Wednesday, 21 December 2016

St Thomas conundrum and a remarkable movie

I drove to St German's this morning to celebrate a quiet midweek Mass for eight people. It's the shortest day, but significant though it may be as a turning point in the year, there's nothing in the liturgy of the day that reflects the natural order, apart from the ancient antiphon to the Magnificat.

O Rising Sun, you are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of justice.
Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Before the Revised Calendar and Lectionary came in, the shortest day was marked by being the feast of St Thomas the Apostle. I found myself wondering why his celebration should have been placed today, even though it has been relocated nowadays on the third of July.

I returned home straight away, as people in the day centre I normally drop in on after Mass were getting ready to be taken to another social centre for (pre) Christmas lunch. I returned and cooked lunch for us instead of supper, as we had tickets for an early evening showing of Clint Eastwood's latest film 'Sully' at Chapter Arts Centre.

The film was a marvellously detailed account of the dramatic landing of an Airbus 320 jet airliner on the river Hudson in January 2009, which saved the lives of all 155 people on board, and approached it from an unusual angle, focusing on the proceeds of the Air Transportation Safety Board's enquiry into the pilot's reason for ditching the plane, when he was within a few minutes flying time of two airfields. Recklessness and poor judgement was being alleged, despite the public acclamation of pilot Chesley Sullenberger as a hero. The enquiry made much use of computer simulations to prosecute this case, but in the end, detailed examination of the evidence revealed that the pilot's training and experienced quick judgement of the situation, outstripped the best guesses of artificial intelligence and data input.

This was a marvellous frame of reference for looking at the event itself in flashbacks, marvellously reproduced through use of Computer Graphic Imagery of the film's setting, based on original news footage, together with live actors. There was a much tension in the enquiry sequences as there was in the re-play of the incident itself. Sully found the portrayal of himself as a hero hard to cope with, as he is highly conscious and reliant on teamwork from the whole crew to make the best of a bad situation. It is an admirable movie. I hope it wins lots of awards, and is shown on telly in the not too distant future.

As we were leaving Chapter we bumped into Fr John Webber, who was enjoying a quiet pint and a read in his local. Co-incidentally, he'd posted on Facebook earlier an image he'd taken forty years ago of the shrine church at the site of St Thomas' martyrdom in southern India, so I asked him if he knew why his traditional feast day was today. In Indian Christian tradition, taken from that of the East Syrian church of ancient times, Thomas the Apostle was said to have been killed in 72AD on this day. Why shift to July? I asked if he knew. Apparently Thomas is considered to important an observation to get lost in the immediate run up to Christmas, so he is now commemorated just after midsummer instead on a day which features in another ancient church martyrology as the date he was killed. As an erstwhile parish priest of a church in Bangladesh dedicated to St Thomas, Fr John is unconvinced of the need for this relocation. I bet Syrian Christians still observe this traditional Advent feast day. 

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