Monday, 2 March 2015

Should we pray for ISIS? Taking Jesus at His word, only prayer and fasting will drive out some demons

It really is the stuff of Hellish nightmares.  While 19 of the Assyrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS in north-eastern Syria have been released, around 200 are still being held hostage. 

Over at The Catholic Herald, I have a post on the need to pray and fast for ISIS terrorists...



ISIS supporters in Libya

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The rewards of a little self-denial in Lent are extraordinary

A Stanford academic, Walter Mischel devised the ground-breaking 'marshmallow test’.  It was a very simple test. They put a young child alone in a room with a marshmallow. The child was given a choice; they could eat the marshmallow straight-away, or wait 15 minutes and be given a second marshmallow in reward for waiting. They were filmed and those kids who succeeded in waiting were given a second marshmallow.

In the decades that followed, they kept tabs on the kids.  In 2013, Walter Mischel was interviewed by Charlie Rose on his findings, notably that the kids who resisted eating the marshmallow got better marks in school, were less likely to take drugs and predictably were less likely to be obese.

Now that we are entering the season of Lent, many of us are a little bit like the kids in the experiment, willing ourselves to ‘give up’ something sweet and pleasurable for a set time.

If we’re giving up chocolate, paying for our groceries in shops that place keyboard sized bars of Cadbury’s around the tills will be a time when self-discipline is required.  Those of us who give up gin and tonics may have to go to functions and parties where the smell of juniper is heavy in the air, but doing our Lenten penance will mean saying no to the offer of a drink.

We won’t be video-taped and a team of psychologists will not be pouring over our responses.  And we’re not doing Lenten penances as some academic experiment to measure our self-mastery. Rather the Christian is doing Lenten penances with the view to being rewarded with grace and growing in holiness.


At the same time that we are trying to grow in holiness, there could also be added psychological benefits to undergoing Lenten penance. Another Stanford psychology academic Kelly McGonigal spoke on the finding that willpower is like a muscle, it gets stronger the more you use it (see seven minutes into the lecture). 

By giving up sugary snacks, beer and wine, we could very well improve our strength of will and feel good about ourselves for having stayed the course.  

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald.  You may see a fuller list of my work by perusing my author archive

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Don’t denounce the people who go to see Fifty Shades of Grey – just tell them about this book

The film is a deceitful fantasy. 
A book about a girl's murder tells the real story
Many years ago, a Traddie friend of mine was round at my place when they let out a squeak of shock, “Mary, what is this book?!”  It was Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr Goodbar.  It had a book-cover of a dead girl in a bed. After all, it is a novel based on the real-life murder of Roseanne Quinn, a school-teacher who was a lonely singleton in New York City.

In 1973 Roseanne was a 28 year-old Catholic girl who haunted single bars to pick up men for one-night-stands. It is said that Roseanne became addicted to the ‘high’ that she got from having increasingly abusive sex with violent men.

‘Why are you reading it?’ asked my friend.  They began to understand when I explained that it was an honest portrayal of an insecure woman who sought out sadomasochistic sex, until she was slain. Putting it into today’s disgusting language, she wanted to be ‘sexually dominated’.

Looking for Mr Goodbar has themes in common with Fifty Shades of Grey. Yet while I recommendLooking for Mr Goodbar, I avoid the filthy flick Fifty Shades of Grey.  Here’s the difference: Rossner’s novel serves as a truthful story (and cautionary tale) as to what ensues when self-doubting women look to cruel, vicious men to validate their sense of self-worth. Ahem, Fifty Shades of Grey is a deceitful, glamorised fantasy. The nasty truth is that it will pack cinemas because an audience can ‘get off’ on the scenes of a young woman being gladly and gratefully sexually abused.

Even if I wanted to see Fifty Shades of Grey, I’d have to refuse because I hold that watching it is a sin. It entails looking at impure images which inevitably give rise to impure thoughts.  That said, while I slam the film, it doesn’t mean that I’m entitled to denounce people who will watch it. Looking down our noses and treating them as if we are better than they are – will alienate them from us. We need to have more compassion than reviling them as consumers of filth.

