Though it is not presented as a Lenten book, Donal Murray’s latest book is very much the sort of book which will provide readers with many insights in the way things are.
He is writing very much for those who find the ‘redrawn landscape’ of morality to which his title alludes, and find it more like a trackless wilderness. But in some seven densely-packed chapters, he explores this dilemma.
He begins very appropriately with the question “who are we?”, seeing that everything else he might have to say and that his readers might come think, depend on a response to that query. He says, as Christians always have been, that we as individuals are restless until we rest in God. But he emphasises that we are also a part of creation.
There would be many today who would see all moral relations and decisions as arising from an appreciation that we live not only in society, but also in the midst of creation, of which we are a part not a master.
He alludes elsewhere to St Francis as addressing “inanimate nature” as Brother Sun and Sister Moon (in the famous canticle), but Francis does not seen these brothers and sisters this way, but as very active agents, noncognoscent perhaps, but far from inanimate. Only when we can fully enter into that feeling of the saint can we hope to see everything around us in proper relation to God the Creator.
But this is only an example of how much that Donal Murray says in these (as I say) densely packed pages arouses thought and reflection.
I was particularly struck aby his last chapter. he remarks that Desmond Fennell (whose challenging autobiography has just appeared) says that there is no such thing as substantial body of work that we might call ‘Irish thought’ – much of what passes for thought here is in fact a pale reflection of other cultures.
In a recent stay in a hotel, Donal Murray recounts how he stumbled on among the TV channels he was offered what I take to be TV5Europe, and found a panel of French philosophers discussing social and political subjects.
It would have been “unthinkable” on Irish TV, he adds – but then it is striking how very differently the French media as a whole reflect Catholic culture.
That I think illuminates the major sub-theme of this book: we need to reflect on who we are and what we are doing in the world in a way that passes beyond pious platitudes and mere moral legalism
If readers wish to begin that task, which lies at the heart of all social, moral, and political, even financial matters, they could not do better than by reading Donal Murray’s excellent little book in the coming weeks, completing it before April 16, so as to be ready for a new beginning.