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!"
Prayer of Abandonment of Charles de Foucauld
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,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.