For one thing the film is released on St Valentine’s Day (poor St Valentine – his feast day is being used as a sordid marketing tool). This means that a lot of young women will be forced to decide between going on a date to see Fifty Shades or sitting home alone. 

If you have a friend who is an avid fan of Fifty Shades of Grey, consider ordering them a copy of Looking for Mr Goodbar. It’s the work of a brilliant Jewish novelist, a page-turner and will de-glamorise abusive sexual relationships.  

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald, do visit the magazine for breaking news and lively debate and discussion. 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014: my year in review


Tom Leopold, Yours Truly, Gussie Leopold, Barbara Leopold
I will always remember 2014 as, 'the year of Tom Leopold's biography'.  The idea for a book grew from the positive response to my interview with Tom Leopold. The 1,800 word piece on Tom’s conversion story is the most popular piece of journalism that I have ever done. 

I knew that we’d done something right when Stuart Reid, former deputy editor of The Spectator, wrote to me and called the interview, ‘your fine piece’.  

Tom and I set about planning a book on his conversion-to-Catholicism story, and began approaching publishers.  During the summer, we were offered two different book deals, which didn't work out. Then, third time lucky, we found an interested publisher. 

I hold dear to the fact that a great friend’s prayers were the reason for this good success...

Goodbye, great friend…

In August, my best friend and I took a trip to Wales and saw Richard Collins for the last time.  It was one of my happiest memories of 2014, eating cheese and a fine red wine with Richard and his family. 

Then on the 11th of October, we lost a great friend, the prayer warrior, Richard Collins. It’s still hard: in the past month my brain has been planning e-mails to Richard with shopping lists of prayer requests. He was one of the most generous people that you could ever meet. 

When God brings takes one light, he gives another. I have become good friends with John Carmichael, a lawyer extraordinaire, in fact it would be hard to find a brighter legal eagle. 

TV production and TV appearances…

Filming the first episode of Extraordinary Faith in California
I had a hand in producing the first few episodes of a new show on the Tridentine Mass, Extraordinary Faith. The scripts that I co-wrote were broadcast on EWTN in April and July.

Following a piece I wrote, my giddy self was invited onto Canadian TV to spout the opinion on Pope Francis, ‘the liberal media are in love with a Pope of their own creation.’

I still think that many liberals have concocted a Pope of their own making: when they opine that he will allow gay marriage and ordain women priests. While ahem, the interview that Pope Francis did with La Nación may mean that me and many orthodox-minded people have been slightly in love with a Pope of our own creation. 

The first full 12 month pontificate of +Francis was 2014. The year saw a role reversal of epic proportions: in the reign of +Benedict, it was Catholic bloggers who loved him, and the mainstream media who loathed him. In the time of +Francis, it is the Catholic bloggers who are reluctant to love, and the secular media who are very eager. 

In November it was an amazing experience to put on my TV producer’s hat, and advise on getting a comedy script onto US television. 

TV celebrity Paul Shaffer kindly put in a good word for me with David Letterman, so that 'Dave' may be induced to give me an interview for The Spectator. No joy yet, but I live in hope.

My greatest passion: interviewing people

I was granted an interview with Nigel Farage in late May.  After UKIP had victories in the European elections, leaving the Conservatives in third place for the first time in a nationwide pole. 



On a frosty day in November, I spent some time with Cardinal Dolan in New York. +Dolan ate three juicy hamburgers from the buffet. He was familiar with my interview with other princes of the Church.  +Dolan has agreed to do an interview with me, but we have not set a date. 

Winter 2014   Mary O'Regan,  Cardinal Dolan,  Regis Philbin


New York, New York

In November, I made a trip to New York, and spent time with Tom Leopold and his family.  Staying with the Leopolds, I had that strange feeling in the same manner as, ‘have I been slipped hallucinogenic magic mushrooms?’ It felt surreal and dream-like to travel in the Leopold’s car that has a Rosary hanging from the mirror, and a gold cross that glimmers when the New York winter sun shines on it. In their Manhattan apartment, Tom has a life-sized Rosary with wooden beads as big as cups. 

