Pearls sometimes found in strange places

Pearls sometimes found in strange places Kevin Cullen of The Boston Globe

If you needed something spiritual and relaxing (and don’t we all) I can recommend a good show this week.

I rarely watch BBC Alba, but I enjoyed their religious music show Alleluia, on Tuesday of last week. It’s a simple format: spiritual songs, with interviews and readings. Of course it’s in Scots Gaelic, which is not too unlike Irish to listen to, but English subtitles are provided for the spoken sections, with Gaelic subtitles for the songs.

Last week’s episode, set on the islands of Uist in the Outer Hebrides, featured reflections on Psalm 18. Mairi MacAonghais sang a beautiful version with tasteful piano accompaniment, while Caitriona Watt sang a fine version of ‘Seinnibh don Tighearna’, followed by a fascinating backstory of the songwriter Donald John McDonald, a Catholic Scotsman imprisoned by the Germans during World War II.

The show highlights personal testimonies and last week we heard from singer-songwriter, Pól McCaluim, a Catholic originally from Glasgow, who found inspiration in nature, and indeed, with all the gorgeous Scottish scenery on view it was easy to see why.

The Church had always been part of his life – he had never been without it and wouldn’t want to be. He expresses his faith through the gift of music – it brings people together, and with singing there was no rank.  It’s not a very demanding or adventurous show, and technically it’s fairly basic, but it’s all heart and beauty.

There was a striking radio moment on The Hard Shoulder (Newstalk) on Wednesday of last week, when presenter Ivan Yates was chatting with Kevin Cullen of The Boston Globe, a regular contributor, and Cullen was ranting on and hurling intemperate verbal abuse at President Trump. I lamented the lack of objective journalism, or even the pretence or illusion of it. This carry on does nothing to enhance political discourse and adds to the very polarisation that supposedly liberal journalists blame Trump for.


Then it took a surprising turn – as Cullen lambasted American governments for sending young men off to die in wars, he referenced a nephew of his that had been in those wars; Timmy had been injured on duty in Iraq and died of a brain injury after getting home.

Cullen became quite upset and was struggling for words – the segment was transformed. I think Yates was affected as well, taken aback and taken by surprise. Now this passionate approach has a role to play and can touch hearts, as long as there is no cynical manipulation of listeners, and in this case I don’t think there was. It came across as entirely genuine.

The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1) last Thursday featured an interview with Sarah Thomas, the daughter of a priest who was researching the issue. It was an interesting discussion and she didn’t sound bitter or axe-grinding, but when a teen she was annoyed at what she saw as hypocrisy – the Church teaching one thing and then some of her members doing the opposite.

But hold on, isn’t that inevitable, given human nature? People always fall short of the standards, of the ideals, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the ideals. She welcomed the new Church guidelines on the matter which put the wellbeing of the children first.

One quote from D’Arcy is worth noting: “I don’t want to bash the Catholic Church all the time, but, and there are hundreds and thousands of priests doing huge pastoral work around the world and doing very good work.”

There were some very human moments on last Friday’s The Leap of Faith (RTE Radio 1), but it was much lighter and more cheerful. It was a great idea, and well timed, for Michael Comyn to bring the fathers of two prominent rugby players together to discuss life, faith and of course rugby.

Unusually both were clergymen – Canon Horace McKinley, Rector of Whitechurch parish in Dublin and father of Ian McKinley who plays international rugby for Italy, along with Rev. Graham Stockdale who is chaplain to hospice and prison services in Northern Ireland and father of Jacob Stockdale, the Irish International rugby player who scored a classy try against the Italians last Saturday.

Apart from telling of how their sons got into rugby, they spoke of their own personal and deliberate decisions to follow Jesus, and about their lives in ministry. Nice one.


Pick of the week
Documentary on One: Mairead’s First Communion
RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday, February 18, 7.00 pm

What do you do when you’re not practicing Catholics but your daughter wants to make her First Communion?

Catholic Lives
EWTN Monday, February 19, 10 am

David Kerr speaks to Dame Nuala O’ Loan, House of Lords appointee and former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

Treasures of Heaven
BBC4, Monday, February 19, midnight

Andrew Graham-Dixon explores the ancient Christian practice of preserving holy relics and the largely forgotten art form that went with it, the reliquary.

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