The Bergoglio Contract

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Robert of Sicily, brother of Pope Urbane

And Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine

Apparelled in magnificent attire

Bishop Hagen remembered the words from somewhere long ago and very far away. What was it?  A king of Sicily put down from his throne.

Deposuit potentes

De sede et exaltavit humiles.

And has exalted them of low degree. It can happen: a cardinal dismissed from the Vatican’s highest court and made chaplain to the Knights of Malta.  This pope, Bergoglio, has something of an obsession with the humble and the poor. That is all very fine but there are practicalities to be taken into consideration. He had always had some sympathy for poor Judas, the treasurer for the Disciples. Judas tried to balance the books. He was no miracle worker, more of a Micawber, really. That alabaster box of ointment could have been sold to provide alms for the poor, if you must provide alms for anyone, instead of lashing it all over the feet of Christ. Judas had a point. Structure , order, strict accounting, the rule of law. Bishop Hagen was proud of his contribution. He loved the law, the law of the land and the parallel laws of the Church, the accumulation of two thousand years of study and meditation. The rigor of the law. No one should be able to bend the law, not even the Pope.

” You are troubled, Don Bartolomeo. In what way can I help you?” He regarded the man sitting opposite him, a small, perspiring man, with a neatly trimmed moustache. The man was dressed in a plain grey suit, like a merchant or small-town haberdasher from the south. Nothing ostentatious or flamboyant.

“I am a man of honour, Your Grace. I represent some other men of honour. I have come to speak privately with you, because of your background and out of respect for your father, the consigliere. I know that you will understand our situation.” He paused to take a handkerchief from his top pocket and dab his brow. “I had a great respect for your father’s wisdom, when he was adviser to Don Vito.”

Bishop Hagen inclined his head. The past is like a can tied to a dog’s tail. The more he tries to shake it off, the more racket it makes. He looked at his episcopal ring. The jewel caught the light from the partly shuttered window. It glowed crimson.  He was married to no woman, but to the Church. This newly elected and disconcerting pope, Bergoglio told him of the Bridge of the Woman, la Puente de la Mujer, in Buenos Aires. At one end of the bridge is a soup-kitchen for the homeless, while at the other end, the wealthy dine in the most luxurious restaurants, with their lap dogs snuffling in silver dishes by their sides. There are waiters  bowing and scraping and on sunny afternoons, opera singers entertain the beautiful people in all their finery. Bishop Hagen withdrew his right hand from the shaft of sunlight. The jewel became a stone.

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It is not a very long bridge, he had said, but the void between the people at either end, is vast. ‘I am the Pontifex, the builder of bridges. I must try to bridge that gulf. I know the man who runs the soup-kitchen. He says that he will strive until the children of the poor eat as well as the dogs of the rich. I hope’, the Pope had said, ‘that I have a portion of that man’s courage.’

“Respect,” said Don Bartolomeo. “We respect the Church. We have always been generous to the Church. For a thousand years. We defend and guide our people. That is our business, cosa nostra. We ask only some respect in return.”

“Many of the things your people do are barbaric,” the bishop replied. “They are un-Christian. What about that man and his child burnt to death in the street?”

The don shrugged his shoulders, his face a study in regret. “That was most unfortunate, but do you deny that the Church in times of crisis, used barbaric means to enforce good order?” He spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “Where should I begin? The Inquisitions? The burning of heretics? Was that Christian?”

“They were different times” Instinctively the bishop fell back on old arguments. “What are you asking from me?” His voice was cold.

“I ask in all humility, that you request the pope to lift his excommunication on our organisation. The rites of the Church are important to us. We have lost face before our people. In Sicily a man’s standing in his community is important also.”

“So your pride is wounded. You want the religious processions to halt outside your houses again.”

“We ask only respect.”

“You know what you must do. You must repent and ask humbly for forgiveness. You must abandon your evil ways, or Heaven is closed to you for all eternity. That is the law.”

“That is impossible,” snorted Don Bartolomeo.  “If I did that, someone else would take my place. How would I live then?  How would I protect my family?” He clenched his fist. “No one will push me from my seat, not even a pope.”

“Or God?”

Don Bartolomeo sat for a time in silence. The bishop rotated the ring with his thumb. In the beginning it was loose enough to fit over a glove. There was a time, when he was younger, that he could push the ring off with the thumb and fingers of his right hand and move it from one finger to another, over and back, over and back. Now he was older and heavier. The ring no longer slipped so readily.  He had become easy in the comfortable surroundings of The Curia. He had accommodated himself to too many things.

