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Jesus Christ (and Mary Magdalene) still mean something to people in Britain

We should see hope in people’s longing for the spiritual

By on Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Melanie C   Photo: Ian West/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Melanie C Photo: Ian West/PA Wire/Press Association Images

I have always been interested in the world of pop music, from the outside, as it were. You have to know something about it as a priest in order to communicate with the young. Thus it was with great interest that I read today of the latest career move of Melanie Chisholm, Mel C of the Spice Girls, the one they used to call Sporty Spice, and who was always rumoured to be the most musically talented of the girl band.

She is to play Mary Magdalene in the latest revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar.

Miss Chisholm has this to say: 

“I’m not a religious person,” says Chisholm, 38, lightly. “I lean more towards spirituality, but I do have a lot of respect for people who hold strong beliefs.
“It’s exciting to play Mary Magdalene because what she represents is the ultimate in redemption. In this show you can see that Mary’s had quite a tough life and she’s had to do certain things to get by.”

The bit about respect for people with strong beliefs is enough to make a grown up anti-Christian cry, I suppose; and even a Christian would have to say that strongly held beliefs deserve respect in so far as they are true and good, not becaue they are strongly held per se. When she mentions leaning towards the spiritual, Miss Chisholm tells us that she is in fact like a significant tranche of the British population: not religious, not hostile either, adhering to a series of rather “soft” positions, but not an adherent of a dogmatic system. In other words she is, like so many others, living in the penumbra of Christianity, in the shadow of a faith that was once all-embracing but is now in retreat.

This reminds me of Jesus Christ Superstar itself. It is mixed work, to my mind, combing some great music and some profound insight, amidst much that veers towards the banal. It represents the fruits of a picking over the ruins of Christianity: its connection with great Christian works of art, like Handel’s Messiah is tenuous, but real.

There is still a chance for Christian revival in this country. (With God all things are possible of course, but I am taking a purely human perspective here.) Jesus Christ means something, spirituality means something, still, just. But the best sliver of light and hope is represented in what Melanie Chisholm says about Mary Magdalene, which is actually quite theological: “She represents … the ultimate in redemption. You can see that Mary’s had quite a tough life and she’s had to do certain things to get by.”

Miss Chisholm is right about this: you look at Mary Magdalene and you see an icon of redemption, you see what divine power can do in a human being when given the chance. As for Mary having a tough life and getting by in whatever way she did, well, that is true as well. We all make compromises, and I have met many people who have come to God by difficult paths. But they came to God in the end, and that is all that matters really.

When we look at Mary Magdalene, and see how she came to God and came to be the saint she is, don’t we feel the pull of the divine, the desire for grace, the longing for redempption? I know I do!

As for Miss Chisholm, may her show be a huge success. And may she, like the rest of us, make progress on this earthly pilrimage. For her and for us, the moment of grace is ever–present.

  • EndTimes101

    “There is still a chance for Christian revival in this country”

    There WILL be a Christian/Catholic revival in this country as soon as those that claim to represent religion and true spirituality (that would be include you Father) start presenting, preaching and teaching and being an example of REAL Catholicism. Openly and unapologetically standing forth with the claim that there and only be ONE true religion one earth…… and stop pandering and compromising with a thoroughly corrupt world.

    For example in your last blog post you recategorise poverty as the No1 commandment and moral issue of our day. This at a time when the youth of our nation are drowning in materialism and gadgets that AT BEST divert and distract them away from any notion, let alone practice of quietude, prayer life and God forbid, proper reception of the sacraments. The example of the shepherds is abysmal and until it changes the sheep will continue to wander far from the fold……

  • chartres

    Yes endtimes101 lets boast in the Lord as St Paul robustly commends and not pander to wishy washy saccharine sentiments such as prevail in our current cultural nihilism.
    Wasn’t it Bach who said ”Music’s only purpose should be the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” Truly inspiring words from such a humble genius

  • Jack Hughes

    coming from a less than perfect family background, St Mary Magdalne  is  definately one of my favorite  Saints

  • Patrick Mulvey

    Any movenement in the direction of the Truth and Logos is to be applauded in these decadent and unbelieving times.   

