On Thursday light I found my way to Colfer's pub in Carrig-on-Bannow,
Co. Wexford for a gig by American Cajun band L'Angélus. I first
came across the band when they appeared on Today With Pat Kenny
last summer and when they played for Catholic Underground during that
first Irish visit. I enjoyed their Sacred Hymns Collection (see
review here), and wasn't disappointed hearing
the live for the first time.
This was vibrant, high-energy stuff from Katie, Paige and Stephen Rees
- I've rarely seen a concert where the performers were enjoying themselves
so much. It was mostly the "secular" material - Cajun two-steps and waltzes,
country songs, Texas Swing, New Orleans Jazz and a touch of soul, but
they also gave a beautiful rendition of Be Thou My Vision, from
the "Sacred Hymns" album.
The original material, like the poignant Waltz of St Cecilia, was
mixed with standards like Jambalaya, Peggy Sue and My Girl,
and relatively unfamiliar songs like Wait a Minute (see video clip).
I always like to get more at a live gig than just a performance of CD
album material, and it was a great delight to see how much fun there was
in this performance - Stephen Rees in particular was a howl, moving from
sensitive ballads to growling shouting blues. His fiddle and sax playing
was superb, while Paige's bass playing and Katie's rhythm guitar dove
the music along, completing the excellent vocals. I was great to get to
talk to the trio during the break and hopefully they will get back to
Ireland this summer.
On the night I bought their album "Ca C'est Bon", and will give
it a mention here after a few turns in the CD player.
On Monday last I got to see the Irish Premier of the film Lourdes,
shown as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. It tells
the story of a young woman, almost paralysed with MS, who visits Lourdes
with a pilgrimage group, helped by Order of Malta volunteers.
It's a hard one to review as I have conflicted feelings
about it. It certainly held the attention throughout its ninety or so
minutes, even though for much of it there was nothing dramatic going on.
I found it completely unpredictable, which helped, and I suppose because
it was subtitled I had to concentrate all the more. The characters were
ordinary, but still interesting. Sylvie Testud as the main character Christine
was superb - the whole thing might have collapsed without such an intriguing
performance. She managed to capture a whole range of emotions - sadness,
anger, enthusiasm, loneliness - and yet there were times she was inscrutable.
The location work at Lourdes captured the atmosphere really well, in fact
at times it had a documentary feel to it. But it was difficult to figure
out what the viewpoint of the film was. Yes there were possible miracles,
lots of prayer and devotion, and the main character, despite her suffering
was at least open to faith. But ultimately it seemed like an agnostic's
view of the Lourdes experience (and here I'm not making any assumptions
about writer-director Jessica Haussner, except that she's highly talented).
I felt the film lacked warmth towards faith, and I didn't feel any sense
of relationship with Our Lady or Jesus. It's as if Haussner was saying:
here's what might happen on an average pilgrimage to Lourdes - what do
you make of it?
And yet it wasn't entirely objective or dispassionate. There was a quiet
empathy with the invalids, especially as so many little cruelties were
shown to them - e.g. when Cécile, the chief nurse announces that there
will be an outing next day, but that those in wheelchairs would have to
stay behind. The carers do their job, often with a smile, but too often
they are more interested in flirting with each other - believable but
unsettling. "We are not here to have fun", says the irritating chief nurse,
and sure enough there is little enough of it. Everything is just a bit
too slow moving and uninspiring.
The pilgrimage chaplain is a very average priest, mostly OK with the pilgrims,
but his answers to their deep questions smack too much of platitude. The
other pilgrims are a mixed bunch, from devotional to cynical. The chief
nurse is all smiles and efficiency, not too likeable, but then she is
shown to have her own suffering. The chief Order of Malta man attracts
the eyes of all the ladies, including the main character, but he too,
ultimately, seems hollow.
Talking to some people after the film confirmed what I suspected, that
people will have wildly different assessments of the film. Maybe this
lack of a clear stance will charm some and disconcert others, but while
I did find it riveting, sometimes funny, and even quite hopeful at times,
I thought the final impression it left was on the bleak side.