You see, I had been praying the Rosary for Tom for years before his conversion.  I never thought that he would become Catholic, never thought that I would meet him and NEVER in my wildest dreams did I imagine that he and I would be writing a book together!  

On the subject of the Rosary, I can say that I’ve offered the Rosary every day for the past 365 days.  Phew, made it!  Let’s hope that my feeble efforts at prayer will mean that I can say of 2015 that I said the Rosary every day. 

I introduced Tom and his beautiful wife, Barbara to the world of Padre Pio.  2014 marked the 50th anniversary that Pope Paul VI lifted the restrictions on Padre Pio. 

While in beautiful America, we passed many a serene day in Connecticut, where the sun was incredibly strong, warming the brown forest floors that would break like bread-crust underfoot. 
 

 A few more New York photos...

Here we are meeting the stars of the reality TV show, The Sisterhood...



A literary love affair…

My novel, Love for Beginners has given people laughs and given sensitive souls a few shocks. It continues to enjoy a lot of attention from Russian readers. It brings in a small income. I’ve been given cause to be delighted that I turned down one publisher who didn’t have enough funds for a print-run, and who asked if we could publish it online and split the proceeds.  Having published the novel the way that I did, I don’t have to share the profits. 



All you need is LOVE… 

Faithful readers may remember a post that I wrote complaining about the time a young lad rejected me on account of my pious witterings. Never fear, things turned around. During the feverishly hot London summer, I dated a fabulous guy, who had that rare combination of being extremely wealthy and generous. I have two spiritual directors; a priest and an archbishop. On my first date with Mr Marvelous, my archbishop-spiritual-director was texting me to find out how things were going.  In due course, I told His Excellency that wedding bells would not ring. 

Still a singleton, walking in my natural habitat of West London
 New Year’s Resolution

OK, I confess, I LOVE being introduced to young, hot actors at parties. It strokes my 30 year-old ego to have a celebrity think I’m younger and worthy of selfies (amusingly sad, I agree).   It’s the ‘young’ part that’s troubling. I have decided to give a wide birth, I mean, berth to the younger of the young uns. 

I re-read my life’s script, and decided there is only a walk-on role for a much, much younger actor. So, I will avoid robbing the actors’ nursery of their most baby-faced.
Proof of my commitment:  I was really very taken with Ansel Elgort, after watching The Fault In Our Stars four times. (You don’t want to know how many times I’ve read the novel). A friend of mine in NYC offered to introduce me to him, and I said no, on the basis that he’s 20.  If on the very slim chance that he liked me back, I doubt he’d be ready to marry me for some time.  *SIGH*

St Anthony found me a bed…

I’ve written about St Anthony finding me soap. Now, he’s onto bigger and better things! In my flat, I had an ordinary, decent mattress. But I wanted something that would be found in the presidential suite of a five star hotel.  I asked St Anthony to find me such a mattress.  My landlord was moving away from the UK, and volunteered to give me their ‘old’ mattress that is so luxurious it would trump the ones found in a palace. 

Take note, Papal Nuncio, + Menini, if Pope Francis ever visits England, I’ll let you borrow my mattress for the Nunciature’s papal bedroom. Papa Francisco, que duermas y descanses bien…

I’d like to finish this reflection and look forward to the future.  I wish all my readers and friends a HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you enjoy a new year that is one of the best you will spend on this earth.  

Let’s remember St Thomas More’s letter to his daughter, Meg where he wrote:
Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I'd like to wish all my readers and friends a very happy Christmas.



Aside from Christmas day, the only time that I genuinely appreciate ‘the Christmas spirit’ is when I offer the Rosary. I imagine myself as a fly on the wall of the stable. Slowly, I am surrounded by the joy of seeing Our Lord as an adorable newborn. 

Summer 2013, on the sun seared sands of Miami beach, I felt like I was celebrating Christmas when willing myself to feel Our Lady’s joy on becoming a mother. In deepest January, when the sky is a dirty black velvet and the ice and snow freeze me, I think about the Baby put into Our Lady's arms, and the warmth of their bond and their closeness, Mother and Son warming each other. The heavenly beams of light shining from them. The Son of God cradled in Our Lady’s arms and being suckled by the best woman that ever lived... When I pray at St Anthony's statue, there is a similar connection, in that the Capuchin shared one of Our Lady's privileges in holding the Christ Child.

