Celebrated by Community

Yesterday, I celebrated the sacrament of Baptism in St Mark’s Church, Vienna (Near Washington DC) a lovely gathering that I was glad to be part of. The baby was Brendan Jordan Korves, whose parents’ wedding I celebrated a number of years ago and whose sister I also baptised. As well as Brendan, there was another baby, Madeline, for baptism. I only met her family before Mass but was happy to do so. It was Sunday Mass and a wonderful Community celebration.


The local Parish Priest, Fr Pat joined me – as did a plethora of Parish Ministry men and women, a wonderful choir and very alive congregation. It was a most joyous and faith-filled gathering.


Inniskeen Road – July Afternoon!

kavanaghOn July 10th I spent a bit of time in Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan – the birth place and resting place of Patrick Kavanagh.  It’s something I had wanted to do for a long time, not least since meeting a nephew of Patrick’s at a Priests’ Retreat recently.

The journey was shared and shortened in the company of Anne  to whom I’d mentioned my plans to go there someday.  She certainly encouraged that “some day” be moved from a vague out in the future place to a more realistic “now” and I’m glad that happened. Sometimes my good intentions get lost in their intentional state:)  She too had an interest in Kavanagh’s place, his words and works and the time was right ….

The Patrick Kavanagh Centre in Inniskeen is the old Parish Churchphoto 1 where Patrick attended Mass and, I have no doubt, observed life, and came to an awareness of God, found as he tells us, in the “bits and pieces” of life. Elmar, the guide, told us he used sit on the gallery where he had a better view of … the women!  I’d like to think he noticed the Stained Glass Windows too.  Still there and still spectacular they must have taken his thoughts beyond his lofty perch.

photo 2

One of the first things I saw was a poem (his first published I think) in which he speaks words to an old and falling down “Wooden Gate”.  I thought that was class.  How many people passed that gate and never gave it a second look?  How many times did its owner curse and blind it as he struggled to close it for another time – maybe the last time. Kavanagh saw it as a companion, sharing his experience of life and a sort of kindred spirit:

Battered by time and weather; scarcely fit
For firewood; there’s not a single bit
Of paint to hide those wrinkles, and such scringes
Break hoarsely on the silence–rusty hinges:
A barbed wire clasp around one withered arm
Replaces the old latch, with evil charm.
That poplar tree you hang upon is rotten,
And all its early lovliness forgotten.
This gap ere long must find another sentry
If the cows are not to roam the open country.
They’ll laugh at you, Old Woden Gate, they’ll push
Your limbs asunder, soon, into the slush.
Then i will lean upon your top no more
To muse, and dream of pebbles on a shore,
Or watch the fairy-columned turf-smoke rise
From white-washed cottage chimneys heaven-wise.
Here have i kept fair tryst, and kept it true,
When we were lovers all, and i was new;
And many time I’ve seen the laughing-eyed
Schoolchildren, on your trusty back astride.
But Time’s long silver hand has touched our brows,
And i’m the scorned of women–you of cows.
How can i love the iron gates which guard
The fields of wealthy farmers? They are hard,
Unlovely things, a-swingingg on concrete piers–
Their finger tips are pointed like old spears.
But you and i are kindred, Ruined Gate,
for both of us have met the self-same fate.

I knew then how little I knew!!  The space is small but packed withpoetsbirth memories of a great man who was, it seems, very much misunderstood among his own with whom he longed to be among. There’s a lovely piece saying that he was born as poet in Dublin in the fifties but that, in truth, this had happened thirty years earlier in his own place but  he was too “thick” (his own word) to recognise the birth.  It’s a lovely way of saying that what he had become was the result of from where he had come.

