Thought for the Week – Country music is different

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In the week that Big Tom died, I am reminded of an analysis of Country Music by Malcolm Gladwell – how it touches our emotions. If you look at the top 50 Rock music songs – they tend to be generic,  repetitive and often laced with cliches. Gladwell calls them, “hymns to extroversion”.
Country music is different – it deals with the dramas of human life – relationships in trouble – marriages breaking up, people falling apart, throwing themselves off bridges, drinking themselves to death. Gladwell gives the example of ‘Golden Ring’, a song by Tammy Wynette. It is  is about a marriage that is falling apart – the song follows their wedding ring from pawn shop to pawn shop.  “Cast aside like the love that’s dead and gone. By itself it’s just a cold metallic thing…etc
Gladwell suggests it is the details in Country Music – the ‘specificity of the moment’, that touches our hearts in a way that Rock music does not – the story is real, the details sharp and we are caught up in the emotion.
Another part of the story is that rock and roll musicians are from diverse backgrounds and almost have to be generic if they are to be understood. Country music on the other hand comes from a tight knit musical community and can be specific – you are singing to people who know your world, “you can bare your soul because and they will understand – you are  among your own”.  Big Tom was from this community and they loved him.
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Thought for the Week – The era of the Holy Spirit

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Growing up in Ireland in the 50’s and 60’s Jesus was the centre of our spirituality.  The Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, as it was then, was not in the picture and was rightly known as the Holy Ghost – ‘the cinderella of theology’ – ‘the forgotten God’.
Yves Cougar, one of the best known theologians of the 20th century was a participant at Vatican 2.  Having listened to the Orthodox theologians he realised he knew nothing about the Holy Spirit and claimed that we needed Vatican 3 to restore the role of the Holy Spirit in the church. It didn’t happen. And today ironically the church suffers from a fundamental problem – a lack of faith in the reality of the Holy Spirit
The Orthodox claimed that the church had opted for what they called the three great white things  and ignored the role of the Holy Spirit – the Pope dressed in white, the white host, the pure, white virgin.
The emphasis on Jesus and the downplaying of the role of the Spirit was underpinned by a powerful, unchanging, institutional church, founded by Jesus Christ and upheld by his vicar the Pope.
There was little room here for anything as  unpredictable as the Holy Spirit blowing where it will.
We  need to recover a livelier doctrine of the Holy Spirit as a divine person.  Mark Wallace maintains, ” that the most adequate response to the current crisis lies in a recovery of the Holy Spirit as a natural living being who indwells and sustain all forms of life.”  It is  making a come back as a fluid and expansive presence in the world  – we are entering a new era the era of the Holy Spirit following the era of the Father (Judaism) and of the son (Christianity) .
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Thought for the week – Hope is essential for our future

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The message of Easter is one of hope and not just hope in some distant utopia or fulfilment in an after- life. Hope leavens the life of a believer – and can permeate every aspect of our lives.

But hope is not optimism – optimism is about how we would like things to turn out  – like winning the lotto. Hope is the conviction that our world has meaning and not at the mercy of chance or the invisible hand of economics.

Optimism can lead to a non-acceptance of what is here and now.

Hope is about now, this present moment, the conviction that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out – that there is meaning now.

Hope helps us to let go, to give up the control we yearn that inhibits our vision of a larger possibility….we are not responsible for creating significance each moment of  every day.

Hope is essential for our future – without it none of us would believe in the possibility of a different world, let alone work towards it…

St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians

My death defying ‘no’ to despair and my life affirming ‘yes’ to seemingly insurmountable problems in the midst of my life are both animated by hope in the invincible might of the risen Jesus and in the immeasurable scope of his power in us who believe. (Eph 1:19) 


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Thought for the Week – Easter Moon

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Isn’t great that the date for Easter- the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – is determined by nature, by the cycle of the moon and not by financial or other considerations.

There have been several attempts to settle the date of Easter. In England, The Easter Act 1928 was established fix the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. The law was not implemented, although it remains on the UK Statute Law Database. In 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a reform of the Easter calculation to replace an equation-based method of calculating Easter with direct astronomical observation. The reform was proposed to be implemented in 2001, but was never adopted.

It was at the First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) that the date of Easter was established as being the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, the full moon that occurs on or soonest after the 21st March which is taken to be the Spring equinox – equinox meaning equal day and night – a time of balance between light and darkness.

The date of Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as its position in the calendar. The Easter Vigil mirrors what is happening in the natural world. The paschal moon lights up the sky and shines from evening till morning taking over from the sun, giving us a day when there is no night.

