As I mentioned we spent two days in Maynooth this week. We were attending what is called the “Maynooth Union Day” and yesterday we had concelebrated Mass in the College Chapel. Hugh Connolly, a classmate and now president of St Patrick’s College, was the Principal Celebrant assisted by Eamonn Conway (who preached) and Kieran Coghlan (Parish of Rush). There were maybe 200 priests concelebrating, gathered from all over Ireland and beyond. It was a very special occasion and I was glad to be part of it.
In the evening there’s a dinner in the College Refectory and that too was very enjoyable. Traditionally someone from the Silver Jubilee Class gives an after dinner speech and my classmates had nominated me for this task. I was grateful to be asked but have to admit quite nervous about doing it. I appreciated the trust shown in me though. I have, just now sat down and tried to remember what I said. I had scribbled a few notes by way of thoughts and tried to tease them out. Another priest from our diocese, while saying I had done well – and I appreciated him doing that, told me I spoke for nearly half an hour. I found that hard to believe but it has taken me longer than that to remember and write what I said so I’m thinking he was right! Ooops!! Anyway, I’m going to paste here what I said last night. You may not have time to read it, or interest in reading it but somehow it seems right to include it since it’s a spot I won’t stand on again.
I want to thank my classmates for entrusting me with this moment on our journey!
Earlier today I met Brian Flynn, a generous Cavan Man from Kilmore Diocese and was reminded of the few years we both worked in the Marriage Tribunal, he in Armagh and me in Galway. When I was changed to Ballaghaderreen Parish, Brian said my transfer represented “the loss of a great legal mind”!! Now he was as sincere in saying that as I am in saying he’s a generous Cavan man!! Also at that time, I was spending a few weeks in a parish in New York and mentioned that I was moving to a new parish. A lady asked me the name of the parish and when I told her, she said “I’ve never heard of it but wherever it is, they’re so lucky to be getting you because there is nothing better than an Irish priest”. I replied; “that may well be true but the place is full of them at home”.
So it was, at a time – full of them but less so these days. Yet today we rejoice in being Irish Priests and celebrate this evening the journeys we’ve all been part of through the years. I acknowledge all here celebrating anniversaries and jubilees. I see Greg Hannan from my own home parish of Gurteen and wish him well on his Golden Jubilee. When I was ordained he was where I am now but he seemed so much older than me then. The gap, oddly enough, seems less this evening!
Earlier at Mass in the College Chapel, I was reminded of being there as a young student and wanting so hard to be good at prayer and meditation. I recall one Saturday evening staying on after Evening Prayer, through Adoration and into Night Prayer. My intentions were good but I got easily distracted and found myself counting light bulbs, spotting one or two that were blown and just gazing around me. All the while, just a few seats away, one of my classmates sat with the Bible open on his lap, his hands turned upwards in that receptive prayer gesture and his focus intense. I wondered why I could not be more like him. Then he slipped off the seat, the Bible fell to the floor and I realised he was fast asleep!! I said “Thank you God, I’m not that much different to the rest”.
At the Mass we heard Eamonn Conway read the gospel passage “But, what about us, we left everything to follow you”. There’s a retired priest living in our diocese who says he can hear Jesus laugh when Peter said this and look back at him saying; “What are you on about? What had ye only two bad boats when I met ye”!! Maybe we think a lot about what we gave up to follow Jesus and maybe we exaggerate it too. This evening we say, “I’m glad I followed you” – no counting of cost or totting up. In truth, it’s certain, we’ve received much through the following – even if we don’t always fully understand what we’re about or clearly see where we’re going.
I heard a lovely story once of a priest who was given to seeing the glass three-quarters empty when it was at least half-full – he shared a house with another priest and one evening, whilst carrying a suitcase, said to his companion; “I’m going on my holidays. Will you say a prayer that I might enjoy myself”!!
I remember once meeting a man who could fit that description. It was at a wedding reception and he had the sort of expression and presence that would make any bride look radiant. Downturned mouth almost closed eyes and a complete disinterest in what was going on around him. I sat beside him during the meal. At one stage he leaned over to me and told me a joke that I’ve never forgotten. He shone in its telling and enjoyed it so much. He came alive in humour and left me with a totally different impression. Could it be that we laughed more in the past than we do now? At times, I think that’s the way and it’s regrettable. Laughter can achieve so much. Could we this evening commit ourselves to being good-humoured?
