Monday, December 31, 2012

The Hobbit: an unexpected connection

James Nesbitt as Bofur

I went to the Hobbit yesterday. Not without some trepidation. The reviews I'd seen said it was over long & slow-paced. I wondered if I'd be better waiting for the DVD. I especially wondered if the kids would sit through it. But, the boys really wanted to go ... and as the promise had been made before I'd seen the reviews, go we went!

I was glad we did. The cinema in Carlow was three-quarters full on a Sunday afternoon nearly three weeks after the film has opened.  That's a pretty fair indicator that word of mouth is having a bigger impact than any negative reviews. I'll give no spoilers, but I liked what Peter Jackson did with the narrative arc. The movie may have been nearly three hours, but I didn't notice the time drag, not did the three of my boys whom I took aged 10, 12, & 16. The Hobbit held our attention.

An expected delight was when the dwarves showed up and Bofur started speaking. Hang on a mo', I thought, I recognise that voice. It was the actor James Nesbitt, a 'Norn Iron' man. The delight wasn't that there was an Irish man in the film, but rather that I had met him once.* 

When I worked for Revenue on Nassau Street, my colleagues and I went for our mid-morning coffee in a bar nearby called Renard's. At night, Renard's was a rather exclusive place, the haunt of the rich and semi-famous but during the day it was pretty quiet & they were happy to let middle-aged civil servants have their elevenses there.

Renard's at some point decided to do a bit of a re-brand as a sports bar (which mainly seemed to involve sticking in a few plasma screen TVs). And a re-brand requires a launch. And a launch requires a celebrity guest. The celebrity guest was James Nesbitt. Being sort of regulars, we mid-morning coffee drinkers got invites too. Arriving early, long before the too-cool to be on time crowd showed up, we nearly had the place almost to ourselves. And thus I had a chance to have a small chat with Mr Nesbitt.

Truth be told, there wasn't much to say. He was a nice guy, happy to chat (tall and thin, he probably wasn't obvious dwarf material!). He was working on his series 'Murhphy's Law' at the time (where he played, you guessed it, an Irish cop called Murphy). I liked the series. I told him so. He thanked me for my opinion. We discussed the grittiness of the series. And that was pretty much it. He had a drink in his hand, & I in mine, so I suppose technically you could say we had a drink together. After a couple of minutes of very small talk I went back to my colleagues. 

Not much of a story. But it did mean that during The Hobbit I was able to nudge my boys and say: Hey! D'you see that guy? The dwarf? No, not the one with the shaved head! No, not the one with the red beard and huge belly! The one with the funny hat and the big mustache. I met him once. We had a drink together. OK, we had a drink near one another. But I did meet him.'

Slightly cool. Perhaps no great reason to recommend The Hobbit to you. Which is why I don't. I think it stands on its own merits. 

But the fact that it has an Irish guy in it that I met once can't hurt, right?

Happy New Year!

*disclaimer: this is Ireland folks. It's a pretty small place. There is a very good chance that a large percentage of the population of this island has met Mr Nesbitt at some time. There are probably over a million stories out there of how others met James Nesbitt. This is one of them. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

ordinary & extraordinary: lessons from the finding of Christ in the Temple

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The material we are presented with this Sunday in our Gospel reading is unique for a couple of reasons. It is unique because the story it tells is to be found only in St Luke. That in itself is not all that unusual. There are many scenes to be found in Luke that are only found in his Gospel – think of the Visitation to the Blessed Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel, the Visitation of our Lady to her cousin Elizabeth, all the material relating to the birth of St John the Baptist … these, and other things are only to be found in Luke … just as the other Gospels have things that are only to be found in them … but today's passage is special for another reason … for it, of all the Gospels, gives us information dealing with the 'between time' of our Lord's life, the time between birth and baptism and the beginning of his ministry … the time often referred to as the 'hidden years' …

Brief though the story is, it gives us an important insight into the life of our Saviour. Hearing about how he traveled to Jerusalem for the religious festival with a group of family and friends & how he later returned home with his parents and was obedient to them indicate that the life he led would have been fairly typical of someone of his social class living at that time in that place.

