WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS: The Marriage of Brian and Jenny Kirby

Saying "I do!" The vows witnessed by Jesse and Peter

Sitting on the pier in Hastings this Sunday afternoon in the face of a mighty wind, drinking coffee that is fast going cold, eating cake, I can feel the sea beneath me crashing; I can see it through the gaps of the decking.
It’s lovely to mull over the good things that have happened the past few days – all associated with Brian and Jenny’s wedding.
I think of the baby that I blessed in his mother Evelyn's womb; the baby born whom I have always loved and, so present was I in his first few days that some of the nurses thought I was his dad.
I think of the boy, the youth who always retained a kind of innocent wonder, having a truly loving and lovable nature.
And I see the man standing at the top of St. Joseph’s church – waiting for his bride to arrive. The excited nervousness of him!
When Jenny finally arrives, fairly much on time, accompanied by her mother Frances and she and Brian hold hands there is already a sense of completeness. The joy they take in each other is obvious and inspiring. I feel very emotional every time I look at them.
With the help of Roisin I went looking for quotes about love in Harry Potter because I had heard that Jenny is a big fan. In one of the Harry Potter books Albus Dumbledore uses this quote from Jesus “Where your treasure is there will be your heart also”
The treasure is the thing you love most in life, the thing that captures your heart and mind and soul, the pearl without price that you would do anything to get your hands on. The treasure is not a thing at all, not even a priceless pearl – the treasure is a person, the person you love most in the entire world.
In the wider context of our Christian faith, our treasure is also a person, the person of Jesus and our life is an infinite searching and discovering the mystery of who He is, the mystery that is most especially experienced in the wonder of the Eucharist. The pearl of great price is His Word, it is the Wisdom sought by young King Solomon, a discerning heart that knows how to choose what is good over what is evil, a heart that understands the right direction to be taken on the path of life.
Brian and Jenny have found their treasure in each other, they have captured each other’s mind and heart and soul and body.
Their love for each other is a beautiful thing to behold and, if I were to go looking for evidence of God’s existence, I see that evidence in both of them, in the quality of their love. It is a holy and a sacred thing. Where there is love there is God because God is Love.
The oddest things come into my mind in the silence of prayer. When I was praying for Brian and Jenny down in Mervue Church the day before the wedding, there came into my mind two characters from an animated movie about Noah’s Ark. They are Nestrians who can never settle anywhere and they end up on Noah’s Ark trying to escape the Flood. But they also end up falling into the waters of the Flood, and it’s when they are submerged in the water that they suddenly realize that this is actually where they belong, this is where they can breathe.
I believe in some way both Jenny and Brian have been going around in life not fully knowing where they belong or to whom they belong. Then suddenly they find each other at critical times in their lives and discover that they can actually breathe in a way that they never did before because they are each other’s atmosphere. They help each other to flourish and to thrive.
When a couple bring their relationship, their love to the altar they are expressing it in its purest form, bringing it to a new level, to the level of the Divine and they receive from God  the gift of His blessing and the promise that He will be with them all their days.
Theirs is a relationship that is unique, as unique as each of them is in the design of God. They have begun something new that belongs only to them and to no one else. Only they can determine together what their life will be from here on.
The beauty and challenge of loving is there in the two readings – the beauty of being loved by God as Jesus himself is loved (John 15); the demands of loving each other in the same way.  What St. Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13  and read with such meaning by Jenny's aunt Josie – “love is always patient and kind” – is not just something to be aspired to. It is something that Brian and Jenny are already capable of. The capacity for a love that is divine is within all of us.

Brian couldn't wait to walk his Bride down the aisle!

To quote Albus Dumbledore again, “You are protected by your ability to love!” Love is our protection, our strength. Loving and being loved by another; being loved by the Original Other who is God.

It was a great, great day! Families and friends coming together in one great expression of happiness, a happiness encapsulated by the children who ran and ran all day long and danced their little legs off into the night.
There were Jenny’s young cousins – all boys - from California and England. I spotted and overheard them in conversation with Katie, Alex and Laura. It was like a stand-off in the animal kingdom, male facing female. And they were arguing about Donald Trump! Katie expressing her indignation, her dislike of him, the American boys defending their President!
Eventually they forgot President Trump and their stand-off and spent much of the day chasing each other!
Coming back to my new home yesterday I was amused to hear a conversation between two young men on the bus at Gatwick airport. They were talking about weddings. Wedding speeches specifically! One of them was all for proper speeches and he was lamenting the shortness of those given at a recent wedding. He could not believe that all the speeches were over in 12 minutes. 
Well, at Brian and Jenny’s they probably lasted 10 minutes, including a wonderful slideshow put together by Peter, best man, cousin and as much a brother! The brevity was an expression of the simplicity that marked this wedding that had no excesses. The only flowers were those of Jenny and her lovely bridesmaid Jesse who is Jenny's only sister. It meant that what matters most was most in evidence.

