Monday, 20 April 2015

The Force Awakens (Me)

Last week, we were witness to a truly remarkable event - the release of a new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. I had begun the week rather feeling rather lethargic and downcast but upon my first viewing my Midi-chlorians had be performing somersaults.

The first teaser trailer had whetted my appetite - it offered me the new hope of a return to the values of the original trilogy, revealed beautifully crafted shots of Tatooine, the Millennium Falcon, X-Wings and Tie-Fighers and gave us a tantalising glimpse of the new protagonists. The major talking point for most was the Sith with cruciform lightsabre but for me, the most striking aspect of the original teaser trailer was the production values - it felt and looked like a digitally superior vintage Star Wars.

Kylo Ren
The first teaser trailer arrived at the end of last year and I was beginning to get impatient for a further Star Wars fix and when it finally arrived, I wasn't disappointed. I'm a massive Star Wars fan at the best of times but I the second trailer sent me into overdrive. My reaction was remarkably similar to that of Fr Roderick Vonhögen (though less cows were involved) and I think I actually sat for a few minutes of contented silence after watching it.

Here are a few things I spotted in the trailer which may pique your interest:

1) Most of the Imperial Fleet was destroyed at Endor. How did this Imperial Star Destroyer end up on Tatooine? Has it been sitting there for 30 years since a post Endor Battle (Tatooine is a long way from the core and the Imperial Remnant) or does its crash form part of the narrative of  the film?

Edit: A friend has informed me that the planet depicted in this scene is not Tatooine. It is a new planet called Jakku and is the home of Rey. The Star Destroyer has clearly been at rest on the plannet for quite some time so I doubt it's demise will have taken place in the present of the film.

2) "The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power too..."

"My father has it" is evocative of the present. Is Luke referring to Anakin Skywalker's ghost presence or had Vader been resurrected, perhaps by cloning?

"The Force is strong in my family" suggests that Luke is not talking to a son, niece or nephew as he would probably have said "our family".

3) This scene looks like Luke is at a funeral pyre. Is it a flashback to Vader's or has another major character passed into the Force? The scene focuses on R2D2 - has C3PO gone to meet his maker?

4) Vader's mask was burned along with his body on Endor - someone has gone to some trouble to retrieve it. An apprentice? An heir to his legacy?

5) Are those moisture vaperator in the background? Is Kylo Ren om Tatooine?

6) That's snow in the background. Is this Hoth? Maybe it's a flashback to Alderaan and the return of the Sith Empire? Is that the Emperor in the centre?

7) The soundtrack reveals further evolution of the icon Star Wars theme which is equal parts sombre, heroic and exciting.

So, I guess you could say the trailer has me hooked and very excited! I like the fact that it entices us into the new with glimpses of the old but doesn't give any plot details away (despite my attempts to squeeze them out).  I agree with Han, "Chewie, we're home!"


Saturday, 18 April 2015

What becomes of the disenfranchised?

On May 7th  2015, our country will go to the polls to elect our next government. As I have related in a previous post [1], thanks to my Grandfather, I have always considered it important to exercise my democratic right to vote. The Catechism of the Catholic Church impresses upon the faithful the importance of making informed decisions with regards to politics where it suggests "by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will... It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and maybe to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer." [2]

As with most major elections, the Bishops Conference of England and Wales have released a letter [3] which it believes highlights the most pressing issues for Catholics. Though I  have found some previous letters poorly veiled attempts to support a particular party (Tony Blair's New Labour for example) or lacking in a fully Catholic vision, this year I think it's balanced, helpful and prescient. The headings alone match most of my concerns for this election: Respecting life, Supporting marriage and family life; alleviating poverty, Educating for the good of all, Building communities, Caring for the world.

Despite my best intentions to vote in a positive manner I still feel disenfranchised by the British political system. If anything, the feelings of alienation from and ambivalence towards the prevailing culture have worsened since the European elections as the political classes continue to enact policies and make decisions which undermine the moral fabric of society, run contrary to social justice and threaten religious freedom. The rejection of the Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill, derailed because abortion is a seemingly untouchable bastion of the existing liberal consensus, revealed to me the truly duplicitous nature of British politics. The Bill would not have altered the law but clarified that the sex of a child could not be a contributing factor to any of the criteria required for a an abortion. Among the spurious reasons given for voting against the Bill, MPs suggested that it would risk criminalising women who were being pressured to seek a sex selective abortion and that the terminology conferred "personhood on the foetus" even though the term "baby" is already present in the existing legislation. So called feminists should be particularly ashamed of their failure to vote for the Bill as female children are disproportionately affected by the issue. Is abortion really the lynch pin for all that "feminists" hope to achieve? 

I believe that the primary responsibilities of government are to promote virtue and enact policies which promote the cohesion and stability of society. Virtue is most effectively encouraged in the family and for this reason, society should be built upon family and families should be placed at the center of governmental strategy. This does not mean that individuals have no place in society, that their voices should remain unheard or that they should not be cared for - on the contrary, they will be better served by a society in which respecting individuals is part of the moral and social fabric. Society has a duty of care to to all it's members but this is particularly true for the poorest and most vulnerable. 

