The New Evangelisation, inspired by Hopkins

An interesting article in l’Osservatore Romano today, calling for a rediscovery of “a fresh, more creative language capable of communicating the Gospel. A language that is more affective and poetic than the prevailing prose of a one-dimensional technology. A language that taps the aesthetic dimension of experience, whether through music, art or literature.” That author mentions draws on philosopher Charles Taylor, and mentions two great Catholic poets who could serve as an inspiration for this new language of the new evangelisation. One of these is English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins. As a student of English literature, I can only agree that Hopkins’ language is indeed “integral and evocative”. He evokes the grandeur and beauty of God through his poetry, and doesn’t shy away from being both challenging and beautiful.

I have shared Hopkins’ poetry in this blog before, and I think it’s a fun exercise to delve into some more of his works in the future, to not only marvel at the poetry, but also to understand his religious sense and understanding of God and His creation. Maybe that will help us in turn, to look at our own faith and relationship with God with new eyes.

So, as we come closer to the Year of Faith, this blog will feature some poetry.


“From the mid-ark, a dove…”

The cold Roman eye, hand on seal.
Vale. Take the thief away.

‘You carry your own tree, Jimmy…’
Another gallowsbird behind.
One ahead, burdened, a bruised brightness.

I’ve carried millstones, wine-vats, a mast.
That one was a carpenter.
His knees buckle under the heavy baulk.

My mother, poor woman, is dead.
His mother is here. Poor woman. Poor woman.

Look, Simon’s come into town
With an ox to sell.
They’ve laid another yoke on Simon.

Veronica, seamstress. No napkin ever
Soaked up such blood and sweat.

I stagger but I don’t fall.
The sneak-thief plods like a mule.
The bright one, he’s down again.

Those women! Miriam, Judith, Esther
Go home, sing over your cradles.
Sing among looms and pots.

Below, cornfields and vineyards.
A third time, fallen.
He tastes golden dust.

The soldiers won’t bother, I think,
Haggling over my coat.
No scarecrow would wear a rag like that.

Silence – curses – from cross and cross.
From the mid-ark
A dove wings out into the blackest storm.

Thrust of lance into heart-root.
The soldiers are coming with mallets
To break the legs of the thieves.

The eyes of the mother
Drown all the world in pity and love.
The hammer beats on my knee.

That the hands of such a woman
Fold me gravewards.
Bear me and all men in her folds of light.

– George Mackay Brown

“Now beginning, and always”, a Christmas wish

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art Holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and always,
Now begin, on Christmas day.

With these words from priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, I wish every reader, regular visitor and random passer-by, a most blessed Christmas. May the birth of our Saviour open the doors to your every desire and mark a new beginning.

This blog will return to business on Tuesday or Wednesday, just in time to close off the old year. In the new year, we will start with renewed vigour and possibly some cosmetic and internal changes to the blog. So keep your eyes peeled, stay safe, enjoy family and friendship, certainly not least with Our Lord Jesus Christ, and most of all, enjoy what will be given all of us.

“Nativity” , by Carl Bloch (1834-1890)

The treat of redstarts

Even in the city you can sometimes be surprised, if you have an eye for it, by birdlife. I was strolling through town the other day when a little black bird, about the size of a sparrow, perhaps a little bit bigger, flew ahead of me and quietly looked at me as if I had committed some grave crime. I’d probably chased it from a favourite spot or some tasty bugs or something. Seeing the little black bird and then it’s dark red tail actually stopped me in my tracks. My first black redstart, and in the middle of the city no less. Some rapid browsing taught me that black redstarts do like hanging out in urban areas and that they return from their wintering areas in mid-March, so it certainly wasn’t out of place. But seeing a bird, or any animal, that you’ve only known from books before is special. I truly consider it a treat. I always have..

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing
in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance
that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.
– Henry David Thoreau

Instructions, by Neil Gaiman

Another poem today. It is a reading by Neil Gaiman of his poem ‘Instructions’, accompanied by the rather wonderful illustrations by Charles Vess, which will be featured in an upcoming publications of the poem as a children’s book. I find Gaiman’s storytelling skills highly appealing; it is a mix between classic fairytale and modern fantasy, but always with an extra element of some other genre.