Everyone at the reception loved the band and great praise was given to the frontman but I found him too intimidating and the music too loud so I retreated to the foyer and to conversations in which I could hear and be heard. Musically I am much more at home with the tranquility and joy of what Har and Rose played and sang during the Mass. And of course there was the lovely solo given by Katie on the violin during the signing of the register.

Lilies Of The Field by John Michael Talbot (Song)

A friend recently gave me this poem and I heard it read today on BBC4's 'Something Understood', so it seems appropriate to quote it here.
THE BRIGHT FIELD by RS Thomas
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
The field is the reality of our life as it is right now and sometimes that reality is like a pile of rubble, a complete mess. What we have to do then is to dig and search beneath the rubble for the treasure that is there, the pearl of great price. And in digging through the rubble we are reminded of another encouraging Word of Wisdom from St. Paul's letter to the Romans 8:28, "God turns all things to good with those who love Him!" With God every disaster contains within it the possibility for good. This is our hope in challenging times.

EVERY BREATH BECOMES A PRAYER


“God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, O Lord, abounding in love and truth, turn and take pity on me.” (Psalm 86)
The dates are different but it happened on this Sunday nine years ago. My mother was in hospital in Merlin Park during, what turned out to be, her final illness. I had asked the nurse if it would be alright for me to celebrate Mass in Mam’s room and she said, “why don’t you say it in the day room for all the patients.”

So it was! I came in the morning to help Mam get ready for Mass and she said to me, “I can’t pray”- something that is very common during sickness and old age. I told her not to worry about it because it’s written in the Bible that, when we are not able to pray, the Holy Spirit prays within us. He is in every breath we take and every breath becomes a prayer.

I hadn’t done any preparation for Mass so I didn’t know what the readings were and there to my delight was the very thing I had said to Mam. Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:26-27 “The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.”

Mam noticed it too and it confirmed for her that this is what the Lord was telling her. When a passage of Scripture comes up more than once like that, then I take special notice of it because I believe God is getting His message through to me.

And it’s not just during the weakness of illness that the Spirit comes to help us but in all our experiences of weakness. The Spirit is there within us, expressing our plea in a way that is in accordance with the mind of God, in a way that will bear fruit.

This is true in our struggle with sin. Wherever and whenever good is at work the devil is always at hand to sow the seeds of opposition to God, confusion and discouragement. When we fail to overcome a particular sin in our lives, when we fall repeatedly into the same sin, the devil makes us feel hopeless, whereas the Holy Spirit encourages us not to lose heart but to think about the patience of God, His lenience that is spoken of in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, “disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgement, you govern us with great lenience, and you have given your sons the good hope that after sin you will grant repentance.” (12:16-19)

The same lenient patience of God is revealed by Jesus in the parable of the wheat and the darnel, the weed that attaches itself to the wheat. The natural human instinct in the face of weeds is to get rid of them as quickly as possible, to root out the weed of sin radically and completely. But in our haste we can cause serious damage. Jesus says, wait, be patient, trust in God and do not rely on your own strength or understanding. Jesus says, “Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”

What I have to do as a follower of Jesus, as one who loves God, is to sincerely want to live a life of virtue, free of sin, and do all that I can to make that a reality. But it has been my experience that I spend many years and prayers striving to overcome a particular vice or sin and suddenly the moment arrives when my effort meets with the grace of God and freedom happens. It is God and not I who will get rid of the sin. I will allow Him to do it and the more I surrender to the prayer of the Holy Spirit right now the better able I will be on the day of grace to surrender to what the lenient Mercy of God wants to do.


+++

'I WANT TO SEE THE STARS' - A Reflection on the death of my Mother

SCHOOL'S OUT












Forty five years ago I spent the summer working in London. It was my first time hearing Alice Cooper and ‘School’s Out’ was big that year.

Today in Hastings school’s out again and I was up in Sacred Heart to celebrate the Leavers Mass – the senior boys and girls who are mostly moving on to St. Richards, a Catholic School in Bexhill. I still don’t know if they call it Secondary School here.

