"Pray for this great woman".

Friday, February 17, 2017

That 'new' Missal

An editorial in this week's 'The Tablet' is critical of the language used in the new MIssal.

It congratulates the German and French speaking bishops for refusing to implement the new Missal.

It believes the clumsy translation came about during the time of Pope John Paul's final illness "when the Vatican curia became a law unto itself".

" 'Him' does not mean 'her', nor does 'men' mean 'men and women'. The translation is therefore inaccurate even by a literal test. Salvation is not on offer to only half the human race."

The right-wing in state and church seem crazy and nasty

Last evening on Russian Television it was said that the US was experiencing its own Perestroika.

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall admits he lied about being at the Hillsborough disaster. And guess what, Mr Nuttall is a Catholic

President Trump held a press conference yestereday, which would have to be seen to be believed.

Hugh Muir in today's 'Guardian' writes:

'The right is acting like a crime syndicate intent on protecting territory and silencing witnesses.

Here's the link to the article, which is a great read.


Is it not abundantly clear that the right-wing, in both state and church, is both nasty and/or crazy? Indeed, it could be argued that the church was ahead of the posse in this one.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mary Kenny tut tuts 'an attitude of moral superiority'

In the current issue of 'The Irish Catholic' columnist Mary Kenny writes:

".... we're all sinners, and even if we dislike Mr Trump as a public figure, we're still not entitled to feel so morally superior to him as a person".

Elsewhere in the same column she writes:

"Moreover, if Mr Trump starts seriously withdrawing American investment from Ireland, there might be some regrets for not having a little more charity towards the elected leader of the United States."

The headline on the column runs:

"An attitude of moral superiority"

In the same column Ms Kenny is critical of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

It seems if one criticises public figures Ms Kenny approves of then it's a matter of an 'attitude of moral superiority'.

At least confusing.

On the same page of the paper there is an ad for a book authored by Ms Kenny.

Something of an irony that Mary Kenny/'The Irish Catholic' use the term 'An attitude of moral superiority.'

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

US General Michael Flynn lies to vice president

President Donald Trump's national security adviser General Michael Flynn has been fired from his post.

It has been revealed that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence.

General Flynn has a long army career behind him. He commanded US troops within the US and also on foreign adventures including, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The man is a liar. What lies must he have perpetrated when in charge of troops, many of them poor, inarticulate, uneducated?

General Michael Flynn was for many years part of the US management class. Though, it is worth noting that President Obama did sack him from his job.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A man in an Irish prison who clearly should not be there

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column

Michael Commane
John, not his real name, and I have been 'hello' friends now for a number of years. He regularly sits outside a church. He looks an old man but he is younger than I. A tall man with long hair and a fabulous beard. Some people entering the church give him a 'peace offering'. 

There are certain things that cause him to roar and scream and it can be very off-putting for people and some people, understandably feel nervous passing him on entering the church. He can be most insulting and frightening but he can also be most caring and kind.

On one occasion I smelt something burning to discover that he has a novel way of shaving his beard. He uses the candles in the church to burn it. Funny, but dangerous and profoundly sad too.

It must be at least two years since he went AWOL. I eventually found him. He was a guest of the State at Mountjoy Jail.

Early this year he went off-site. At first I thought he was being politically clever and had decided not to annoy people. But after a week or so I called a local Garda station to discover that he was on remand in Cloverhill prison.

I have not yet been to see him but have arranged a visit through the prison chaplain, who seems a lovely man.

The Prison Service Director Michael Donnellan speaking at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on February 1, feast of St Brigid, said that Irish prisons were the 'asylums' of the 21st century. 

He told PAC that a massive 70 per cent of the 3,715 prisoners in Irish gaols  are experiencing alcohol and drug addiction. Another 30 people are waiting for accommodation in mental health care facilities.

He went on to say: "We need early intervention to stop people falling out of society and back into prison. People end up in the justice system and we have to pick up the pieces. It’s the education system, the housing system, we need a joined up government approach to drive down prison numbers.”

Yes, John can be a proper nuisance and he is no saint. Who is? And I'm not for a moment attempting to justify his unsocial and bad behaviour. But throwing him in prison will not solve the problem. There is something positive about his incarceration in that it guarantees him accommodation and food. 

As far as I know he is homeless but I'm not fully sure about that. I do know putting him in prison makes a man who can get angry even more angry towards those whom he considers are unjust to him.