His life was not simple and, chances are he didn’t make it very simple for himself either.  Yet, through it – maybe because of it – he touched into very deep parts of himself, life, faith and love.  There’s an interesting mention of his relationship with the faith.  He felt much of Catholicism had been lost through “devotions” and “voteens” and that was, in his view, regrettable.  He had faith in God and felt that before the onset of unbridled devotion that Catholicism tapped more into the roots of Ireland and respecting the traditions of those roots, brought our people to a better place.  I had a real sense of him loving God and wanting to make God known afresh in the lives of his own generation.  A God who remained with him and for him, perhaps, when much else was in confusion.

photo 2There’s a lovely scaled model of his poem about Christmas Childhood.  The model touches on the core elements of the poem – his father playing the accordion (malodeon) at the side of the house, the bare apple tree and, my favourite mention – the three trees on the hill that overshadowed their home.  He saw these as the Three Wise Men coming to his Bethlehem.  As the guide said, people felt he could bring Bethlehem to Inniskeen.  People were right!

and, of course, Luke Kelly’s version


There were words about Raglan Road, Hilda, his marriage to Katherine Barry Maloney – his footballing days as a not too successful goalie, his printing press along with his brother.  There was a very interesting link with Sligo and his grandfather “Kevany” from Easkey.  We heard too of his friendship with Brendan Behan and sadly  of his fight with cancer and times of recovery spent by the Canal Bank Walk.  Finally his death which came within days of the opening of his play “Tarry Flynn” in Cavan – a homecoming and recognition for him, a highlight leading to I believe “Eternal Light” – may he rest in Peace.  Amen.

photo 3Lastly time was spent at his graveside – a very simple but meaning-filled piece of God’s earth.  No marble surround or high cross but a low wooden cross and a soil covered grave with stepping stones – flagstones – from the Stony Grey Soil of Monaghan.

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick tongued mumble.

You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life conquering plough!
The mandril stained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.

You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of cowards’ brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food

You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!

Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I stilll stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisoned pen.

His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.

Mullahinsa, Drummeril, Black Shanco-
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me. 

The inscriptions on the cross and centre flagstone are apt:

The Cross’ inscription reads: “And pray for him who walked about on the hill loving life’s miracles”.

photo 4

The flagstone, draws attention to the stepping stones as it tells us: “These are stepping stones across a stream. Part of my life was there. The happiest part”.


image-a33bbb2a7c723d8499e674ac3663d91bcd48850677a8f7469fc4fb6aa555f63f-VIt was a good day – hours well spent and glad it happened! Do I know much more about Kavangh?  Chances are I realise how little I know but the experience made real the place, the man and his memory.  I have often referred to him during the years – sometimes at a Wedding Mass, sometimes at Priests’ Retreats because I believe he speaks to a place that is very real for most of us.  I can’t say I like or enjoy every word of his I’ve ever heard.  Neither can I say, I’ve heard every word but somewhere, in the mix of what I’ve heard, know or think I know, there’s a good man who used words well.  One of my favourite poems of his is one, I’m told, he wrote for a neighbour who was to be ordained a priest.  I remember mentioning this one time to a group of priests and some of them seemed to know the man for whom the words were written.  It’s called “To the man after the harrow” and I’ll end with it ….

Now leave the check-reins slack,
The seed is flying far today –
The seed like stars against the black
Eternity of April clay.

This seed is potent as the seed
Of knowledge in the Hebrew Book,
So drive your horses in the creed
Of God the Father as a stook.

Forget the men on Brady’s Hill.
Forget what Brady’s boy may say.
For destiny will not fulfil
Unless you let the harrow play.

Forget the worm’s opinion too
Of hooves and pointed harrow-pins,
For you are driving your horses through
The mist where Genesis begins. 

St Maria Goretti Novena (Collooney)

On Thursday, July 3rd, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass during the annual St Maria Goretti Novena in Collooney, Co. Sligo. It’s always lovely to spend a bit of time there and great to see so many familiar faces last night.  Thought I’d share the words spoken last night. (They’re not word for word but hopefully make some bit of sense!!)

“Go out to the whole world, proclaim the good news!”

That is the response to the psalm included in the readings for this feastday of St Thomas.  It seems a bit ambitious for us here this evening in Collooney!  The “whole world” might be a bit far from Carrickbanagher or Ballinabole, Coolaney or Ballisodare, Carraroe or Ballymote …. Surely air tickets would be required for travel – passport, ID, a variety of currencies …. No, the “whole world” is a bit daunting.

We know the advantages of SHOP LOCAL!  so let’s STOP LOCAL!  … who is in your world?  WHO IS YOUR WORLD?  In one of his songs Michael Jackson said if we’re to make the world a better place we must start with the “man in the mirror”.  We must first and foremost begin with the Man, the WOMAN, the child in the mirror – with ME!

