Charlie Hegarty Notebook
When I think of Orwell's classic novel 1984 the image that first comes into my mind is never Room 101 or the boot stamping on a human face; it is the passage when Winston Smith stumbles into a junk shop and discovers a "heavy lump of glass, curved 'on one side, flat on the other, making almost a he which turns out to be a paperweight. Orwell writes: "What appealed to him about it was not so ; much its beauty as the air t' seemed to pot sess Of belonging to "an age quite different from the present one."
A similar sensation to Winston Smith's always invades me when I come across Christian artefacts in, ungodly places. Sometimes they are tasteful, like the majolica Madonna and Child that I found in a car boot sale or the icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev that I unearthed in a box of discarded LPs at our local tip. Sometimes they are definitely kitsch, like the Sacred Heart statue made of an unlovely metal that I pulled out of a passing skip. or the plastic St Anthony of Padua in his own little (plastic) dome that was part of a job lot. Occasionally they are even beautiful, like the mother-of-pearl crucifix I discovered among the junk on a market stall.
But what matters is not the artistry or otherwise; it is the reminder they give me, absorbed in the daily round of distracting activities that rendering unto Caesar seems to require, and as Mammonstruck and acquisitive as the next person, that in St Paul's haunting words, here is no abiding city. Like Orwell's paperweight they are signposts from another world. a world deeply familiar to a Catholic childhood -which I have loved long since and lost awhile".
They were fashioned for a holy purpose and whatever forlorn mischance has now tossed them on some house clearance heap. I feel it is my own eccentric apostolate to rescue them, reverence them for what they portend and then pass them on to others. who will treat them likewise. Thus the Rublev icon of the mysterious guests under the oak tree at Marnre became a gift for a new home; the crucifix found a final resting place inside the coffin of a friend's grandmother; a little china plate with the head of John
Paul II that had been used as an ashtray was given to a godson. Some people recycle potato peelings or newspapers: surely it is at least as significant an activity to recycle these discarded symbols of the divine?
There is also the element of instruction. Noticing a miraculous medal in a pawnbroker's that had been labelled "lucky charm", I was able to point out to the owner its correct provenanceeven if I was subsequently lectured on the evils of global overpopulation by Catholics (this gentleman was keen to save the whale).
On another occasion I found a holy water stoup mislabelled "wall bracket" in a bric-a-brac shop and I learnt that "holy water" is not a concept easy to explain in pagan places. I was luckier in a charity shop where I spotted a rosary described as "decorative beads" among the costume jewellery; the lady behind the counter, herself heavily decorated with an assortment of trinkets, was attentive to my explanation of its true purpose and asked for my prayers.
My most recent acquisition was a large church candle. made of pure beeswax. I understand that scented candles are very high on the list of unwanted gifts and are apparently passed around seven times in the course of their perfumed life. However, this candle came with its own honeyed aroma and I left it where it belonged: in a church.
I have yet to find a home for an old. well-worn Roman missal, full of antique memorial cards; if anyone. inspired by the recent papal ruling on the extraordinary form, would like to use it for its proper purpose, they should write to me at the Herald address and I will send it on.