Category Archives: Reflections

Bits and pieces that I like

Sunday Morning Coming Down ….

I got an email from a regular visitor to this blog yesterday.  He mentioned that the visits (hits) on the blog had just exceeded 200,000.  I hadn’t noticed but he was right.  What does that mean?  I’m not fully sure of the distinction between “hits” and “visitors” but it seems to say that what I have here has been looked at over 200,000 times.  That’s gratifying and humbling – thanks!  The first time I did this was on July 8th, 2008 with a few lines about “Barnie” my parents’ dog who had died some weeks earlier (http://sherlockshome.info/2008/07/08/hello-there/) and I had no idea where it would go and what would come next.  Since then, I’ve tried to mix it up a bit – a few stories, lots of photos, a tune or twenty and bits and pieces from life.  This blog has travelled with me through the deaths of my mother and father (R.I.P.) and other family events  It has allowed me record the weddings and happy events of some friends along the way and given the chance to share an occasional thought I felt might be worth sharing.  Sometimes it has been more personal than I might have imagined but, since July 2008 – for about six years now has been a companion, of sorts, and has, I like to think, welcomed other companions along the way, acknowledged friendships and spoken in an honest way.

Thanks for being part of the journey.

I’m not sure if it was the mention of the 200,000 that put figures in my head but I found myself this morning, alone in the sacristy before Mass, looking through the register we keep there (have kept since February 2010) to record the names of Mass Servers who served Masses, Ministers of The Word and Eucharist, our Sacristan and the name of the priest who celebrated Mass.  This, as you know, is part of the Safeguarding Policy of our day but is also an interesting record of a journey of Faith – its detail, in the main, drawn from the Sunday Mass.

I just looked quickly through the pages and, apart from Sundays I was away on holidays or maybe had to be somewhere else, my name is part of the weekly story in this parish – in Kilmovee Church alone – today was about the 270th Sunday Mass (or Holy Day/Christmas/Easter etc) I celebrated Mass.  We only use the register when there are Mass Servers so weekday Masses etc are not counted.  Today then was about the 270th time I stood in front of the people of Kilmovee to celebrate Sunday Mass, preach a few words and hopefully offer a bit of support and nourishment for the week ahead.  When I think the same could be said of Urlaur – that’s over 500 occasions, not counting the Sundays I celebrated Mass in Glann or Kilkelly.  It’s a striking number and begs the question, “what have I been saying?”

The answer must lie in the truth that I have been saying the same thing, over and over, with slight variation.  That is reality.  We only have so much to say – stories to tell and experiences to share.  So, no matter how many Sunday Mornings “come down”, the reality is I have only the one message and I really want to believe that message is rooted in the Gospel.

Today’s Gospel – even in the shortened form I read at Mass – speaks to the honesty of our lives.  The wheat grows side by side with the enemy-planted darnel. Often it can go unnoticed but all too often it’s there.

This is the story brought to us from the lips of Jesus.  The workers report the existence of the darnel to the landowner, offering to weed it out immediately but he recommends caution.  To rush the weeding could damage the crop.  Let both grow til Harvest time and then the sorting can be done.

I believe we are essentially wheat – the good crop.  That’s the way God made us and that’s what he wants for and from us.  Goodness! We are from the outset good.  Sadly though the darnel makes its way into our lives.  It takes subtle hold of us, alters the very path of our growth and ultimately, if left unchecked, can destroy us.

To me, the Lord is saying, the sorting needs to be done.  He takes no pleasure in the smell of burning so asks us to look honestly at our lives and to name the darnel, even if well developed, and to separate it from the intended crop.  He is calling us to be honest enough to look at our own lives and recognise there-in our weakness and limitation. He offers us, through the Sacraments of the Church, the call to repentance, to putting right what is wrong to allow for the reclamation of the name – the wheat – the crop he so truly wants for us.

We were born good.  This week we think of that Malaysian Aeroplane on the runway.  We imagine the soothing words of the Captain, speaking to those on board prior to take off.  He told them of the flight plan, I’ve no doubt, about the expected time of arrival and most likely told them to sit back, relax, enjoy the flight and that he’d talk to them again during the flight to update them.  He left them in the care of the cabin crew who, it’s certain, made sure their seat backs were in the upright position, their seat belts fastened tightly around their waists and with a smile and reassuring touch, calmed the most nervous, reassured the parents travelling with “very small children” and took their own seats for take-off.  Good people!  Wheat.