As Christmas is tied to the winter solstice when the light begins to conquer darkness, Easter is tied to the full moon of the spring equinox; the day without night.
The Easter fire and the Paschal candle turn the darkness of night into one endless day at the Easter Vigil. Easter Sunday becomes a day without night, filled with the light of the Risen Lord.
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Thought for the Week – The Passion of Jesus

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We are in Holy Week, the week of the Lord’s Passion.
Passion comes from the Latin word passio, meaning passive, non-activity, absorbing something rather than doing anything.  The Passion of Jesus is about what was being done to him.
Jesus public life falls into two parts – three years of active ministry – teaching and preaching healing and performing miracles, eating with sinners and debating with church authorities. He was a busy man with sometimes barely time to eat and at moments his family thought he had gone mad…
Following this period of intense activity comes his passion and death where he no longer does things but is having things done to him. He is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, led to the high priest and taken to Pilate…he is beaten, humiliated stripped of his clothes and nailed to a cross and dies. He is the one to whom things are being done.
Strange that we are saved by his passion rather than by his active ministry of preaching and doing miracles…
We all have our holy week – we have our own Jerusalem to enter where ever that might be and we all experience our passion – give way to things being done to us. This is a deep challenge for those of us who feel we should be organising our own salvation – the cross teaches us that we achieve as much in our passivities as in our activities …maybe more…
When we are no longer in charge – when we are beaten down by whatever, humiliated and suffering  we are undergoing our own passion and like Jesus we have in that the opportunity to give our love and ourselves to others.
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Thought for the Week – let the light shine through.

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We are celebrating three great saints these days – Patrick, Joseph and Benedict’s passing on the 21st March. We are all tasked with becoming saints.
Saint Basil summed up the paradoxical nature of this vocation,  “we are creatures”, he wrote,  “but we are creatures who have received the command to become divine”. Creatures who are meant to become divine. Quite a challenge.
There is a story I like about sancts – about becoming divine.
A young boy was in church with his mother. She was lighting candles and visiting shrines.The young boy was running round, examining everything.
After a while, all went quiet.  She looked up and there he was standing, looking up at a stained glass window. The sun was streaming through and there he stood, fascinated by light and the different colours dancing on the floor.
His mother approached him and he began asking questions. There was a statue to the right and he asked her who that was. “That is Holy God”. Close by was another statue and again he enquired who it was. “That’s God’s holy mother”, his mother told him.  Next he pointed at the stained-glass windows, “who are they”? And she said, “they are the saints”. The boy pondered and said no more.
The next day he was in religion class and the topic for discussion happened to be saints. ‘What was a saint?’, the class was asked.


Quick as a flash, our friend put up his hand.  “They are the ones that let the light shine through”.  May we all learn to let the light shine through.
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Thought for the Week – Develop our moral imagination

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Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, is not about climate change as is sometimes  suggested.  It has wider concerns. Pope Francis accepts the scientific opinion that most warming is attributable to human activity and that there is an “urgent”need to reduce carbon emissions, by “substituting for fossil fuels and developing  sources of renewable energy.

So what is it about?

  • It is about creation and our relation to it – about the sacredness of all life.
  • It is about bio-diversity and the other species with which we share this planet. He urges us to be pro-life in the widest possible sense and stop driving other species into extinction.
  • It is about ecological destruction and the urgent need to deal with it ! In No 21 he doesn’t mince his words – “the earth is beginning to look more like an immense pile of filth”!
  • It is about social justice – the fact that the poor who suffer most from damage to the environment.  ‘Caring for our Common Home’, is a matter of social justice.

For two thousand years we have focussed on our relationship with God and other humans. We are clear that it is wrong to steal, to kill, to commit adultery, worship false Gods. But it is also morally wrong to drain marshes, kill species, cut down rain forests.  Love God, your neighbour but also nature!

Pope Francis has stated in Laudato Si that damage to the environment is sinful – pollution of the land and of water, the loss of biodiversity, destruction of forests, depletion of non-renewables, are all sins. The challenge is to recognise them as sins – to develop our moral imagination sufficiently so that we begin to see these as actions for what they are – sins. We don’t believe it yet – I find it hard to believe.

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Thought for the Week – Laudato Si

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Laudato Si is the title of an Encyclical Letter from Pope Francis. The title, ‘Praised be to you’,  is taken from the words of Saint Francis. It has a subtitle, ‘On Care For Our Common Home’ – to emphasise the fact that we share this ‘home’ with other creatures and not just humans.

