First Anniversary of Fr. Seamus Stapleton SCA R.I.P - Parish Priest of Hastings


On this Sunday last year we were faced with the sudden death of Fr. Seamus who was swept away from this world in the space between the two Sunday Masses. We remember especially in prayer his mother Mary and his family for whom this day is especially lonely.

I was Rector of the Student House in Dublin when Seamus joined and I have many memories of him but one in particular stands out. I had come back from a walk in Marley Park and found Seamus with Noel O’Connor sitting at the table in the kitchen. They were talking about farming and animals and Noel asked Seamus what would be the first thing he would see when he walked into a field of cattle, something Seamus was very familiar with. Seamus sat erect and in his direct way he replied, “I’d see the strong animal first!”

I was asked the same question, though I’ve seldom ever in my life walked into a field of cattle. In Marley Park I had just spent a while with a swan that had a broken wing, something I did regularly and there seemed to be some kind of connection between us. What is broken attracts my attention. So in answer to Noel I said, “I suppose I’d see the weak one first!”

The strong and the weak! Seamus and I were two sides of the same coin. While I tend to get absorbed into the sufferings of others to the extent that I become as helpless as they are, Seamus had in him a strength that those who suffer found supportive and redemptive.

He had in him first of all his own experience of the healing, redeeming love of God and this, together with his experience of suffering, gave Seamus the capacity to identify with the sufferings of others, with their struggles. They found comfort and hope in him. And I’m sure his dry sense of humour also gave people the lift they needed!

Jesus sums up the commandments, condenses the ten into two, and condenses them into Love. They are in essence the way of loving in this world. What Jesus says of the first is very striking, “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind,” while the Book of Deuteronomy uses the phrase “with all your might!”

We often limit our loving of God to the bare minimum but this loving of God that Jesus speaks of is total and it is mighty. That was the kind of strength of loving that was in Seamus. He gave his “all” to God and this overflowed into his care for those who suffered.

There’s no better way to be prepared for death than to be loving God with that kind of passion and loving one’s neighbour with the same love. At least to be striving for this.

The suddenness of Seamus’ death stops us in our tracks and reminds us of the need to be living in a prepared way, not taking either life or death for granted but honouring both. It’s typical of many of the Saints, including Vincent Pallotti, that they lived each day as if it were their last. What would I do if this were my last day? What would Jesus do; what would He have me do? Questions worth pondering without getting morbid or panicked!

What better way for a priest to die than on a Sunday morning having celebrated Mass with the parish community and to be getting ready for a second Mass. What better way for any Catholic to die. It was a grace given to my own mother that she died during Mass.

And there’s that little act of service in between, an act not to be undervalued – Seamus went to his kitchen to get milk for the tea down in the parish hall and in that act he died. It was his last act of service that was part of a whole life of service. A reminder to us of the sacredness of little acts of service and kindness!  As Jesus honoured the glass of water given, so He honours the jug of milk that Seamus went to fetch!

Not to be forgotten was Seamus’ love for the Blessed Virgin Mary who played a central role in leading him to her Son and kept him near to her Son Jesus. May he rest in her embrace in the new Cenacle of eternal life.

MAY THEY INTERCEDE


"he must not be allowed to reach out his hand and pick from the tree of life too" (Genesis 3:22)

Multitudes made manifest
In the Presence of God
Millions of unborn martyred
Holy Souls whose blood
With that of Christ is shed
Making intercession for us
That we might be freed
From all the guilt by which
We are bitterly burdened
Brought low by the sins
Of their dying and lifted
Up by Mercy if we would
Acknowledge them

Theirs is the sorrow
That has turned to joy
Their kindness is our
Consolation

May they intercede for all
Who will follow them and
For those who set them
On the path of martyrdom

And all the living innocent
Holy Souls who grace this earth
Desecrated so dispicably

May God be Saving Justice
And our Healing Peace
That we might turn again
In humble reverence
For Eden's most sacred

Tree
And touch it
Not

Amen.

