Tuesday, 31 July 2007

For the Feast of the Other St Ignatius

Today is the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola, so it is perhaps fitting to take a moment to contemplate the great work he achieved to the greater glory of God- the Society of Jesus.
Yes, I know, it has seen better days. Notwithstanding JPII's wake-up call to the Society (I don't know what Benedict has said to them since his election), its in a pretty shabby state these days. But that should not cause those affected by the work of the Society in one way or another to despair. There are isolated stars in that noble constellation even now, men who have not bowed the knee to Baal (I can think of three I know of off-hand- Fr Joseph Fessio, Fr Greg Jordan & Fr Paul Mankowski- and no doubt there are others) who could still look their Society's founder in the eye.

Nor should we forget the days of its greatness. The Jesuits were intended to be the Church's cavalry. For how many centuries of their existence have they fulfilled this lofty mandate? And with what courage? Time was when the leaders of Europe imagined that if they could eliminate the Jesuits they could eliminate the Church itself within a generation (the French Revolution demonstrated how close to the truth they were). The English martyrs, the missionaries to China, to South America, the Bollandists, these demand to be remembered and their achievements lauded.
The Society of Jesus has a heritage of greatness in administering grace, of Spirit-inspired creativity in spreading the good news, of indomitable courage in the face of adversity and of the unknown. Let us pray that the Society once again in our time lives up to its rightful birthright, to the fidelity to Christ and His Church to which its founder committed it, to the spiritual greatness it has known and might know again.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Go ahead...define me!

Found the link to this on Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog and had a go. The result is at once somewhat distressing and not as surprising (to me, anyway) as perhaps it should be.

Glenn Bolas --

A person of questionable sanity who starts their own cult

'How" will you be defined in the dictionary?' at QuizGalaxy.com

Monday, 23 July 2007

St George poem- First Installment Part 5

A soldier born of soldiers' stock,
Alegionary did he serve;
The best of civilised military,
Great, noble men of nerve;

And pagan virtues still ran strong
In the blood of these good men,
But pagan virtues never could
Know the One Who alone is good-
Impossible, unless He would
Reveal it unto them.

A generation lost in space
Craves blindly for a sign;
And sometimes God, despite all odds,
Hears them that call out to the gods,
And grants sight to the blind.

And not always in words He speaks
For ears are sometimes slow;
As man will make a metaphor,
So God will, in His wisdom sure,
Be seen in ways one can't ignore
In one man's life below.

And so of George I deign to write,
The soldier of the Lord,
A Christian bearing Roman arms
Whose prayers are now his sword.

Of war and dragon's death I rhyme,
Of bloodied gladius,
Of willing martyrdom sublime-
O St George, pray for us.

St George poem- First Installment Part 4

The end of the age weighs heavily
On Progress' noble sons;
Too scared are they to look behind
Or look ahead, nor have they time
To ponder the plight that plagues their kind
Or, for that matter, anyone's.

In this great malaise of the soul
Now and again one sees
Unfurled that great and English flag
Fluttering in the breeze.

Its meaning now is long forgot,
As obsolete as thatch,
Yet ever and anon one sees it
At a football match.

And some there are who know its name,
That of theman who came
From Lydda- one can hear it screamed
Quite loudly at the game.

But names belong to men, and this
To quite a noble man
WHo never saw dear England's soil
Nor on its fields did stand.

And though we know he prays for them,
No Briton did he know,
And English were barbarians
When he lived long ago.

Then London was a Roman town,
Still half-uncivilised;
But Rome was growing harder
And its borders over-sized.

And though its legions still held out
Against the German horde
The hearts of some were cold and dumb
And fought against the Lord.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

St George poem- First Installment Part 3

For England's faith has long been lost.
Here saints no longer sup;
The Grail gone from Glastonbury,
Replaced by a plastic cup.

While sin's protected by the law
And a druid runs a church,
The few who search for answers
Are urged to neglect the search.

And darkness hovers over them
That once were full of hope,
Who now forget their emptiness
By watching daytime soap.

The time has gone- we watched it go-
When women and men were real,
When earth was earth and trees were trees,
Life satisfied like a meal,
And before one's God and monarch
It was dignified to kneel.

For now men live in weary times
That plod along like death,
And existence is a heavy weight,
And all the wells of the world can't sate
The thirst of the sons of Seth.

