I had the pleasure of seeing the Blind Boys of Alabama live in Cork Opera House a few years ago and thankfully they’re still going strong.
Gospel music is a central part of their repertoire as was clear from their slot on Edinburgh Nights (BBC2) last Friday. Nish Kumar looked in on their rehearsals and got an informal chat as well. I’m not a fan of imposing gospel words on secular songs, but when, acapella style, they turned ‘Cryin’ Time’ into ‘Prayin’ Time’ I was hooked – ‘It’s prayin’ time again you’re gonna need him ..’.
Kumar even got to sing with them, which I’d say made his day. Two of the current line-up were interviewed in more depth on Outlook (BBC World Service) last Friday morning. They said the one song they sing in every concert is ‘Amazing Grace’, though in the version we heard the melody sounded more like the ‘House of the Rising Sun’ than what we’re used to. Jimmy Carter, last surviving member from the original group and now age 90, was confident he was doing the work of the Lord.
I was also impressed by the music in last Thursday’s Mass of the Assumption on RTÉ1, the annual Eurovision broadcast. Fr Thomas McCarthy OP introduced the Mass from the beautiful cathedral in Le Puy-en-Velay in the south of France, starting point for many pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.
The art work inside the cathedral was particularly impressive and the cameras lingered long on their beauty – whether paintings in more traditional style to those that looked more modern.
There’s a devotion to the Black Virgin of Puy, and the statues and paintings that enhance this were quite striking. As expected the music was also of high quality – I particularly like the settings of the Gloria, the Lamb of God and the final Hail Holy Queen.
In his homily local bishop Msgr Luc Crepy emphasised the light and hope that Mary gives. He stressed the special nature of “the little ones”, those who often have no one to defend them. Stressing the Church’s affection and our overall responsibility for these vulnerable ones he didn’t dodge the abuse crisis and reminded us how the littles have been “used and abused”, when their cries of sorrow and pain went unheard for too long.
The defenceless little ones were also the subject of a new Frontline documentary The Abortion Divide on PBS America last Friday. The purpose was to explore both sides of the debate and no punches were pulled.
Five minutes in we had seen brief glimpses of dismembered babies and heard of babies being pulled apart in the womb. We also got the usual rationalising where individualism trumped human solidarity – ‘it is the right choice for me’.
If those other programmes were uplifting, this one was quite upsetting. We saw women in an abortion clinic actually taking the pill that would start the medical abortion procedure.
Apart from one smiling young woman who was aborting twins, the others agonised, were in doubt, felt guilty – it was like their consciences were shouting at them but they chose to rationalise and ignore. Another woman who discovered she was expecting twins found the news a ‘double punch’ and seemed to re-think, but then went ahead anyway.
Yet another who attended with her husband, a Catholic, said motherhood was a huge part of her identity and that she wasn’t ‘supposed to be doing stuff like this’, and yet took the abortion pill onscreen. We saw an early abortion where the ‘pregnancy tissue’ was put in a box branded ‘Playmate’ and treated as ‘bio hazard’.
As one pro-life advocate said ‘What kind of world have we entered into when we do this to our children?’
Despite one pro-choicer playing the ‘old white men’ card, the pro-life activists, apart from one group praying outside a clinic, were mostly diverse as to race, age and gender. They came across as articulate, rational, reasonable and caring.
Further, it was welcome that a lot of largely positive attention was given to the efforts of pro-life initiatives to care for mothers-in-need before and after the births. Here, unlike the abortion clinics, the message to women finding out they were pregnant was ‘Congratulations’.
While challenging, I suspect it will leave most people confirmed in the positions they already hold, but those unsure will have plenty to think about.
Pick of the Week
EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND
Channel 4, Monday, August 26, 8.40 am
Prodigal Son – Ray is challenged by Debra as to why he doesn’t go to Mass on Sundays.
EWTN, Monday, August 26, 2.30pm, also Friday, August 30, 10 pm
Exploring different aspects of the Faith in Ireland, including the iconography of Sr Aloysius McVeigh, and the spiritual impact of the visit of St Therese’s relics in 2001.
MONDAY NIGHT MOVIE: HACKSAW RIDGE
RTÉ2, Monday, Augu 26, 9 pm
WWII Army Medic Desmond T. Doss refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot. Director: Mel Gibson.