It is absurd that he is in prison. It's simply wrong and I am ashamed of being a citizen of a State that puts John and people in his condition into prison. And the waste of money too. It is nothing less than cruel and a scandal.

A student, completing a doctorate, who has visited John in prison, sent me this text. Food for thought. It's a post from 'Indigenous Americans'.

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilised men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents. Without a prison, there can be no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilised to give great importance to private property. We didn’t know any kind of money..."

Monday, February 13, 2017

RTE News

Last evening's RTE Nine O'Clock News reported an incident at Hamburg Airport. A pepper spray was found and gas from the spray spread through the airport through the ventilation system.

No one received serious injury.

Yesterday Germany elected a new president. Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected 12th president of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The RTE Nine O'Clock News made no reference to the German election.

Which event merited news coverage?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

New German president

Frank-Walter Steinmeier was today elected by the Federal Assembly President of the Federal Republic of Germany.

He succeeds Joachim Gauck, who some months ago announced his decision not to seek a second term as president.

President Steinmeier, who is the 12th man in the job, was a member of the SPD and a former German Foreign Minister.

He was born in Detmold in Westphalia. His father was a carpenter and his mother, who was present in the Bundestag today, is a refugee from Breslau, today Wrocklaw in Poland.

Steinmeier will move into Schloss Bellevue, in the heart of Berlin on March 19.

Included in the electorate who voted for a new president was German football manager, Joachim Löw.

Australian Dominican's new book on Sydney parish

Australian Dominican Colin Fowler has published a book on the parish of Pyrmont in Sydney.

The book, '150 Years in Pyrmont Peninsula, The Catholic Community of Saint Bede 1867 - 2017' was launched in Sydney on Sunday, February 5 by historian Edmund Campion.

In a review of the book, John Gleeson writes:

"Dr Fowler’s work sets a high mark in Catholic historiography. This book will appeal to a wide cross section, including tertiary and seminary students, clergy, laity, inner city communities, and descendants of pioneer families. The St Bede’s Catholic community can feel justly proud that their small church has been the recipient of tremendous scholarship."

The picture shows Colin signing a copy. Colin was a member of the Irish Dominican community at San Clemente in Rome while studying at the University of St Thomas in the mid 1970s.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Trump's Catholics

Since the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House it has been noted how many Catholics Trump has in his administration.

Himmler, Heydrich, Bormann, Goebbels, Hoess, Seyss-Inquart, Barbie, Frank were just some of the Catholics in another leader's administration.

Hoess was the man in Auschwitz.

Bormann's son, also Martin, became a priest, later left ministry and married a former German Dominican Sister.

Himmler was responsible for the murder of millions of people.

Goebbels was a man ahead of his time as he made the idea of 'alternative truths' an art form.

And millions believed him. There were even those who believed him when he spoke an 'alternative truth' on February 18, 1943.

In that speech Goebbels said: "Danger faces us. We must act quickly and decisively, or it will be too late."

Sound familiar?

'I think therefore I am'

The piece below is written by Augustinian priest Seamus Ahearne and appears on the ACP website. An interesting read.

Seamus Ahearne OSA
‘Huge Finglas church to close its doors’ was a heading in the journal.ie on Friday. The article mentioned that falling numbers and structural problems as the reason for the demolition. It is true. It is happening. A new and smaller church will be built. It is a great act of faith to build a church today. There is also symbolism in the gesture.

The church of the past is collapsing. It is unfit for purpose. A new church needs to be born. The church of our past is falling apart and a new church needs to be created. The building is not the issue but rather the challenge of building a new edifice of faith.

William Trevor died recently. Molly Keane’s story was told by her daughter (Sally Phipps) in the past week or so. William and Molly’s writings gave an insight into the Big Houses as part of the cultural life of Ireland. The ‘inmates’ were losing their prestige. Their homes were falling into decay. Their world was evaporating.   Fading grandeur. Relics of old decency.

The Church in Ireland can be seen in a similar way. The Church fabric in life is fading away. The grandeur is dilapidated. Church people are not needed in education. Patronage is seen not as a service but rather as control. The Religious and priests are mainly ready for nursing homes. They have no children and no replacements. The bishops are much less newsworthy and irrelevant.

The decorative religious past is dying off. The public portrayal of the Church now borders on caricature. The new Vatican and the new Pope is the media. The claim on infallibility is absolute. Even if the media chatter is rather superficial and useless.