UTTER CONVICTION: Mission Sunday Reflection - Eamonn Monson sac

Two of our Pallottines - Fathers Phil McNamara and Jose Campion - died in the past couple of days and it strikes me that both their lives are very fine expressions of the Mission of the Church which wr are celebrating today.

As God called King Cyrus by name, so He called Phil and Joe and they responded with all of their lives to that boundless divine stirring, the soundless whisper of God's voice in the depths of their soul. They left home and country as young men to serve in Christ's Mission to His people.

Fr. Johnny McDonagh, Br. Jim McCartan and Bishop Winters in Galapo

The details of the Mission given to each of us are different but it always involves being called personally by name to represent Jesus in this world in whatever sphere of life we are involved in. Ours is a communal calling in the Church, lived out in a uniquely personal way and the most authentic expression of Mission is one that stems from our personal experience of Jesus, an experience that draws us into the mystery of the Trinity.

Give to God what belongs to God, is what Jesus tells us in today's gospel. What belongs to God in the first place is the essence of Who He Is. Not that we can give that to Him, but it is an essential ingredient in Mission to acknowledge and honour who God is. "I am the Lord, unrivalled; there is no other God besides me...that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that, apart from me, all is nothing.’" (Isaiah 45:4-6)

Too often we regard God simply in relation to our own needs and, unconsciously, we try to manipulate God into being whatever suits us; we manipulate the "things of God" to suit our own purposes, often forgetting that it is we who are the servants of God rather than vice versa. And then in the mystery of His Love He becomes servant in Jesus and in doing so He shows what is the true quality of Christian service. It is the service of daughters and sons; it is the service of mutual self-giving of lovers.

What is accomplished in the Eucharist is that God gives the fullness of Himself to us in Jesus and we are invited to give all of ourselves in return. "All that I am, all that I do, all that I ever have I offer now to you", an offertory hymn we sing at Mass. Giving to God means giving my whole self and everything that makes up my life and discovering in the process that by giving away everything I lose nothing and gain everything in return.

The giving of ourselves to God, and in turn to others, in the Mission is always in accordance with the gifts that God has given us - gifts of nature and of grace. God accomplishes His work in us according to who we are, the person He created us to be. I cannot do things as another does and God doesn't seek to do anything in me that is out of tune with my nature.

When I went to Tanzania in the early 80's at the age of 26, I was overawed by the work being done by generous and seasoned missionaries in the area of human as well as spiritual development, work that I knew I was incapable of doing. And I was a bit lost for a while.

Then Bishop Patrick Winters came on a visit to Tanzania. He was the retired Bishop of Mbulu, a Galwayman who lived near us at home. I was like a son to him and he clearly saw my limitations and my gifts. When I was appointed to Galapo he advised me to concentrate on preaching the gospel which is what I did.

To my delight I encountered in people a great hunger for the Word of God which was received not only as words but, like St. Paul says, "as power and the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction." 

Utter conviction is a phrase that attracts and challenges me right now. An utter conviction that inspires rather than forces, that appeals rather than demands. An utter conviction first and foremost about the person of Jesus Christ and about the Gospel, the Good News which He himself has given us. He is himself the Gospel, He is the Word. I am utterly convinced of this even if I struggle to communicate that conviction.

I think of the conviction I had when I was a boy, the intense hunger I had for Jesus and, what may seem excessive, I used to go to the Augie in Galway on my way home from school and would pray an act of "spiritual communion" even though I might actually have received Communion at Mass that morning. 

It's a prayer that returned to me when I was with Radio Maria Ireland where it was prayed live on air when we celebrated Mass in the studio. Prayed for the benefit of those who would like to attend Mass but were unable to do so, it's a prayer that can be used by the many who come to Mass but are unable to come to Communion.

"My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You have already come, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen."