How can I proclaim good news to myself?  Do we walk down the street talking to ourselves?  Do we stand in front of mirrors speaking to ourselves?  Do we text, tweet or email the ME that is all of us to share the good news?  Chances are if we did any of these and especially if we spent much time doing any of these, there would be questions to be answered about ourselves and our state of mind.

And yet, there’s room for a bit of self-praise and encouragement.  What could be good news for us this evening?  Good news for the “ME” sitting here in this church?  Maybe the very fact that we’re sitting here, able to sit here, wanting to sit here, believing in sitting here is “good news”.  It seems to say there’s a spirit in us, hope in us – life in us.  There are other places we could be right now.  So “why here” this evening?  What good news can you find in all of this?  The news that is GOOD NEWS – you have Faith!

From there to where?  Back to that question “Who is your world?”  Often, it strikes me, people say that about someone they love – “you are my world” – They’re meaningful words.  What they say is you matter to me and I could not imagine myself without you.  What good news then for that part of your life?  How can you make life easier and better for that person you consider to be your world?  Maybe through repeating the reality – saying again what might not have been said for a while.

We mentioned “shop local” a while ago.  Have you any good news for the lad or girl behind the till in your local shop, post office, hairdresser’s, butcher’s or pub?  “Thank you”, “you’re doing a good job”, “you have a lovely way with you” …. All these and so much more that we could say can bring life to a person, HOPE to a person and that reassurance that their work is not undervalued.

What good news for your parish?  It might well be a word of acknowledgement for the local priest, the choir, the folk group – the one who read at Mass.  Good News comes in many shapes and forms.  What good news for your Parish? The good news that can be delivered in saying “yes” to an invitation to be involved in Ministry, host a Community Mass in your home, do a task that needs doing.   “Not a bad show for a penny”.  Less criticism and more praise.  “That’s not my experience”

Good news is needed.   I once heard of someone who asked a Garda on a quiet country road in the small hours of the night, “where will this road take me?” and he replied “anywhere in the world you want to go” …..  This world that needs “good news” is at your doorstep, down your street and the first step into it and along that road, is the next step you take this evening.

The final word must be kept for Thomas – the man of the moment.  He’s called “Doubting Thomas” and I often think it’s unfair.  He was more than this moment, there’s more to all of us than any single event and yet he shone in this moment of doubt.  He led us to a deeper awareness of how much the Lord wants us to recognise him in the daily living of our lives.  Perhaps Thomas put into words what many were thinking.  Having the courage to add voice to his thoughts he allowed us rise above our own doubts and to acclaim the Risen Jesus as “our Lord and our God”.  It wasn’t the first time Thomas took us to a deeper place.  Remember the time when Jesus said he was going away and added “you know the way to the place where I am going?”  They all stood, tight-lipped and confused but again, Thomas found his voice; “We don’t know where you are going to how can we know the way?”  He was honest, practical and worried.  His words gave us the most reassuring definition of Jesus’ role in our lives – “I am the way, the truth and the life …..”   Now there’s a message – good news – for the world!

Fair play to you Thomas!  Fair play to all of you here tonight.  Fair play to those who have arranged this Novena.  Fair play ….

Good news proclaimed in and to this part of the world!  Ripples in the rock pools …..

Celebrating Union in Union

On Friday June 27th, I had the happy duty of celebrating the Wedding Mass of Sinéad Gray and Bob Coggins.  I’ve known Sinéad since she was a young child during my five years in Collooney Parish and have, through the years, kept in contact with her parents Brendan and Sheila, herself, brother and sister.  Always a welcoming home, I was happy to be part of this celebration – the first of their family weddings.  They live in a lovely part of Collooney parish, immersed in what is known as Union Wood. Appropriately, Sinéad’s father is in the “wood” industry and a gifted tradesman.

The Wedding Mass was in Collooney Church, a favourite of mine and the reception afterwards at the back of Sinéad’s home.  Well the “back” is a bit of an understatement!!  The entire area around their home was turned into a venue – including the construction of a “honeymoon” suite by her father.  It was an amazing and beautifully local setting. Full credit to all involved.  And there were many involved!

