Father Malachy's Miracle

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Category: Classic
Date Published: 1947
Number of Pages: 201
Print Price: $2.92
eBook Price: $

This exquisitely written book is about miracles, what they can do and what they can't do.

Set in Glasgow in the 1930's, the story tells of Father Malachy Murdock, an elderly priest, who desires to convert the world with a miracle, a spectacular, attention-getting miracle that folks will be unable to ignore, unable to deny, and that will ensure their conversion to Christianity.

Father Malachy focuses on a dance hall across the street from the church. The priest asks God to move the hall to an island off the Scottish coast called the Bass Rock. As he and others hold a prayer vigil shortly before midnight on the Feast of Our Lady of Loreto, the dance hall disappears. They soon learn that it has reappeared on the Bass Rock.

Bruce Marshall has written a delightful, humorous, profound, and extraordinary novel. With poetic brilliance, the author weaves together, in true sacramental fashion, the world of God and the world of man. Through conversations and inner thoughts, themes focus on the love of God as well as the love of neighbor, on what it means to be a priest, on truth and heresy, on the miracle of the Mass and the miracles of the world.

The Holy Ghost plays a significant role. The story opens with Father Malachy's meditations as he rides in a third-class train compartment. He considers how "the Holy Ghost went about the world, now blowing like a wind, now taking the form of a flower and glowing in gorgeous reds and yellows."

And later, the Manager of the chorus girl company miraculously transported, ponders, “’But who is the Holy Ghost? That's what I want to know. A person or a thing or what…the Holy Ghost must be somebody if it can make a dancing hall fly on to the top of the Bass Rock. And what I should like to know is why there isn't a photograph of the Holy Ghost on the back page of the Daily Mail…and not just a diddly, small wee photograph either. A large one’” (113-114).

Father Malachy considers how he must love his annoying traveling companions, for "he was a monk and a priest forever and had drunk Christ's Blood and raised up, morning after morning and with trembling, uncertain hands, Christ's poor battered Body and … he loved, so truly Christian was he, his neighbour as himself” (4). His faith is a certain one, for rather than "bring religion into line with modern thought," he believes that "funnily enough… the Christian Religion was true when it delivered to the apostles and that therefore it cannot be improved or made more true since truth, like God, is eternal" (26).

The Creed, Father Malachy reflects, is a list of miracles, and the Mass, a repeating miracle:

“Now Father Malachy believed, as every true priest must believe, that he was, for the moment, the representative of Christ and that into the white wafer of bread and welling up within the chalice of wine would come, as he bent to pronounce the holy words, the Body and Blood and Soul of Him Whom he represented. He believed this because the Church told him that this was so and because he realized that, with the wonders of the sun and moon and stars and seasons about him, there was no reason to doubt that Our Lord kept coming among us in this very sweet and lovely manner.

“And so, unlike some priests who gabble their way through the most beautiful poem and the most beautiful reality which the world has ever known, he pronounced slowly the sweet Latin and crossed himself as though he was tracing upon his soul the agony of Our Saviour's Passion and Death and moved through the whole glorious mystery with the reverence and the dignity of a boy who had been ordained the day before and with the lingering affection of a holy old man who must die that night” (48).

He defines the great Trinitarian miracle of the Host:

“For behind the tabernacle door he knew, behind that faded violet curtain which he couldn't see, Jesus Christ lay, as he had promised… And with Him, inseparable in Unity, lay God the Father and God the Holy Ghost, the Creator in the creature for the creature, the Power which had fashioned the world out of chaos and which could, were It but to put off the powerlessness which It had imposed upon Itself, shine forth and shatter to a million nothings that which Itself had created of one. In churches the world over, in neglected wayside chapels as in Saint Peter's, Rome, God, reduced to a flake of Himself, lay waiting for men to come and love Him” (119).

In these theological reflections, Bruce Marshall also assesses the heresies stemming from an established church. Taken for granted as a background to society, British Christianity was considered fine if undemanding and pleasantly diluted by doubt. If it were found to be actually true there would be fewer Christians, for "Christianity was all very well and healthy and English if it restricted itself to being a probable improbability but that it was an absolute washout if it started becoming unashamedly and obviously true" (134). In this passage, I was reminded of the saying, "All doubt (regarding Christianity) is moral."

Marshall's diction will educate the writer and stun the reader. He speaks of sentences that went "hurtling… and the wind…. took the sentences and blew them apart again into words and sent them flying on to the carlines where… they were run over and cut to meaningless syllables by the trams" (28). He speaks of "looking for words with which to build and brick a sentence".

Priests who gave absolution in the confessional were engaged in "hebdomadal laundering" and a "cleaning [of] razors in between customers." He describes a blue-suited cavalier following a beautiful woman as "a piece of unremarkable prose coming after an exquisite line of poetry."

But what happens to the dancing hall? Does the priest's miracle work conversions? Answers are found in the subtle moral arc deep in the heart of Father Malachy who, it appears, might not have all the answers after all.

And so, in this rare novel of 190 pages, I rode the wind of God's actions among us, actions we commonly call miracles, actions breathed upon us by the Holy Ghost. I was swept into poetic truth and I laughed over the touching foibles of human nature, calling me to love my neighbor. Father Malachy's Miracle is Bruce Marshall's miracle, and I plan to live in his world time and again.


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ISBN-13: B000I5JS1E
Original Language: English
Book Dimensions: 6.3 x 3.9 x 0.5 inches

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Christine Thomas Sunderland (1947-), the daughter of a Presbyterian pastor, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and came of age in the tumultuous Vietnam war years. Her inspirational novels, set in the present day, reflect the larger questions of our world today: What is civilization? Why is our past important? How do we understand where we are going? How does God act sacramentally among us in time? What is the nature of the Church and the architecture of belief? Her trilogy explores the Catholic legacy of Western European culture: Pilgrimage (OakTara, 2007) tells of a mother's search for healing of body and soul in Italy (Hon. Mention, Southern California Book Festival); Offerings (OakTara, 2009) tells of a redemptive journey through France (Bronze Medal, Independent Publisher Book Awards); Inheritance (OakTara 2009) tells of a life-saving trip through England (Hon. Mention, London Book Festival). A fourth novel, Hana-lani (OakTara, 2010), set in Hana, Maui, is a love story about the role of family in American culture (Hon. Mention, San Francisco Book Festival). Her fifth novel, The Magdalene Mystery (OakTara 2013), involves a quest to discover the true Mary Magdalene and is set in Rome and Provence. She is currently writing a novel set in Berkeley, California about the borderline between civilization and the wildernenss, titled The Fire Trail. Christine holds a BA in English Literature from San Francisco State University and is a graduate of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and the Maui Writers Retreat. She serves as Managing Editor of the American Church Union (http://www.AmericanChurchUnion.com). She lives in Northern California with her husband and two incredible cats. http://www.ChristineSunderland.com.

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