“It was better, ” began the don, “when the popes were true Italians. They understood.”

“So you would change the pope?” Bishop Hagen laughed derisively.

“No. You and your kind must change the pope or he will cast you out also, from your comfortable positions. When you have provided a new pope, a proper pope, we can go back to our old arrangements. It will be to our mutual benefit.”

“And what then of the poor?”

The don leaned forward, looking directly into the bishop’s eyes. “The poor have no power. That is why they are poor. The first man who tried to make the Church a church for the poor, was crucified. And by Romans too.”

“You are not suggesting…?”

“It could be done today, if I gave the word.  He makes the mistake of trusting people. He has no cunning.”

Bishop Hagen shook his head. “Don Bartolomeo, you came to me for advice. You have helped me, although you don’t know how. My father counselled evil men. He prospered from it. He sent me away to be educated. I have always felt that I enjoyed the fruits of his prosperity. I will give you my legal opinion. I could call the police and have you charged with uttering threats against the Holy Father, but I will not. I will act like a good consigliere. I tell you to go back to your men of honour and make this clear to them. No person in the world, now or in the future, can lift this excommunication, except Jorge Mario Bergoglio. If he dies, his decree of excommunication stands forever. That is the law. The gates of Hell will slam behind you. Think about it. You must do your business with him. Now go.”

Don Bartolomeo flinched. He was not used to such disrespect. He stood up and reached for the bishop’s hand. He made to genuflect and kiss the ring, to re-establish the old courtesies, the old ways, but the bishop waved him away. “No. No,” he murmured impatiently. “That is not necessary.” The don shrugged and left quietly, putting on his hat. The door closed. The lock didn’t click. That always annoyed Bishop Hagen. He could never work in a room where the door didn’t click shut. A loose end. He walked to the window and looked out at Rome. He turned the ring in the sunlight. Apparelled in magnificent attire. He began to pull it off his finger. The finger resisted. A ring of fat held the ring in place. He pulled harder and the ring slipped off, reluctantly and with some discomfort. He weighed it in his palm, his symbol of power. A crimson stone and a gold circle. The sunlight shone again through the stone. There was a seal engraved on the stone, a pair of scales. Weighed in the balance. He smiled ruefully. It was time to seek some other work in the Church, where he might lose some weight. He placed the ring on his desk and went out, shutting the door behind him. The lock clicked.

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Solstice 2014. A Great Stretch in the Day.

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Solstice Vigil 2014

The sun has been around for about 13.77 billion years, give or take a few, since the Universe began. Who calculates such figures? And how?  Archbishop Ussher declared that Adam was created in 4004 B.C. six days after the creation of the world. Scientists, playing ‘the dating game’, give the earth’s age as four and a half billion years. We throw these figures around casually, as if our minds can actually grasp their significance. Only at particular times of the year do we stop and marvel at what we are witnessing. The winter solstice is one such day.We persuade ourselves that we can now look forward to bright and sunny days. We have a little way to go still, but it does no harm. We need to think positively, because January and February have yet to come. Nevertheless we will begin to look for signs of new growth. Snowdrops are a good bet, as are a few brave crocuses. This happens without the need for chanting Druids or human sacrifices. In many societies down the ages, the sun has been worshipped as a god. There is a certain amount of logic to that, if you feel the need of a god. Everything in our world depends on the influence of the sun. Too much influence and we die. Too little and we die. Too much light and we are insomniac. Too little and we are S.A.D.  I watched a sun-worshipper at the sea wall a couple of days ago. He struck some odd poses, but it worked. The sun came up. He might, of course, have been a jogger limbering up and stretching. Keep at it.

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In ancient times the Ancients were believed to have ancient knowledge of the workings of the universe. The average ancient person was overawed by such knowledge and was easily persuaded to lug gigantic rocks to mountain tops, to build megaliths and temples, to appease the sun and ensure good hunting and crops. There really was no need for all that effort. The sun has been rising in the east for xxxx billion years. I’m no Druid but I confidently predict that it will continue to do so for a few billion more, so that’s  one worry out of the way. You have more immediate concerns today and tomorrow, than incurring the wrath of the Sun God.

The photographers and solstice watchers were probably disappointed yesterday morning. The Sun God was veiled in cloud. This was not an omen. It was weather, itself caused by the sun. If those keeping vigil in Newgrange passage grave, had to rely on electricity to create the effect of rejuvenating light penetrating the gloom, they can be consoled by the thought that the electricity began from the sun. So all is well. Same time next year.