For that reason I wouldn't be rushing to show it in school, though there
was one interesting Confession scene with the main character and the chaplain,
where she calmly confesses her anger. I like collecting Confession scenes
from film and TV drama, and this will be a worthy addition.
Greydanus at Decent
Films (and movie reviewer with the National Catholic Register) is
one of my favourite film reviewers - I find myself agreeing with his assessments
more often than not. His website is an excellent resource, not just for
the treasure trove of film reviews, but for his many insightful articles
on various film and media issues. Currently he has an article
suggesting a variety of films that make for appropriate Lenten viewing.
Worth a look.
night I got a chance to see one of the first Irish screenings of a new
feature film about the appearances of Our Lady of Fatima.
The 13th Day was written and directed by Ian and Dominic
Higgins. It's great to see Catholic filmmakers turning their talents to
spiritual matters in such a creative and imaginative way. Visually the
film is a treat - it's not surprising that the Higgins brothers come from
an artistic background. Each frame of the film would make for a beautiful
still picture - mostly it's black and white, with colour being used when
Our Lady appears and Heaven touches the earth. Watching it I was reminded
of arty YouTube videos, European cinema, and even The Blair Witch Project
(visual effect not content!).
It was almost surreal in its presentation, which made it quite captivating
at times. The film seems to tell the Fatima story faithfully, framing
it by using the reminiscences of Sr Lucia as she writes her memoirs. For
me the telling of the story was somewhat episodic, always a potential
problem when filming real life events. I also felt there was too much
narration and not enough dialogue given to the actors which made it difficult
for them to really inhabit their roles. That being said the girl who played
the young Lucia, Filipa Fernandez, had a striking screen presence, crucial
when she was the central personality of the film.
One thing the filmmakers have achieved is to present this timeless story
to a modern audience in an idiom they can understand and relate to. I
didn't find it corny or preachy or sentimental, and these are also traps
that a religious film can fall into.
As always I wondered about its use in Religious Education. There would
have to be plenty of discussion afterwards, and the teacher would want
to be well informed about the background to the Fatima story. The vision
of hell and one rather scary angel make it more suitable for secondary
students. For teachers who might like to use just an extract, the scene
of the miracle of the sun is quite striking and captures the essence of
the film. At the time of writing The 13th Day is available only on Region
1 DVD (USA). More info on the film's website.
I saw the film at the Film Society of the Fraternity
of St Genesius, which meets on the 3rd Tuesday of the month. I was
glad to finally get there and meet people of like mind! Fr John Hogan,
Father-Director of the Fraternity gave an interesting opening address,
where he made some interesting comparisons with the earlier film version
The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952), made at a time when it
was popular in Hollywood to make films that were positive towards the
Catholic Church. Oh how things have changed!
How many viewers still watch this US drama series that returned to RTE
last week? It started with a total recap episode which might have brought
the casual viewers up to date with the deliciously convoluted plot, but
I'd say they were re-established in a state of confusion once the season
opener got going. It didn't disappoint. Earlier seasons have had flashbacks,
flashforwards and people going backwards and forwards through time - this
season there's an even more intriguing plot device of having parallel
or alternative futures. Not much religion yet, but the Sayid character,
as he approached death reckoned he'd be going to a bad place because of
all the torturing he had done, and later he has a sort of resurrection
experience. A hidden temple was discovered on the island - seemed like
a sort of religion, but the devotees there certainly didn't have hospitality
as a core value - their first reaction to a bunch of strangers was "Shoot
These are the "Others", a mysterious group that have been on the Lost
island since the beginning. Their mystical leader Jacob was mentioned
but never seen for the first few series - making his appearance last year
all the more dramatic. One could see him as a sort of god-like or prophet
figure and perhaps his nemesis (smartly named Esau by some smart ones
on the web), the black smoke guy, is a sort of devil figure. But it would
be a headbreaker to try and fit the plot into some orthodox version of
the Christian story.
episode of EWTN's youth magazine show Life on the Rock last weekend.
