MARY


She stands at the crossroads
Of time and eternity
Intersection of all creation

A desire as old as Eden
Burning in her soul
The yearning of every child

Who has graced the earth
Embodiment of  humanity's Hope 
Of Redemption, Restoration

She has held in her heart
The wandering aridity
Of the desert and there 

He comes to find 
Lifting her up and keeping
Her the apple of His eye

Humanity has found
A response to God in her
From her is deliverance

Brought forth in Christ
In whom we are born and breathe
Our perfect peaceful consummation

Healing for our scars


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As a Prayer

Mary,

You stand at the crossroads
Of time and eternity
Intersection of all creation

A desire as old as Eden
Burning in your soul
The yearning of every child

Who has graced the earth
Embodiment of humanity's Hope 
Of Redemption, Restoration

You have held in your heart
The wandering aridity
Of the desert and there 

God comes to find 
Lifting you up and keeping
You the apple of His eye

Humanity has found
A response to God in you
From you is deliverance

Brought forth in Christ
In whom we are born and breathe
Our perfect peaceful consummation

Healing for our scars

Amen!

Eamonn Monson sac
November 2017

UNDERGROUND




A man going underground
Looks furtively around
In case he might be found

Out

In his descent
To the hollows
That echo

In the dark

Where barefaced lies

Parade as truth
Shadows masked as pleasure

God is there
Because He cares
Though man is unaware

His Face uncovered
And unnoticed
He waits and waits

With infinite Patience




ICON: An Encounter With God - Eamonn Monson sac


Back in 2009 I was looking online for a retreat and my attention was drawn to an Icon Retreat that was taking place at the Redemptoristine Convent in Dublin. At first glance I thought it might be a peaceful time of gazing at these sacred images, a time of respite from the fractious life that I was engaged in at the time.

But it wasn’t simply a time of gazing! It turned out that participants would have to paint (write) an icon. Painting is not one of the talents God has given me but this retreat was tugging at my soul and seemed to be inviting me to stretch myself.

So, on a Monday morning in October twelve of us sat at our tables ready to begin. Our teacher was Mihai, a young Romanian iconographer. I felt like a four-year old starting school, looking at the space in front of me. The brushes, the picture that I was to work from, the blank white board onto which I would attempt to reproduce the lovely image of Our Lady. It promised to be an awful mess!

We listened to our teacher, did our best to follow his instructions and it meant picking up the brush, dipping it into the colour and applying it to the board.

I prayed as I worked for seven to eight hours a day, my mother’s memoriam card on the table as my companion. She had died just over a year previously and grief still stirred strong in me.

Looking at my icon now, eight years later, and reflecting on the process that brought it into being, it has come to be a symbol of what talent is all about. This is in the context of the Gospel reading for the 33rd Sunday.

Talents are God's own gifts given to us to enhance our lives and help us on the road to salvation. They are evidence of God's presence and activity in our lives, given in imperfect form to be developed and brought to perfection by our use of them. Like grace, we have to use our talent or lose it and losing it we let it die.

Ayrton Senna made great use of his talent for driving. A practicing, bible-reading Catholic he saw his talent for what it was - a gift given him by God - and driving formula 1 became experiences of God. On a practice run on the track he had an experience in which he transcended and entered into another dimension and spoke of having a vision of God as he crossed the winning line in a race.

I think of my mother baking brown bread - the taste of her bread fresh out of the oven, a taste of goodness, a sacred taste that somehow connects me with heaven, with God.

In my view, this is what God intends when he gives us gifts and talents - that they become a point of encounter with God, that they bring us authentic spiritual experiences when they are exercised in the way that God intends. And they only achieve this in our lives when we collaborate with God in their development.

My icon was a collaboration between God, Mihai and me. Without either one of us it would not have come into being, would not be what it is. God inspired, Mihai instructed, cajoled, challenged and worked on the parts of the icon that I could not do but - importantly for me - the face is mine. Each one doing that retreat reproduced the face of Our Lady very distinctively. I was quite amazed when I drew the first sketch of the face, amazed by myself and very grateful to Mihai who is a symbol and an image of God in the whole process.

Using one's talent is not simply about one's own personal experience of God. It is also given to touch the lives of others so that when they experience any one of our talents they are in touch with the presence and activity of God. My talent can become for you an encounter with God.

The original and abiding meaning of my icon has to do with suffering children. I took with me on the retreat the Murphy Report that had come out earlier in the Summer. It told the harrowing stories of historical institutional abuse and it knocked the stuffing out of me.

