Rhapsodic Theatre reborn 2 May, 2011

The beatification of John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday (1 May) was the occasion and inspiration for Leonie Caldecott’s new play, “The Quality of Mercy”, performed over three nights preceding the beatification, at the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy. As the author’s husband, I may be accused of bias, but it seemed to me, watching the final performance, that something extraordinary had been achieved, bringing to fulfilment so much of what the Centre for Faith & Culture and Second Spring had been talking about over the past twenty years. The late Pope had been a playwright and keen patron of drama, and worked with the “Rhapsodic Theatre” in Poland. The new play, directed by Teresa Caldecott with choreography by Anna Maria Mendell and music by Benedict Nichols featuring the voice of John Paul II, was part Theatre of the Word and part Ballet of the Word, a multi-levelled Theo-drama about youth and age, despair and modernity, vocations to marriage and celibacy. It wove together the poetry of John Paul II with Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and passages from Scripture (in beautiful adaptations by Dr Carl Schmidt of Balliol). It exposed the spiritual warfare taking place in the everyday life of young people. It contained the late Pope’s teaching on Mercy, and on his Theology of the Body – all held together by a strong story about a group of youngsters on a hike to the shrine of Manoppello in the Abruzzi, during the last days of John Paul’s life, accompanied by a mysterious stranger who leads each of them to a deeper understanding of themselves and of God’s love. This was a work that took seriously what John Paul had said in his “Letter to Artists” (1999): “unless faith becomes culture, it has not been really welcomed, fully lived, humanly rethought.” There are various interviews and articles about the play on our Forum page, including links to EWTN coverage and a longer version of this review. The play was the second from Divine Comedy Productions, set up with the Oxford Oratory last year. We hope to publish the plays soon, and are urgently seeking funding to cover the remaining costs of the production and to support future developments.

REGULAR BLOGS: All Things Made New, also Beauty for Truth’s Sake, and The Economy Project.

The Court of the Gentiles 2 April, 2011

The big project at the end of this month is of course Leonie’s new play about Pope John Paul II, THE QUALITY OF MERCY, commissioned to coincide with the run-up to the Beatification on Divine Mercy Sunday. The play is described here, and will be performed at the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy on 27, 28, and 29 April. Please don’t miss it! It is all about discovering the meaning of life, and discerning a vocation. The music is by the young composer Ben Nichols, and the scriptural translations are by Dr Carl Schmidt of Balliol College.

EWTN recently filmed a documentary about the making of the play, but I don’t yet know when that will be broadcast. More news when I have it.


PLEASE VISIT OUR SECOND SPRING BLOGS on spirituality, education, and social teaching.

Recently, in order to facilitate “a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign”, the Pope created a “Courtyard of the Gentiles” and initiated a series of discussions around the world with thinkers who do not share the Christian faith.

No doubt the preparedness of such people to enter the dialogue will depend partly on the degree of respect they already have for the Church. Someone who despises Christianity is unlikely to be interested in debating its claims – unless to obtain a platform for contrary views. Nor will a Christian believer be able to engage others in dialogue if his interest is primarily in conversion. Before that he must be interested in truth – in the reality of things. It is a genuine openness to truth, a search for authenticity and coherence, that alone makes true dialogue possible and desirable. Certainly the Christian will think he has something vital to contribute, but so will the other, and both are correct. Each adheres to a position because of something valuable that he has perceived or apprehended, and this value must be present in the more complete picture of reality that both are seeking.

As the Second Vatican Council noted, “in the face of modern developments there is a growing body of men who are asking the most fundamental of all questions or are glimpsing them with a keener insight: What is man? What is the meaning of suffering, evil, death, which have not been eliminated by all this progress? What is the purpose of these achievements, purchased at so high a price?” (Gaudium et Spes, 10). When such questions begin to be asked, the dialogue is possible. But only if both sides focus on the question, and open themselves to reality. If the truth does not speak to our heart, it does not speak to us at all.

Daily reading 1 March, 2011

The image is of the cover of Magnificat, a monthly prayerbook and missal that we are involved in editing for the UK – highly recommended for daily devotions and spiritual reading. At present we are planning a series of issues featuring articles on the new translation of the Roman Missal – the revised text of the Order of Mass will also be published in our pages when needed later in the year. Please take out a subscription through the Catholic Herald newspaper.

There are now three main blogs associated with Second Spring — the new one is and All Things Made New, about the continuing search for a deeper Christianity, and dialogue with other religions. Beauty for Truth’s Sake is about the re-enchantment of education and healing the division between arts and sciences (based on the book of the same name); The Economy Project is dedicated to exploring the implications of Catholic social teaching; To read these blogs, just click on the links in this paragraph.

Issue 13 of our print journal, Second Spring, published by Thomas More College, is also now out. This issue is headed “The Language of God”, and in it well-known writers including Christopher Blum and Louis Markos look at liturgy, modernity, and the essence of a Christian culture, even touching on vital issues in architecture and town planning. The language of God in Scripture is another topic, and even the women in Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings are given some attention. The drawings of Daniel Mitsui and Peter D. Beaulieu are featured.

The journal, now in its eleventh year, is unique in at least three ways.  1. It is solidly, enthusiastically Catholic and yet open to dialogue with the wider world.  2. It is beautifully illustrated and designed, unlike the plain text of so many academic journals.  3. It is written and edited to be intellectually profound and yet pleasant and easy to read.

The Language of God 1 February, 2011

Delays in production have bumped Second Spring 13 from Christmas into the new year, for which we apologize, but readers should soon be receiving their issues — and we hope to catch up on our schedule with two more issues this year. Issue 13, now approved for press, contains a range of articles on liturgy and city planning, on Hebrew and the Beatific Vision, on modernity and the renewal of culture, on education, the Bible, and even on women in The Lord of the Rings. The next issue, 14, now in preparation, will be on the theme of gardens and nature.

Meanwhile, in the articles section of the main website, you’ll find a few new articles – Leonie Caldecott on modern fantasy literature, Eleanor Donlon on virginity, Jose Granados on Love and the Cosmos, Michael Martin on the Holy Grail and the Eucharist, Roger Scruton and many others. The Economy site also has articles — the most recent is Russell Sparkes on “The Recovery of the Guilds“.

Search the stars 3 January, 2011

January begins with Epiphany – the showing of the Christ Child to the wise men who had followed the star to Bethlehem (the “House of Bread”). Whether they were kings or astrologers, following a new star or comet interpreting a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, they represent the gentiles who would receive the Word, and the Wise of every age who persevere in the search for truth even in unlikely places. The astronomers who scan the skies today see many wonders, but nothing more wonderful than a human child who is also one of the three divine persons. Are there other intelligent races out there in space? Might some of them be unfallen, as C.S. Lewis speculated? Is Christ for them too, or do they have their own incarnations of the Word? (St Thomas Aquinas did not seem to rule it out.) We know only that we live, and that we are called to search out the truth, and that truth is revealed in love.