Thought-provoking TV on death and loss

Reform in the Church, World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Victims, gospel choirs and death and the afterlife.

The fact that that I can listen to radio on TV or a phone shows how far communications have come and how boundaries have been blurred.

Living outside digital radio (DAB) coverage, I listen to RTÉ’s digital stations on my Saorview  TV and on my smartphone using apps like the excellent Tunein Radio.

And so, last Sunday morning I tuned into RTÉ Radio 1 Extra’s religious programming (also, for now, on Longwave 252). Sunday Spirit, presented by Michael Comyn is a laid-back show, mostly chat but with some music, that takes a broad view of religious affairs.

Last Sunday, he interviewed Phil Brennan who has written a book about reform in the Church. Brennan accepted the need for structure, wanted a radical reversal in the approach of the Church but not an alternative Church and was inspired by Pope Francis. He was big into the Church having an open door policy (it wasn’t clear what that meant in practice) and believed in creative minorities, grassroots action and groups of the marginalised.

His reference to ‘key theologians’ certainly begged a few questions (that weren’t asked), and his idea of going back to the ‘core’ wasn’t teased out (e.g. who defines what the ‘core’ is?) He said it was all about love and compassion, and who could argue with that? But atheists can manage that, so what extra is religion bringing to the table?

There was a thought-provoking piece on World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Victims, when there was a call for a change in our roadway behaviour and Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Association spoke of the Masses and non-denominational events organised for the occasion.

Heart and Soul, a programme borrowed from BBC World Service, had a fascinating look at Zambia’s efforts to define its identity in the context of possible constitutional change. Controversy surrounded the declaration of Zambia as a Christian state and, according to reporter Audrey Brown, one of the opponents of a religious constitution was “the powerful Catholic Church”. Proponents wanted to acknowledge the Christian history of the country from the time of 19th Century missionary Dr David Livingstone, while opponents feared for the rights of non-Christians.

Mid-morning, there was Mass live from the RTÉ studios, a simulcast with RTÉ 1 TV, with a congregation from Maynooth and the lively Maynooth Gospel Choir, followed by a Methodist service from the Dublin Central Mission after which Comyn returned for more of his programme.

Returning to the remembrance theme, we heard a touching story about the death of her son, Darren, from Donna Price, chair and founder of the Irish Road Victims Association. Aoife Kelleher was interviewed about her documentary One Million Dubliners, inspired by Glasnevin cemetery, and it worked well as a promo – I’m very keen to see it. Joe Duffy was also on hand to plug the return, later that afternoon, of Joe Duffy’s Spirit Level on RTÉ 1. I hadn’t realised that it had been three years since this show last aired.

The best part of the latter show, particularly appropriate for November, was the item on death and the afterlife. There was a sad but uplifting report from Temple Street Hospital on child death and how parents coped – Alan Kelly remembered his son John who had died in a drowning accident, while Anne Gallagher spoke of her baby Aisling who had died shortly after birth.

In the studio discussion, Lorraine Whyman impressed as a young woman with incurable brain cancer who had recently been married. She had a positive outlook on life and though she hoped there would be an afterlife said she didn’t ‘take stock’ of it.

Sociologist Tom Inglis had gone from belief to atheism but found his atheism challenged when his wife died. Fr Pierce Cormac, chaplain to the Mercy Hospital in Cork, said he couldn’t do what he did without a belief in the afterlife. Bereavement counselor Susan Delaney said that death woke us up to life, and unsettled me with the statistic that, on average, 80 people in Ireland weren’t going to wake up the next day!

The show started with Duffy interviewing Fr Brian D’Arcy, but interesting as his story was, it has been heard so many times and I would have much preferred to hear his contribution to the discussion that followed.

And I miss the musical items from earlier series of Spirit Level.


Pick of the Week


The Simpsons

Channel  4 Sun, Nov 23, 2.30pm

Bart sells his soul to Milhouse, with unforeseen consequences.


Joe Duffy's Spirit Level

RTĖ 1 Sun, Nov 23, 5.05pm

Joe and his panel discuss the phenomenon of the pilgrimage.


Everybody Loves Raymond

Channel 4 Mon, Nov 24, 8am

Debra's hippie sister shows up unexpectedly and announces she has decided to become a nun.