Around the time it was published we had a meeting of religious leaders about how we should respond to and deal with the report  -  on a personal as well as a congregational level. One of the speakers, a psychiatrist I think, spoke of how the stress might affect us. One symptom is a difficulty in swallowing which was something I was experiencing. Of course I had been wondering did I have throat cancer! But it was stress!

Another effect was that I ended up in hospital soon afterwards with a suspected heart attack but that too was stress. I remember lying on the bed in A&E for hours on end, not caring if I lived or died and in a strange way I felt like hospital was a refuge from the awful reality that had been unleashed upon the tender lives of innocent children.

During the icon retreat the section  of the report I was reading was on Letterfrack and the only thing I could do was to pray and paint the pain of those children into the icon that was slowly emerging in front of me.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons why my icon looks sad. A friend commented, "next time you might make her smile." It wasn't a time for smiling. And even though I was affected deeply by the suffering written of in the report, what I felt was nothing, not even a shadow of the reality.

Four months later I heard Heidi Gilroy speak at the Divine Mercy Conference about her experience of having been abused by a soldier when she was a little girl. As she described it I started crying and couldn't stop. I sobbed all the way through her talk and for quite a while afterwards. She broke open my understanding and my heart. It was as if the heart of Jesus himself was crying. I cried for the suffering and then I cried for the Mercy she spoke of, the Mercy that brought her healing.


The icon is called Our Lady of Letterfrack, Mother of the Abused - that's what it has stood for these past eight years. Its what it still stands for. 

And I've noticed now that tiny cracks have appeared all over the face of Mary like the veins that break out over the skin of the harrowed life. It occurred to me that I ought to have varnished the icon as a protection but on second thoughts there is something authentic about what is cracked and damaged; something lived-in rather than preserved.

But, cracked and sad though it be, it is not only a sad icon of suffering, it is also one of survival and has great peace; it is in itself a perpetual prayer for peace and healing.



I have not written another icon since and I think there are some talents which we are given to use occasionally, maybe only once in a lifetime, for a particular purpose. There are other talents that need to be used regularly.

It seems that for my ongoing Pilgrimage home God has given me a number of one-off experiences to keep me going further and further down the road - the Icon, the Camino and the Lighthouse, to name a few. The important thing is to recognize what is sent, to embrace it and allow it to achieve what it is sent to do.

RED: THE COLOUR OF HOPE - Eamonn Monson sac



The oil in the lamps of the bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) represents the grace that God has given us to help us encounter Christ in our life experience. It is the grace to wait in the time of waiting and it is the grace to go out and meet Him when the time for going out has arrived. It is the grace of alertness, the grace of vision and the grace of action.

The life of grace is not so much a state of ethereal tranquility but more a powerful impulse that sends us crossing vibrant, stormy seas; a climbing of steep ascents that leaves us gasping breathless. Grace is an adventure into the mystery of God, an adventure in which we stumble and fall; it is a bruising and a breaking. It is rest after struggle and healing after hurt, a healing that is greater than the hurt, a grace that we would never know without the hurt. There is always hope in brokenness. In God nothing and no one is damaged beyond repair.

The thing about this grace is that it is personal, given uniquely and differently to each one of us. It fits the person that we are, is designed specifically for each one. So, it cannot be passed on to another or shared even if we would like to. That’s not to say that we can’t help another to experience their particular grace but we can’t give it to them. It is not ours to give. It is God’s!

The story of the bridesmaids is a sober reminder to us to treasure grace, to use it or lose it. At least that we try to use it, strive to search for Christ every day of our lives. Strive! This is a word used by Jesus and it’s a word that offers us hope. We don’t have to get it perfectly right. We just have to try!

When I was a small boy I had and beautiful red car, a toy that I loved and played with constantly, revved it up so much that it broke down and wouldn’t work any more.  I was very desolate so my mother said I should leave it on the window sill in my room and maybe Santa would take it away and fix it. That night I did what I was told and next morning the car was gone. 

I didn’t really expect anything to happen but, when Christmas came, there in the midst of my presents was my lovely shiny red car in perfect working order. As good as new!

In later years when I was going through a very difficult period in my life and not coping very well, one Christmas my mother handed me a gift and to my delight, what was it but a red car similar to the one of my childhood. She said nothing but I knew that she was telling me that, as the broken car of my childhood got fixed, so would I too get somehow fixed beyond my brokenness. And so the red car became for me a symbol of hope, the hope of being restored, repaired when I was damaged and broken.

This is central to the grace that God gives us – that we have hope when things are hopeless; that we watch out for signs and symbols of hope. In the battlefields of Europe during World War I the red poppy became such a symbol of hope. There in a land that was torn apart and scarred by the savagery of war; there in the midst of such destruction and death, the impossible happened when the fields blossomed with beautiful red delicate poppies.