That was the strength of conviction I had as a child and, while I am still utterly convinced, something has been lost along the way. I'm not sure that I can ever recover what was lost but I am certain that it can be found in a new way in my present life. It is the beauty of life in Christ that all is never lost and there is always something new, maybe even something better to be gained as happened at the wedding at Cana.

BONFIRE NIGHT, HARVEST SUNDAY



The contrast could not be greater! The bleakness of two nights ago has given way to a summer-like calm; the place where emptiness abounded now overflowing with hundreds of people, maybe thousands. Silence has surrendered to heart-pounding drums that seem to hit you right in the chest, bullet-like bangers explode by the minute. The restrictions of Ireland do not apply here.

It's bonfire night, commemorating 1066 - the Battle of Hastings - and the the pre-bonfire parade passes beneath my first floor open window. Great view.

People march in period costumes carrying flaming torches to the beat of  hundreds of drums, a noise that is both thrilling and frightening! All ages are there. An elderly woman with a walking stick has the resolute bearing of a general and a baby sleeps in her buggy, oblivious to it all. The power of sleep when it descends on an infant!

The air is full of fire and sulphur and good humour! The whole parade takes about 30 minutes to make its way through High Street, which I'm told is part of the route for all the big parades. The English don't simply observe and remember - they dress up and participate in these historical anniversaries. Like the day during the summer when the whole population of the town dressed as pirates, some even arriving to Mass as pirates.

The bonfire was happening on the pebble beach. I saw the pallets piled up the previous day. High as a house it seemed to me! Being attracted to fire from early childhood I couldn't resist the urge to go down and see. People are drawn to fire, fascinated! Thousands of people in this instance!

I find a place behind the barrier on the edge of the shore a good distance from the fire itself. Not close enough to feel the heat but still amazing to watch as the flaming torches are thrown at the wooden pile which is gradually set alight into a huge ball of flame.

Having watched it for a while I turned to go when I heard a loud whistling noise and turning back I saw the fireworks begin. This was unexpected and utterly thrilling beyond anything else that had happened this evening. And though I had seen fabulous fireworks in Dinsey Paris, this was up close and personal. They were exploding in beautiful colour right above me so that I had to hold my head back in looking up to see. I was like a child then, first smiling, then laughing and uttering wows with every breath.

The feeling when it was done was one of utter satisfaction. You could sense it in the crowds of those who wandered slowly homeward, the chattering delight of children reviewing, reliving what they had experienced. Thousands of others didn't wander home at all, but gathered in front of overflowing pubs to extend their satisfaction there.

Back in home I savoured it all over a bar of chocolate and then flicked on the telly where I came face to face with Absolutely Fabulous, a programme I hadn't seen for years. You should have heard me laughing out loud to myself! Fabulous indeed!

Next morning fire of a different order entered into our hearts, the fire of Divine Love in the Eucharist, not as externally dramatic but inwardly far more pervasive. Sunday morning is wonderful, a roller coaster in slow motion - the Mass itself and the interaction with the people afterwards.

Organised by Sacred Heart School, this week we celebrated harvest at the 10.00 family Mass and I had a lovely conversation with the children about Tanzania and food, our likes and dislikes, being thoughtful of those who don't have the luxury of liking or not, being grateful for what we eat, even the food we prefer not to eat.

The offertory was a great procession of parents and children bringing food to the altar for those who are hungry in our town. What a sacred thing it is when a little child hands me a tin of beans or a banana. There is a tender generosity in it.

There were a lot of people! We're doing a head count for the diocese but I prefer not to know numbers and in moments when I want to count and even boast about numbers, I'm reminded of the census of King David that displeased God so much. Greatness is not to be measured and our strength is not in numbers but in the Lord.

As if to emphasise the importance of the little, after the 11.30 Mass I was saying hello to a one year old boy who reached out to touch my beard, smiled withdrew his hand, then reached out again a rubbed my face. So tender so graceful filling me with such joy, the touch of a child's hand, the touch of the hand of God.

As a calm sun set on the peaceful evening, I think of Ophelia and everyone at home, praying that they will be safe and well in the unfolding storm.