It highlighted the work of Epiphany
Studio - a Catholic-Christian US theatre group that specialises in
spiritual material. In particular we got to see clips from Lolek,
a one-man show by Jeremy Stanbary on the young adult days in the life
of John Paul II. In the studio interview Stanbary explained how he found
the world of secular theatre creating conflicts with his faith, leading
himself, along with his wife Sarah into their present work. No sign of
an Irish tour yet, but I've emailed to see if this might be a possibility
for the future. Some of their performances can be ordered on DVD from
their website's store. Clips, previews, and interviews are also available
on their YouTube
And on the same show there was an interview with Max Espinosa about the
Acting Studio - a new studio that educates actors in their craft,
but also pays attention to their spiritual life, helping them to make
better choices in the mainstream. Signs of hope!
Started a module on the virtues with 5th
Year students today. Used a worksheet to start with, which helped get
the students thinking. To finish I got them to do some artwork on the
first virtue I tackled - Justice. I got some interesting specimens. Interestingly
no one went for the traditional scales of justice figure. The most striking
one was a guillotine on fire! Another had an electric chair being rejected.
I have a series of these Virtue Worksheets available on request - use
email link above.
Well, I did a bit for Catholic School's Week,
but it didn't help that we were in the middle of Mock Exams, with no school
assemblies as a result. Still, we did make use of our Prayer Room for
some class services and conducted some classes on the theme. Apart from
the discussions, I got students doing some artwork - e.g. posters to highlight
the event, which got them thinking, I hope. At the prayer services I used
the folllowing songs: Where To Now Edmund from the album "Islands
of the Heart" by Peter Kearney - it's about the vision of Edmund
Rice (it's a CBS); Be Thou My Vision by Cajun Group L'Angelus from
their excellent "Sacred Hymns Collection"; and the very appropriate
Salt and Light Amy Delaine from the compilation album "Songs
From the Loft" (a must for every RE Dept!).
This week is Catholic Schools Week in Ireland.
The resource materials have been sent to schools but are also available
The secondary schools booklet includes a poem St Brigid, A Blessing
by Christy Kenneally. I tried it in a few classes today and it went well
I think. For the feast of the Presentation tomorrow T.S. Eliot's Song
for Simeon might be useful , but probably too complex to use as
a prayer. In the resource materials there are also prayers, readings,
full services, fun activities and even recipes! Would be interested in
hearing from anyone trying some interesting activities this week.
Recently I noted the passing of Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and
Mary, (see entry for 27/9/09) and now another great female singer has
died. Kate McGarrigle, along with her sister Anna wrote and sang
some wonderful songs, with the sweetest harmonies, like Heart Like
a Wheel, Heartbeats Accelerating and Love Over and Over. Their
best work I think was in their earlier 70's and 80's albums, especially
their first, simply titled "Kate and Anna McGarrigle". That
has to be one of my favourite albums of all time. I've seen them live
a few times, which was such a treat. Little of their output was religious
material, but their Catholic French Canadian background shone through
at times. There was Travelling on for Jesus from that first album,
and the many Christmas songs from their album "The McGarrigle Christmas
Hour". The latter includes her song about the Three Wise Men - I've
included a video of her singing it on the left. It's not the best recording
and she wasn't that well at the time, but it's recent and worth a look.
Rest in Peace.
As outlined below I've been using an extract from Jesus of
Nazareth to illustrate classes on the moral teaching of Jesus.
Part of that extract has come in handy when I've been doing "table-fellowship"
with second year students. There's a useful segment where Jesus goes for
a meal to Matthew's house (Luke 5:27-39). Matthew being a hated tax collector
the apostles try to convince him not to go - danger of scandal and defilement!