On the ground there were people with other intentions.  They couldn’t care less about the safety of the passenger.  Evil invaded every pore of their being.  Darnel smothered the wheat that was once there.  Was it a soldier obeying and order?  Was it a terrorist?  The label is almost by the way.  The reality is that weaponry, technology, violence were mixed with intent and innocence was dragged from the sky.  God rest each and every one of them.  God bring those responsible to a place where they recognise the cruelty of their action, the futility of violence and to an abiding desire for peace.  “Swords into plowshares” (Is 2:4)  The ones on the ground, the ones in the plane – born Good!  “An enemy has done this” ….

So I’m left wondering what I am saying today – and realise I’m saying nothing new, that I’m not being asked to say anything that hasn’t been said before and maybe that’s no harm.  It’s enough to say the right thing and to keep saying it.  It’s even more important to want the right thing and to do something about doing it!

A look into the field then, is appropriate, the field of wheat and to see there the darnel, to mark its spot, bide our time and weed it out.  Once the weeding is done, sometimes the advice is given that we should spray to prevent new growth – to protect the ground.  Maybe we need to PRAY to do likewise!

_______________________________

16th Sunday of The Year

  • All planting and planted is good
  • ESSENTIALLY Good People
  • Weeds develop -often cunning

o   Disguise themselves

o   Grow with the crop

o   cause damage

o   Need to recognise them

  • God wants the best of our crop

o   Reconciliation and Confession

o   Focus on the Crop !

o   Weeds bundled and burned

  • Spray to protect the ground

o   PRAY to protect the ground

  • Ongoing Call to holiness

Praying for different results

papalprayerThis photo has featured many times since the day the two popes met and spent a bit of time in prayer.  Quite humorously, it was used in recent days to show the two men praying for different results in the World Cup.  We now know which way that one fell!

Yesterday I was reading some Patrick Kavanagh poetry (he’s still in my head and I intend learning a bit more about him in some way or other) and I came across a lovely poem called “FR MATT”.  It’s long and involved and seems to touch on the life of the priest in the parish. In fairness, he’s a good man who seems to fit in well – as Kavanagh says, “like a round stone in a field”.  I had the feeling Kavanagh liked him.

There’s a part of the poem about people waiting in church to go to confessions and the prayers being said.  There’s a lovely piece about two people praying within kneeling board distance of each other but their prayers are for a different outcome …

In the dim
Corners in the side seats faces gather,
Lit up now and then by a guttering candle
And the ghost of day at the window.
A secret lover is saying
Three Hail Marys that she who knows
The ways of women will bring
Cathleen O’Hara (he names her) home to him.
Ironic fate! Cathleen herself is saying
Three Hail Marys to her who knows
The ways of men to bring
Somebody else home to her –
‘O may he love me.’
What is the Virgin Mary now to do?

                                                  (From “Fr Matt” by Patrick Kavanagh)

It begs the question whose prayers should be answered.  Pope Francis said that he wasn’t going to pray for any team in the World Cup but rather that the sport would be enjoyed, bring people together and leave it at that.  I heard of a Priest President of a diocesan college who used train the football team and he’d tell the team clearly that he wasn’t going to pray for victory as the other team would be doing the same and might be better “pray-ers”!!  Same idea.

So what happened Cathleen O’Hara (he named her) and the man in the next seat.  Was prayer answered?

They say it’s always answered but maybe we don’t recognise the answer or understand it.

Any thoughts on this …. maybe we could get a discussion going!!

 

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

grandcanalkavanagh

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.

dalgancemetery

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”?

The Dawning of THE DAY

For the third year, we gathered on Easter Sunday Morning for a Dawn Mass in the grounds of Urlaur Abbey.  There was a fine gathering of people from the parish and beyond – some from Ballymote, Curry, Charlestown, Carracastle, Knock, Kiltimagh, Ballaghaderreen, Monasteraden and, I’m sure, other places.  It was lovely to see so many come together to welcome “hope” on Easter Sunday.