OH WINDS OF THE NIGHT


I find myself singing the Connemara Cradle Song. “Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow!” Out loud! Against the wind, head down in the dark, the wind with rain on it. So it doesn't matter! No one can hear me.

The seafront on this night feels like a scene from Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes!‘ It is the scene of mostly solitary men, mostly jogging. One woman! Jogging! The bravest is the man who sits on a bench staring out to sea. Stillness mid the elements! Waves like a thousand white horses galloping to the shore.

All the amusements stand deserted. Kiosks closed and shuttered! Palm trees wave frantically and the automated pirate’s voice in the crazy golf place shouts insults at nobody.

I was tempted to sit in front of the TV for the evening. I had just witnessed a teenage boy’s grief over the death of his dad; heard the poem of the man’s godson spoken through tears. Observed the dignified sorrow in the faces of all those who loved him. I soak it all in until I’m filled with a helpless pain.

St. Mary Star of the Sea offers a space of solace, comfort and a bit of warmth when one’s very core turns cold with grief.

John was only 50 and I met him once, the day before he died in a tragic fall. He was at Mass and came up to me at the door afterwards to welcome me to Hastings. A bright smile, vibrant and warm! His beautiful three year old daughter was with him.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me! When I was a stranger you made me welcome” – the words of Jesus keep turning in my mind. This is what John did for me and therefore to Christ Himself. It’s as if an unnameable interior pull drew him to Mass that day to be near to Jesus in preparation for what he did not know was going to happen. God does that when someone is about to die. He visits them in a hidden mysterious way to prepare their soul for the pilgrimage beyond death.

And maybe John’s welcoming of me was part of that preparation. I’m already well welcomed here but there was something about the way it happened with John. It’s one of the things specified by Jesus in the last Judgement that awaits us all in the end. I was a stranger and you made me welcome. Whatever you did to one of the least of these you did it to me.

That’s the kind of thing that determines whether we get to heaven or not – what we do to the least of people or neglect to do.

The wind has a way of reaching into the loss that I have absorbed, stirs up all kinds of stuff and now the fury inside me. It’s a kind of helpless fury over the unspeakable violence that is visited by men and women on the least of all God’s people. The anonymous women, men and children who are violated day in and day out!

I have a fury over the selective outrage that is trotted out in public, on the airwaves, spoken by the sophisticated, glamorous, and powerful of this world.  Every violation is an outrage but it frustrates me to hear one outrage spoken by people who promote other outrages. But they are not seen as outrageous because they are so slick and posh and rich.

It appalls me that people claim to have rights over the lives of others, rights that belong to God alone but maybe He has been turned into an irrelevance by minds that do not wish to know the truth.

And I wonder too is there another storm on the way? A storm of a different order. Is the turmoil taking place in nature prophetic of something spiritual to come?

So that’s the kind of prayer going on in me as I push resolutely against the wind and rain. I think of Jesus in the storm on the sea of Galilee, His own fury in the cleansing of the Temple. Mine is an unholy fury. If unleashed it would just be destructive. And I take no pleasure in it at all. His fury is pure and redeeming. So I give mine to Him for what it’s worth and maybe He will turn it into something redemptive.

“Oh winds of the night may your fury be crossed. May no one that’s dear to our island be lost!”

With the wind to my back now my mind turns to something beautiful, the consolation of another grief, one of the most awful griefs that I have witnessed. A mother who has seen three of her children die, two of daughters in the space of two months. She has a very special place in my heart and it was such a joy to get the news that she has given birth again to a beautiful daughter. The thought of them softens my entire being.

So I pray for them with gladness and gratitude. And I sing the lullaby for them in a sporadic kind of way – not as it is meant to be sung, but I am singing:

Angels are coming to watch o'er thy sleep
Angels are coming to watch over thee
Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow
Lean your head over and hear the wind blow
Blow the winds gently, calm be the foam
Shine the light brightly and guide them back home

I turn in home to my quiet house. Earlier in the day a visiting priest asked if I mind living alone and the answer that emerged in me was, “I am not alone!”