It's important information, both because it gives us a sense of how normal his life was, to outside eyes at least … normal enough that when he went back later to preach and teach in Nazareth, those who had known him all his life were astonished at his knowledge … and offended that someone as 'ordinary' as him should suddenly be someone so extra-ordinary … and important also because it supplies a context to his life … the more we learn about life in the Israel of his time, the more it helps us gain insight into his life, and better understand his teaching …

But we should not let the apparent ordinariness trick us in to assuming that Jesus was ordinary. Some for example fall into that trap and say: O Look, the boy Jesus ran off from his parents. That's wrong isn't it to worry them like that? That means he sinned, doesn't it?' And they think they are being very clever. They forget some very important points. The first is that we are assured in scripture that Jesus was like us in all respects save in sin alone. Therefore we have the assurance of scripture that Jesus never sinned. Also, we know from a theological perspective that for Jesus to sin was impossible – after all, sin by definition is to offend against God … how could Jesus, who is God, offend against himself? The answer is, of course, that he could not.

And of course, St Luke in giving us this passage did not intend to present us with cause to think that the sinless One sinned. Rather, he wanted to show us that despite the apparent ordinariness of the life of the Christ the boy, there was always a foreshadowing of what awaited Christ the man ... and to underscore the fact that it will cause sorrow and grief to those who love him when he carries out the will of his Father to the point of obedience of death on a cross.

Think of the time of year that this is taking place. It is during the Passover, the same season when Jesus will suffer and die. And think also how long it took to find him … three days, the same time he will spend in the tomb … and his response when found is to say 'did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?' He must be there … he is obeying the will of the Father in what he does … just as he obeyed the will of the Father when he accepted the cup of suffering and death during his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane....

Our Lady, you will recall, treasured the incident in her heart … it was, like the words of the shepherd at his birth, or the prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation in the temple that a sword would pierce her heart, one of those things that she would ponder during the hidden years of her Son. It was a reminder to her that her Son was no ordinary man … and that her willing acceptance to do what God wanted her to do would cause her much sorrow …

Because as well as both pointing to the outside normality of his life during the hidden years and reminding us that the shadow of the cross hung over all his life, the passage also serves to show us something else … for all the apparent ordinariness of his life, it was also far from ordinary. Jesus was the Son of God and he knew it … even then he had an understanding that his life was to do the work his Father in heaven has sent him to do … those thirty years of our Lord's life about which we know so little, must have been an extraordinary experience … 

What must it have been like for him to lead a life no different to those around him, playing and going to school just like an other boy while he was a child, later training as a carpenter and working with his father Joseph, following all the social and religious customs of his time and place … while at the same time knowing that he was the Son of God, sent into the world on a mission of cosmos changing proportions … and yet hold his fire for thirty years … it indicates to me at least that the humility of God in Christ knew no bounds … for God to become man is one thing … but for God to live a life of total obscurity in a backwater of the Roman Empire for 30 years is humble beyond imagining! And it demonstrates how incomprehensible is the love that God has for his creation, for all of us his children, that he would do such a thing …

I began by saying that this passage from Luke is unique because it is only found in Luke and is the only one dealing with his hidden years … perhaps I would have been better to say that it uniquely demonstrates the all consuming love that God has for us … such love, that our response to it should be to have our hearts filled with joy and dedicate ourselves anew each day to asking God to fill us with his grace so that we might daily live lives that were more and more Christ-like … lives that are happy to humbly serve him every day and do his will in every way … it is something I pray for you, myself, and all God's children. Amen 

Sermon notes for Christmas 1 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Piers Morgan and Stupid

Piers Morgan calls a pro-gun advocate stupid on live television and becomes the darling of the liberals in the US. Wherever you stands on gun control, this is the kind of thing that should worry you. Name calling is increasingly taking the place of debate in Western society. If someone doesn't agree with you, the only possible reason is that they must be an idiot. No need to make an actual argument - it's not like they could understand. 

Lack of courtesy is a bad road to travel. Jesus had something to say about name calling. In Matthew 5 he said if you called someone 'Racca' (idiot) it was equivalent to murder. Mr Morgan is on record as saying he is a Christian, so perhaps this is something for him to bear in mind next time he is tempted to replace rational argument with insults. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Dawkins who?

We were robing in the sacristy. It was just before the Christmas Carol service. The busiest time of the year for clergy - so busy that all the 'active' Catholic clergy hadn't been available to give the service it's usual ecumenical dimension. Luckily there's a couple of retired priests living in the parish and one of those was available.

Father is a lovely man. He spent almost all his ministry in South America. And now, even though well beyond retirement age he still helps out in the parish. As we were getting ready I asked him what he thought of Richard Dawkins' latest extraordinary remarks about the Catholic Church.