I came home after a lovely meal and left, what I have no doubt, was a wonderful and musical celebration of a memorable day.  Took a few photos along the way so sharing  ….

Take off your shoes – you walk on Holy Ground

photoThe past few days I have been in Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath.  It is the home of the Columban Missionaries.  A fine facility, set on spectacular grounds it is home to many events, including Diocesan Priests’ Retreats.  It is to that end, I am here, with the priests and bishop of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois.  The days have passed quickly and, thank God, gone well.  It’s always good to meet with priests like this and to hear some of their stories – humorous and otherwise.  I’m lucky to be able to do this.

The weather has been fantastic and the heat almost unbearable but a welcome change to winds and rain.  I walked a bit – though not as much as I could have or should have but that’s another story.


The cemetery here is amazing.  It is so well maintained and a sacred piece of God’s earth.  God rest all buried here – included among them Fr Frank Gallagher, an old family friend, who died in 2010 after more than seventy years of priesthood.

frfrankI heard in my youth that Fr Frank had been subjected to some tragic torture and treatment during his Missionary Days in Korea.  I never heard that from Frank, since he did not speak about this time but it seems certain that there’s truth in it.

Earlier today I spent a bit of time in the main chapel here in Dalgan Park and there’s a collection of pictures on the back wall, twenty-four in all, of members of the Columban Society who lost their lives tragically in the course of their “journeying for the Lord”.  Twenty-three of them are priests and one a sister.  May God rest their souls. They are not buried in Dalgan, most of them are buried where they were killed and for some, to this day, the whereabouts of their bodies is unknown. It was humbling to look at these faces – most of them very young – and to realise how much they were prepared to give.

Fr Frank Gallagher lays hands on me the day of my ordination
    Fr Frank Gallagher lays hands on me the day of my  ordination in St Patrick’s Church, Gurteen, June 1987

I took photos of the photos.  They’re not great quality but it’s my way of taking them home with me and, more than that, sharing them and their Ministry with you. (If you click on an image you will have the option of viewing in larger format and the captions will be more easily read.)

Further information available on the  Columban Website


Where is the good word?

Earlier today, whilst travelling to Castlebar for a wedding rehearsal I turned on the radio.  It was mid interview and a man (whose name I didn’t get) was talking about his grandmother who had given birth to a baby outside wedlock.  She had been sent to a home where she had her baby and stayed for two years to pay back, through work, the help she had received.  It was, of course, a sad story, made sadder by the fact that it had not been revealed by the grandmother during her lifetime.  My heart goes out to all involved.

He said she was sent to the home by a priest who was “helping her” and then with a sarcastic chuckle, he repeated the line “helping her” as if this could not have been further from the priest’s mind, intention or desire.  I wondered if maybe he was, in fact, trying to help her.  Is there room for doubt?  Is there, even a slim chance, that the man thought he was doing the right thing  by her in the circumstances?

In fairness, the presenter tried to broaden the canvas a little and said the problem was wider than the Catholic Church.  She said surely it was the woman’s family or families of women like her, who found themselves in this situation, that often turned their backs on them. He was determined in his response – the fault lay with the Catholic Church who controlled everything in society.  When she said the problem was also linked with other religions, there was no turning on his part.  The Catholic Church was to blame for it all.  She didn’t pursue her line of questioning and other contributors to the panel were quick to row in their support for the blame resting solely with the Catholic Church and its control.

I was saddened to think we have come to this place where we are blamed for everything.  My thoughts went again to the priest and the summary dismissal of any chance that he had in fact tried to help in what may have been the only way open to him.

All the while I drove to be with a couple preparing for their wedding day. I knew that from there I would go to the funeral of a relation and a priest and join others in prayer and support.  Yesterday I stood with another couple as they exchanged vows. Last week, with another.  A few days before that I sat with a young woman in her home, left empty by her father’s death and felt her pain as she sought to come to an acceptance that he was gone from her, and gone forever.  I spoke with a young man who was saddened by life’s journey and wanted no more from me than an open ear. I recalled visits to hospitals and homes to spend some time with people coping with illness.  I remembered the recent celebration of First Holy Communion in the parish and the joy I felt in seeing the happiness on children’s faces as they reached a milestone in life.

