Friday, 29 April 2016

John Sullivan SJ: a saintly priest whose story the world needs to hear

Telling the tale of the saintly John Sullivan SJ’s life of heroic virtue could do some good to Ireland’s reputation. Were the life of this priest better known it would go a little bit towards counterbalancing the damage done to Ireland’s standing on the international stage by the clerical sex abuse committed by criminal priests.
John Sullivan SJ did not have the typical upbringing of an Irish Catholic, never mind an Irish Jesuit who voluntarily takes a vow of poverty. His father was a Protestant who was very rich and a highly esteemed barrister who housed his family in Georgian Dublin. John was raised Protestant, even though his mother was Catholic.
John Sullivan converted to Catholicism and was received into the Catholic Church in London’s Farm Street Jesuit community in 1896 when he was a 35-year-old barrister. Throughout all his years as a Jesuit, which were spent in County Kildare, Ireland, there was a touch of Pope Francis about him. He had tremendous affection for the poor, sourcing and making gifts of goods that for the impecunious were ‘luxury’ gifts such as tobacco, fruit, snuff and even drink so that they could have a wee dram.
I find it all the more noble that a cleric who came from such a privileged background was able to identify with the underprivileged people of Ireland in the early 1900s despite never having experienced their hunger pangs himself.
Yet the part I find most impressive is that as he aged and grew in holiness, more and more people spoke about the great efficacy of his prayers, especially for the seriously ill. A cleric who did not allow his ego to inflate with each favour granted by Heaven, he never claimed that his prayers were the reason for miraculous cures.
This week, I believe that praying to Blessed John Sullivan SJ won me a favour. I had been feeling anxious, but after inviting Blessed John Sullivan to pray for me, I felt my burden was lifted and I was granted a sense of serenity about the future.
John Sullivan SJ’s prayers were answered during his lifetime and now that people are praying to him and getting graces, the Vatican is putting him on the path to sainthood. If it is God’s will and if Blessed John Sullivan is a soul in Heaven, then the process of making him a saint will show that Ireland is capable of producing exceptionally kind-hearted, benevolent priests.  
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald in the wake of the news that the miracle has been approved which will allow for John Sullivan SJ to be beatified and thus one step closer to sainthood. 

Mother Angelica would have been 93 this month, the most successful woman in television history was an 'unwanted' child

Had our cherished Mother Angelica lived, she would have celebrated her 93rd birthday today. I put forward that a birthday present we could give Mother would be to do our best to use her life story and great achievements to counteract what St John Paul II called the culture of death.
This may seem lofty, and could remain just a nice thought, but I think we need not be afraid to discuss Mother Angelica when we are having pro-life discussions, and to help others who think it’s “for the best” if an unwanted unborn child meets their end in an abortion clinic.
For starters, we can retell the story of Mother’s humble beginnings to refute the dire predictions that we hear about “unwanted” children, namely that their being unwanted by one or both of their parents leaves them with emotional scars that keep them from achieving anything in life. The culture of death tars all “unwanted” kids with the same brush.
Mother Angelica’s father John, on finding out that his wife Mae was carrying his child, tore out Mae’s hair and was incandescent with anger. According to court records, he was physically and verbally abusive to her and they had severe financial constraints that caused them to fight constantly.
93 years ago, Mother Angelica’s mother Mae was having a very difficult labour, bringing the 12-pound baby Rita into the world. Mae never flinched from telling little Rita the gory details of her birth. After her parents split, Rita’s father reneged on giving them any financial support and Rita and her mother often had only scraps of bread and a bit of bologna for a meagre dinner.
Her mother learned the dry-cleaning business and the customers collected their clothes, promised to pay, but often did not. On seeing her ex-husband John date other women, Mae would become suicidal and would say to Rita that she wanted to die by her own hand. Mother Angelica later recalled that “when I came home from school, I never knew if I would find her dead or alive”.
Yes, Rita was from an extremely emotionally and materially deprived background, but she became Mother Angelica, the only woman to found and run her own TV network for over 20 years. For an “unwanted” child, that ain’t half bad. A child who had to cope all alone with a mother who had untreated mental health problems would establish a TV network that currently reaches 264 million homes worldwide.
Telling Mother Angelica’s story can edify and encourage our peers as to the fact that an “unwanted” child from a poor family can go onto great things.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald and it was published on the date of Mother Angelica's birthday April 20th. I read and re-read Raymond Arroyo's amazing account of her life
 Mother Angelica, please pray for us. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

On Turning 100. Mary O'Regan interviews John H Carmichael

Drunks and Monks by John H Carmichael

Q: So you garnered 100 Amazon Reviews in 9 months, almost all of them quite good. How do you feel about it?