In Faustus' footsteps England walks,
Down devilish depths to plumb;
Wisdom exchanged for information,
Joy exchanged for fun.

And few there are who now recall
The yesteryears and days of yore
When sins were sweet and penance hurt
And no denial could avert
The beauty virtue bore.

Friday, 20 July 2007

What I Learned from Dodgy Movie Adaptations

During my undergraduate days (ah! what halcyon days they were!), in one of my several English Lit courses I was required to write an essay on an adaptation of one of the novels we had studied. One of these had been Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, which I found interesting and surprisingly popular (in all senses of the word)- Defoe was perhaps one of the first to indulge in the making of endless sequels following an initial unexpected success. And yes, if you're interested, none of the sequels to Robinson Crusoe were any good- there's a reason you've never heard of them.

The book had interested me so I dutifully made my way to my local video store and borrowed a copy of Robinson Crusoe starring Pierce Brosnan. Yes, there's a reason you haven't heard of it either. It was made in 1997. I don't remember seeing it advertised at all, and am not even sure if it saw the cinema. If it did, it didn't really warrant it (not that a lot of the things that see the cinema these days do). What interested me most about it, however, was the elements of the plot the film had changed.

In the book, Robinson Crusoe sets out to sea to explore and see the world. It is his desire for new experiences and adventure that propels him towards a maritime career. And his being marooned on an island is only the most major of his many adventures (the book also includes, among other things, Crusoe and Friday fighting off wolves in the snow, for example). In the film, Crusoe is compelled to seek the sea because he has killed a man in a duel out of love (sic) for the newly-invented character Mary.

I am not so much of a purist that I was offended by the change simply because it was a change. Defoe certainly would not have been fazed by someone changing his story to make more money- he would have changed it himself if he had thought it would have that effect. I was far more interested in why the change was made and what it meant. I explored a couple of ideas in this connection in the essay I subsequently wrote.

Fast forward a couple of years. The film The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce is released. I am slightly but not overly intrigued by it- not enough to pay money to go and see it, at any rate. I had enjoyed the book by H.G. Wells in high school very much (my first introduction to Wells, actually), but the film looked a bit silly. When it came out on DVD, I had occasion to sit and watch it for free. So I did.

And here I detected the same pattern. In the book, the Time Traveller (for so he is called throughout) is obsessed and excited by the concept of time travel. The very idea is exhilirating. And the way Wells describes it, there's a certain exotic wonder about the idea of it and, subseqently, its execution. In this, it is a very nineteenth century book- entranced by the idea of Progress, coming on the tail-end of the Age of Discovery. This scientific impulse- to learn, know and see new things- this wanderlust, this thirst for discovery and to pioneer, was resurrected very briefly with the NASA programme, but didn't last more than 10 years after the Moon landings.

Exhibit A: The Time Machine starring Guy Pearce. In the film, the impulse to travel through time has nothing to do with science or discovery- it has to do with Guy travelling to the past to rescue his fiance who was tragically killed.

This pattern of film versions of books replacing the original motive of the protagonist with one based around romantic love got me thinking. We are probably aware that ours is the most eroticised culture in recent history. Generally, we may be accustomed to think of this in connection with its negative implications- the sexualisation of youth, for example, or the lowering standards of modesty, the increased availability of pornography, etc. Yet here we see quite different (and, in one sense, positive) implications of this viz. the summum bonum has become romantic love.

In our culture's mindset, the goal of human existence, and its highest good, has been sexualised. If we canvas any number of films, or even just imagine for a moment, and see what qualifies as a happy ending, it will inevitably involve a romantic relationship. The application of romance as summum bonum can be varied as well. For example, the redemption of a protagonist almost invariably involves him/her falling in love, often with a fair helping of self-sacrifice thrown in. The applications can be multiplied.

All of which leads me to suggest that JPII's Theology of the Body is brilliantly timely. It redeems the glasses through which our culture sees everything. It explains and heals not only the vices to which our culture is particularly prone, but also the goods for which it longs and the virtues that it elevates above any others. For this reason, I believe the Theology of the Body will be absolutely crucial for future evangelistic efforts. For those of us involved in evangelistic efforts ourselves, therefore, we need to take the Theology of the Body into account. These are the words our culture needs to hear and, indeed, is longing to hear. The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.