I thought of daily Mass in the parish and the, sometimes small but always devoted, attendance of those able to join with me around the Altar and thought of Sundays with a larger congregation, choir, people involved in various ministries and people passing by who might just join us because they happened to pass at that moment when we gather to worship on the Sunday in every week.

Twenty-seven years ago, this very day, I was ordained a priest in my home parish.  My parents were there, my family and many friends from home, from the seminary – people supporting me in the moment, wishing me well and telling me they’d pray for me.  I asked them to – I needed them to – and they said they would.  I’ve never doubted but they kept their word.  My parents are now gone from me but I still feel their support and presence.  Did they think I was becoming a priest so that I could control people, make life difficult for them or ever subject them to situations that they’d regret for the rest of their lives or into a new generation?  Did they think I’d treat any girl who came to my door, with a story of uncertainty, to a cruel fate that her grandchild would recount on radio forty years later?  Is that why I became a priest?

The answer to all these questions is, I believe, no!  I can say in honesty that I have never set out to hurt anyone in my life as a priest.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t done so.  I can nonetheless say I never intentionally sought to make life difficult for anyone.  I have, as far as I know, always tried to be helpful.  I cannot recall a time when I chose to ignore a genuine cry or whisper for help.

Do I think I am different from other priests? Of course we are all individuals and have our own ways but I don’t believe I am that different.  I think most priests operate out of a desire to help rather than hinder, encourage rather than discourage, praise rather than condemn, share the load rather than burden – in short, try to do their best.

At this evening’s Mass I praised, in all sincerity, the three children who were serving at the Altar. I told them, in front of the congregation, that I was proud of them.  Then I put the question – the wondering – if in thirty or forty years time they’re sitting in company and people are giving out about the church, about priests about our mistakes, will they just sit there, order another drink, sit quietly by or will they say, “That’s not my experience”? Will one of them say ” I remember a priest saying at Mass that he was proud of me”?

I’d love to think they would but sometimes the silence of people in the now of our confusion makes me sad.  Surely there are very many people out there who have had good experiences of the work of their local priests?  Surely there are very many who have felt the nourishment of their Faith and the strength of sacraments celebrated?  Where is their voice?  Where are their words?

Where is “the good word”?

Aunt Met

                                                                             Corky, Mary Margaret and myself!


Spending a few hours in Virginia! Met my aunt earlier in the home of our friends Corky and Jeanie. Good to catch up, if only for a short while.

                                                      Jeannie and Mary Margaret share some iPad tips!


Earlier today,  June 10th, we celebrated Eucharist together at the kitchen table.  I always think it an appropriate setting for Eucharist as the table is the home’s Altar, on which is offered the fruits of life’s work and sacrifice. From it too, comes nourishment for the day – the journey.  Around it – stories told, thoughts shared, decisions made and,  so much more.

                                                                                    After Mass – shared time

And one more thing …..  I was warned that I should wear my “hat” – by that, I think they meant baseball cap and, though I have one, I’m not a major fan but, for the record, I have a a cap and I wore it!


West Point

Recently had the pleasure of celebrating a Wedding Mass in West Point, NY.  This is the Cadet School for the US Army and the groom, James Malinda, graduated from there in recent weeks.  His bride, Dominique Robbins, is a cousin of my cousins – if that makes sense! In recent years, I celebrated the marriages of two of her first cousins in Rockvile Centre.  I met Dominque and her parents at both weddings and they kindly asked me to officiate at Dominuque’s Wedding.  I was happy to do so.

It was good to catch up with my cousins again, to meet some old friends and, hopefully, make a few new ones.  The setting at West Point was very special and the Church, beautiful.  I’m told it’s the only Catholic Parish attached to a Military Base anywhere in the world. The Catholic Community at West Point has its own parish and clergy. The town of West Point is a separate parish and is actually in another diocese.

There was a great dignity to the celebration and it was a refreshing experience.  One I am very glad to have been part of.

God bless this newly married couples and, for that matter, all married people.

And a short moment from their First Dance.  The song “Jersey Girl” sung by Bruce Springsteen is obviously chosen since Dominique’s childhood years were spent in Jersey.

Vincent Sherlock