I love children. And the whole school of them was there, plus the parents of the leavers. Yet still I have to brace myself when going into a school. Brace myself, dig deep and stretch myself beyond what I think I’m capable of. It must be something unresolved from my own childhood, though I won’t be going into that too much.

Asking the children what they remember from their first day at school, one lad said that he felt scared. And I said that’s what I felt on my first day. And they all laughed when I told them that I spent the whole day screaming. Which is true! I never liked school from the first moment to the last.

So memories flow once I start thinking! On my fourth birthday Mam asked me if I would like to go to school. You could do that in those days – just send your child to start school any day at any time of the year. My response was an absolute yes. Not because I really wanted to be at school, but I wanted to be with my older sister Maura. There was nobody else I wanted to be with back then. Back then and for the rest of the time that she was on this earth I had a magnetic pull in her direction.

When I got to Scoil Iosagain I was absolutely shocked that I would not in fact be spending my time with her so I screamed for the whole day. Screamed and kicked! I don’t know if anyone understands how traumatized a child can be in such a moment. So I never recovered from that as far as school was concerned.

In Shankill in the early days I shared some of this with Miss Slavin, the Principal. My fear of schools! She listened and, like a therapist she enabled me to relax and grow to love Scoil Mhuire. I’m coming to love Sacred Heart too but there’s a time for adjusting.

At the start of Mass I asked the children, “are you all happy?” and they responded with a resounding “yes”. “And why are you happy?” I asked and one boy put up his hand and said, “because you’re here!” What more could you ask for!

It’s a Catholic school but most of their faces and those of their parents are unfamiliar, though it's important to acknowledge those who are familiar. And I wonder why it is that people are so eager to have a Catholic education but don’t participate in thoe Eucharist. I ask the question, not as a criticism but, my love for Jesus in the Eucharist, my experience of Jesus in Holy Communion makes me want everyone to experience it.

A woman in the parish goes to visit the local hospice which was once Catholic but no longer is. When she knows that a Catholic patient is near death she calls a priest to anoint, absolve and give them Holy Communion. Each of these sacraments is very important and very helpful as death approaches. On one occasion she could find no priest so she herself brought Communion to the patient. Sadly, there was nothing she could do about the anointing or absolution. When she mentioned it to the Bishop he told her not to be concerned because “all of redemption is in Holy Communion!” That’s a reality I like and I would love everyone to be in touch with all of the redemption that is available to them at Mass. Not just redemption for the next life but for now in this present reality.

I’m wondering how to get this message across and I look down and see some of the children with hands joined, eyes shut and focused. You know that something profoundly spiritual is going on inside them, that they somehow “get it” and, maybe that’s it – that some people get it and others don’t and it can’t be forced. Maybe we who get it are meant to live it on behalf of those who don’t, as a kind of leaven in the world.

When the prizegiving is taking place after Mass I’m gobsmacked at the number of activities children are involved in. One of the teachers in his address said that sport brings balance to life and so it does but spiritual exercise is also at least as necessary for balance. We allow ourselves to become spiritually unfit while we pay great attention to being physically fit.


So school’s out for Summer! One last thing! I went to get my hair cut for Brian and Jenny’s wedding next week. The pricelist on the window said £9 and that seemed not too bad for the little bit I have left. He’s a Turkish barber and an artist who would leave Edward Scissorhands in the shade! He flew around my head with such speed, yet not in a hurry. He took quite a while getting me in shape. And the “piece de resistance” was something I never saw or felt before. He had what looked like cotton wool on top of a longish stick, dipped in something, set it alight and came at my ears with the flaming thing. He said it was to get rid of the fuzz on my ears. And I’m all for getting rid of fuzz on every level of life!

I could smell my singed ears and it still only cost £9.

Speaking of Edward Scissorhands – a couple of months ago I was looking after Katie and Laura. Katie said, “I know a secret about Dad!” “What’s the secret?” I asked. “I know his real name! It’s Henry!” “And do you know my real name?” I asked. “Is it Edward?” she asked. And with that Laura piped up, “Edweirdo!” “Yes!” I said “I’m Edweirdo Scissorhands!” “What’s scissorhands?” they asked. So I introduced them to a character they had never heard of before. 


FOUR BROTHERS



Angel feathers
Falling at my feet

Four Brothers
Standing on the shore

No more will seagulls
Fly with them to sea

Their fishing days
Are at an end

Discarded fast-food papers
The meager pickings

Of bird and man
Made homeless

On the seafront
In the doorways

Of this teeming
Tourist town

Hunger brings him
To my door

"Thank you" he said
"For not making me feel
Ashamed"




THE HOPE OF BEING FREED: The Seed That Falls On Rich Soil


Listening to – or reading - the Word of God, it is good to ask the Holy Spirit to help us hear one word or phrase that strikes a chord, a word that finds resonance within. And having found that word to sit with it in silent prayer and allow it to address the reality of our lives as they are.