Where will our inspiring leaders come from? Who will help us to think? Who will pose the bigger questions? It may be that the whole edifice of education needs revamping. Do students learn to think or to feed back pre-packaged answers?

If the world of the church, as we know it, goes: Will that Church be missed?
What happens in the local community when the church people who were always around and could be called on at any moment, and were involved in the real life of a community, when they are gone? Is there any replacement? Where will the wider questions find a home? When they are gone; is God gone too? Is God missed these days?

One of our younger teachers is shocked as she prepares her sixth class for Confirmation. She can’t understand at all how they know so little. ‘They know nothing’ is what she says. We try to reassure her that she shouldn’t expect much since their parents have little or no connection with God or church either. We suggest gentleness and quietness.

For most people here, God doesn’t intrude on their days. In that oft used phrase: God is missing but not missed. Our religion in the past was very much a cultural thing and now that is no more. The ‘fears’ too have gone.   The ‘taboo’ is dead. What now?

And here then is the problem: What thinking do people do?   I wonder about the whole education project. Do people really learn to think? In Primary School; in Secondary School or in Third Level? 

In some ways, the appearance of a Reality- show- President is probably a fair comment on all of us. The superficial and the crude, which the hall mark of all Reality Shows, can sum up the flimsy nature of life. Trump’s twittering is the symbol of the moment. Kellyanne Conway and Co with her ‘alternative facts’ is a banner over much that goes on.

But it is isn’t only life outside of us that is worrying – it is life among us. We too can ask how did we, put up with such nonsense in Church life over the years. We were immersed in the accretions of our living Catholicism. Is it any wonder people have drifted away? They didn’t walk away but slipped away. Too much of what passed as faith, was ridiculous. Why? We didn’t think. We didn’t ask the questions. We didn’t dare to challenge.

I am not talking about awkward cussed characters who want to be rebels; I am talking of everyday chat. I am talking about Ritual, Liturgy, language, Scripture. I am talking about the awesomeness of nature. I am talking about the wonder of wild life. 

I am talking about the marvel and miracle of human relationship. I am talking about sexuality. I am talking about the struggle to make sense of what grace is; what sacrament is; what ministry is; what love is; who God is; what prayer is.

The summary definition of theology: ‘Faith seeking understanding’ got lost. When were priests or bishops listening or learning or reading or struggling with a language and with a fresh understanding?

I believe that the church-caste have done a brilliant job in community life. There is probably an absence of appreciation for that. The church hasn’t been in the building; it has been out in the community. 

Church people are there. They have created community. They have been the educational system; the welfare system; the health system; the therapeutic system. They are there.

But now the main body are dying off. So we need to focus on what can be done; what Church can we build. The bricks and cement structure is the easy bit. The peopled- structure is different. Who will ask the questions? Who will help people to find their voice; to find the ability to respect their own experience; to delve into their own questions.

We have Scripture Sessions on the Mass (Kieran O Mahony) at present with some 60 people each week. Kieran’s material is highly intellectual and deeply researched. It is also quite revolutionary. 

Nonetheless our 60 people are comfortable asking questions and entering into discussion on all the issues. It is an amazing sight. Somehow it seems that the ‘uneducated’ (not damaged by college and inhibitions) are much more alert in thinking and more confident and open. Many have found their voice in discussions at our usual Masses. But it is most impressive.

However, what is going on generally in society and at large? The God that is forgotten is often a God that was unreal. The Church that is ignored is not the church that Francis celebrates and lives. 

The simplicity of faith has to be presented. How embarrassing it is that our church leaders could have allowed the rubbish of a missal to become the norm? How could our church allow Sean Fagan be isolated? How could anyone with a thinking-head or a heart that is faithful, come to the conclusion that what Tony Flannery has written or said could be dangerous commentary?

Sebastian Barry won the Costa for a second time. His story carried very much the magic of love in his gay son’s life. There is love; there is a volcanic eruption of the guts; there is Godliness. Our writers catch something of the depths and the breadth of God. Our praying and thinking people among us catch more of it.

I watched Gabriel Daly at 89 reviewing a book on the Eucharist during the week as he wrote with his two fingers (I have nine and I can’t think because one won’t function).

I read some of Padraig Daly’s words in ‘God in winter’ & ‘Clinging to the myth’ and saw how he caught so succinctly the zeitgeist of the moment.