There is significance in the delicate nature of the poppy. In it God is telling us about the power and resilience of what is frail, what is delicate and refined. It is a symbol of the grace that is given to us, that we so often reject because it is frail. But as we are reminded in the Bible – the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength, the frailty of God is far more enduring than any human power.

All of this is embodied in the reality of Jesus whose life on earth began in the frailty of a baby and ended in the frailty of the condemned on the blood red cross, the silent sleeping of a body in the hopeless tomb. And out of that hopelessness He emerged into new life so that we might emerge from our brokenness into lives that are truly transformed and, even though we bear the scars of our wounds, they are themselves the scars of transformation.

Red, the colour of hope - red cars, red poppies and the red blood of Christ by which we are redeemed. Just as in the mystery of Christian life we wouldn't know the wonder of mercy if we hadn't sinned, so we wouldn't know the sheer pleasure and wonder of being healed if we had not been wounded in the first place. Grace abounds all the more!


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Postscript: I spoke about this today in my homily and after the 11.30 Mass a four year old girl came and handed me this little red car which she found in the church and thought I should have it because of what she had heard me say.  The Lord speaking to me again in the unexpected gift of a red car at the hands of a child. If anyone knows who this car belongs to I'll keep it safe till next week.






SMOKE ASCENDING



The effortless 
Rise of smoke

Ascending
Upwards 

In the still
November air

Like prayer
Into the nothingness


Of problems solved
Tensions dissolved

In the warm hearth
Of the ordinary

Tender the Veil 
Of Peace

Falling over 
All and a gentle

Tide at night on 

Shining
Sandy 
Shores

Where searchers'
Lamps explore

Nameless 
Mysteries

Hidden
In the beauty

There

Surfboarding
The night


And heading 
Home again

Heart of Heaven's
Bliss here

On Earth

EVEN SO MY SOUL

The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Matthew 23:12)


Experiences of humiliation can lead us to become humble but they are not in themselves virtuous; feelings of inferiority can also lead us to humility but they are not in themselves virtuous. Jesus calls us to humility and not to humiliation or inferiority.

My mother had a very simple answer to my inferiority complex! She said you should neither look up to anyone nor look down on anyone and that Jesus is the only one who is perfect.

So in my search for humility I am called to focus on Jesus rather than on self and through Jesus to be taken into the perfect embrace of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – where we encounter love and mercy in its perfection. Humility is born when I have the grace to be still and know that God is God and in His presence I “bow and bend low” in worship.

In His presence I discover who I am and who you are. None of us is either greater or less than the other. As Jesus says when He warns us against self-promotion, “you have only One Father”, One Master, One Teacher and we are all brothers and sisters.

Psalm 131 introduces us to the deepest possible form of humility:

Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.
O Lord, my heart is not proud
  nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
  nor marvels beyond me.
Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.
Truly I have set my soul
  in silence and peace.
A weaned child on its mother’s breast,
  even so is my soul.
Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
  both now and forever.
Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.

My heart is not proud! Truly I have set my soul in silence and in peace. A weaned child on its mother’s breast, a child at rest in its mother’s arms, even so my soul! The heart of humility is here and this is who we are called to become – a trustful child in the arms of God.

I have had the grace to hold my five nephews and three nieces in their infancy. It has always been an experience filled with love and emotion. At Mass this morning I was asking the children if they had ever held a baby and a number of girls and boys said yes. “And what did it feel like?” I asked. The boys shrugged their shoulders but the girls said immediately that they felt love and they felt emotional! I guess the boys did too but they didn’t know how to put it into words.

Babies can be trustful and sometimes cautious and restless in the embrace of an adult. I’m thinking of the two youngest because my experiences with them are the most recent and therefore my memories of them are clearer.



Laura was the most chilled baby ever. I often tell her that she was silent for the first six months – until she found her voice and when she found that then there was no stopping her. She would just lay there sleeping or in a dreamlike daze. I have memories of her sound asleep on her father’s shoulder. She represents the kind of trustful abandon that is at the heart of Christian spirituality.

Katie was more alert and less inclined to sleep but I had this experience with her when she was a few months old. I went to visit one Saturday and Elaine was doing the cleaning, so she put Katie into my arms, put me into the sitting room, asked me to look after her and closed the door.

So we sat there on a rocking chair, Katie and me, playing and chatting in the way one does with a baby. And after a while she rested her head on my chest. So I sang to her. Sang songs in Swahili, sang hymns and she fell asleep with her head resting on my chest and she remained like that for over an hour.

