In place of religious services on Sunday Mornings, RTÉ 1 has been trying out a new format on an occasional basis.
I’m a big fan of Life and Soul, and enjoyed the latest episode last Sunday morning. As usual the focus was on personal stories interspersed with prayers, bible readings and musical interludes. And it’s most certainly not a cosy version of the Gospel.
Anthony and Colette Wolfe weren’t particularly religious, going to Church occasionally, letting their children go forward for First Communion and Confirmation, a description that might fit a lot of Catholics.
The death by suicide of their daughter Leanne, after cyber bullying and other factors, was devastating of course, but in a roundabout way it brought them into a new relationship with God. It all started with an off-duty garda asking them if they were “angry at God”. Now they are enthusiastic attenders at a Pentecostal church, though I’d wonder why their Catholic faith didn’t fulfil the need.
It wasn’t all roses as they found forgiving the cyber bullies rather challenging.
We heard from a prison pastor, Stephen Mawhinney, formerly a prison officer with a strong aversion to Christians! But there was a breakthrough moment in his life which led to a strong relationship with Jesus and he now helps in rehabilitation of prisoners with addiction issues.
The segment with Gemma Locke was particularly interesting – she is a Ph.D. Science student at Trinity College, but finds no clash between science and her Christian faith – they are intertwined things that shouldn’t be separated.
She finds that science complements faith, and the more she delves into science the more she finds God there. David Hoey explained the outreach work of the Street Pastors of Cork – walking the streets late at night looking out for anyone that might be in trouble. For Anne Fitzgibbon this work had a personal resonance as her nephew had died on a night out.
The musical interludes were excellent but were mostly of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) variety and more diversity would help. Pie Jesu from the Presentation School Choir in Kilkenny did vary things somewhat, but I’d like to hear something from our many contemporary liturgical composers.
Recognisably Catholic or, indeed, mainstream Anglican content was thin on the ground, with the main emphasis coming from Evangelical churches. It is a worthy initiative but needs to draw more from the broad canvas of Christian expression in Ireland.
Another promising new series, Survivors, started on RTÉ last Tuesday and first episode was quite impressive, though pleasantly low key. Psychologist Paul Dalton spoke to an inspirational young woman, Geraldine Lavelle, who was paralysed after a cycling accident.
She spoke frankly about lying there after the crash, believing that she was dying and expecting to be drawn towards the light.
Her strength of character was evident as she went through months of rehabilitation, choosing at the end of it to live as independently as she possibly could, re-learning skills she took for granted.
She went through stages of grieving for her old self, but strangely she now felt a stronger person that she ever was before. Then she was very positive on the outside, but stressed and insecure on the inside. Now she didn’t worry about stuff anymore, but just took what came and made the best of it.
She gave measured and thoughtful answers to searching (intrusive?) questions about relationships and family. We saw her cycling, rowing and even walking with the aid of a robotic frame, the exoskeleton. With regards to faith she believed there was some form of higher body though wasn’t very sure about God or Jesus.
She was definite that she saw her granny praying beside her bed in the hospital, watching over her and helping her to get through her tough situation.
Last week I wrote in detail about Inside the Vatican (BBC2) and I’m glad to say episode two last Friday was also of a high standard. Though it covered the Vatican football league it was more serious, as it dealt with Pope Francis’ efforts to reform the Vatican and with the impact of the child abuse crisis. It approached these issues in a balanced, reflective way, airing many views both conservative liberal and orthodox.
It finished on a hopeful and optimistic note as Christmas was celebrated in the Vatican.
Definitely a contender for religious programme of the year.
Pick of the week
HEART OF THE MATTER FOCUS: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF JOHN HENRY CARDINAL NEWMAN
EWTN, Sunday, October 4, 4 pm, also Thursday, October 10, 9 am
Looking at the life and legacy of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.
RTÉ1, Tuesday, October 8, 11.40 pm
The story of Rachel Keogh, former drug user, now clean for 13 almost uninterrupted years.
The Leap of Faith
RTÉ Radio 1, Friday, October 9, 10.05 pm
Topical religious affairs with Michael Comyn.