The poets can do it. I watched Gina Miller have the guts and the stamina to fight the whole establishment and win re Brexit on the sovereignty of parliament. She received death threats. She was Godly.

Sr Lucia Caram (Spanish nun) received death threats too for daring to suggest that Mary (our Lady) was not a virgin. She was asking questions.

I saw Ken Clarke lambast the Government and the Tory party and be the only rebel on the Brexit vote. He was called ‘an enemy of the people.’ He was alive to himself.

We saw the Knights of Malta get all in tizzy over some condoms with Boeselager being dismissed by Festing and Cardinal Burke hovering around when he wasn’t writing letters to Francis. I had hoped we had moved on from such concerns.

I met Michael last week. He joined the Order with me back in ’64. He left a few years later. He asked me – how was Gabriel Daly. He went on to say that when Gabriel came to Ballyboden in 1966, he taught us to think.

He felt that this was revolutionary at the time when we were supposedly studying philosophy! He said that the focus on thinking was Gabriel’s greatest gift and Michael hoped that we all lived up to the gift he gave us.

That then is my conclusion. The new church for building in Finglas to replace the old has to be one where thinking happens; where the breadth of God is celebrated; where God is not protected from questions but where we take off our shoes and bow our heads in praise, gratitude and humility. We are forever learning.

We are forever questioning. We are forever thinking. The God of our Church is praised if we are thinking. A passive church; a passive liturgy; a passive people does not respect God. I think therefore I am!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Wise words of Pope Francis

In  Amoris Laetitia - The Joy of Love Pope Francis writes:

"Christian communities must not abandon divorced parents who have entered a new union, but should include and support them in their efforts to bring up their children." (246)

"It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church. 'They have not been excommunicated' and they should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the ecclesial community." (243)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Loreen Bergin RIP

Loreen Bergin has died in New York. Loreen was the wife of Joe Bergin.

Joe Bergin, from Carlow, was a pupil at Newbridge College from where he joined the Irish Province of the Dominican Order.

He worked in Trinidad and Ireland. He was prior in Pope's Quay Cork in the mid-1970s - my prior while I was a student at UCC.

He left the province, probably in the late 1980s, and later married Loreen.

Joe moved to upstate New York where he ministered as an Episcopalian priest. Some years ago he retired but still assists in his local parish.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Good and evil

The mystery of good and evil  is a topic in both readings at Mass today.

President Donald Trump often uses the word 'bad' and speaks of 'bad people' coming to the United States.

Anyone who tries to read Hitler's 'Mein Kampf', which is an almost impossible task, will see how often Hitler talks about 'bad influences', how often he blames 'other people', 'outisders' for all Germany's woes.

In this week's 'Irish Catholic' David Quinn writes how "Christians must assess President Trump on a case-by-case basis."

US senator Bernie Sanders writes: " Donald Trump's goal is to protect the interests of the wealthiest and most powerful in the country."

Sanders versus Quinn? Sanders any day.

The archbishop of Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich has called President Trump's executive order on immigration a dark day for the United States.

What does David Quinn 'advise' Catholics they should think of Steve Bannon?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Window cleaning

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
The older I get the more inclined I am to think that it's the little things that matter. So often the little things can give us such unexpected pleasure and joy. Also, it's the little things that often give people away, tell us about how they think and feel.

Last Monday week was a dark miserable day, at least in Dublin. One of those winter days when it is trying hard to rain but just doesn't manage to pick up the courage to do it. I had finished doing a job and had some free time before heading out to buy a vacuum cleaner.

With time on my hands it would have been easy to have done nothing, all the time pretending I was gainfully employed.

It must be at least two years, maybe longer, since I cleaned the front downstairs window in my house. I had noticed for some time how dirty it was but behind the venetian blind it wasn't too difficult to ignore the dirt.

With a basin of water and a newspaper, sleeves rolled up I cleaned the small window.
The end result was simply fabulous. There was a shine or sheen on the window. The glass had been transformed. Not a speck of dirt or grit on it. I stood back and looked at my job of work. Guess what, I was as proud as punch. And then to sit in the room and look out through the glass. Wow, reality outside the window looked so much clearer.

Okay, I'm making a big thing of it and you might well laugh at my window cleaning operation.