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This is my favourite sunrise, at the other end of the scale, when the sun rises behind Saint Patrick’s Island. That’s a little temple, where the monks chanted their matins at dawn before setting out to change the world. There is a promise of warmth and light. It is a sight to lift the heart.  Sursum corda. Morning has always been a symbol of hope.  On this dull December morning, I thought that I would remind you that we are in the run-in to summer. There’s a brave stretch in the day. There is. It may be by nano-seconds, whatever they are. The sun will come up tomorrow. We poor subjects of the Sun God will bask in his favour again. We will stroll along by the harbour,on long summer evenings, eat ice-cream and think ourselves blessed. Some days we are.

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June 2014

Abstruse Mid-winter Thoughts.

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It would be poor courtesy indeed to stay in bed when visitors come from far away in wintertime. I have been watching them for some time, going about their business with outstretched necks and urgent, purposeful flapping of wings as they cast around for the best feeding grounds. They look out for one another and wait for those who lag behind. They converse in low, sonorous muttering. They keep watch.  I got out of bed. I hoped to see them against the mid-winter sunrise.  There were only two, far out to sea. I was too early. I was too late. The sun was coming up near Lynches’ Point. There was a curlew probing speculatively at the tide line. When you hear the curlew, I was told, it means rain. Not a peep out of him.

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Then they came, a raft of geese paddling in the shallows, waiting for the tide to drop, for the weedy stones to reveal themselves. It was like a blessing, a gift to warm a cold December morning. They have come from a land of almost interminable night and bitter cold, to over-winter with us, to mutter and complain like us and make the best of things.  We complain about the dark evenings and the short days, the terrible things that are happening in the world, the dismal news. We turn our collars up. We make soup and light the fire. We don’t know how lucky we are.

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(Photo courtesy of Fergus)

This is a world where children are dismembered on an industrial scale, by men devoted to some implacable god; where Syrian children starve in the snow because rational thought is punishable by death; where whole societies are devastated by disease and natural disasters; where the down-trodden Irish, ‘the Most Oppressed People…Ever’, take to the streets to protest against paying a few bob for clean drinking water. A sense of proportion? What do you think?

Sometimes, on the way to Malahide for music lessons, we see a sports field covered with prattling geese. They come in off the estuary at high tide, to rest and confer. At other times the field is occupied by children at play. The geese know how precarious  a thing it is to bring children into the world and literally launch them into independent life. Their chicks leap from vertiginous cliffs, trying to reach the safety of the water. They fall prey to the skua and the snuffling silver fox. They may be dashed on the rocks or snatched by lurking seals. Despite the witterings of the fatuous ‘Nature Poets’, it’s a cruel world.

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(Also courtesy of Fergus. Colour photography in a black and white world.)

The Guinness people show us a world of black and white, snow drifting down on the Custom House, Christmas revellers and bells ringing. The amiable man passing by, smiles benignly on the world. I like a black pint with a white head on it. We went to hear our grand daughters playing in a Suzuki concert in the Moyne Institute in Trinity College, on Saturday last. The building was endowed by Lady Grania, daughter of Lord Moyne, a member of the Guinness family. It is more than likely that you and your ancestors contributed a few bob to the cost and maintenance of the Moyne Institute. You may have strolled in My Lord Iveagh’s gardens or swum in the Iveagh Baths. You may remember The Lady Grania and The Lady Patricia  moored at Customs House Quay and the Guinness men trundling wooden barrels of stout over the cobble-stones to the sound of thunder.There was a hut beside Butt Bridge where breakfast was always sizzling. I was a mere student hurrying past to an early morning lecture. Don’t sell the sausages. Sell the sizzle. Advertising works.  What a thing it would be to work in Guinnesses and wear My Lord’s black livery! Now there are homeless people huddling under the elegant portico and a creepy famine memorial on the quay.

The concert began with an elegant soloist, a senior student. At each stage a younger group arrived and the seniors moved progressively up the double staircase, joining in the simpler pieces as they climbed, higher and higher, until the floor was occupied by tiny musicians with infinitesimal violins. They played together Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, seniors and beginners together, as it should be. I thought of all those who nurture the young, keep them safe and give them the gift of harmony. My mind wandered to the geese, navigating by the stars and launching their young from the cliff. I thought of the skua and the prowling silver fox. Hold your children a little tighter when you think of such things.