'Richard who?' he said without skipping a beat, a little furrow to his brow.
'Dawkins. Richard Dawkins.'
'I don't think I know the name.'
'Oh, I'm sure you must. Author of the 'God Delusion.' Big name in the militant atheist movement. Oxford scientist turned polemicist in the cause of showing the world how dangerous religion is.' There wasn't the slightest spark of dawning recognition in his eyes.

'No, I'm afraid I haven't heard of him.'
'Really? His book was a best seller. He's on TV and radio all the time.'
'His fame must never have made it to Argentina.'
'Oh dear. I don't think he'd like to hear that,' I said with a laugh.

We left the topic and got on with things. But it's good to know that the world-famous Richard Dawkins is only world-famous in those parts of the world that have heard of him! 

Perhaps it is time for the rest of us to follow the example of the Argentinians?  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Baby it's cold outside: how times have changed

It's funny how at Christmas all kinds of songs come on the radio almost as traditions of the season. Think of 'Jingle bells' ... everyone associates it with Christmas, but in fact Christmas is never mentioned ... and that's because it's a song about sleigh-rides in the snow, not Christmas! The mere mention of snow is enough to get it on the Christmas playlist!

Ditto 'Baby, it's cold outside,' recorded by various artists, but mostly associated with Dean Martin & Doris Day (they dueted on it in a movie once I think, but I might be wrong; they certainly recorded it together at some point - the version above is by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer, who as far as I can make out were among the first to record it; the one below is Dean Martin with Martina McBride & includes the lyrics). It was on the radio as I was having breakfast this morning. A Christmas song solely on the strength of its snowy credentials.

Listening to it I was struck by something. The female part of the lyric displays a lot of concern about what others might say or think or even do if she, a single woman, spends too long alone in the company of the male singer. She worries that her father might be worried, her mother & sister concerned, her brother might come looking, other relatives jump to conclusions, or the neighbours shocked. In the context of the song, her objections are perhaps token ones. But it'd be hard to make those arguments today, even as tokens, with much credibility, wouldn't it?

The song was written in 1944. We've traveled a long way from there, baby, haven't we?

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Boxing Day reflection on the kindness of Claus

Santa left my boys a letter along with their presents which I thought I'd share with you:

Santa's Workshop, The North Pole
Christmas 2012

Dear Boys,

Well, what a year it has been for you all. Moving house and changing schools isn't easy, is it? And on top of all that, all of you so unwell in the last few weeks, making things even more difficult.

I do feel a little sorry for you all. Which is why I won't hold it against you that you have been more than mischievous now and again; and have certainly been more naughty than nice when it comes to keeping your rooms clean and helping out around the house. We'll say no more about that other than I most certainly expect better next year – a lot better.

Now as to your presents this year, I do think you'll be pleased. I looked over your lists and was very impressed by the fact that none of you were at all greedy. I am more and more put out these days when children ask for too many things, especially too many expensive things. Getting presents at Christmas is a lovely part of the the tradition, but Christmas means a lot more than presents. Those who ask for too many make me think that that is all they care about, which is definitely not nice.

But as I said, you were good boys when it came to choosing, so you will find just about everything you asked for. I only say 'just about' in case I misunderstood, which is not impossible because I am getting very old, and my eyesight grows a little worse each year and you would not believe how hard it is to get new glasses here at the North Pole. The elves are very good at making toys, but spectacles are not really their specialty  But what I am saying is that I think you have what you asked for.

So that is it for this year. Be good boys for your mom and dad. The move wasn't easy for them either and they do need your help – it isn't easy looking after four boys like you! So give them lots of help and never forget to show them how much you love them every day.

Have a holy and a happy Christmas,

your friend,

Santa Claus 

Now, the letter is rather sweet, but I am starting to wonder if Santa isn't  a bit of a softie? Starting from today, parents the western world over will start threatening kids with his wrath should they misbehave. And no matter how rotten they have been, the big guy never seems to take action. Let's face it, we all know kids who really should get enough coal to keep the home-fires burning all year every Christmas. Instead the man in red gives them enough gear to stock a small toy store. What does all this teach kids about there being consequences for their behaviour? How are they supposed to learn if Santa constantly undermines the dire warnings of parents by just giving the kids what they want anyway?

So that's my challenge to you for next year Santa. Keep track of that naughty list. And don't be afraid to use it. The kids may cry, but at the end of the day, it's for their own good ... after all, it is possible to kill with kindness!