The punch line of the joke was a play on the words “Travelling for Jesus” and maybe we might spend a while wondering what “travelling for Jesus” has meant to us. It has brought us into contact with so many people down through the years. I might mention a few of them:
I was not long ordained in 1987 and hearing confessions one Saturday evening before Mass. A young girl told me that she “fighted” with her brother. I asked “what is he like?” and she replied “how do you mean?” I said “would you let me take him away” and she replied “NO”! When I asked her why, she said “because I love him”. I told her that was the truth and that she should never forget this love she had for him and even if they rowed she should always make up with him and remember her love for him. As I closed the slide, I remember thinking that was “good” and that I might use the line again sometime. I opened the other slide and a little boy told me, almost immediately, that he “fighted” with his sister. I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity so soon to try out my sensitive line of questioning and spiritual accompaniment. “What’s she like?” I asked. “You should know”, he replied “she’s just gone out the other side”! He was so right. I’ve often thought about that. I should have known and, more importantly helped her to know. That’s part of the “travelling for Jesus”, to help people come to an awareness of who they are and, having come to that awareness, to journey well. In helping them to uncover their story, we uncover our own and come a deeper awareness of who we are and of our own weaknesses that, addressing them, we might become better, more rounded and committed in our “travelling” and following of Jesus.
Now this will come as a shock! I failed an exam in second year. What will be even more shocking was that it was “Logic”!! I came back to repeat the exam on an All-Ireland Semi-Final Sunday evening and travelled by train. I did the exam on Monday and when I got on the train on Monday evening it was packed to capacity. There was but one seat available. There was an old man sitting beside the window, a young man opposite him, a young girl beside him and the seat opposite her was free. I took the seat. Even before the train left the station her voice was grating on me. It was one of those voices. She talked as if her life depended on it. I spoke to the old man beside me, thinking that might be a distraction of sorts. He half looked around and asked; “Were you at the match?” When I said no, he turned back to the window. There was nothing for us to talk about. Eventually I got up and stood between two carriages, looking out a window. I heard a shuffle and, turning around, saw the old man looking out the other window. “She’s some talker”, I said. “Lord save us”, he replied, “she’s like a gramophone. Someone must have wound her up in Dublin”. We both laughed. Later we returned to our seats and he said to me, “You got on in Maynooth, are you in the college?” “I am”. “Are you going for the round collar job?” “I am”. He smiled, nodded across the table and said “And better off you are. You’d never know what sort of a one you might get stuck with”. We laughed and the rest of that journey flew. I think companionship on the journey is so important and often think it’s no accident Jesus sent them out “in pairs”. He knew they’d need someone to talk to and share the day’s events with. He knew they’d need someone to laugh with. Again, it seems to me we were better at this in the past. Surely there’s room for companionship on our own journey and a great need to share a story and shorten the road. We are thankful this evening for all who have so done with and for us over the years of “travelling for Jesus”.
Two weeks ago, I visited Caroline, a young woman from the parish who was in the Galway Hospice. She was 41 and had been sick for the past two years. We became quite friendly during that time. Caroline was in a very deep sleep, almost coma like, and her sister sat in the room. I felt I should anoint her but didn’t want to say words out loud, lest I’d waken her or upset her sister. I sat beside her bed and placed the Oil of The Sick on her forehead. She had her arms crossed on top of the quilt and as soon as the Oil touched her forehead, she turned her hands upwards (like my Bible reading companion in the College Chapel) in a gesture of receptive prayer. She knew exactly what was happening and the touch of the Oil brought her to a place of prayer. We buried her a week later. May she rest in peace. I was spending a few days with priests from Killaloe diocese and told them about her and that we are part of a long tradition that is rooted in healing. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts we can bring in our travelling for Jesus and long may we do so. It’s a mighty tradition to be part of – that which, even in the touch of the Oils, brings a prayer to the quiet lips of one nearing the twelfth hour.
There’s a man here this evening that I have admired, from a distance, for many years. He is Leo Morahan. I remember hearing him on the radio one night speaking about the Stations of The Cross. I’ve a fondness for them too but maybe don’t journey them as often as I should. Leo spoke, and I hope I’m doing his story justice, of a school that had a church next door. An old woman used go into the church to pray the Stations and the children would sneak in, hide and watch as she prayed. She had no text but travelled the Stations with definite purpose. She might say nothing at a Station or just a word. They were very personal to her. She might stand at the Seventh and say “You’re down again”! Leo said the Station he most liked was the eleventh “Jesus is nailed to the cross”. He said she’d stand there for ages, a sad and determined look would envelop her face and she’d say out loud and from the heart “’pon my Soul, if the Gallaghers were there, it wouldn’t have happened you”! She really believed, given the chance, that her people would have done something to prevent this crucifixion. There’s no denying that the crucifixion continues. Jesus and his Church are at the receiving end of sharpened nails and pounding hammers again and, could it be, we – all of us in this room this evening – are “the Gallaghers”? What can we do to stop the crucifixion? What can we do to stop the hurt for there’s no doubt there is much hurt on many sides at this time. Wherever and whenever any member of the Church, any man, woman or child, is suffering there’s an on-going crucifixion. We need to be “the Gallaghers” and do whatever it takes, in honesty and with compassion, to recognise and do something real and lasting about this hurt.