In the lead up to the previous General Election, I agreed that in order to tackle the government deficit which had steadily been accrued by the irresponsible spending of the previous Labour government, some form of austerity would be required. In addition, recognising that some of this debt was necessary to protect the country from the impact of the financial crisis precipitated by the selfish and greedy actions of businesses and banks, I hoped that the new government would seek to promote more ethical practices throughout the sector which would ensure greater fiscal and social responsibility. Additionally, with personal UK debt standing at over one trillion pounds, I wanted the government to do more to dissuade people from going into debt and to ensure that those that did were not held to ransom by banks and lenders. Five years on, the promises of the Conservative and Liberal Coalition on debt management have not been entirely met and I believe that the austerity measures disproportionately affected many of the most vulnerable in society.

Given the issues which matter to me the most, I cannot in good conscience vote for any particularly party. The Conservatives appear to be under the sway of vested economic interests and the Labour party appears to be fiscally irresponsible, forever keeping us in a spiral of boom and bust as it spends money we don't have, waiting for the next government to take the unpopular decisions required to redeem the country's finances. All the major parties have long supported the progressive liberal social agenda which is so antithetical to the Christian understanding of the dignity of the human person whilst the Green party manifesto reads like something from a distopian novel. Despite their protestations, UKIP are a rather one dimensional party which attracts some of the more unsavory elements of British society. There is nothing inherently racist in opposing immigration but many of those who claim to support UKIP do so precisely for that reason. I am personally not against immigration but I would like more confidence in the system if only to ensure that those people we welcome into our country intend to do us no harm. As an affluent country, I believe we have a duty to give aid our international brothers and sisters so UKIP's promise to cut the UK’s foreign aid budget by two-thirds strikes me inhumane as some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world depend on the UK for food, medicine and education.

As I could not bring myself to vote for a particular party, I decided that I would be willing to vote for a local candidate if I thought they would represent my concerns in parliament. I therefore emailed (details below) the candidates for Swansea West for the Conservative, Liberal, UKIP Green and Plaid Cymru parties to see if I could give my vote to one of them (I didn't bother with Geraint Davies our current Labour MP as his voting record is exceedingly poor). Unfortunately, not one of the candidates has replied to my email. 

I hope one day to be sufficiently convinced of the qualities of an individual or party to be able to vote for them but until a party or movement emerges which is brave enough to take on the liberal hegemony, I am set to continue the time honoured practice of spoiling my vote.

Email to Candidates

Dear XXX,

I believe that it important to use our right to vote in an informed and considered manner. Despite this belief however, I have long felt felt alienated by the British political system and its parties and therefore am inclined to register this dissatisfaction with a spoiled vote. As I feel unable to give positive assent to a particular party, I am willing to consider voting for an individual candidate based on their own convictions. In order to help me decide whether or not to vote for you in the upcoming election, please could you answer the following questions:

1) Had you been an MP in the previous parliamentary term, how would you have voted on

a) Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill -
b) Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 -
c) Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 -

2) If elected to parliament, how would you vote on the Assisted Dying Bill (, if it were to be presented?

Kind Regards,

Luke O'Sullivan


[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 898

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Easter Triduum and the Synod on the Faimily

Today sees the start of the Easter Triduum, the liturgical celebration which begins on the evening of Maunday Thursday, continues with the remembrance of Good Friday and ends with Evening prayer on Easter Sunday. As it recalls the passion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus it is, as Pope Francis has said "the apex of our liturgical year and it is also the apex of our lives as Christians". [1]

The liturgy of the "great Mass" which begins with the institution of the Eucharist and Priesthood on Maunday Thursday, continues with the remembrance of the Passion at 3 O'Clock on Good Friday and ends with the celebration of the resurrection in the Easter Vigil is truly a work of art which cannot but touch one's soul and raise one's heart and mind to God. I look forward with anticipation to the beauty and hope that is contained in the great Easter Exultet.

To make the most of these great celebrations, I will be turning off my phone, closing my laptop and refraining from use of the television. I try to let secular concerns have as little influence on my life as possible during this period so all my reading will also be of a religious nature.

Before I enter this time of reflection, I would like to encourage you to offer your Easter observances for a successful outcome to the Synod on the Family which will take place later this year. It is painfully obvious that marriage and family life, even within the fellowship of the Church, is in dire need of support and reinvigoration. The great pastoral mission of the Church for families cannot be achieved by rejecting Christ's teachings on the nature of marriage - we need rather to rediscover the beauty of God's plan for mankind in this regard which finds it's ultimate template in the communion of the persons of the Trinity and the heavenly nuptial Mass of Christ and his bride, the Church. The Church also needs to be far better equipped for dealing with the consequences of marital and family breakdowns - it is the ultimate conduit of mercy and hope for those who suffer. In addition to healing those in the present, it also needs to look to the future. Young people need to be better equipped to deal with the responsibilities and trials of marriage and this will only be possible if they understand its beauty more fully and delve deeply into the graces it affords those who make the effort to life it faithfully.

The threat to this vision and to the unity of the church is very real. Confusion abounds and it is clear that there is a sizeable body of Cardinals and Bishops who dissent from Church teaching who are determined to push their agenda through at the Synod. Please consider reading @ccfather [2] and @otsota [3] to understand the gravity of what's at stake. Please also consider signing this petition [4] in support of our priests, families and Church.

I wish you a blessed Easter Triduum!