Merry Christmas!

(Oh, and if you do have unwanted gifts, don't be afraid to donate them to local charities ... I'm not talking about the crazy novelty gifts, like the singing ties or whatever ... clothes & stuff like that are always needed ... share the love in a practical way this Christmas.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

the serious purpose of the infancy narratives

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The suggestion that a preacher should have the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in another was made by that colossus of 20th century theology, the German Theologian Karl Barth … most interpret that as a call to relevant preaching … but I never in my wildest imaginings thought that this Christmas we would have our actual Gospel text for this Christmas as a subject of discussion in the newspapers …

I'm talking about the debate that arose subsequent to the publication of the third and final volume of Pope Benedict's series of books on the life of Jesus. This one dealt with the infancy narratives, the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, and in the course of his discussing the topic he happened to point out that there is nothing in the Bible to verify the presence of cows and donkeys – the ox and ass of Christmas Carols - at the birth of our Lord.

Well, you would have thought that the poor man had suggested something astonishing – that perhaps the birth had taken place on a passing comet & the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus had returned to earth in a tandem parachute jump … rather than actual stating something that is quite clear if one reads what Luke and Matthew has to say on the topic … and the fact is that neither of them mentions cows and donkeys at all … their presence is fixed in our minds largely because of Christmas Carols, the artistic tradition that started in Medieval times, & the first 'living crib' set up by St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century … we have donkeys and cows in our nativity scenes as an act of creative imagining … the birth took place in a stable … what do we usually find in a stable … and so the animals are presumed to have been there …

The mild indignation and indeed consternation promoted by the Pope's reflections are both amusing and serious … amusing, because it is rather funny to see people getting so hot under the collar about this … it is not as if the Pope was trying to set in place a ban on crib scenes, or ordering the faithful to dispose of all non-biblical figures from the nativity sets they have under their trees … it was simply a passing comment on the facts … funny too because much of the upset seemed to be coming from people who have almost no interest in religion in general, but do like their little Christmas traditions … even if for them they are all but divorced from Christianity …

But it is serious too, because it points to the fact that we have all but exclusively become locked into a kind of 'sentimental interpretation' of the Infancy Narratives … for most of us they have become very much about the cute Baby Jesus lying in a splinter free manger filled with antiseptically clean straw, gazed at by a serenely beautiful Virgin Mary, & surrounded by all the usual suspects of a crib scene in a stable you could eat your dinner off the floor of … and that picture postcard image is all very pretty and all very nice … as long as it doesn't get in the way of the serious business of what the St Matthew and St Luke were trying to convey when they gave us their Gospel accounts of the birth of our Lord and Saviour. 

And the truth is they had no interest in saccharine sentimentality … if they had, there would have been a lot more cutesy details, talking about how lovely the baby looked, and what he weighed, and what a lovely little curl he had, etcetera, etcetera … no, they had a very sombre theological purpose … and that was to make it absolutely clear to us that this was no ordinary birth, that was the promised Messiah and the how and the where and the when of his birth fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies about him … and more, that he was the Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born to a pure virgin … someone who at his birth angels would burst forth from heaven singing about … someone whom wise men would follow a star to find … and someone whom people like Herod would stop at nothing to kill … Matthew and Luke had no interest in setting the scene for a cosy little Christmas card photo-opportunity … they wanted to make it crystal clear that this was the Lord of the universe breaking into our world, and that this was why he was someone who could teach with absolute authority … and why he was someone who could redeem us from our sins …

I mentioned at the beginning what Karl Barth had to say about preachers having a newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other … he said a bit more than that on the subject … he also said the preacher should interpret what the papers said from our Bibles … & interpreting this reaction to what Pope Benedict had to say thus, I think it shows there is a danger of allowing the trappings of the Christmas season to become more important than Christmas itself … that all the add-ons can serve to obscure the birth of Christ and the Incarnation of God as man … and so this Christmas my prayer for us all is that even as we enjoy all the good things of the season we do not lose sight of its real meaning … and commit ourselves anew to proclaiming that meaning to the world … Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dawkins is now a parody of himself

I suppose it had to happen finally. Richard Dawkins has made a career out of saying outrageous things about religion. I think he started out sincerely enough, believing the creed of the militant atheist faith he was one of the founding fathers of. Somewhere along the road he must have become addicted to the spotlight focused on him. Problem is, to keep the light on him, he discovered he needed to say increasingly outrageous things. The danger with that is that if you keep it up, you end up saying the kind of thing that comic impersonators of you say when they are pretending to be you ... crazily outrageous things, exaggerated versions of the things that you might say  ... like what he has just done: saying that being raised Catholic is a worse form of abuse than being sexually abused.