It is the first major intervention by the Catholic Church on the environment and marks a new era in Papal documents. It is unusual in that it doesn’t have a latin name – all other encyclicals do. It also quotes other authorities which is a first and is addressed to everyone on the planet – not just church members. We all ‘share a common home.’

Whereas most encyclicals are teaching documents, in Laudato Si, Pope Francis does not issue a set of instructions on what we ‘should’ do but rather calls for dialogue and debate among all people about the future of our common home. Pope Francis is keenly aware that everyone needs to be involved if we are to solve the problems of our ecological crisis and come up with solutions.  “We are faced”, he says,  “not with two separate crisis, one environmental and the other social but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental”. LS 139

He doesn’t want us just to read it but to do something about the issues. He is challenging us to expand our thinking about creation and our role in the world.

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Thought for the Week – Being transfigured

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Last week the Gospel at Sunday Mass had us deep in the Judean wilderness – Jesus driven there by the Spirit and he was there long enough to be ready for his Transfiguration – and he was not alone – he was with the wild beasts and the angels looked after him.
This week we have Jesus transfigured – quite a contrast – first a wilderness – hungry, unwashed, strained – next ….clothes dazzling white, transfigured. It seems we need to spend time in the wilderness before we can be transfigured. Strip away the excesses we carry – the addictions that cramp us – that stop us living life to the full.
Sometimes we are not good at the maths – we add or multiply when we are meant to subtract – lent is a time for subtraction……we are unlikely to be transfigured by addition or multiplication of stuff – that new gleaming car, that lovely suit….that new smart phone, more make up. That seems clear  – but it goes against everything our culture tells us – it tells us – you need ‘more’ to be transfigured, to make it – more of this and more of that….possessions, stuff …slaves in Egypt or Dundrum shopping centre..or where ever your Egypt is….slaves to technology….
Instead of being transfigured, we can easily become a resource…and a resource not for other people but for the Social Media giants – reduced to walking information processors and entertainment consumers….and beginning to feel ….that if I am not ‘on’ I am not …..And this can happen to monks too. In Chapter 55 of the Rule, Saint Benedict advises the Abbot to check the monks beds frequently to see if they have any private property hidden away under their mattress  – and if anyone is found to have something that he did not receive from the Abbot, he is to undergo the most severe discipline.”
Why? he is not being mean but he is saying we are missing the point. Stuff doesn’t do it. Even the two accompanying Jesus up the mountain don’t get it – they want to put up tents on the mountain – set up a stall on the spot where Jesus reveals that he is God – you could imagine them up there the following week with their Mount Tabor souvenirs.
So during lent we are encouraged to head for the wilderness – maybe even a wi-fi wilderness – getting rid of…. or at least turning off, something that has enslaved us, that is holding us back – getting back to who you were before you took on all those unnecessary extras. Being transfigured …slowly..
A challenge – but then lent is a challenge. But we are not on our own – God is on our side so it doesn’t  matter who is against us… and I am not sure about the wild beasts but I am sure about the angels – they will be there to look after you and me. And they come in all sorts of disguises – as parent, sibling, friend, teacher, spouse,….good people dotted around the landscape of my life …mostly we may miss them but they are there to help me become…… just a little bit more transfigured this year.
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Thought for the Week – God’s beauty

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Richard Seymour makes the point that beauty is something we feel rather than something we think about – this is not surprising given that a large portion of the brain is set aside to deal with information from the senses rather than thinking
– also the wiring between our senses and our brain is shorter then the wiring that goes through to our thinking centres.
It is the feeling of beauty that lures us on – we thirst for it and it nourishes us. It calls us beyond the present and the past to that everlasting now where Beauty dwells. It lifts us out of the mundane and encourages us to become more than what we are.
And our vocation is to become beauty and where we are, must be more beautiful because we were there than it was before our coming.
In a previous letter Pope Francis wrote about teaching something beautiful capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy in the midst of difficulties ..every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with God…
So this lent let us remove some of the clutter from our lives  – surround ourselves with beauty and consciously, relentlessly, give it away until piece of the world for which we are responsible begins to reflect the raw beauty that is God.
“We are made to be manifestations of God’s beauty,’ wrote John Chrysostom. Saint Basil the Great threw down a similar challenge, “we are creatures”, he wrote,  “but we are creatures who have received the command to become divine”.
Creatures who are meant to become divine!
Now there is a challenge for lent and beyond!
Murroe Website EditorThought for the Week – God’s beauty
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