Many years ago I heard a story about one of our priests. He was not in a good place and was inclined to do little work. A fellow Dominican suggested that if he went out and cut the grass he might well begin to find the road to recovery. I'm not for a moment suggesting that depression or any sort of mind-illness can be cured by such simple means. But doing things for ourselves, especially doing physical work can be a great help to our general wellbeing.

There are so many things that we can do for ourselves but it seems we live in times when it is so easy to go an alternative route.

If my late father knew that I no longer repair a bicycle puncture he would spin at great speed in his grave. And the waste involved. These days when I get a puncture I go to the nearest bicycle shop and they insert a new tube. What happens the punctured tube? It's thrown in a bin.

Cleaning a window or mending a puncture are tiny incidentals in the greater scheme of things. But as I said, it's the little things that give us away. It's the little things can so often enhance our lives. 

Every day in my role as a hospital chaplain I see people doing the tiniest and simplest of things for other human beings. They probably have no idea of the impact of their actions. Yet it's glaringly clear the wonder of what they are doing. The kind word, that smile make such a difference.

For a day or two after cleaning the window I found myself looking at it and through it, as proud as punch, delighted with myself. Was even wondering if there was any glass there at all.

See, it's the little things that can mean so much and make such a difference too.
Doesn't Bruce Springsteen sing a song that's titled ''It's the little things that count"?

Monday, February 6, 2017

McCarthy on Spicer

The link below is hilariously funny. 

With a name like Melissa McCarthy there must be some Irish roots somewhere.


Misusing EU finds

French far-right politician Marine Le Pen has refused to repay €300,000 to the European Union after it claimed that she had misused the funds.

It doesn't sound good but how come EU authorities did not notice such a misuse of funds before it reached such a large sum? Or was it a once-off grab?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

State and church originalists

We can no more put our faith blindly in Luther's theology than 21st century adults would voluntarily place themselves in the hands of a 16th century surgeon.

- Thomas Kaufmann in 'Luther's Jews: A journey into Anti-Semitism.

A great sentiment, which surely must apply across a wide spectrum of reality.

And that idea of giving a 'literal understanding' to things of the past is being spoken of in the US these days: 'oriaginalism' purports to be able to discern what the framers of the US constitution really meant in the 18th century and be able to apply this meaning quite literally today.

Ways of thinking that cause great division and rancour in State and church.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

A shining light is always better than darkness

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

Michael Commane
One of the buzz words of our time is 'transparency'. It's almost spoken of as some sort of sacred cow. I heard a colleague comment that the more the word is used you can be assured that there is no transparency in the person or organisation using it. 

I'm not sure about that but certainly everyone and every organisation has to be seen to be transparent. Whether they are or not  is another question.

There is a philosophical saying that good of its nature diffuses itself. We all like to tell good stories. Yet on the other hand one might well argue that it's much easier to sell newspapers when there are bad stories to tell, the more horrible the story the more readers there are to buy the paper.

Still, at a personal and human level the individual is always more interested in telling a good story about themselves than a bad story.

We all like to stick out our chest and tell people, especially those close to us, that we have done a good job.

What child does not want to rush home to tell their parents they got all their spellings correct at school or that they won the 100 metres race at sports day?

There is a line in tomorrow's Gospel that is well worth repeating over and over:
"No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on a lamp stand where it shines for everyone in the house". (Matthew 5: 15)

A powerful sentiment and one that should be a strong mission statement for anyone who is attempting to live and preach the Word of God.

Interesting to see how 'transparency' is nothing new. It has indeed a long history. The antithesis to letting our light shine is secrecy, anonymity, all that cloak-and-dagger behaviour that makes some sort of god out of secrecy.

In this newspaper last Saturday Patsy McGarry described how the Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery “was charged, tried, and sentenced in his absence without being allowed a defence, or knowledge of his accusers.” If that is true it is shocking and if it's not true, then why have church authorities not denied it.

I was ordained a priest the day the Germans beat the Dutch in the World Cup in Munich. It was July 7, 1974. And in all the intervening years one of the things that has always greatly annoyed me is how the institutional Catholic Church is forever trying to be secretive and not tell people what is happening. And that seam of thinking goes right across the church in which I am a member. There seems to be some sort of rule, the more secretive a person is, the better the chance he has of preferment.

Churches should be an example of shining their lights, telling the world how they think and work. Instead for far too long is has been obsessed with 'causing scandal'. That means you can't tell people 'things' that they may not understand or might 'upset their faith'. Can you get further from the sentiment of tomorrow's Gospel?