No, really, he said that. Dawkins. I'm not making it up as an example of comic exaggeration  He actually said that. It's in the video* if you want to watch it. 

There are some interesting points about the video. Look at the reaction of the interviewer - it is one of almost disgusted incredulity. He really can not believe that even Dawkins would say this. He gives Dawkins a chance to soften it a little, but how does Dickie respond? With a pretty vile anti-Catholic Straw-man argument, actually. The Hell of the Catholic Church is a place where you roast, your skin peels off, & then it grows back so it can burn off all over again. 

Really? I don't remember ever hearing anything like that from my school teachers during catechism class in Catholic school, the diocesan priests who visited us, the Presentation Brothers who taught me during my first year of secondary school, the OFM Capuchins who had me for the rest of my post-primary education, or indeed ever, ever from the pulpit. But hey, maybe they just forgot to mention it? Maybe a quick peek into the Catechism of the Catholic Church will put me right on that score? Oh no, wait: I read through the relevant parts of that earlier this week, preparing my Advent homily on Hell & there was nothing about skin roasting off and regenerating in order to roast off and regenerate ad infinitum.

While he is spouting his poisonous accusations, the camera cuts to the audience. I don't think they can believe what they are hearing either. There is a reason for that. Unless the room is full of the most ardent admirers of Dickie, militant atheist fellow-travelers, then they are bound to be repulsed by what he is saying. No sane person is going to accept his farcical version of Catholic teaching ... and even those who think that bringing up children in the faith is a bad thing are not going to readily align themselves with a view that it is worse than sexually molesting them to do so. It is a pity the clip ends before we see how they voted on the question.

And notice especially what happens when the interviewer says to him: 'hey! you're an empiricist! you know better than to base a claim like this on what one person says!' Does Dickie look ashamed at his lack of scientific method on this? Nope. He simply takes a moment and then says one knows intuitively that it is worse to tell little kids about hell than to sexually abuse them. Do you see what has happened there? The scientist (although of course he as been operating out of his field for so long he should perhaps really be called a former scientist) who is always calling for empirical evidence when it comes to religion is reduced to talking about intuition and feelings when it comes to trashing the Church. And of course, if he accepts the intuitive argument here, he really hasn't a leg to stand on when he tries to reject it when others use it to justify their faith.

Dickie has really lost the run of himself with this one. This kind of self-parody not only undermines himself, but is quite likely to win the Church a few sympathy votes. To paraphrase the old saying: with enemies like this, who needs friends? OK, that might be a step too far. But certainly enemies like this can do you as much good as a friend.

Merry Christmas to you all (& especially you Dickie ... we are praying for you)!

*Kudos to Fr Michael Gollop of Let nothing you dismay for tipping me off to this

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The four last things 4: Hell

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our journey through Advent is almost complete. Soon it will be Christmas day & the penitential season that is Advent, whether it was marked with penitential spiritual disciplines or not, will be over for another year. We have marked this, our first Advent journey together, by considering week by week one of the four last things that the second coming of our Lord will bring about: death, judgement, heaven, and hell.

We spoke of death as the gateway to the other three, something we all must experience, but not something to be feared because we know from our Lord's promises that we pass through the grave to eternal life. We looked at judgement, the time when our God & Judge will respect the choices we have freely made during our lives, using our God-given free will, to live in accordance with his will. If we have chosen eternal life with him in heaven by the way we have lived our lives, then what we spoke of about heaven becomes relevant. That is the choice we have made, and been enabled by God's Grace to live our in our lives, and God in his gracious love will welcome us home to dwell in all eternity in the place he created us to be. But if we chose otherwise, then that choice will also be respected … and then what we will be talking about today on hell becomes of most relevance …

I hope you are not expecting a 'blistering' sermon on hell … I think the days of hell-fire & brimstone sermons are done … most people today are intelligent and well educated … they are individuals who are comfortable with making choices … and they understand that choices have consequences … why someone would chose hell over heaven is beyond me … it seems something of a 'no-brainer' as the expression goes … but perhaps I can speculate …

