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” Beauty Ever Ancient, Ever New”

Personal testimony is a powerful way to speak of the way God’s love can transform people’s lives. “Every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like ….” (Matthew 13:52). In this personal testimony, Matthew is giving an insight into his own faith journey with the Lord. Just a few chapters prior to this he told of how he was sitting at the Customs House and at Jesus’ inivitation, he got up and followed Him (Matthew 9:9). Having become a disciple of the kingdom and having had time to reflect upon it from that early conversion experience at the Customs House, Matthew is now ideally placed in this morning’s Gospel to plumb the depths of what this discipleship means in practice.

He speaks determinedly about the need for a disciple to “bring out from his storeroom things both new and old” (Matthew 13:52). Those who have made a conscious decision to follow Christ usually speak from the heart with an authority borne out of experience. For example, I remember listening to a self-confessed gangster named John Pridmore from London’s East End telling the story of his life both before and after Christ’s transforming love changed his life. He spoke so passionately about his journey from gangland to promised land. While giving his testimony, he readily drew from the broken-ness of his former ways in the hope of deterring other impressionable young people from making the same mistakes he did.

Along with other high profile converts like St. Paul and St. Augustine before him, Pridmore is but one of the countless people in every generation who have become disciples, wounded though they are. It is because they know what it is to be wounded that they make such effective disciples. Their former ways proved incapable of bringing them to the happiness they so craved and thus they sought out Christ, the Way, who proclaims: “now I am making the whole of creation new” (Revelation 21:5).

Matthew’s testimony ensures that there is a value for disciples of the kingdom of Heaven to draw out from the storeroom of their heart all that can be learned from the old self, perhaps especially the broken self, so as to appreciate to the fullest extent the newness of Christ. Reflecting on the old in light of the new is a beautiful way to pray. It inspires thanksgiving in the person who realises more and more everyday the gift of a relationship with God, that pearl of supreme value.

 

Gospel Reflection for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 13:44-52)

 

Music Review: The Children of Lir

2796238_0ec1c7bdIn 1999, John Paul II addressed a letter “To all who are passionately dedicated to a search for new “epiphanies” of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world.” The first time I heard a track from Patrick Cassidy’s cantata, The Children of Lir, I certainly experienced it as an “epiphany” of beauty. It was an experience that was quite unexpected in the contemporary cultural climate. I could not believe my ears: a contemporary composer had composed a piece of music that was exquisitely beautiful. What’s more, the composer was Irish.

One critique of the work that I read back then aired what seems to be the major defect of Cassidy’s composition: it is simply “pastiche.” In other words, it is merely an imitation of baroque music. Even if that criticism were fair – and in my estimation it is not – it would be no mean achievement to produce a piece of music à la Handel.

This cantata is a setting of arguably the most poignant of the imaginative tales of Irish literature. The libretto is in the original modern classical Irish version of this tale. That in itself is a first. The musical idiom is, as already intimated, baroque – hiberno-baroque, to be more precise. These two facts in themselves afford Cassidy’s composition a certain uniqueness. There is no other musical composition in the classical tradition that is based on a modern classical Irish text. I am unaware, moreover, of any composition that is hiberno-baroque in style as distinct from being simply baroque.

Ireland never enjoyed a classical music tradition because colonization never allowed such a tradition to take root and to develop here. The Children of Lir, however, gives us at least a hint of what baroque music might have sounded like in a Gaelic style. For those brought up with traditional Irish music and trained in the classical tradition, the interweaving of contrapuntal lines inspired by native musical idioms is well-nigh mesmerising.

The re-release of Cassidy’s early cantata indicates that beauty still has an appeal. If one follows an intellectual tradition inspired by St. Thomas Aquinas this ineradicable allure of the beautiful is heartening, for beauty is a function of both truth and goodness. Where beauty is valued, so too are truth and goodness. Art distils and communicates the Zeitgeist. The cult of the ugly – and, indeed, what is beyond the beautiful and the ugly as Baudrillard points out – gives apt expression to a civilization that has scant regard to truth and goodness. And yet works of great beauty like Cassidy’s furnish a bulwark against this culture and advance the ineradicable claims of the true and the good.

The Children of Lir is, I believe, culturally subversive in espousing classical canons of beauty. In that sense it radiates a very Catholic spirit. Catholics concerned about the direction Western culture has taken might well wish to support this kind of cultural subversion.