Thankfully, I've been enjoying a sublime Christmas 2014 here in Kensington.

I raise a glass to you; all the lovely souls that light my path

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Evelyn Waugh’s novel Black Mischief is Humanae Vitae as a novel



This week marks the end of an era: The Catholic Herald is morphing from a weekly broadsheet newspaper into a magazine. From now on, the website will have the news stories, and the magazine will specialise in colourful features and be more of an erudite digest.  

The content from the magazine will be available online - from behind a pay wall. So, I may not have permission to post on my blog the stuff that I will (hopefully) get published in the new magazine.

I've been writing for the paper for over six years.

Here is the first full-length article that I got published in the print edition of the newspaper in autumn 2008. When Ed West commissioned the piece, it was the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, and also Evelyn Waugh's name was in the air because there was the disappointing film version of Brideshead Revisited in cinemas. 

Bear in mind that I was much younger, not long out of university and I think that I strung my points together in a cluttered way. I think my thesis still resonates: that Waugh's work Black Mischief is a literary portrayal of Paul VI's lesser known teachings....

LET'S HEAR IT FOR WAUGH'S BLACK MISCHIEF

Of all the 20th century Catholic novelists, Evelyn Waugh is among the best and Brideshead Revisited is generally considered his best work. Waugh himself described Brideshead Revisited as ‘my magnum opus’. The novel is a quintessential literary parable of lives spent in vain glories, languishing in human weakness, until redemption is sought in Christ.

Brideshead Revisited is all the more powerful because it charts the very real lives of sinners. It doesn’t shy from detailing the vicissitudes of the Flyte parents’ marriage break-up; Sebastian’s extravagant alcoholism; or the adulterous affair between Julia Flyte and Charles Ryder. Also a historically important work, it is frequently lauded as an apt portrayal of ‘that
generation’ between the two great wars: the generation that were too young to fight in the First World War and too old for the second.


Support from Catholics for Brideshead Revisited is unanimous; all the
important characters convert in the end and there are plentiful references
to Scripture. Few fans of Brideshead, however, are as fond of Black
Mischief.

Black Mischief: Waugh's first novel as a Roman Catholic and initially
regarded by the then editor of The Tablet as ‘a disgrace’. The reception it
receives now is like that in 1932; pious Catholics are either scornful or
indifferent. 

Mostly Catholics are uncertain. Is Black Mischief, to use the honoured word among the scrupulous, ‘scandalous’?  With the crude sexual and
exploitative motives of the characters and their language it does challenge our politically correct and feminist sensibilities. Yet, does it fall squarely into the category of vulgar books? 

In my judgment the poor understanding of Black Mischief is not fair or of benefit to Catholics. It is my contention that Black Mischief, like Humanae Vitae has never been given its due recognition. Remarkably, like Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Waugh’s work Black Mischief was strangely prophetic. But what compelling similarity is there to be made between novel and encyclical? 

It is this: when Waugh fictionalised an account of a country’s indefatigable drives to force contraception on the nation’s people, it is a drama of Pope Paul VI’s most unheeded warning; that governments would use contraception for coercive purposes.

It can be easy to laugh one’s way through the novel and miss Waugh’s dire
warning.  Black Mischief is hilariously funny and unashamedly irreverent.
The plot revolves around the misdemeanours of Emperor Seth of the country
Azania. In case anyone has run to check the atlas, Azania is a fictional
East African country. Emperor Seth has a monomania about everything he
perceives as 'modern', particularly birth control.

With the help of the British Basil Seal, Seth re-orders Azanian society; hoping to dismantle tribal life by seducing the masses into contracepting. Seth renames the site of the Anglican cathedral 'Marie Stope’s Place', displays a ludicrous birth
control poster everywhere, and organizes a 'Birth Control Pageant'.