+++




MICHAEL: Let Me Sing To My Friend - Eamonn Monson SAC

Let me sing to my friend
Let me sing to my friend the song of his love
Let me sing to my friend the song of his love for his vineyard (Isaiah 5:1)


Michael scared the life out of me the first time we met! He was so angry and aggressive with bitterness carved into the shape of his mouth. Eyes on fire! I was repelled inside but I stood my ground because he was hungry and he had come to our house for food. So I got something together and gave it to him. He scowled. I left him alone.

Oddly enough we became friends over time; we grew to love each other. And we often laughed together.

He started to tell me the story of his life and I listened. It completely changes your perspective when you hear what the other has been through, even though it also leaves you helpless because there is nothing you can do to change what another person has experienced, can’t change what life has done to them. But we can be present to a certain extent and we can listen. Listen without judgement!

Michael had had a very brutal childhood during which he was severely beaten on a regular basis and it left him seriously damaged. Relationships didn’t work out, jobs didn’t last and he ended up homeless. The only comfort he got was when he drank but that’s a comfort that only lasts a while and when it fades it leaves a man desolate and desperate. He died young and it was probably a happy release for him but I missed him when he was gone.

It’s Michael I think about when I read the lovely and lonely song of the vineyard at Mass today, the 27th Sunday.

The vineyard of the Lord, in Old Testament times, is the House of Israel! Today it is us, God’s own people whom He dearly loves. It is the individual person, especially the one who ends up desolate and rejected for whatever reason.

Vineyards bearing fruit are beautiful to behold. We saw many of them on the Camino – rich grapes full of juice, full of promise, powerful symbol of life. They can only be beautiful when tended carefully, diligently, by hard work.

To let a vineyard go is to surrender it to the wild, untamed ways of nature. I see it in my own back garden. Not a vineyard but a garden, a very nice garden in my mother’s time. It’s still not bad but the end of it has gone wild because I can’t look after it. Amazing the speed and persistence of briars! They take over everything.

There are briars that take over the mind and heart and soul of a person, to such an extent that they give up on themselves and most others give up on them too. They become the rejected.

When Jesus talks about the vineyard in the gospel He reminds us that He too is the rejected one – the stone that the builders rejected – and He takes the part of all those whom society rejects, all those whom we reject, the Michaels of this world.

In the ways of God it is those who are rejects who become the key to salvation; it is through them that we are introduced to the most authentic experience of God, the most profound of spiritual experiences.

It requires a change of mind, a conversion of our way of thinking, learning to think in the way that Christ thinks on all levels of life, as St. Paul said last week, “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2) Most of the time we don’t want to go there because it actually challenges our deep-seated attitudes that we are unwilling to let go of.

But if we take the way of positive, God-like thinking, the way that leads to peace then we will come to see everything and especially every person in a different light.

Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise...Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:6-9)

When our minds are so filled in this way, then we have the enlightenment to see the rejects of society as God sees them and, hopefully respond to them as God does, in love rather than in fear.

This quote from John Chrysostom, which I saw on Facebook yesterday, is very apt, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.”


Eamonn Monson sac

Please take a look at Snowflake Nightshelter website: http://www.snowflake-nightshelter.org.uk/



BOOKENDS: My Induction As Parish Priest of Hastings - Eamonn Monson sac



I’m wearing vestments that were made for my predecessor Fr. Seamus who was a much, much bigger man than me by a long shot, so there’s no way I can fill them as he did. There is no way that I can fill the space occupied by him when he was Parish Priest. But all the same the vestments fit me in a different kind of way. Something of Seamus remains here but things are not the same. His death brought an unexpected change and I have become part of that change. When I was his novice master I never dreamed that he would die before me, never thought that I would succeed him. 

