“That tree is rotten,” said my old friend, “And it has to come down.”
Lo and behold, although the brute looked perfectly healthy to me, when it was felled the whole inside of the tree was eaten away and hollow. I never found out how he knew because my friend died before I could get him to tell me what was it about the tree that let him know it had to come down.
I suppose that over the centuries people have learnt how to see when a tree is rotten and there are probably many people about today who work in forestry and farming and they could tell you by looking at a tree whether or not it is healthy.
We have to respect wisdom.
There was not much wisdom floating around in Northern Ireland this past week or two. First we had Gregory doing everything he could to insult and offend Catholics. This was promptly followed by Gerry who used the ‘b’ word to describe his neighbours, trying his best to promote unity of the peoples in a roundabout sort of way.
On the scale of ‘Statesman’s Like’ speeches they both scored minus one. Politics in Northern Ireland is about many things, but it is not about truth, building up the community, the poor or the sick. It appears that politics here is more about the party and ‘my own side of the house’ than anything else.
You know, all my life, as regular as clockwork, I have gone to the bank every week and put in my pittance to try and cover the bills. Never, and I mean never, has the bank manager came out and said to me, “Turlough, is that a Catholic pound or a Protestant pound that you are lodging?”
When NIE sends me a bill they do not put a little note in at the side of it saying ‘pay only with Protestant money.’ What is it about us that we would rather see this place fall to its knees before we will live in any sort of harmony with our neighbour?
Maybe we are like the old oak tree, maybe we and our idea of politics are just rotten to the core. As a society we may have to face the fact that we would rather the place fall apart than work for our common good.
It may be that it will not be until we are allowed to collapse and hit some sort of ‘rock bottom,’ something much worse than we experienced in the so called Troubles, that we will come to our senses and begin to try to make this part of the UK or Ireland or whatever you want to call it, a place worth living.
Then on Friday, we had David Cameron coming out and saying that he was going to make the UK a much more unwelcoming place for the poor old immigrant. But immigration is needed in England, a land where the native English have decided to stop having children.
If the rich nations of Europe stop having children and the population begins to age, then where are the workers going to come from if there is no migration?
“David Cameron has urged other EU leaders to support his "reasonable" proposals for far-reaching curbs on welfare benefits for migrants.
Britain's prime minister said lower EU migration would be a priority in future negotiations over the UK's membership and he would "rule nothing out" if he did not get the changes he wanted.” (BBC News)
Cameron then went into a whole rigmarole that really said nothing new. He was more intent on sounding tough than saying anything meaningful. He ended with a threat: (if you want to sound tough you have to end with a threat)
“But he warned that if the UK's demands fell on "deaf ears" he would "rule nothing out" - the strongest hint to date he could countenance the UK leaving the EU.”
So there we have our three strong politicians, Gregory, Gerry and David; the hard men of these isles.
Did anyone else speak last week?
Enter, stage right, a wee old man in a pair of glasses.
The Pope arrived in the European Parliament in Strasburg and made a speech to the MEPs.
“This was not a pastoral visit. It was as close to a political speech as the Pope could make. He addressed MEPs directly on the current malaise in Europe.
He did not spare them. "There has been a growing mistrust," said the Pope, "on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof".
"As a result," he continued, "the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attractiveness, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions".”
Then Pope Francis mentioned a poem by an Italian writer called Rebora, in which the poet states that Europe has become like an old tree which is rotting away from within and the people are unaware of the impending danger that is facing them.
This image made me think of my old friend and his oak tree.
Instead of berating his audience about the evils of their way of life, and never once swearing or issuing any threats, the Pope spoke of the good work that Europe has done on human rights and encouraged the EU to find its roots again and to bring new vigour to the continent.
He also reminded his audience of the great tradition of European innovation and intellectual ingenuity which have characterised it over the centuries.
Wait till you hear what the Pope said. This is a fantastic statement of real truth:
“Keeping democracy alive in Europe requires avoiding the many globalizing tendencies to dilute reality: namely angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, brands of non-historical fundamentalism, ethical systems lacking kindness, and intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.”
Not a ‘b’ word, a yoghurt, curried or otherwise, or a threat to the poor, mentioned in the whole thing. Just a reminder of how special people are, of the dignity of every person, of how great mankind can be and an understanding of the human condition that none of our leaders could begin to appreciate.