It is all the more pertinent that the leader Seth is Azanian; it is he who
is obsessed with foisting contraception on his own people.  Why, may you
ponder, did Waugh, a Catholic convert who accepted the Church's teachings
without protest, go to the trouble of inventing a society obsessed with
birth control endorsement and with no obvious arguments against birth
control? 

But no, Waugh lets the ensuing irony do the teaching. The
landmark ‘Marie Stope’s Place’ is as meaningless to the indigenous
illiterate population as every other government led contraception drive.

The poster advertising contraceptive devices contrasts two families; a
one-child family with material comfort, and the other a scene of poverty
with many children and a tired wife working in the field while her husband
relaxes. WHICH HOME DO YOU CHOOSE? is the caption.  Stock contraception
propaganda, not unlike what Planned Parenthood use today in Nigeria.  But
the Azanians construe that the one-child family is most unfortunate, because
the parents could not possibly be fertile!

Most comical of all, is that the Azanian populace misconstrue the birth
control pageant to be a fertility festival and behave in the opposite way to
how the pageant organisers had expected; they celebrate their fertility as
the mere concept of curtailing fertility is unknown. The emperor issues lots
of contraceptive devices — 'jujus' as the people call them — and the native
Africans perceive them as something, which will increase their fertility.

The idea of posters, devices and even festivals that would promote embracing
the means to limit your family's number, is anathema to the Africans. Should
Black Mischief be required reading for all aid workers who pawn off first
world state-funded contraceptive devices on native Africans?


The novel takes a more sinister tone when leader Seth dabbles in primitive
IVF. One day Seth announces, “I have read here,” he said, tapping a volume
of speculative biology, that there is to be no more birth. The ovum is
fertilised in the laboratory and the foetus is matured in bottles. It is a
splendid idea. Get me some of those bottles.”  Such is Seth’s very real
disrespect for his native people that he will force them to acquiesce.

Thankfully, the government in Azania collapses in a shambles. Seth is
murdered, before he can coerce his people into following the dictates of his
own type of HFE Bill. Reading this, as if it were true, the augury of
Humanae Vitae becomes real: that governments may use contraception for
‘coercive’ purposes.  The dire fact is that tenets of Black Mischief have
become reality for us, as have the consequences of widespread contraception,
spelled out in Humanae Vitae.  The irony remains; Humanae Vitae was
dismissed as being ‘out of touch’ whilst Black Mischief was ‘just a laugh’.


Few have dug deep enough to see the parodies of Black Mischief are often
clever didactics in Catholic teaching.  


Religious dogma becomes seamlessly thematic to the story, so much so, that one could assert that Waugh was trying to skillfully hide his intentions of simultaneously
teaching dogma and writing good satirical fiction. Seen in its proper light,
the novel is a subtle mockery of artificial contraception and its advocates.
Waugh died before Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, but Waugh’s narrative teaches the quintessential truths Paul VI wished to convey.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Muslims and Christians are like-minded when it comes to revering Mary

I often feel hopeless when I read about the persecution of Christians. The global situation is grim. A recent report by Aid to the Church in Need explains that the most pernicious persecution of Christians happens in predominantly Muslim countries. We would do well to remember that in these same countries, Muslims are often persecuted by their fellow Muslims.

As as this Catholic Herald View suggests, we would do well to seek out Muslims “who are dedicated to prayer, peace and charity”.

Over the past five years of living in London, experience has shown me an area of common ground. Muslims and Christians are like-minded when it comes to revering Our Lady. I discovered this because as my name is Mary, many Muslims say sincerely to me, “that’s a lovely name”. A Muslim friend of mine engages in mental prayer to Our Lady. He gives very difficult prayer intentions to Our Lady and he says that, “it’s incredible how many prayers get answered by asking her”.

No other woman is given as much space in the Koran as Our Lady. Reviewing sections of the Koran that concern Our Lady, she is revered as the one woman who was chosen, “above the women of all nations”. If you ask Muslims who have a devotion to Our Lady, they will simply say, “she was the best woman ever”. The Koran corroborates Catholic doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s immaculate virginity.

