The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh A Buttonhole in Heaven? 2nd Edition Una Agnew Veritas Publications, 2019 9781847308825 • €16.99
In her Introduction to this new edition of her work on Kavanagh’s mysticism, published to mark the twentieth anniversary of the original work, Sr Una Agnew notes that Kavanagh’s role was to ‘release people through the medium of poetry from the meanness, sordidness and materialism of life.’ In viewing poetry as a necessity for the labourer rather than just a luxury for the leisured, Agnew is in the company of Simone Weil, who wrote, in 1941, ‘For other social classes, poetry is a luxury but the people need poetry as they need bread.’
Like so many of his readers, I have always found Kavanagh to be both profound and accessible, and Agnew certainly confirms that impression, while making the point that mysticism, too, may be regarded as accessible in addition to profound. In her opening chapter, Agnew distinguishes between the religious mystic and the poet-mystic. For the former, ‘a glimpse of the glory of God demands a rigorous ascesis of bringing one’s life into conformity with the graces gratuitously received.’ The latter ‘assumes the discipline of bringing experience to birth in poetry, and is often consumed with a prophetic mission to restore to mankind the integrity of the universe.’
Life imposed its own ascesis on Patrick Kavanagh, and Agnew traces his experience of artistic rejection, of loneliness and of illness, all of which brought him, in Agnew’s striking phrase, ‘to stand alone before the shambles of his life.’ As the book unfolds, it becomes clear how purification and illumination were woven into Kavanagh’s life and expressed in his work.
During his own dark night, Kavanagh wrote: ‘Everywhere I look a part of me is exiled from the I’ (‘Nineteen Fifty-Four’) – a shaft of gritty introspection that sounds closer to a French existentialist than a Spanish mystic. At the end of her book, Agnew expresses the hope that she has not appeared to canonize her subject. She has not made that mistake, but she has shown convincingly that ‘beneath his external awkwardness of character there is an unmistakable Christian mystical dimension to his work.’
Freedom From Evil Spirits Released from Fear, Addiction & the Devil Pat Collins CM Columba Book, 2019
For Fr Pat Collins, it’s clear that some words spoken by Pope St Paul VI in 1972 express a crucial and neglected truth: ‘This matter of the Devil and of the influence he can exert on individuals as well as on communities, entire societies or events, is a very important chapter of Catholic doctrine which should be studied again, although it is given little attention today.’ This book is the author’s attempt to make up that deficit, and it is well worth reading.
It is also worth mentioning the genesis of the book. In January 2018, the author wrote a letter to the Irish bishops, in which he stressed the need to appoint trained exorcists in every diocese in Ireland. He referred to the fact that driving out demons is something believers are commissioned to do by Christ himself (cf. Mk 16:17), and urged the bishops to address this issue with the same diligence they had brought to the area of child safeguarding. The letter was also published in The Furrow, and it evoked a huge response both here and abroad. Unable to respond to most of the requests for interviews, Fr Collins decided to write this book.
As the title makes clear, this is a book about freedom, and on the opening page the author reminds us that the mission of our Saviour was to bring liberty to captives and to the oppressed (Lk 4:6ff.). The book is divided into four sections: I. Freedom from Fear; II. Freedom from Addiction; III. Freedom from Oppressive Evil Spirits; IV. Delivering Cities, Towns & Localities from Territorial Spirits.
This is a sober study. Fr Collins does not rush to assume that malignant spirits are at work in any given disturbance, but is careful to employ the insights of psychology, sociology and other disciplines. Indeed, the first two sections lean heavily on psychology and on the more general insights of spirituality. Even in his treatment of exorcism proper, the author is careful to insist that anyone seeking or appearing to be in need of an exorcism should first be given a medical or psychiatric assessment.
A particular value of this book is that it underlines an often-forgotten biblical truth: ‘It is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world.’ (Eph 6:12). To name the enemy is not alarmist or immature: it is simple, biblical realism. We can be grateful to Pat Collins for this thoughtful and balanced study.
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