My own “travelling for Jesus”, in Maynooth terms, began on 13th September 1981. I remember coming to the college that day. I had always wanted to be a priest even if unsure what that might fully involve. My parents left me here that evening and I can see the tail lights of their car going out the gate as they headed home. I felt alone and those tail lights just seemed to bring that very much to the surface. For the first time, in eighteen years, I was removed from them and though I was where I wanted to be and they knew that, it seemed a defining moment. Over the days the brightness of those tail lights faded a little and the college became more familiar. I remember meeting an old man on the cloister – at least he seemed old to me – and he was wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie. I wondered if he was a priest since he seemed too old to be a student. He wasn’t a priest, well not then anyway but later “Professor Xerox” did become a priest and I remember kneeling on the street in Enniscrone and receiving his blessing. He was so proud to be a priest and I equally so to receive his Blessing. God rest you, Paddy Mullaney. I’m sure he had wanted to be a priest all his life and thank God that happened for him.
As I say, the college got smaller because I grew more aware of the people in it and, there’s no doubt “people make places”. I found my way and Paddy Mullaney photocopied articles that I urgently needed but most likely never read! Students became friends and this place became alive. So it has remained. In time though, I stopped calling here – the main reason being I didn’t know many people here anymore. We had a young man ordained a deacon for our diocese on Sunday last – the first in ten years. Yet, I wonder should we visit more?
There’s no denying that motor ways have improved the journey time between East and West, North and South but at a price. Places we once passed through are now by-passed. I think of Clonard and I think of here. Maybe we need to pull off the motorway occasionally and come in to visit here. Those faces on the class pieces need to be real. I met a woman in Charlestown a few years ago and she asked who I was. When I told her she said “Father Sherlock, I’d never know I laid an eye on you”. I said “The years haven’t been very kind” and, following another head to toe scan, she delivered her final blow, “Well they have not”!! She’s right, to a point, the years take their toll. We may not look the same as we did on that class piece photo but we are the same! It’s the same man in us here today that sat before Lafayette’s camera. The same man here today that wanted to be a priest then.
Class piece faces spoke to us when we were here as students and they came alive in the visiting of priests from our diocese to wish us well, spend a bit of time with us, encourage us, feed us and leave a few bob for us. We need to be that for the seventy or eighty here now. We need to let our class piece photos come alive for them. We need to remember that, whatever the years may have brought in terms of failure or success, we are still the “man” in the picture – travelling for Jesus.
I spoke a while ago about tail lights. My parents drove in and out those gates many times and came to take me home for Ordination in June 1987. The tail lights were never an issue again but, just for a moment, I’d like to focus our attention on head lights. They are so important and lighten what is otherwise a dark and dangerous road for us as we travel. We need them so much – that which gives us light and direction. They are pure gift. Yet, there’s little as dangerous as meeting a car that does not dip its main beams. We are blinded and at risk. There’s a need for courtesy and kindness in our travelling. At times it seems to me that we might run that risk of blinding one another – not being willing to dip the headlights and allow for clearer vision. As we journey together, as we travel for Jesus as priests and bishops and as church, let us not blind one another’s road. Ideally, maybe we need to be in the one car, heading the same road so that the headlights can light the way ahead, even if uncertain, for us all at the same time.
Finally, I want to take you to Penn Station, New York. A few years ago I went to use the subway with a friend. I had a “Metro Card” and swiped him through but when I put the card in again, I was locked out. Checking the card, I noticed there was $18 credit remaining and I tried again but no joy. I went to the Information Booth and a large man sat there. I got the impression he wasn’t too interested in how Sligo might do in the championship so I said “Is there any credit on this card”. He spoke through a muffled microphone and a finger stained glass booth – “SWIPE it”. I did but nothing happened. “SWIPE IT AGAIN”, he bellowed. I did and the same result. At this stage there was line of people behind me and I felt that I was holding up all of New York. I could feel myself blush. He showed no mercy but roared “SWIPE IT WITH ATTTTTTTITUDE!” I did! He looked at me and said “There’s $16 credit on this card and you’ve paid for three rides in the last five minutes. Have you gone ANYWHERE?”. “No”, I replied. He said “I’ll open the gate for you”. He did and as my friend and I walked away I heard a loud roar; “Hey you”. Though Penn Station was packed, I had no doubt it was a call to me so I looked around. He held his hand up in the booth and gave me piece of solid advice. “Remember”, he said “you’ve got to do it WITH ATTTTTITUDE”!!
So Bishops, I believe I’m meant to conclude with a toast to you. Maybe that’s it. Maybe whatever you have to do at this time, for the Gospel and the church, for yourselves and for all our people; “Do it, with attitude”!
God bless you all and thanks.