Would it not make sense to make Our Lady the foundation of our inter-faith discussions? It needn’t be very formal. Devout Catholics could open a discussion on respecting Our Lady with their Muslim friends, neighbours and colleagues.

This is not to disregard the doctrinal shaped elephant in the room. We hold Our Lady as the Mother of God. Muslims believe Our Lady to be the mother of a prophet. But they do hold her as the most holy woman who ever lived and they have a fear of offending her.

I’m taking the risk that I’ll be mocked for proffering a pious strategy. I know that, “Unite Christians and Muslims on the grounds of their shared love of Our Lady”, is not likely to become foreign policy any time soon. But without basic strategies, we are back to hopeless handwringing. In order for this to work, it needs the oxygen of our conversations with Muslims. Maybe we should, “let go and let Our Lady”.

It needs a few sparks of publicity. For starters I invite my fellow Catholic writers and bloggers to take the plunge and try out this strategy. Then blog any conversations and encounters. My guess is that they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the smiles that mention of Our Lady brings to the faces of many Muslims. No wonder Our Lady is called, ‘Cause of our Hope’ and ‘Smile of Heaven’.

I wrote this blog for The Catholic Herald. Visit the site and read all the latest news about the Church in England.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Dorothy Day turned me into a film director

"I’m not a filmmaker,” insists Claudia Larson, the writer and director of Don’t Call Me a Saint, a documentary about Dorothy Day. The film is an honest and beautiful portrait of Day’s life. And if you’d seen it, you would be forgiven for thinking that Larson is an expert in filmmaking. 
 
Larson spent 15 years making the documentary. When I ask her how she became so committed to preserving Day’s memory, she says with a laugh: “It’s as though Dorothy walked up my front stairs, knocked on my door and, like a fool, I answered it. She just moved in and made me do it.”
 
Larson made the movie even though she had never been to film school and she also paid for the production mostly out of her own pocket. “I learned as I went along,” she says with breathless enthusiasm. 
 
She is certain that it was Day’s spirit that guided her. “I was consumed with researching her life and if it never came to anything, that would have been OK because it was a great journey. But I knew Dorothy was too practical. She didn’t just want me to have lots of historical stories to keep to myself.” 
 
Listening to Larson, I have the strong impression that she and Day were close friends. But they never met. Day was born in Brooklyn and died at the age of 83 in 1980 in the residence she founded for homeless women. Larson grew up in Los Angeles and, although she lived in New York for many years, she never heard of Day or the Catholic Worker Movement. It was in the early 1990s that she began to chronicle Day’s life and was very determined to have “Dorothy tell her own story with no interference from me”. She insists that the film is “pure Dorothy”.
 
Larson even goes as far to say that “Dorothy directed the content and the length of the film”. The stars of the documentary are the people who were closest to Day: her good friends and, most notably, her daughter Tamar. Larson used the medium of cinema to capture on camera those who knew Day best. The clock was ticking because some of her interviewees were nearing the end of their lives and many have now died.  
 
Was Larson making the film because she is a Catholic who yearned to document Day as a celebrated convert to Catholicism? “No. The fact that I’m a Catholic has no bearing on the film,” says Larson, “I am a cradle Catholic but I didn’t make the film because Dorothy was Catholic.” 
 
This confounds me, because Larson’s film focuses on Day’s devotion to the works of mercy. Digging deep as to why Larson did not single out Day’s Catholicism, she says: “I didn’t want to alienate anyone and Catholics are not the only ones interested in her. People of all faiths are drawn to Dorothy and to studying her work. Many an atheist is fascinated by Dorothy Day.”
 
When the film premiered at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in 2006, Larson was reproached by one audience member for not concentrating on Day’s relationship with the Catholic Church.  Larson says: “If I had focused solely on Day’s Catholicism it could have been a three-hour film.”  
 
As I’m someone who finds Day’s conversion to Catholicism mesmerising, I appreciated the way Larson’s film portrayed Day’s strong faith as an integral part of her life. Don’t Call Me A Saint doesn’t create a divide between Day’s faith and social activism, but treats them as they were: completely interrelated.
 