When I sat with the readings in preparation for this Sunday the one phrase that resonated with me was from the second reading from Romans 8:18-23, “...the hope of being freed...” I will sit with this word and let it do what God has sent it to do in my life trusting what is written in Isaiah 55:10-11,  ‘As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.’

Charismatic renewal in the 1970’s was one of the greatest events in the modern Church for many reasons but particularly for the way in which it opened up people’s lives to the power, the beauty and grace of the Word of God in the Bible. The best gift given me by my novice master was that of meditating on the Word of God, particularly in the Gosepls.

Many years ago now I met a Religious Sister whose great love in life was the reading of the Bible where she found the spiritual nourishment she needed for every day. Then in her old age she went blind but, instead of complaining or lamenting the loss of her great love, she asked God to give her one word or phrase every time she listened to the readings at Mass. And that is what happened! Every time she listened, even to the most difficult and hard to understand passages of the Old Testament, she always received something to keep her going, something that impacted on her daily life.

It happened because she offered to God the rich soil of her heart and He planted there the seed of the Word, a seed of hope.

It happens often that we marginalize the Word by our inattentiveness to it; or we offer it a heart that is dry, shallow or hard; a heart that is smothered by the distractions and cares of life.

But we can choose to offer an open, fertile and listening heart; a heart that is developed by prayer and suffering. As a seed in the soil of our garden only breaks open, germinates and grows in the darkness, and from the darkness is drawn upwards by the light, so with the seed of the word in the soil of our hearts. It needs the experience of darkness as well as the experience of light; it comes to birth and freedom by the process of a groaning that is sometimes very intense.

I’ve had many experiences of the saving, transforming power of the Word and the one that comes to mind now is from a period of great turmoil when my whole being was distressed, without peace or rest. I asked God for a word to address the turmoil and what came to me was the calming of the storm in Mark 4, especially the Word spoken by Jesus “Quiet now! Be calm!” In the quiet of prayer I allowed Jesus to speak these words to the storm that was raging within me. And the Word was effective.

In our time of need we can confidently go to Jesus to ask him for the Word we need, ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us with the Word and having found it allow it to do its work. Sometimes the Word we receive can be challenging in order to bring about our conversion or it can be consoling in order to heal. It will always be life-giving, as Jesus says, "The Words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." (John 6:63)

"...the one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty." (Matthew 13:23)

Postscript: As I listened to the gospel being read during Mass I was struck by two things: firstly this paragraph in which Jesus says, "‘But happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it." These words were in the last gospel that I read to my mother during Mass just minutes before she died. 


And the second thing is the date - July 16th, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On this very date 9 years ago we were told that Mam had terminal cancer and that she had about three months left to live. She died ten days later! May she rest in peace.

Each One There Has One Thing Shared

Tamanrasset! I’ve flown over it many times in my long distance travelling days, seeing its name on the live flight map on the screen at the back of the seat in front of me. Of all the names written on those maps, this is the one that has registered. As if something of this oasis city rose up from the Algerian desert to find a place in my heart for no particular reason.

It’s in my mind this late evening as I walk the seafront in Hastings mulling over the couple of days just past. Everyone is watching the full moon, its brilliance on the green water. Everyone except the young man with green mirror shades. He’s playing a Spanish guitar, looking in my direction.

Those of us mesmerized by the moon are attempting to capture it on camera but it never works. The woman with the long grey hair is right – it never comes out as good in a photo. So why don’t I just leave it alone to be what it is? Something in me wants to possess and preserve the beauty but possessiveness is always futile. Maybe I just want to be part of the same moon that everyone at home is seeing. 

But I know that I am possessive of what I don’t have and the temptation is to linger in fond memory, to close my eyes before I exit my new sacristy and think of me walking out to say Mass in Shankill, seeing the familiar faces of those who love me. However, I’m on a forward moving journey – it’s the only direction to go in.

And I’m settling into the way of things, getting the hang of some of it and there are people who are pleased that I am here, people who are actively trying to help me find a place and a home here. Mary the housekeeper keeps reminding me that this house is my home and I’m coming to realize that it is, though I still call myself ‘guest of a nation’ which of course is spiritually true. I have no lasting city in this world, no lasting place however much I might love it!

