In Ireland this week some labourers discovered an image of the Virgin Mary holding a baby in the remains of a tree trunk that they had just felled. The grain of the willow tree revealed by the chainsaw cut left the vague shape of Mary, enough to impress locals who immediately started a petition to turn the stump into a permanent shrine. Now these things happen every so often, and there is certainly no doubt that having a full time shrine would bring a bit of money into a fairly rural area of Limerick, which I’m sure was a consideration for some of those signing the petition.
However it was the reaction from the church that caught my attention. Father Willie Russell, the parish priest, said: “There’s nothing there, it’s just a tree. You can’t worship a tree. A tree is a tree. A person with imagination is a person with imagination.” While Father Paul Finnerty, the spokesman for the Limerick Diocese, said: “The Church’s response to phenomena of this type is one of great scepticism. While we do not wish in any way to detract from devotion to Our Lady, we would also wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition.” On one hand this reaction is encouraging, however a Catholic priest ‘wishing to avoid anything which encourages superstition’ strikes me as somewhat strange. Perhaps he is working from a different definition of ‘superstition’ than I am.
As the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings hits the news, so do the large numbers who believe the whole thing was some sort of cosmic hoax. It’s quite amazing that people are so willing to believe in conspiracy theories that fly in the face of such overwhelming evidence and basic common sense. Without going into the seemingly interminable arguments over whether the flag should have been waving, or the lander should have made a bigger impression etc etc it seems to me that to perpetrate such a hoax would have been a bigger achievement than actually going to the moon. The fact that the Russians didn’t immediately debunk such a cover up, and the sheer number of people who would have been in on the scheme in the US seems to me pretty conclusive, given that government ministers today can’t even claim a few extra quid on expenses without being discovered.