A: It is strange to think one would in any way “mark” or take note of “100 Amazon Reviews.”

But Amazon in general and their reader reviews in particular have become important in our time.

And what a strange time it is.

What did we do before we could express our opinions so freely and so permanently about books?

We were at the mercy of professional reviewers, with their dry, arch, sometimes too-clever-by-half musings, meant not just to promote or demote a book, but also to reveal the professional reviewer's acumen, to contribute to an alternative genre of literature -- the literary review. Not so with the reader reviews on Amazon, which sometimes blurt out painful truths akin to “This book sucks!” Or, “Meh. I just couldn't get into it. Two hours I will never get back. I should’ve watched Dancing With The Stars instead.” To be clear, I respect professional reviewers but the reader reviews have a guileless and immediate quality that cannot be denied.

As you said, most of the reviews for Drunks & Monks have been good so far, so that makes it easier to take and I am very appreciative of each and every one.

Q: How important do you think the reviews are?

A: A book marketing expert I know says that after about “100 reviews on Amazon” there tends to be a snowball effect that takes place, so he recommends offering the book to beta-readers for honest reviews to get those numbers. I read somewhere recently that since we are inherently social creatures, we do prefer to read things that other people are also reading. So in that sense, perhaps, nothing succeeds like success. I know I read the customer reviews of books I'm interested in and probably put a little more stock in them than I do the professional reviews. That may or may not be a good thing, but that’s the way it seems to be now.  

Q: What are some of your favorite ones?

A: It is true that more than a few have stood out and touched me on a personal level.

I like the ones where somebody says they went back to Church, or tried to quit drinking, or thought more deeply about the Sacraments because it affirms my hope that I am doing something serious for a serious purpose.

The reviews that praise the writing or the style are very gratifying because I put a lot of effort into the imagery, rhythm and diction and that was the enjoyable part of it for me. 

I combined a lot of post-modern elements with very old techniques and just sort of hurled it out there, with your fine editing, hoping it would fall well on the reader’s ear and release some power at the end. 

A few reviewers objected to the post-modern style, but many more than that liked it. I am not a fan of post-modernism for its own sake but it suited this story somehow. The most important thing is I tried to write about human brokenness and how the Catholic Faith helped me and to offer that to other people. Even if they don't like the “Catholic part” of it I hope they feel some companionship and some hope for healing, or for having a better life, for being less self-destructive. 

When the reviews say that they felt my compassion toward their own sufferings or longings, those are my favorite ones.  

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: It is a common dream to be able to make a living as a writer, or any kind of artist really. Many people have that dream and I certainly have it. I don't know if that will be possible for me long term, but I do know I am not holding anything back in this effort.
The only way to really make a living as a writer is with a contingent of readers, so each individual reader becomes like gold to me.
Each review is of vital importance. That anyone would even take the time to read a book at all these days in between all the distractions and pressures of modern life, is really quite astonishing. 
I hope Drunks & Monks is well received and that I am able to write more books. I have immense tenderness for those people who have written to me and have had more than a few very moving personal interactions.
The reviews are a form of communication and I read each one carefully. I’ve written back to a few people but don’t remark on reviews very often because many people wish to just leave their review and be done with it. I hope the book marketing expert is right and the triple digit reviews spark a buying, reading and reviewing frenzy. Further deponent sayeth not.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Today I will be on the Jennifer Fulwiler Show talking about Drunks and Monks

What a delight it is to have Jennifer Fulwiler, famed author of Something Other Than God visit us here in London.  

Jennifer has been an amazing trailblazer for Drunks and Monks, John Carmichael's epic memoir, and John has been a guest on her show twice. You may listen to his first interview here (at 43:00).  Today, I will be on Jen's show at 3:10 ET, which is 8:10 pm London time. 

The photo below was taken on one of the manicured lawns of South Kensington, in front of the church where TS Eliot was rector. We didn't have time to see Agatha Christie's house which is nearby, but next time, Jen...

Jennifer Fulwiler and Mary O'Regan

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Help abducted priests by praying to the clergy who have gone before them

Dire rumours circulated last week concerning Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest who was abducted by ISIS in Yemen on March 4. The worst hearsay was that his captors had crucified him on Good Friday, which thankfully appear to have been false.
We can take heart that the most recent news has been positive; the bishops’ conference of India has said that Fr Tom is alive and still in the hands of his captors, but intense negotiations are underway to secure his release.
It’s easy to feel powerless when we hear of a good priest being held hostage by terrorists, but I suggest we can pray for Fr Tom in a specific way, by praying to the souls of saintly priests who were imprisoned unfairly. One such priest is Fr Walter Ciszek, who has been proclaimed a Servant of God.