Oh, before I forget, Happy New Year!
Last Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent, the start of the Church year or New Year’s Day for us Catholics.
We are now into the Season of Advent, the time when the Church encourages us to pray and reflect on the advent of Jesus and what it means for us. The Church’s seasons give meaning and substance to our life, bestowing structure on the year as she reflects on the birth, life, preaching, death and resurrection of the Lord.
But we have seasons in the ordinary world as well. As the Church enters the season of Advent, shops and businesses are entering the season of greed, while many parents are entering the season of acquiring debt as we buy toys and presents that we cannot afford.
Advent begins with prayer and silent reflection: compare that to the scenes we all witnessed on Black Friday, the new festival of Greed we have recently imported from the USA.
Then we come into the Season of Lent, which is followed by Eastertide. Millions of Catholics shall remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and pray for peace.
On Easter Sunday we will have all the commemorations of the Rising, everyone will proclaim the greatness of the Irish heroes but none shall acknowledge that there is little justice, north or south, and no one shall ask the real question, ‘what was it all about?’
Those poor men, whose high and noble ideals led them to take over the GPO and most of whom died for the privilege, must be spinning like tops in their graves when they look at modern Ireland, north and south.
Then on Easter Monday the Orange ‘marching season’ begins. This is the beginning of a four month celebration of….I don’t know what.
Do you? What does the marching season celebrate?
We can’t say that it celebrates the Protestant ascendancy because that would be politically incorrect. I know; we’ll say, ‘the Orange Marching Season celebrates the time when everyone knew their place and Northern Ireland was a great wee place.’
About May next year we are going to have the ‘Election Season,’ the five year ritual of insults and lies from politicians who would say anything for a vote.
During the Election Season those who still bother voting will need a calculator to find out who is promising the most in tax cuts, welfare changes, pension increases, and changes to inheritance tax. If you listen carefully, you will notice that the poor are never mentioned: they don’t vote.
May is also the time when the Church is preparing for Pentecost, that lovely feast that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit who gives life and unity to the Church. Pentecost is the great feast of unity which the Spirit comes to bring; unity of all men, even the migrants, and especially the poor who are also part of God’s creation.
Then we move into July and August, what the Church calls Ordinary Time, the part of the year when people are going about their ordinary business of making a living, preparing for the harvest, getting the hay in and looking after their families.
It is also the height of the Marching Season, when the hatred underlying Northern Ireland comes to the fore, like a cork floating to the top.
Thankfully I have learnt to ignore it. I don’t march and I don’t intend to march again about anything. As more and more people in Ireland are marching to the food banks and the charity shops, we should keep the words of Pope Francis firmly in our ears: ‘and intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.’
All that talking and no one saying anything that is worth listening too.
Pope Francis is doing and saying a lot that is making many people, ordinary Catholics as well as people who are not Catholic, rethink their attitudes about the poor, war and such things. He is the most dangerous of all revolutionaries: the revolutionary who leads by his life.
It was the same when Pope Benedict came to England. The super atheists were shouting that he would be ignored and some even called for protests at his visit.
In the end, Benedict, by his humility and holiness, just blew them away. Francis is having the same effect wherever he goes, his obvious holiness and spirituality shine out in the midst of all the world’s problems. He gives hope where hope has failed to endure.
Then we have the season in our own life: the season of childhood, the season for marriage and children and the season for grandchildren.
There is also the Season for Reflection, that time after 55 or so when the mind of the believer turns to their long term plans. I remember being in Galbally one Saturday evening a few years ago. The old priest gave a very simple and profound sermon:
“What do you want your long term address to be? Turlough in heaven or Turlough in hell?”
If I take on the attitude of arrogance, mockery and hatred that I have heard here over this past week, I am making my long term address precarious, but if I listen to the smiling revolutionary who simply walked into the European parliament and gave them some sound food for thought, then I might get in by the skin of my teeth.
I think most of us reading this are getting a bit too old for all that hatred and bigotry craic; as an old friend of mine said about himself, “At my age I should be praying for a happy death.”
Thankfully he had a happy death, surrounded by his family and having received the sacraments.
Gregory Campbell is 61 and Gerry Adams is 66.
Would it not suit them better to be more concerned about what they are going to say to Jesus when they meet him than offending the neighbours?
The views expressed are not necessarily those of
the editor but are the views of the writer.
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