This became for me a most precious period of meditation. I simply held her, gazed on her, felt the warmth of her. I was deeply touched by the way she trusted me enough to fall asleep and it seemed in this that God was inviting me to be like her – a child resting trustfully in His arms.

I go back to this from time to time. Each one of us can enter into such an experience in prayer. Simply close your eyes and in the privacy of your soul where only you and God abide. And there you can surrender to Him, be held by him, loved by Him.

In our strength we resist going to such a place within ourselves but Alcoholics Anonymous have discovered that surrender to the Higher Power is essential for recovery. Addicts in recovery understand this too.  Our Higher Power is God, revealed to us in Jesus.




It is especially important for us to surrender to the Divine Embrace where we are not well. Another memory from my own childhood is in a time when I was very sick with shingles, my mother took me into bed with Dad and herself and, though she could not take away the pain, could not make me better immediately, I felt secure in her embrace. And it’s the same with God. Not that He cannot take away the pain but He holds us through the necessary experience of pain and sees us through to the other side of it.

ALL SAINTS: BLACK COFFEE




All Saints. Black Coffee. A girl band and a fine song.

It's All Saints Eve and I'm drinking black coffee on the veranda of the Azur, overlooking the dark sea with a hazy moon above and a cold wind cutting over my right shoulder. I'm hatted.

There's a time for every purpose under Heaven, a season for everything. We go through them often not knowing what is the purpose - what even is the point of all we do - but God knows. God knows exactly what He is doing, what He is going to do. Knowing this is enough for me. It's the way of faith.

Coming up to 4.00pm it's as if the spirit of Radio Maria reaches out to me. Memory reminds me of that most precious season in my life.

Around this time two years ago Donal O'Sullivan invited me to present a series on prayer and my nervous, shaky start became a joy. The hour before going on air chatting with Joy, those minutes settling myself at the microphone and closing my eyes - it was like diving into the sea of unknown listener's lives.

I miss all of that and the Monday morning Masses on air. The community. The tea and chat afterwards. My own wish would have been to keep going on but God had other plans for me and better plans for Radio Maria.

There's a darkness that creeps into my mind and heart and soul. It happens every year. The five o clock darkness. Approach of Holy Souls. A kind of mystical tug at my mortality.

I become more unsure of myself at this time as if I'm a toddler again learning to walk. I lose touch with the Hand that would hold me. The Motherly, Fatherly, Godly Hand. But it slips away sometimes. So I need to be careful. I need to listen to the waves, their soft thunder below me, softening the night.

At the pier the crowds are gathering - vampires, witches, ghosts. There is no need for me to dress up in the costumes of the dark side. I can wear no mask. There are enough shadows within me - my own and those of others - ghosts to rattle my bones.

We are swimmers against the tide, in the world but not of it. We don't really belong in the culture of this time but we are here for a reason. God's reason!

I am "we" in all that I experience. My Life is not my own. It is for others. This dawned on me years ago when I had a spiritual experience in which i was profoundly touched by the Presence of God. I felt honoured and as soon as l felt that these words from Psalm 149 came to me, "this honour is for all His faithful."

As if to confirm this, when I got home from the sea tonight there was a message from Provincial Derry - boss and friend - in his newsletter. A quote from our founder St. Vincent Pallotti -

"O Priest, who are you? You do not come from yourself, but from God. You do not come from yourself, but from nothing. You are not made for yourself, rather you are made for all people in all that constitutes their relationship with God. You do not serve yourself, because you are the Bridegroom of the Church. You do not belong to yourself, because you are the Servant of all. You are not yourself, because God is you. Who are you, then? Nothing and everything, O Priest!!!”

Beyond the dark and through it I know that I am surrounded by All Saints. And I think of them dancing around the loveliness of God in ever increasing degrees of brightness.

Hynm for Evening Prayer

"For all the saints who from their labours rest, Who thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy name, O Jesu, be for ever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might; Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;

Thou in the darkness drear their one true Light. Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion! fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.

Alleluia, Alleluia!"

It's now All Saints Day and I've come from Mass which was attended by all the children of Saced Heart as well as all the regulars who are delighted with the Presence of the children. Two minutes before Mass Mr. Hallett the Head Teacher called for silence and incredibly there was total silence.

This is joy at its best, most innocent beauty. And if I were to live this day as if it were my last then I know that I have lived well for 45 minutes.

Give me joy in my heart was sung with great fervour in the end - Joy, Peace, Love, the gift of Saints, the result of drawing near to Jesus.

The day is further blessed when I get on a train that carries me to a lovely lunchtime with the Donnellys.

It will be further blessed tonight when my brother Harry arrives for a couple of days.

" How good and how pleasant it is..."