Dr. David Cabot, of Trinity College, tracked geese from Ireland to Greenland, by gps transmitter. He followed them on their mass migration, over the Hebrides, Orkney, Faroes, Iceland, to their summer breeding grounds. The pin-points on his screen stopped in Greenland, except for one. It moved slowly and mysteriously onwards, across the Davis Strait to the bleak island of Baffin. He investigated. The goose was dead. It lay in an Eskimo’s fridge-freezer. The transmitter continued to send a forlorn signal from its icy tomb.

I warned you of abstruse thoughts. Question 1: Who sold that fridge-freezer to the Eskimo? (I know. I know. I should say Inuit, but its an old idiom.) Question 2: Why is he/she not running the economy of this country?

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Here’s a little fellow who got caught out by the cold, a lapwing. There was a time when they came in their thousands, their wings whiffling in the dusk as they alighted in Swarbriggs’ field. It was exciting to see the white underside of their black wings, glittering like foil,  as they descended from the gathering night. I can hear the piping as they called their name, one to another, pilibín pilibín. We tried to hunt them with catapults, but fortunately, with no success.

In five days, the world will teeter on its orbit and the sunrise will begin to inch back towards the north. Things will begin to look up again.

A new Year. We must hope for a better one.

Size is Relative. The Patter of Tiny Feet. Money Laundering. Brother Bernard and Showbiz.

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You pays your money and you takes your choice/chance. The view from the top is not quite staggering. Small children nowadays, are used to Legoland and Thomasland. They play in specially designed play zones, with enough slides and ladders to tire them out by bedtime. Worth every penny. The carnival amusements were here: chair-o-planes, dodgems, roundabouts and a carousel with horses galloping over an undulating course. There were hoopla stalls, a rifle range of sorts and even a ghost train. Infants rattled the steering wheels off wooden cars and lorries as they whizzed around and around, to screeches of fear and delight. There were occasional thimble-riggers and three-card-trick men to ensnare the gullible. Ensnared by a brilliant sales pitch, I bought a pack of trick cards. Ten of clubs! Ten of clubs! Which card have you picked? Ten of clubs! Amazing! Every second card in the pack was a ten of clubs. They were slightly smaller than the regular cards, so that the nimble fingers of the dealer could always find ten of clubs!! I couldn’t remember the patter. Nor could I find the ..which one was it again? Flop-sweat. Goddammit, I must be gullible.

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Build it and they will come. It’s true up to a point. The biggest bull-ring in South America was built in Colonia del Sacramento in 1910. The following year the government outlawed bull fighting. Timing is everything, as with conjuring, comedy and card tricks. They come to The London Eye because it is new. The view from aloft is quite staggering. There is no shuffling, except in the queue. You pays your money etc. They come to the Pyramids and the Colosseum because they are old.

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Roll up! Roll up! Will rubber-neckers of the future gaze in wonder at the rusted spokes of The Eye or buddleia sprouting from the ruins of Big Ben? Will a latter-day Barnum sell tickets to The Egress and The Incredible Floating Match on the Thames? Will they come and will they buy? Of course they will.  It’s all in the patter.  Poets will  inevitably, get in on the act. There now is but an Heap of lime and sand/For the Skriech-Owl to build her baleful Bower….All those(O Pity) now are turned to Dust/And overgrown with black Oblivion’s Rust.  A few coats of hammerite and a tarpaulin should get the carnival through the winter. Come along and join my heritage tour of the site, (for a modest fee). A few places still available.

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I fell for this one: miniscule human skeletons unearthed near The Boyne, not far from Drogheda. At last, archaeological evidence of The Wee Folk, The Little People, Leprechauns, if you will. Empirical proof that the Good People, The Fairies who lived underground and in our collective imagination, actually existed. The account was couched in scholarly language. The Boyne Valley is overflowing with legends and ancient ruins. Hundreds of thousands of tourists go there every year to gaze at the tombs and megaliths of ancient kings who lived before history began. Those were people who understood magic and the movements of the Sun and stars. The tourists come to wonder and most importantly, to buy tickets. There is no need to shout ‘Roll up! Roll up!’ They want to encounter the magic of antiquity. I wanted to believe. I wanted to see the Little People dancing by moonlight on the sands at Mornington. I wanted to hear their unearthly music sprinkling on the raths and tumuli of legend. The evidence showed that they ate fish and hunted moles. Moles? In Ireland? I should have smelt a rat. Goddammit, I must be gullible. Of course, the Fairies (not that I really believe in them) are noted for their trickery. Maybe this is the distraction technique beloved of conjurors, pick-pockets and three-card-tricksters. Maybe they put mole bones in their graves to deceive us into thinking that they were never there in the first place; that it is all a hoax. Maybe I’m not so gullible after all.

