Thursday, January 19, 2012

On the uses of religion

Ballygiblin church, Mitchelstown parish
Tonight to a special mass for John, who tomorrow is to have an operation for cancer. I gather it’s an amputation, maybe a life and death affair for all I know. I don’t know John but his brother has done some tiling for us and his sister has a florists shop in town. Ballygiblin church was full, I guess about 300 in the congregation. Canon Tim said that prayer is powerful and the most powerful prayer is when the whole community is gathered together. The gospel reading was Jesus saying take up thy bed and walk to the man who was sick of the palsy. (Except tonight Jesus said pick up your stretcher and the man was a paralytic. It’s the one where his friends lowered him through a hole in the roof. Mark ch 2.)

You can have a secular wedding or funeral, but I've never known a secular version of what happened tonight. Canon Tim was right about the whole community gathering together to pray. When John is told that 300 people have been praying in church for him, that knowledge has got to fortify his immune system, no question.

It was a moving experience to be there, all those people turning out on a cold dark night to pray that John’s operation is successful, and that God will restore him to heath. They prayed for the surgeons and nurses too.

The historian

Man proceeds in the fog. But when he looks back to judge people of the past, he sees no fog on their path. From his present, which was their faraway future, their path looks perfectly clear to him, good visibility all the way. Looking back, he sees the path, he sees the people proceeding, he sees their mistakes, but not the fog ...  and one might wonder: who is more blind? Mayakovsky, who as he wrote his poem on Lenin did not know where Leninism would lead? Or we, who judge him decades later and do not see the fog that enveloped him?

Milan Kundera, born 1929 

I'm afraid I can't vouch for the quote's authenticity but I think it's from his book Testaments Betrayed (1995). Joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia while in his teens, was expelled, supported the 1968 Prague Spring. Author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984).

I ought to add that I have read none of these books. Came across the quote in The Irish Catholic. Yes, my secret is out. I read this paper every week. I'm not proud of it. But I feel better for having made a clean breast of it. A longer version appears on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests.

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