A stirring section of the film covers Dorothy Day’s time as a reporter at the Hunger March in Washington DC in 1932. Day felt very conflicted because she wanted to employ her Left-wing practices, but felt they were at odds with her Catholicism. So she prayed at the  Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that she would find methods to help the poor in a way that sat well with her faith. 
 
The next day, she went back to New York and found Peter Maurin waiting for her. Maurin had been a Christian Brother for a time, but now sought out Day as his collaborator. Together they founded The Catholic Worker in May 1933, but Day always credited Maurin as being the primary founder.  
 
Larson’s film bridges an important gap by showing how Maurin became Day’s teacher – sharing with her his system of combining Catholic beliefs with a blend of radical socialism. Maurin and Day aimed to put as many of the works of mercy into practice as possible.
 
There are many earnest Catholics who distrust Maurin and Day because they find it hard to accept Day’s Left-wing sympathies, and see Day’s political views as incompatible with Catholicism. So it’s important to ask if Larson has strong political allegiances that influenced the film. “No, I’m not a Catholic Worker,” she says. “I don’t have any political agenda. Maybe that’s why Dorothy knocked on my door.”
 
Larson’s film shows that Day was not a textbook Left-winger, but rather that her greatest teachers were the poor people who crossed her path. The most striking example is the film’s interview with Eileen Egan, a close friend of Day’s, who relates what Day did after a gut-wrenching tragedy. It was the 1930s and America was in the depths of the Great Depression. Two female friends came to the soup kitchen. They were homeless and so asked Day if they could stay the night. Day could not find an inch of space for them: people were already sleeping on every floor. 
 
Later, one of the women returned. Day asked her where her friend was. She told Day that her friend was so distraught at not having a place to sleep in the soup kitchen that she had gone to a subway station and thrown herself under a train. Cut to the heart, Day took her last five dollars, went down the street and found an empty apartment. She put the five dollars on the table, offering it as a deposit, and the flat became the Catholic Worker Movement’s first house of hospitality. There are now more than 180 houses of hospitality across the globe.
 
There are other tear-jerking moments when the film focuses on the crowds of severely mentally ill people who congregated in the houses of hospitality. One interviewee, Pat Jordan, tells of two mentally ill guests who caused a disruption. One of them went out naked on to the fire escape. They had to be asked to leave the house. But they came back on Easter Sunday and were welcomed with open arms. Their behaviour was never held against them. Thus, Pat Jordan concludes, they were forgiven “77 times seven”, as Jesus commanded. 
 
Larson does not consider herself a particularly good Catholic, but her film shows clearly how Day abandoned herself to Divine Providence. One story is likely to resonate with readers who struggle with high fuel costs during wintry weather. One bitterly cold winter, when there was no coal to light the furnace, Day had only one piece of coal left.  As St Joseph was patron of the Catholic Worker house, she put the last piece of coal beside his statue. Without any notice, an anonymous benefactor ordered a truckload of coal and it was delivered that very evening.

Larson tells another story that illustrates how Day learned from the poor, “Dorothy and Eileen Egan were on a boat going down the Thames in London. It was chilly and they were only wearing cloth coats. Dorothy took the Times, divided it with Eileen, and stuffed her half inside her coat, saying that she had learned how to keep warm from the men on the Bowery.”      
 
Larson’s film does not shy away from the grittier aspects of serving the poorest of the poor. There are snippets of a television interview with Day, in which Day tells the viewers that the Brooklyn police brought old women who had been sleeping in abandoned buildings to the Catholic Worker house so that Day could care for them. Day described elderly woman as being covered in lice and suffering from a prolapsed rectum. It was not unusual for the police to drop off people who were drenched in their own urine.  
 
Don’t Call Me a Saint is both a poetic and harrowing piece of cinema.  For a film that was a decade and a half in the making, it is concise, coming in at just 55 minutes. It’s clear that Larson took great care in choosing each frame of the film. “It’s the length that Dorothy wanted,” she says, “so it would fit in a classroom time-frame.”
 