Brother Bernard was charged with raising funds for the building of a new school. The blood of the great Barnum flowed in his veins. There was a touch of gentility about him. He claimed to have taught Prince Rainier of Monaco. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. He organised concerts and played to packed halls. We had conjurors, comedians and opera singers.  We had Juno and the Paycock and John B. Keane.We had Charlie McGee and his gay guitar.  It was a miniscule Palace of Varieties. He bought a new piano for the school. He directed us to dispose of the old wreck of a piano  by throwing it off the fire escape. It went out with a bang, crash, tinkle, tinkle. Pure showbiz. I looked down at it. It had become an archaeopteryx fossil in the yard below, with bones and arpeggios in a pile and teeth scattered far and wide. We should have left it for the archaeologists to ponder over in times to come.

He sponsored the carnival and took a percentage. This meant that senior boys were expected to lend a hand. I collected pennies from children on roundabouts and swings. I originated ‘the Moon Walk’ later popularised by Michael Jackson. I hadn’t meant to do it, but sometimes the roundabout started before I had got to all the customers. I learned about how centrifugal force can hurl you off the spinning disc in ignominious fashion, if you don’t hold on, to the great amusement of the kiddies. I collected tickets at the door of the Wee Man’s tent. He was about two feet tall. He was dressed as a leprechaun. He sat on an upturned pint glass and endured the guffaws and ribaldry of the spectators. He laughed a lot. It was probably the saddest thing I had ever seen. I applied for a transfer to the chair-o-planes.

Brother Bernard’s piece de résistence was the clothes line with one hundred pound notes pegged to it. The raffle took place at midnight….every night, ladies and gentlemen. The line was raised to much fanfare and patter, early in the evening. People came to gaze. The dreams of avarice. The pot o’ gold.  He did more for temperance than Father Matthew, because the pubs emptied out early as everyone wanted to share in the dream. They believed. It could be you. Prince Rainier, with his palace and his film stars and his glittering casino and his suave dinner-jacketed guests and racing cars and mega yachts, wasn’t a patch on Brother Bernard. You can’t fool me. I never heard tell of any clothes-line with £100 notes, fluttering in the balmy Mediterranean night air. Them was the days, Joxer. Them was the days.

Rien ne va plus

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Moving in the Right Circles. Erika and Paul November 29th 2014.

Moving in the Right Circles. Erika and Paul November 29th 2014..

Moving in the Right Circles. Erika and Paul November 29th 2014.

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We gathered together a couple of miles south-west of Tara, on Saturday last, to celebrate the marriage of Erika and Paul. They exchanged rings. They joined their lives together at Kilmessan Junction.The ceremony took place in an amphitheatre formed by the former railway turntable, in the presence of family and friends. A mid-winter wedding among the trees, in soft mid-winter twilight, to the music of Sallyanne’s violin and some disgruntled crows. Despite themselves, the crows provided an agreeable forest background to the proceedings. All that was lacking was a toot toot from Thomas the Tank Engine. That will come later, it seems.

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Some might strive (I might) to associate the ancient rings of Tara with the rings exchanged on Saturday. They might (I won’t) haul in the spirits of ancient Celtic warriors, Druids and High Kings, by the hair of the head and talk of thousands of years of Tara as the centre of power in Iron Age Ireland. It’s easier to get there nowadays by motorway, with a toll of one Euro and forty cent and no rapacious tribes along the way. Things have improved. No hostages were demanded or taken. The only spirits to linger in this place are those of the Midland and Great Western, The Great Northern and Great Southern Railways, memories of the real Iron Age.

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It is no small thing to see almost all of the people we care about most in the entire world, gathered together in a circle to offer good will and support to a young couple on their life’s journey. Those who could not join us on the day were no less in our thoughts. Our family expanded on Saturday to include new Polish members, who brought with them a renewed SOLIDÁRNOSC, a power greater than kings and warriors, to bind us together. 

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Look closely at the cake and you will see two little boys, Alex and Seán, climbing on it. These are the cake experts and moreover, the train experts. A wedding is a time for running and jumping, for climbing and chasing with cousins, through the woods and round and round the turning circle. That, of course, is not obligatory for the older generation. Thank you Erika and Paul, for a beautiful and relaxing day.

Travel safely together.

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