Some, I suspect, may not truly believe that hell exists … alas, for those who think thus; because Jesus spoke more about hell than just about any other topic … We have Christ's own assurance that it does exist … and Christianity is very much something of a package deal … you don't get to pick and chose the bits you like … and you are not going to be exempted from hell on the basis that it was one of the bits of the Christian faith that you never really liked …

Others I think believe hell exists but that God doesn't really send people there … to those who think thus I must say that you can not have really been paying attention when you were reading your Gospels. Because again it was Jesus himself who told us that people would go there … and I do not think on judgement day telling our Lord that you shouldn't be held accountable because you weren't paying attention is going to hold much water …

Then there are those who accept that hell exists, & that people will indeed go there, but not them … hell is for really, really bad folk … not for those who live ordinary, everyday lives like they do … the problem there is that many who take that view think they can't go to hell mainly because they do not regard the wrong that they do as sin in the first place … they have decided that they are the ones who decide what is right and what is wrong … and because they are OK with the way they lead their lives, they all but demand that God agree with them … they want to have their cake and eat it too … they want to live as they please, ignore the sin in their lives, and still be thought of as being righteous … well, I'm afraid it doesn't work like that … we do not get to freely chose to reject God by how we live & then claim after that we were choosing him also …

And what is this hell that people chose? It is real, it is eternal, it is the dwelling place of those who have rejected God. Do we really need the thoughts of flames or images of demons tormenting us to make it seem even less attractive? Hell is the place where you go when you chose forever not to go to the place you were created to be … but the good news is that you do not have to choose it; it is not where God wants you to be; he sent his only Son into the world so that all might be saved. That is the message of Christmas. Not to go all dewy-eyed at the thought of a baby in a manger … but to realise that the Creator of the universe loved us enough to become man so that we might spend all eternity with him … all we have to do is let him into our hearts … and I pray tonight that you will ... Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Can't pay the heat? Then get on the bus.

(stock photo)
I recently heard a story that makes me think that there are a lot of people in Ireland for whom Christmas this year is not going to be a very pleasant time.

A friend's father went missing. He was elderly & was on a lot of medication for a serious illness which was causing him to be less compos mentis than usual. They looked everywhere, alerted the neighbours, texted & phoned everyone they could think of, & of course called the police. But as he was living in one of Ireland's larger cities there was a lot of ground to cover and several worrying hours went by with no result.

Someone who knew him happened to get on a bus in the city. Not looking for him, just going home from work. On the upper deck who should she spot but the missing man, sitting alone. Luckily she was one of the people who had been sent a text and she knew the family was looking for him. Talking to the driver she discovered he had been sitting there for at least two hours, going back and forth on the bus route from one side of the city to the other. She took charge of him and got him home to his relived family.

When I was told the story I said how lucky they had been to find him safe and well. And why, I wondered aloud, had the bus-driver, since he had seen him, not checked to see why he was sitting there all that time? 

Because, it transpired, an elderly person sitting on a bus going nowhere for hours is not an unusual sight these days. They get on the bus, using their free travel pass, and ride aimlessly for long periods of time for the simple reason that the buses are warm and they can't afford to heat their homes. 

Endless hours on an omnibus is a simple survival strategy.

I find it one of the saddest stories I've heard this Christmas-tide. And a damning indictment of our society. When the ten commandments said to 'honour your father and mother' it went on to say 'that you may live long and prosper in the land.' It wasn't an instruction to children to be good little boys and girls and do what mommy and daddy says and eat all your vegetables and go to bed on time. It was a command to society to look after their elderly. We're failing on that score in a very big way. 

And another thing: the part about prospering in the land if we obeyed that command. We're not really prospering, much are we? I'm not linking not prospering with how we treat the elderly. But I think our own lack of current prosperity would be a lot easier to take if we had the comfort of knowing that we were treating our most vulnerable well. That we really were all in this together, behaving with dignity and grace ... rather than selfishly scrabbling to protect our own little corner and all but abandoning those who aren't strong enough to do their own scrabbling.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Harmless fun with the National Catholic Reporter

I had some fun over at the National Catholic Reporter site recently. Fr Z (who, even though he is not Wikipedia, is increasingly the font of all wisdom when it comes to what's going on in the world of traditional Catholicism) said they had a poll going on over there as to who was Catholic of the Year. He suggested folk go over and vote. 