One simple and most annoying example of this is how bishops are and have been appointed in the Irish Catholic Church. If you wanted an example of how not to live by today's Gospel, then just take a leaf out of how Irish bishops are appointed. It appears that Pope Francis is trying to change things. He has much work ahead of him.

Of course, we all talk about being 'transparent' but living it is a different story. If we keep repeating that sentence about not putting a light under a tub, which is in tomorrow's Gospel, you never know, conversion might be a reality for all of us.

Might it be that many Irish people have 'walked away' from the church of their childhood because they have been scandalised by that horrid secrecy that pervades the organisation?

Goodness of its nature diffuses itself. Churches have  to be more open. It's the story of the Gospel.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hitler's first radio interview

A quote from Hitler's first radio interview as German chancellor.  The interview was on February 3, 1933. He became chancellor on January 30, 1933.

Sound familiar?

Referring to his broadcast statement yesterday, Herr Hitler said that if he had wanted to make an electoral campaign speech he could have promised that by March 15 unemployment would cease and that by May 1 agriculture would be back on its feet.

"In this I am more honest than most of my political opponents,” he remarked. He concluded the interview by saying: “I am tenacious and have strong nerves. If I had not I would not be standing where I am.”

Residents in Irish prisons

Yesterday at the Committee for Public Accounts in the Oireachtas the Director General of the prison service said that our prisons are the asylums of the 21st century with 70 per cent of prisoners with mental health problems. 

Even though it's 2017, Irish society still institutionalises those who are poor, different, odd and mentally ill.  

Pope announces review of liturgical translations

According to the current issue of 'The Tablet' a review of Vatican guidelines on liturgical translations from Latin to other languages has been announced by Pope Francis, raising hopes that the unpopular 2011 English version of the Roman Missal could be revised.

A number of bishops' conferences have been unhappy with the translations ordered under the Liturgiam Authenticam guidelines of 2001.

Was there ever a word of unease or complaint from the Irish bihsops' conference? 

Congratulations to the Germans for saying no,

If a new Missal is produced who will pay? And what a waste of money to have produced the 2011 version.

But it's always easy to spend other people's money.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Worrying warnings of war on Volga anniversary day

Listening to US authorities this morning give a warning to the Islamic Republic of Iran is greatly worrying.

Seventy-four years ago today the fighting at Stalingrad stopped.

It may well be considered the turning point of the war.

Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, the man in charge of the Sixth Army on the Volga, surrendered to the superior Red Army under the leadership of Gerogii Zhukov.

Hitler refused Paulus permission to surrender. Some days earlier he had said: “Surrender is out of the question. The troops will defend themselves to the last!”

Before coming to power and in the early days of his leadership Hitler had promised the German people to "make Germany strong again". He also promised jobs to every unemployed man. He would build roads and see to it that every German worker could buy a car.

He also promised to give Germany back to the Germans and rid itself of all non-German influences.

On February 2, 1943 on the river Volga the Russians sealed Hitler's fate. It was the beginning of the end of his monstrous rule.

Approximately 60 million lives were lost in World War ll at a time when the population of the world was estimated at 2.3 billion. Six million Germans died and many more millions left disabled.

Over 27 million Russian dead.

And then the millions murdered who were considered to be the cause of all the ills in Germany.

Last evening German television station Arte showed a film on Hannah Arendt.

She attended the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel. Reporting the trial she received much criticism for commenting on how Eichmann was  just an ordinary man sitting in the dock, no monster.

"Despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a "monster," but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown. 

"And since this suspicion would have been fatal to the entire enterprise [his trial], and was also rather hard to sustain in view of the sufferings he and his like had caused to millions of people, his worst clowneries were hardly noticed and almost never reported."
- Hanna Arendt reporting at the Eichmann trial.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Lá Fheile Bríde

Today, February 1, Lá Fheile Bríde is in Ireland traditionally considered the first day of spring. Whether or not it is spring, the days are getting longer and even if the world has been turned upsdie down, there are hints of hope in the air.

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson spoke elegantly on Morning Ireland today.

At the end of the interview she referred to President Donald Trump as being a bully and how important it is to stand up to bullies.

Spotted in the gardens of St Luke's Hospital today, St Brigid's Day.

And these days Venus is brightly shining. It's as close as it gets to Earth. 

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