I shared a few words there, as I had done at the Vigil Mass and, again at the later Masses of Easter Day.

I mentioned that I was moving a bookcase in my bedroom earlier in the week and that a bank card fell on the ground.  I felt it wasn’t mine but I stooped to pick it up and noticed it was a card of my mother’s.  It expired in 2008, a year before she herself entered Eternity.  I said I looked at the card for a while and it was the standard issue – embossed lettering giving her name, the expiry date and other details, the logo of the bank and the little security tag.  In effect, a piece of plastic.

It was when I turned it over its full story unfolded.  On the back I saw my mother’s signature.  The writing was shaky but the name and signature hers.  I found myself sitting back on my bed and crying.  I cried, not flowing or endless tears, but those tears that well up in the eyes, burn a little and surprise you by their arrival. Real tears nonetheless that both shocked and reassured me. Shocked insofar as they were not expected and reassured to the degree I realised yet again, the strong bond that exists within family and among loved ones.  It is a bond that transcends time and bursts open graves.  There was a presence in that signature.

What struck me most was remembering my mother say to me many times; “Nobody will ever love you as much as I do”.  I have two brothers and I have no doubt her love for them was as strong but I suspect she may have said this to me more often since they have families of their own.  It struck me, as I looked at the bank card, that she was saying to me I’d never be alone and that her love would always be there.  (So too, and I know this for certain, my father’s, R.I.P.)

I wondered though how seriously I took her words to heart when she spoke them.  Did I really allow them in?  Did I fully believe what she was saying?  Though, I’m happy enough I believed it, chances are I didn’t fully understand.

That’s the link with the Easter Story in my mind this weekend. The women go to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, not to meet the Risen Christ but to anoint a dead body.  Time had denied them the opportunity on the Friday evening in the shadow of the approaching Sabbath so he was buried without the customary anointing.  They felt badly about this and wanted to set things right.  So, it was to visit the dead they went that morning, not to witness the central teaching of our Faith, that “he is risen”.  The Angels told the women that he had, in fact, risen and added “as he said he would”.  That’s the line that hit me very much this weekend – “as he said he would”.

They heard him say it but seemingly it hadn’t sunken into their hearts.  Yes, they believed but, no more than my mother’s words, they hadn’t fully grasped that he absolutely meant what he was saying.

Jesus used words well.  He would have been quite at home in the world of “Twitter” and “SMS” where a few characters tell a story that far outweighs their numbers.  It’s not that Jesus was mean with his words or careful how much he said.  He said what needed to be said and, more than that, he meant it.

Maybe we need to hear his words again – perhaps some of our favourite phrases from the Scripture – and allow them sink in, be real, understood and believed.

I told the people on the shore in Urlaur (and at other Easter Masses last weekend) that I’ve told them many times I am proud of them, happy to be with them, grateful to them and I wondered did they really believe me or think these were just words falling from an open mouth?  I mentioned my classmate, Archbishop Eamon Martin, whom I’d seen on TV during the week.  He was speaking at a presentation of awards to young people in the Archdiocese of Armagh and said that the young people were not our “future” but were, more vitally, our “present”.  I had not thought of it in that way before.  I said that I had tried to encourage young people over the years to be involved in parish life since they are the new generation and the builders of the church of tomorrow but, listening to Eamon, I had it wrong – they are our “now” – it is today we need them, depend on them, hope in them and call them to life in the Faith.  Again, I did not want these to be words they hear but don’t believe.  I’d like to think, I’m saying what I believe, despite my own confusions and uncertainties from time to time.

“Nobody will ever love you as much as I do” …. a plastic card, a shaky signature but a totally TRUE statement.

“Lord, increase our faith …..”

The Enchanted Way

I was asked if I’d consider including the text of “The Enchanted Way” on the Blog for Lent.  This was first published in 1999 and re-printed in 2005 so thought might be no harm to include here at this stage. Thanks to all who have mentioned these reflections to me over the years.  It’s lovely to hear that they’ve been used and if this platform gives them another airing, that can’t be bad!!

(Click on “pause” to spend a bit of time with an image, story or prayer or just let it play through on its own.  Whatever works best for you).

Also available here on PDF

(If you wish to order a hard copy of The Enchanted Way you can do so through the Veritas Website at this link)