Now it is well known that Fr Z is not a fan of the NCR (clue: he calls it the National catholic Fishwrap); if he's sending the myriads who haunt his blog in that direction, there is a definite suspicion that he's hoping his readers will send the vote in a direction the NCR folk weren't expecting. Still, none of my business really ... but when has that ever stopped me ... or indeed anyone else for that matter? So I thought I'd have a look anyway. I discovered that it was a poll with a difference ... to quote the editors of the NCR:

NCR's editorial board has already selected our Person of the Year for 2012, though you have to wait until Dec. 26 to find out who was selected.

Until then, we open the floor to you! Below is the list of Person of the Year finalists who were discussed for the title. Who would you choose? The comments boards are, as ever, yours.

So, they'd already made their choice, but they wondered what the rest of the world thought? A bit weird, methinks .. and since they had declared the comments board open, I thought I'd engage in some harmless mischief & ask a few questions ...

Hmm ... seems a bit odd, having a vote after you've already decided. If someone else tops the poll, do you take it back from your choice & give it to the actual winner? Or do you give out a second award after, called the People's Choice Person of the Year?
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    VivatPapaBenedictus replied
    That's a great point, Father. However, if the National catholic Reporter allowed the people to choose, we wouldn't choose the "right" person! ;)

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      Pam Cohen, the web-editor also responded:
      Hi Father,
      NCR's Person of the Year is and always has been decided by our editorial board and will not be changing based on the poll. The poll was just a little something fun to see what others had to say!

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        So of course, I replied to her reply!

        Thanks for your reply Pam.
        Doesn't ' is and always has been' sound a little strong considering that this is only the third year of the award? I mean, if it had been going for decades I could understand standing on tradition, but when the thing is barely off the ground, surely there is some room for some flexibility and playing around with the idea?
        And don't worry; I understand that the board's decision is final ... that was just my having a little fun too! After all, if the board can have some fun, no reason others shouldn't too!
        Merry Christmas!

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          Pam Cohen came back with:
          You'll have to forgive my wording -- I've only been with NCR a little more than a year, so to me, it's been going forever!
          Merry Christmas to you, as well! And thanks for reading NCR!

          And then (well now!) the editor of NCR joined in the fun!
          Dennis Coday
          Vera Harkwins (above) and Fr_Levi (below) make points that I never even considered when I asked Pam Cohen to post this poll.

          The selection of Person of the Year is a choice made by the editors here at NCR. We see it as a news judgment, like many we make every day. It is a message from us to you, our readers, telling you what we think is important. And we will give you reasons for why we made the decision. Our hope is that you will respond -- agreeing and disagreeing with us -- and we will have a conversation about events and people that shaped our lives this past year.

          We come to you after we have selected, because it is our choice to make. We want you to react to what we think is important. We are not "afraid" readers will pick the "wrong" person. As this list demonstrates, even among ourselves, we disagreed. We like those kinds of disagreements. If we don't tell you what we think, you can't react to it. The idea of putting up this poll before we reveal our selection was to get the conversation started. We wanted people think, "Hmmmm, I wonder who NCR will pick. I bet it is ....." We hoped to build a little anticipation by tantalizing you with the list first.
          Let me make one last point. "Person of the Year" isn't meant to be an honor or an award. It is not meant to be the person we like the most. The person is a significant newsmaker of the year. Newsmakers aren't always popular.
          I hope that helps.
          Dennis Coday
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            Well, if the editor is going to respond, it would be rude not to reply!

            Thanks for that response, Dennis.
            If I might remark: if you are sending a message by whom you choose as your person of the the year, then you are also sending a message by publishing the list of those whom you considered. What message do you think it sends by letting it be known that one of those you considered was Roy Bourgeois, someone who was, if I understand correctly, excommunicated latae sententiae in 2008 & was canonically dismissed from his order earlier this year?
            You can treat that question as rhetorical if you like! :-)

            Oh, & I don't suppose you would consider putting an option on your poll to allow people to nominate someone of their choice? It seems from some of the other comments that it would be a popular move ... & that Pope Benedict could well be the people's choice on this!

            Merry Christmas

            No response to that, I'm afraid ... but I did notice that the votes didn't really seem to be registering on the poll. I queried it in the combox ... as did many others. Turns out their online poll thing was only set up to register the first 100 votes! The rest are counted but not assigned to the nominees. And NCR would have to pay money to get it fixed ... but doesn't look like they are going to ... so I guess their poll is a bust ... good thing they already picked the winner themselves after all!

            Merry Christmas.