  • Parasum

    “There is still a chance for Christian revival in this country”

    ## Nope. Or, if there is “a chance” (not language we should use – words like “chance”, “luck”, & “fortunately” imply disbelief in Divine Providence), then there won’t be one. Only if there is no human prospect whatever of a Christian revival, will there be one. If Abraham & Sarah could have had a son without God’s help, where would Abraham’s faith that they would have a son have been ? He would not not have needed any faith. If the Crucifixion had been humanly reversible, and not been (humanly speaking)  a reason for despair – what would the Resurrection have been ? Things had to be irretrievably bad from a human POV, if God was to act savingly & powerfully & newly & gloriously, as He did. A Church that can help itself can’t be raised from the dead – it has to die first.

    Which suggests things have a long way to go before there is a Christian revival here. STM we are no more really pagan in fact than before – all that’s the changed is that the paganism of this country is more obvious, and more varied & more confident, than (say) 100 or 200 or 300 (etc.) years ago. Beneath the Christian appearances, the godlessness is always there, waiting to re-assert itself. It’s in the human heart, the heart of every single one of us; that is the problem. To quote Rosalind Murray in her book of 1939, “The Good Pagan’s Failure” (a book every Catholic should read): “The Christian is far more pagan than he knows; the pagan is more Christian than he admits”. STM we need priests like S.Philip Neri – many of them. And bishops like St.Peter & St.Paul.  And a holy laity.

  • Oconnord

    This would have been a far more interesting article if it had been about Tim Minchin. He would have been a far more suitable subject, as an out-spoken atheist and composer of the “viral hit song The Pope’s a……”

    BTW… please DO NOT Google that song, then complain, it is hugely offensive. I don’t want people to go out rioting and killing people because they are offended by proxy.

  • JFJ

    Thank you Father for your comment on this.  I was a young man during the first go round for JCSS and it caused a furore (certainly with no real lasting impact) among Christians who were more inclined towards a fundamentalist approach to their theology and who hated the play.  While I’m sure that Lloyd-Weber and Rice never set out to write a musical systematic theology, still, lInes like those of Herod to Jesus who says, show to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool,’ certainly did little to endear the writers to those Christians who took offense.  Now, it seems to have the potential for causing people to look at faith, Christianity in particular, and perhaps that is a good thing.  
    I appreciate your focus on Mel’s statement about Mary Magdalen and applaud your hope for a revival.  One will come, of course, in God’s own time and way and be preceded by fervent prayer of the saints and the Saints – just as it has in the past here (e.g. Welsh revival of 1904-5 and Catholic revival of mid-19th century) and in the U.S.. These revivals varied in their impact and focus, but all seemed to be from the Spirit and preceded by copious amounts of prayer.  I recall reading something, somewhere, about nothing being impossible for God, but maybe I’m mis-remembering.  

  • NewMeena

    If people had to pay (let us say 8% of their tax bill)  the Church to receive the Sacraments and to remain a Catholic, perhaps they would appreciate them more. 

  • daclamat

    If you wanna be my lover, you gotta, you gotta, you gotta,you gotta, you gotta, slam, slam, slam, slamSlam your body down and wind it all around
     trilled Mel C. Is that what you meant by:adhering to a series of rather “soft” positions?
    On a scale of silliness, you are just about equal with William Oddie (cf his musings on original sin)

  • daclamat

    Just like William’s bleat when Kate was photoed in the all together, you had me reaching for Google to see what the fuss was about. Blame that on a Jesuit education: If the Rev hadn’t told us not to look at the rude bits in Ovid, we wouldn’t have known there were any.  Minchin’s not up to much poetry-wise, and I doubt the present pope has unbridled fornicative proclivities, unlike many of his predecessors.  And your point is?