Miracle birds

Via Father Z and Anecdotal Evidence: a piece of poetry, just to get the mind of less enjoyable things.

Bird Watching
by John Ciardi

“Every time we put crumbs out and sunflower
seeds something comes. Most often sparrows.
Frequently a jay. Now and then a junco or
a cardinal. And once – immediately and never
again, but as commonly as any miracle while
it is happening, and then instantly incredible for-
ever – the tiniest (was it?) yellow warbler
as nearly as I could thumb through the bird
book for it, or was it an escaped canary? Or
simply the one impossible bright bird that is
always there during a miracle, and then never?

“I, certainly, do not know all that comes to us
at times. A bird is a bird as long as it is
there. Then it is a miracle our crumbs and
sunflower seeds caught and let go. Is there
a book to look through for the identity
of a miracle? No bird that is there is
miracle enough. Every bird that has been is
entirely one. And if some miracles are rarer
than others, every incredible bird has crumbs
and seeds in common with every other. Let there
be bread and seeds in time: all else will follow.”

Review of music in the liturgy

'Gezangen voor Liturgie' is generally used in Catholic churches in the Netherlands

A review of hymns and songs to be used in the liturgy of the Mass has lead, in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, to the removal of 17 songs from the roster. Father Cor Mennen is the censor in charge of the review in cooperation with the National Liturgy Council. The 17 songs come from a total of 150. Reasons for the removal are, according to Fr. Mennen, theological errors, the songs being unbecoming of the nature of the liturgy, no mention of God, or sheer banality.      

The review follows the guidelines of the Church, which indicate that liturgical songs must be texts from the Bible or based thereon, they must be theologically sound, clear and liturgically useful. “They can certainly be poetical, preferably even,” Fr. Mennen says. But he adds that the poetry must be understandable to the faithful.       

Going over the list of songs, I am happy to see that none of them have appeared in the Masses in my parish, with one exception: The Gospel acclamation U komt de lof toe. The problem with that acclamation is that it is no translation of the Deo gratias from the Missal of Paul VI.       

Huub Oosterhuis, ex-priest, heretic and sometime-decent poet

The list, which can be found in the link below, includes a number of songs by former priest Huub Oosterhuis, a man whose poetry and public statements has been point of discussion. He denies the transubstantiation, for example, and consistently attacks the Church and her teachings. For Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond that has been reason to ban Oosterhuis’ songs altogether. Another reason for that, in my opinion, may be the low quality of the texts. It really isn’t very good poetry: it generally paints a picture of Christ as a very nice hippie, or they focus on how nice it is to be together. It’s all a bit too nice and soft and sweet, even when they don’t denounce Catholic teaching. 

About the selection of some Oosterhuis songs, Fr. Mennen says: “There are plenty of songs by Oosterhuis which are approved. It is noticeable that his later texts are generally vaguer, more simplistic. That leads us – just concerning the contents – to disagree with that. But there are very good texts from his early years. We did not [remove some of his songs] because they’re Oosterhuis, as some people say. That could have been a reason, but not one we use.”       

Anyway, it’s a good development. After all, music is one of the means we use to communicate with God, learn about Him and come closer to His mystery, and this is especially true in that high point of the Church’s life: the celebration of the Eucharist. And if the songs we sing actively ignore or deny that mystery, it is time to change things.       

One song I’m not sad to bid farewell: the chemical song, so called because of its first line. Just for fun, a rough translation:       

From fire and iron, acid and salt,
as wide as the light, centuries old,
from everything a man is made
and always born again.
To be iron in fire,
to be salt and sweet and acid,
to be man for a man,
all are born.

To be water for the sea,
to be a word to others,
for no one knows how great and small
sought, known, lost.
for evening- and morningland,
to be here and other side,
to be hand in another hand,
to not to be lost.

To be old and wide as the light,
to be lips, water, thirst,
to be all and to be nothing,
someone goes to another.
To distance that no one knows,
through fire that welds people together,
to live in love and pain,
people go to each other.

It’s all very sweet and nice, but it’s not really about anything, is it?