Fr Walter was captured by the Russian Army during World War II. After being accused and convicted during a phony trial of being a ‘Vatican spy’, Fr Walter spent 23 harrowing years in Soviet prisons and working in the salt mines of Siberia, all of which he details in his spiritual masterpiece, He Leadeth Me.
A great irony was that Fr Walter, when he had been a seminarian at the Russicum in Rome had been known for his passionate wish to be a priest in Russia.

If any saintly priest who has gone to God knows extreme suffering at the hands of captors, it is Fr Walter. His years in the Lubyanka Prison were spent mostly in solitary confinement and he was subjected to brutal torture until he signed a document where he ‘confessed’ to being a spy for the Pope, which led to him being sentenced to 15 years in the Gulag.
Fr Walter would be the ideal intercessor for Fr Tom – we can pray to Fr Walter that the negotiations go well and that Fr Tom is unharmed and set free. If it were to catch on, people praying to Fr Walter for priests who are persecuted and imprisoned, then maybe his cause could advance and he would one day be Blessed Walter. 
I wrote this piece for The Catholic Herald.  I hope to write more about Fr Walter Ciszek and his memoir of imprisonment under the Soviets, He Leadeth Me.  A friend of mine is a Jesuit priest and I look forward to asking him if he ever met Fr Walter...

Friday, 1 April 2016

Why Mother Angelica was Mother Angelica

Back in the 1930s when Mother Angelica was Rita Rizzo, her mother took her out of a convent school because the nuns belittled her. After a priest cajoled and persuaded little Rita’s mother to send her back to the convent school, the same nuns singled Rita out for more of the same.
At the Christmas party, they gave shiny new toys to all the other kids, but reserved a broken yo-yo for Rita. Raymond Arroyo’s biography quotes Mother Angelica as remembering that the toy “was old and scratched, had knots in it, you couldn’t use the thing.” When Rita grew up to become Mother Angelica she would always say that she hated “those nuns” and was clear that they could and should have told her that Jesus loved her.
Perhaps it is a miracle in itself that Rita became a nun: it shows amazing strength of character on the part of Mother Angelica that she did not let fear that she would might become like the nuns from her childhood crush her vocation.
Mother Angelica as a toddler
I know that I wouldn’t have had the determination. When I was 14, a nun who was teaching me spent some a lot of class-time shouting at me, “you’re a liar”, after she caught me doing my homework in class, which I denied I was doing, so I got lambasted with, "liar, liar!" Afterwards I wanted to become a lapsed Catholic and it was only positive encounters with nicer nuns who changed my mind.
Mother Angelica became a champion of the same institution that had produced the sadists in black veils who bullied her. One of the most unstoppable nuns to have ever lived in my view, Mother was the only woman to found and run a TV network for 20 years.
The reason that “those nuns” never spoiled her vocation was the same reason she founded EWTN: Jesus chose her to be His bride and she was willing to do anything for Him. When she was a newly minted nun, she wrote a letter to her mother, addressing her as the mother-in-law of Jesus.
Her apostolate in Catholic media, even from the early recordings explaining God’s love for each person, was a bold endeavour to give the masses what the nuns of her childhood had not given her: the empowering knowledge of Jesus’s love for us.
Mother Angelica’s life and works prove that her love for Our Lord was genuine: this is precisely why she is an inspiration to Catholic women. Angelica alone shows that a Catholic woman driven by love of Jesus can achieve great things; even in our times when many young women like me are told that being successful and being a Catholic are incompatible.
Mother Angelica could be vociferous in defending Our Lord, like a hyper-defensive and devoted wife, she would not broke the slightest undermining of Our Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. Yes, she sparred with important men of the cloth, but she could never be accused of clericalism.
Mother Angelica saw her role as bride of Christ as infinitely more important than following the party line. When she was investigated by the Vatican, and sent male interrogators, she was asked who had given her permission for this or that. Going rogue, she was frank that she had acted on inspirations from Our Lord and that He had supplied her with permission.
Mother Angelica, I hope you are united with your Beloved as I write this. Remember us, please pray that we can be together in Heaven one fine day. 
I wrote this article for The Catholic Herald. You may see the full catalog of my online articles for this publication here
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