It was a week of ‘good example, bad example’ – concepts you don’t hear much about these days, though we constantly hear about the importance of ‘influencers’. It’s a term usually reserved for obscure ‘celebrities’ on social media yet good role models are still so important for inspiring the young and boosting flagging morale among the not so young.
And so it was that I was impressed by the appearance of Sr Colette of the Poor Clares in Galway on The Meaning of Life (RTÉ One, Sunday).
Originally a certified accountant by profession, she had joined the contemplative order, and though this was an extraordinary and radical step, her reflections on her own life, life in general and indeed the next life were entirely accessible. Growing up in a family that wasn’t overly religious but where faith and family values were important, she wasn’t conscious of any vocation and lived an active social life until she felt a sense of anti-climax when she qualified, and this, coupled with a visit to Medjugorje where she was overwhelmed by a sense of God’s love, nudged her towards the religious life. If she was heading in that direction it had to involve dedication to prayer – her relationship with God had to be more than just coming to when desperate. And so, she found her way to the Poor Clares. She obviously saw prayer and service very much linked as the prayer life of the convent helped those with burdens of all sorts – lightening the load and giving people hope. It was a very human story too – “it was awful” she said as she told of breaking the news to her family – there had been tears!
It was a very relaxed interview, and Joe Duffy’s questions were effective and varied. Answering the question all guests on the series get asked – what would you say to God if you got to ‘the pearly gates’, she reckoned she’d be overwhelmed, speechless. She’d be relieved to get there, would offer praise and thanksgiving and would have questions about suffering but figured it would all click into place without those questions even needing to be asked.
Also, very much unafraid to be upfront about his faith is Mickey Harte, former Tyrone football manager, who was interviewed on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, Wednesday) about his new book Devotion, about football, faith and family – Mr Kenny described it as “riveting”. Understandably much of the conversation focused on his close relationship with his daughter Michaela who was murdered on honeymoon in Mauritius. He spoke movingly of how he still feels very close to her, how thinking of her still makes her present to him. He said his faith “permeates” everything in his life, and that it was caught rather than taught at home. His parents and brother had been sacristan in the local parish. Though it wasn’t the ideal, he valued the opportunity to get online Mass and valued private Eucharistic adoration. He said he was far from being a saint but liked speaking with bereaved people to give them a solace born out his own experience of tragedy.
With the positivity and genuine religious faith displayed by Sr Colette and Mickey Harte in these interviews, the antics of Oliver Callan in Callan Kicks the Years (RTÉ One, Wednesday), seemed sour and jaundiced to me. It might well have been called ‘Callan Kicks the Church’.
Mr Callan is a great one for the impressions, and is frequently funny, though sometimes harsh and judgemental (that’s okay you see if the liberals practice it). While he did do some mild skewering of the in-crowd liberals like Leo Varadkar, David Norris, and Michael D. Higgins, he was keen to hammer us relentlessly with the awful history of old Catholic Ireland in black and white (what age is Mr Callan anyway?). And so Éamon de Valera and the 1937 Constitution got an awful battering, repeatedly. It goes to show the more you get preachy the less you are satirical or even funny. The worst of the sourness I thought was in the stereotyping, even demonisation, of priests, with subtlety thrown out the window.
In the media there are acceptable targets and forbidden targets. Maybe it was always thus, with just a change in what you can and can’t attack. It seems nowadays there are three strands in acceptable public discourse – lambasting our past, being smug about our present and catastrophising about the future.
Pick of the week
St Martin de Porres
EWTN Sunday October 31, 9pm
Born out of wedlock to a mixed-race couple, St Martin de Porres overcame prejudice and gained acceptance throughout his entire life simply by using love and humility. An EWTN original film.
RTÉ News Channel Monday November 1, 10.30am
Mass for the Feast of All Saints from Liege, Belgium with commentary from editor of The Irish Catholic’s Michael Kelly.
Catholicism: the heart of history
EWTN Wednesday November 3, 6am
James and Joanna Bogle discuss the propaganda that was spread about the Spanish Monarchy and the Catholic Church, claiming that Spanish explorers forced Native Americans to convert to Catholicism.