In the Prodigal Son story Jesus tells towards the end of the extract another
meal figures - the feast thrown for the returning son. When I've asked
to students to name events in the life of Jesus that centre around meals
many suggested the Last Supper, which was reassuring. I showed the Last
Supper scene from BBC's Passion, which I've referred to here many
times before. You can see it in the clip on left - Last Supper begins
about 3 minutes in, but the lead in is interesting too. I also used the
Last Supper scene from The Manchester Passion, another BBC production
that presented a modern version of the story with contemporary music.
This held the students' attention, though I found that it worked better
with older classes. I'm enjoying the table-fellowship theme from the Junior
Cert course - meals, eating, feasts figure rather prominently in the Bible
stories, whether Jesus is eating with people or telling stories about
eating - e.g. comparing the Kingdom to a feast.
5th Year students I've been doing the moral teachings of Jesus
- I usually start by showing what I think is a powerful extract from Jesus
of Nazareth - from where Jesus meets Peter on the shores of lake Galilee
to where Peter and Matthew reconcile after Jesus tells the Prodigal Son
story - about 20 minutes or so. There's so much in this for the moral
teaching topic. You have the apostle John wanting scripture to come alive
in people's hearts; there's the scene of the miraculous catch of fish
(beautifully portrayed) which emphasises the value of generosity; there's
trust - Peter has to trust Jesus and head out again even after catching
nothing so far; hospitality is highlighted when Peter invites Jesus to
his house (along with quite a crowd!), and when Matthew welcomes Jesus
into his house; the concepts of invitation and challenge are strong in
Jesus' efforts to get Peter and Matthew together; there's a powerful lesson
in reconciliation and forgiveness when they do put aside their differences,
which they must do if the are to follow the Lord; forgiveness of sins
is an issue when Jesus cures the crippled man who is let in through Peter's
roof ; the apostles try to argue Jesus out of visiting the despised tax
collector Matthew, but Jesus stresses that the heart of the law is mercy,
and that he has come to call sinners, not the virtuous. This extract has
always held the attention of the senior boys, and did again this time,
but one thing I noticed this time was the giggles when Jesus is shown
with a heavenly expression or aura - this just happens briefly at the
start of the extract, but most the time the portrayal of Robert Powell
in the role of Jesus is very moving and naturalistic - Powell holds the
viewer as Jesus holds the listeners in the telling of the Prodigal Son
story - all the more affecting as we can see the parallel with the reconciliation
of Matthew (the prodigal) and Peter (the grouchy older brother). You can
watch the start of the extract here,
and the telling of the Prodigal Son story here.
constant repeats on RTE and Channel 4 one can get overdosed on the Simpsons,
but to be fair it takes a lot of repeating to drain the humour out of
it. Last weekend both channels showed The Simpsons Movie, and like
a lot of comedy shows transferring to the big screen it was a questionable
exercise - yes, the movie was funny, but it didn't offer much more than
a typical bunch of episodes shown back to back. As always there was an
amount of religious content - and while you might welcome films that show
religion as a common part of life (airbrushed out of most American shows)
you'd smart at the sharp barbs thrown at believers. The story began on
a Sunday morning with Homer once again grumbling about going to church
- why, he says, can't he be allowed worship God in his own way - "like
praying like hell on my death bed". He grouches about Rev Lovejoy's congregation,
"pious morons" with their "phoney baloney God". Grandpa Simpson starts
speaking in tongues about some apocalyptic event, and wouldn't you know,
it was to be an environmental disaster. The show often pokes fun at those
believers who are big into "the end times". There was one hilarious scene
when the end of the world was nigh (yet again) - the believers abandoned
the church and headed for the bar, while the drinkers rushed out of the
bar and made for the church. The sign on the church said "We Told You
While Ned Flanders was presented, as usual, as a Holy Joe, he is also
portrayed as the most human and caring of the Springfield folks - providing
such a stable father figure that Bart wants him as father instead, but
only for a while of course. Yes, its mildly crude and borderline irreverent,
but its definitely funny, and even thought provoking. And suitably for
the time that's in it, it gave an outing to the idea of "epiphany" - Homer
must get a deep insight into his selfishness or he won't be able to save
Springfield and win his family back. And was there every any doubt about