Jan 25, 2011


I've just finished watching the astonishing Irish/Celtic animation feature, The Secret of Kells, which chronicles the adventurous journey of a young boy monk as he strives to follow his 'inner dream,' which calls him to use his gifts in the preservation of the sacred Irish 'Book of Kells.' While on the surface, this seems to be the usual boy journey into the dark underworld (with the female friend only playing a subsidiary enabling role), the story is unique for two reasons. First, as a lesson to all young people, it defines 'following your dream,' not as a surrender to one's more superficial impulses emerging from the ego (becoming a rock star). Instead it cautions that the quest for one's inner dream requires careful discernment to ensure that one is truly following the deepest impulses of one's  authentic Self. Secondly, it illustrates the sobering message that 'following one's authentic spiritual inner voice' will most likely bring the young person into conflict with external spiritual and religious authority. The boy monk is living under the protection of his uncle, the Abbot, an insecure man who little values the great treasure of the monastery, the ancient Book of Kells, housed in the scriptorium. Instead, the abbot is obsessed with protecting the physical security of the monastery by building very high walls in defense against the invading Vikings.  He forbids his young charge to have anything to do with the sacred Book of Kells, in violation of the boy's own inner promptings, and even goes so far as to lock him in the monastery dungeon. Like St. Peter in chains, however, mystical forces come to the aid of the boy and free him from captivity, so he can pursue his true vocation, discover his true mystic vision and protect and preserve the sacred book. What a remarkable lesson for young people everywhere, subversive perhaps, but such a refreshing change from the usual socialization given to the young to make them compliant, obedient servants of the established order. 

Alas, the Abbot learns only too late that the walls are no defense against the invaders, that all of his focus on preserving the external security of the institution has only led to tragedy for his people. But his young nephew, by defying his uncle and following his authentic inner voice, preserves the sacred Book of Kells for all posterity. In the end, the two of them, the aging, dying abbot and the young mystical dreamer, find each other again and are reconciled. While some reviewers have found the story line to be a bit 'thin,' there is unanimous praise for the magnificent static drawings that make up the animation. However, Roger Ebert has it right when he says that the film will appeal to viewers at opposite ends of the spectrum - with no middle. Very young children who still retain the capacity to be astonished by truly mystical beauty and the more insightful and mature viewers who will appreciate the subtle spiritual wisdom of the story. Those in-between - what he calls 'The Transformer generation; - will find it too  tedious and trite. A great message for young children and the most mystical animation I can ever recall seeing. 
Check out the YouTube trailer:

On a related note, news from Bridget Mary's wonderful blog, tells of another breakaway community, St, Peter's in downtown Cleveland (USA). Bridget Mary lauds  the courage of its pastor, Father Robert Marrone, who has defied his bishop, Richard Lennon, in deciding to remain with his parish rather than obey the bishop's injunction to close the church and scatter the congregation elsewhere. The community has simply opted to rent another space for their worship services and Father Marrone has felt compelled in conscience to remain with them on this new and uncertain journey. However, he has said, "This is indeed a sad day, there is no joy in this." The same lament could be spoken by any number of conscientious believing Catholics who feel compelled to follow a path of conscience that tears then away from the formal securities of the mother institution. A painful, tragic weaning of the spirit.

What is unique about this story is that the break occurred not because of differences over Church doctrine - whether it be gay and lesbian marriage or women priests - but simply over the fact the Bishop decided to close the parish and bring the community to an end. After careful, prayerful discernment, this was a command the community felt they were not called in the Spirit to obey. While the official church continues on it's perilous path of preaching an anti-life message, equating being pro-life with being anti-gay, more and more mature Catholics, for any number of reasons, are feeling called to defy unjust authority. It really is like the fall of communism, as the structures of authority continue to crumble. 
   While this might seem an odd connection to make, I was just today reading Colin Thubron's magnificent book, Among the Russians, and came to the chapter in which he describes his meeting with the surviving son of Boris Pasternak (author of Doctor Zhivago) He makes this comment which applies as well to the crumbling authority of the Roman Church:

Only since entering Russia had I understood the dead weight of patriotism in this persecuted land - truth is only a troubling spectre in the balance against it - and how a  single book or poem can threaten the fantasy of Party infallibility. That Doctor Zhivago could be castigated as it was, is both a measure of profound insecurity and of the strength of Pasternak's commitment to something else. 'The Russian poet,' wrote Maxim Gorky,' is an indescribably lonely, tragically lonely figure.'

That final phrase can certainly be applied to many a gay Catholic prophet in our day, certainly to the likes of Father John McNeill in his darkest days. Thankfully, however, we do have gay Christian support groups to offer succor and support, and increasing numbers of young gay Christians forging a new path for all of us.