St George poem- First Installment Part 2

Two arms outstretched, across and up,
Red as the setting sun,
Two arms that met to form a cross
And, meeting, became one.

A cross, blood-red, as martyrs' blood,
As the Blood of Christ Himself;
Two arms which death and new life tell,
Accepted death, and life from Hell:
The Christian's hope and health.

This cross against a white base stood,
The white of a newborn soul
Who comes wet dripping from rebirth
And cannot quite hold back his mirth
To find his spirit whole.

And this great sign on battlements
Was found, o'er hill and dale,
In times long past, when hope held fast,
And England's faith was hale.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

St George Poem- First Installment Part 1

This, as the title suggests, is a poem I am writing on St George. It is as yet untitled and is far from finished. Here is the introductory section. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

In times gone by there used to fly
A standard stern and true
Whose shape above the battlements
Was old when guns were new.

Above green fields and weary stones
And towers did it fly,
Set high by long-forgotten folk
Against an English sky.

Its colouring was stark and clear-
One saw it from afar.
Indeed, one saw it any place,
To wit, where English are.

And sometimes it might flutter aloft
And sometimes it might fall,
Depending whether wind was high
Or there was no wind at all.

On countless tow'rs, in countless halls,
Th'insignia would appear;
On tabards or on tall ships' masts
To strike a foe with fear.

The Golden Compass

I wasn't really much aware of this blight on children's literature until a few weeks ago. I was visiting Matthew O'Connell in Hong Kong and, during our interminable discussions on everything (the conversation tangent had turned to literature in this case), he began to tell me of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, which he had unwittingly picked up and read while in England. The content, while at first engaging, became progressively distressing as the plot progressed, according to Matthew, before revealing itself as a full-blown war between good and evil- standard fantasy fare yet with this key difference: that God is squarely located in the latter camp.

Having since done some casual cultural research (read: have googled the relevant words and seen what comes up), it appears I've come a bit late to this one. A number of people around the forum have already seen the dangers here and started sounding the horns. (Here's an old review of the books by Greg Krehbiel, for example) Yet , for all that, there are still relatively few. I've come in late, but how many others haven't come in at all? I haven't seen a mugshot of Phillip Pullman on the cover of ChristianityToday yet, as it happens. Most Christians I know, of whatever persuasion, haven't heard of these books.

The other night, my brother Shaun and I enjoyed a night on the town with the declared aim of seeing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (an aim which, happily, we fulfilled). During the course of waiting for the film proper to begin, we saw a preview for a film called The Golden Compass. It looked good. In fact, it looked like the kind of film I would enjoy seeing. Excellent effects. Some recognisable actors. An overall air of mystery and adventure. It was the kind of preview that promises an exciting and fulfilling film-going experience. If I had known nothing else about it, I would have been first in line (well, maybe twenty-seventh, given my poor record of arriving early for anything). However, I also happened to know it is based on the first book of His Dark Materials.

The film is set to be released in a couple of months' time. It will desseminate the poison of these books much more widely than it has been disseminated hitherto. Hopefully, the Christians will sit up and start planning a response BEFORE the fallout from the film is felt. In any case, we can expect the books, which have so far largely slipped under the collective Christian radar, to become much better known soon enough.

Title of the Blog

This is the first post!

That being the case, some explanation is perhaps in order. Specifically, about the title. Of the blog.

Hwaet is an Anglo-Saxon word. It is, in fact, the first word in the great English poem Beowulf (I tossed up whether to use the last word of that poem as the title since that would be even quirkier. However the last word in Beowulf is lof-geornost, meaning 'one most eager for fame', so I decided against it- seemed a bit self-indulgent and evocative of the wrong kind of mindset for a blog of this sort). According to Clark Hall's Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, hwaet is ordinarily an exclamation, like 'Oh!' or 'Behold!' or 'Lo!', etc. It can also be used in a sentence to mean why or wherefore. And, as if that wasn't enough, it can also be an adjective meaning brisk, active or brave. So, a very versatile word. Variously translatable.

And evocative of just the kind of spirit that this blog is intended to incarnate. Surprising and sudden. Driving at hidden meanings and significances. And doing so in a pro-active and bold manner. At least some of the time.