On the front and back of my chausible is the Pallottine seal with the motto "Caritas Christi Urget Nos" (The Love of Christ Urges us on). This seal is testament to our communal calling, the mission given to each of us personally and together as community.

The emotion of his passing is still strong! He is very much missed and was greatly loved here in Hastings. He touched people’s lives for the better. People tell me all the time, though I don’t think they expect me to do things as he did and I’m not putting myself under pressure to be like him. At 62 you realize that you can’t be what you’re not. I know my limitations, my unworthiness. I know that at some levels of my life I am not fit for this. But I also know the gifts that God has given me. Shankill has shown them to me, taught me how to use them.

Deacon Duncan knows I don’t care for the glory of the big occasion and in the lead-up to my induction as Parish Priest I was fairly apprehensive. I would have preferred if it could have been done in the privacy of the Bishop’s office. But Bishop Richard likes to do it in public with the parish present and Duncan is delighted because he too knows that it’s needed.

They are right of course. Becoming Parish Priest is not a private matter between the Bishop and myself. I belong to the People; we belong to each other in this ministry.

The priests of the Deanery are present as well as Fr. Luke from the Anglican Communion. Canon Tom in neighbouring St. Leonards has been a true friend to me since I came here and I felt we would be companions but it is not to be! He is being moved to a part of the diocese that is about 3 hours away from here. So, on that front God seems to be saying, “do not cling!” Only in God!

Before Mass I was asked if other Pallottines would be present or any of my family. They are not – not because they would not come, it just didn’t happen. And I conclude that in this moment the People of Hastings are both my community and my family. That is not to deny either my family or community. It’s somehow necessary that I do not cling to them, depend on them. I must stand up straight in Jesus in this community. He is the centre around whom we gather.

When I was on the Pallottine retreat for a couple of days while meditating on the woman taken in adultery from John 8, I felt myself being drawn into the person of Jesus and twice it is said of him that “He stood up straight” and I see in this the call for me to stand up straight in Jesus.

And as we come near to the time of beginning, I find myself at peace. A fine crowd has turned out and the procession enters the church to the beautiful sound of the hymn “Servant King” which I heard for the first time here in Hastings a few weeks ago:
From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live
This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King
It’s not only the choir who sing it beautifully but the whole congregation. I also asked to have the hymn, “For You Are My God” (based on Psalm 16) as the Responsorial Psalm which the choir had to learn it caught on, like an anointing. We also had some very uplifting classical Latin Hymns.
We kept the readings of the day – the first being about the rebuilding of the Temple and the gospel was the short piece where Herod is wondering who Jesus really is. There is reference to the beheading of John the Baptist which felt a little bit challenging! But the last sentence is what mattered, “He was anxious to see Jesus!”
Bishop Richard Moth confessed to his love for Canon Law and you can see the Canon Lawyer in him. He likes things done properly. But he was also very kind and fatherly towards me in the midst of the solemnity of the induction itself. And it is very solemn, awe inspiring, daunting! I’m left in no doubt as to the sacred responsibility entrusted to me, a responsibility to which I make a public commitment.
It’s almost like being ordained all over again. Anointed is what I feel. Not power, not position but an anointing like the anointing of Jesus Himself. And in the midst of this I thought of my parents and Maura looking down from heaven as witnesses.
What I feel from the People is the warmest of welcomes, a sense of true delight in them. The experience is for me like a bookend. The leaving of Shankill was like a bookend on the shelf of my life and this induction into Hastings is a bookend on that same shelf and my life is somehow held between the two. Two extraordinary blessings.
After Mass we went to the hall for food. Those who prepared it did a fabulous job and worked so hard and the atmosphere was full of joy!
When I got back to my room so filled with grace I sat for a long time and even when I went to bed I couldn’t sleep. And at one point in the midst of my wakefulness I realized that we took no photos at all! Me of all people not to have photos of such a moment in my life! The only image remaining, the only image that matters is the one imprinted in our minds, hearts and souls.
Ps One of the singers in the gallery took this one photo! Thank you!