Terry has given me the use of his old red Mitsubishi until I get round to getting a parish car. It has come in handy. There was an urgent call from Conquest Hospital to come anoint a dying man. Very uncertain of where the hospital actually is I rushed out to the car, tried to get the satnav on my phone but it wouldn’t work. So I went, sweating in the heat, feeling frustrated, uttering words that were not blessings. Prayed to God, Our Lady, the Little Flower, Barnabas my Guardian Angel and then surrendered to trust that the One who called me would get me there.

I got there and anointed Michael who could not speak but whose large eyes grew softer as we prayed, the fear in them turning to gratitude, assenting to the Love that casts out all fear. The call had come from Cecilia who is the Catholic Chaplain at the hospital and when we got back to her office she received another call , this time from intensive care for a priest to anoint Dorothy, a Catholic woman who had no visible way of responding except in the hidden depths of her soul. Being there in the right place at the right time was a reminder of Providence.

Canon Tom from the neighbouring parish of St. Leonard’s on Sea has also being watching out for me. He took me along to Jesus Caritas, a priest’s fraternity that meets every month. There were four of us. We started with an hour of silent adoration, followed by lunch, followed by an hour of sharing. The sharing consists in reflection on the Gospel of the coming Sunday and then giving an account of what has been going on in our lives for the last while. This kind of accountability was recommended to us at our community retreat last year in Thurles and I’ve been looking out for it ever since. Little did I think I’d have to come to England to find it!!!

This brings me back to Tamanrasset! The Jesus Caritas fraternity follows the spirituality of Blessed Charles de Foucauld who lived as a contemplative hermit and died in Tamanrasset. His spirituality is one of radical simplicity of life and this speaks to, challenges my possessiveness. And this too is providential – if only I can let God have His way!

After that we had Confirmation practise and confessions for 15 mostly teens from three parishes. Five of them are from Star of the Sea and it was my first time meeting them. They had been prepared by Deacon Duncan who faithfully stepped into the breach after Fr. Seamus died.

Among the fifteen is Jan, a 91 year old Polish man who missed getting confirmed in his youth because he was a prisoner in Dachau concentration camp for four or five of his teenage years. And the thought of confirmation got lost all the years and only emerged recently.

What is astonishing about Jan is the joy that radiates from him, the strength of faith that is in him. When the fifteen were making their profession of faith during the Confirmation Mass Jan’s voice was stronger than all of the others put together. Do you believe? “I do” he shouted with the biggest smile on his face.

So this is the most inspiring thing – a man whose youth was stolen and broken emerged from it and somehow let go of it by the grace of God. So can I then not let go of everything that I seek to hold on to?

The Confirmation brought me face to face with Bishop Richard for the first time. I never know what to say to bishops but we ended up talking about jumping out of aeroplanes and the silence of the Carthusian monks at Parkminster which is less than 50 miles from here. 

How delighted I am to know that there is such a monastery so near, though, unlike the Cistercians in Roscrea, it’s not the kind of place you can just turn up to. You have to make an appointment to get past the front door.

My neighbour Fr. Tom picked up my interest and said he will take me there one day. So my monastic fix is not that far away!

Their silence is so great and their level of stillness so deep that they are not allowed to drive because their reflexes are so slow! 

In a parish context it would not be good for my reflexes to be any slower than they already are and still I have plenty of opportunities for silence and solitude. 

Like Jesus Himself I am not really alone because I'm connected to those I've left behind and those with whom I am now; those who have come to see me; those yet to come and those who have sent me parcels in the post. I just love parcels in the post! We are connected by prayer, by Eucharist and simply by the love we hold for each other in our hearts.

And I'm thinking of the moon again - Kathleen in Shankill asking had I seen it and it reminds me of Neil Diamond's song 'Done Too Soon' with the line,  "And each one there has one thing shared: They have sweated beneath the same sun, looked up in wonder at the same moon!"

Like Jesus I'm not alone for all of the above reasons and especially because God is always with me.



Prayer of Abandonment of Charles de Foucauld

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.


CONFESSOR (Word of Mercy)

Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive Mercy (Matthew 5:7)

He meets himself
On the other side
Of the grille

Face hidden
Sins revealed

He listens
To his own
Struggles

Spoken from the depths
Another

The hopelessness
That they will endure
To the end of days

Without respite
With Hope

In the person
Of Christ

He speaks the Word
Of Mercy

Into the contrite
Silence

Now

The only moment
That matters

Be at peace my soul
O my soul be at peace