Larson will not allow me to give her any credit for the documentary, insisting that “Dorothy made me do this film”. I keep asking her Larson why she feels so attracted to Day. She says: “I related to Dorothy’s daughter Tamar, because my mother was a single working mom.” Tamar was Day’s only child from her relationship with Forster Batterham. Larson appears to see a lot of her own mother in Day and that sheds light on why she has such immense respect for Day, and a burning love of making Day’s legacy known. 

To find out more about Don’t Call Me a Saint and to buy a DVD of film, visit Dorothydaydoc.com
 
This interview was carried in the October 31st 2014 print edition of The Catholic Herald.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Richard Collins, the Prayer Warrior, REQUIESCAT IN PACE




A few minutes before writing this post, when the blue-darkness of night crept into my flat, I thought, I must include Richard’s intentions in my Rosary tonight and pray that the cancer disappears… Then the heavy realisation fell on my brain, Richard passed away two days ago. He left this life at a quarter to nine on Saturday morning, October 11th 2014. 


Fortunately, my best friend and I took a trip to Wales a month ago, in September, to visit Richard and spend some time with him. I will remember him in his conservatory, bright light pouring in, and his beautiful family surrounding him. 

Let me underscore that Richard was an exceptional friend.  I always felt secure in asking Richard for prayers because he would generously devote time and energy to prayer, but didn’t expect something in return. In life - I’ve learned the hard way that there are few pure souls who give of themselves and their time – without expecting something in return. 

I believe it is thanks to Richard’s prayers that I met Dan Radcliffe, and that a few months ago I got the in-depth interview with Nigel Farage on Northern Ireland. To be fair, it is usually senior political correspondents that get those interviews, especially on subjects as delicate as the future for Northern Ireland in the event of the UK leaving the EU. But with Richard’s prayers, the interview came to pass.

Richard’s prayers were a pure and selfless gift.   I think this is why Richard’s prayers were *answered*.  God saw that Richard’s heart was clean and acted accordingly, as in Psalm 24 Pray with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4)
If I e-mailed him, asking for prayers for a particular intention, Richard would send back a reply that he had taken out the Rosary and was going to ‘storm Heaven’.  

I have no clue as to how many dozens upon dozens of Rosaries that Richard offered for my intentions. It is very fitting that Richard should die during October, the month devoted to the Holy Rosary.   

I have always described Richard as ‘a prayer warrior’.  Even if I didn’t have good news, Richard would never be daunted, but would encourage me and promise even more prayers!  Writing this next sentence is hard – grief bites and paralyses my fingers – but I have to train my brain not to e-mail Richard asking for prayers. 

Perhaps Richard would most like to be remembered as an exceptional Catholic.  At times, when he was in agony and his cancer was extremely painful, he could STILL be found giving encouragement to other Catholic bloggers or offering up his suffering for the intentions of another.  No matter how sick he was, he never failed to give a pat on the back to someone who needed support, or to take the side of someone who was being picked on. 

The statue of St Peregrine at San Juan Capistrano, Southern California
Richard reaped many prayers in return.  In February 2013, when I was in Southern California, I was at the statue of St Peregrine, ‘the cancer saint’. At the time, I did not know that Richard was showing signs of illness.  Whilst at the statue, I had the strangest urge to put my hand to the ragged gash on St Peregrine’s leg, and to give Richard’s intentions to St Peregrine.  Later, after returning home to London, I found out that Richard had a cyst that had mysteriously cleared-up, and without medical explanation.

Richard prayed for me to get interviews with members of the Vatican Hierarchy.  And in the months just passed, one of the very same princes of the Church (the future Pope??!) offered Masses for Richard at my request.  

When I organised the novena to Padre Pio for Richard’s intentions, a minimum of 1,807 people offered the novena, and this does not include the many people who said the Novena because it was shared so widely on Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter.

It’s tempting to write that, ‘I have a friend in high places’, essentially bragging that I have a friend in Heaven. But I must restrain myself – because it would be the last thing that Richard would want. He would hate for us to presume his sanctity.  Instead, we can join his family in offering prayers for the repose of his soul. 

Good friends of mine have prayed at High Masses yesterday for the repose of Richard’s soul, I invite all my readers to do the same and to pray for his family in their time of grief.