I KISS THE WOUNDS: GOOD FRIDAY IN HASTINGS

Placing Christ in the Tomb St. Thomas of  Canterbury

Acting sometimes has a strange effect on me. Today is one such time. We are taking part in the Good Friday ecumenical Procession of Witness in Hastings Old Town. We pray and we witness the enactment of the Way of the Cross mostly out on the streets.


I feel disconnected from the early scene being acted out in the beautiful St. Clements Anglican Church. It seems untrue, unreal and the shouting too loud.


The shouting disturbs something unnamed in the pit of my gut, in the same way that the unanswered crying of a baby does. It's like something primal.


But it's no harm to be disturbed to the core when praying on the experience of the most awful suffering of that last day.


We're outside the church now and all of a sudden Jesus comes tumbling violently down the steps, like he was thrown. He lands flat on his back and the Cross has fallen on top of him. I have forgotten the acting now and have an almost overwhelming impulse to pick him up. Then i realize again that its a drama that doesn't need or want me to pick him up.


http://www.jeffhein.com/painting#16
But it has shocked me to the core so much so that when it comes to my turn to lead a prayer I'm in a daze. My mouth doesn't open for a few seconds and my voice seems momentarily lost.


And to add to the drama it starts bucketing from the heavens. My pristine white alb, newly washed and pressed by Mary, gets soaked and so do all of us. David Giles goes off to get me an umbrella which I share with Fr. Sean, the young Anglican curate from St. Leonard's. He's a lot taller so he carries it. 


Apart from meeting Fr. Luke at my induction, I've had no contact with the Anglican clergy, so this was a blessed encounter. Lovely men - retired Canon Keith, Aelred who is an Anglican Cistercian monk, Fr. Sean, our own Deacon Duncan and myself. 


The crucifixion of Christ in Hastings Old Town. Good Friday, 30th March 2018.
All photographs Copyright of Malcolm Robinson.
Then we all return to our own places to prepare for the various liturgies of the Lord's Passion. In any part of the world this one of the most profound moments of prayer - when God and humanity are intimately connected in the experience of suffering. Here we understand each other.


As a priest the veneration of the Cross is very poignant as I observe the face of each person approaching the Cross.

"I kiss the Wounds of your Sacred feet..."


It came to me during the reading of the Passion according to John that I should share this prayer with the community. Normally I say nothing after the Passion because I believe silence is the most authentic response to the suffering of Jesus who embodies the suffering of all humanity. But today I prayed the prayer that I learned from Mrs. Anne Duggan in her Ardeen Nursing Home in Thurles many years ago.

I've already shared it on Facebook today and here it is again:

I kiss the Wounds of Your Sacred Head,
with sorrow deep and true,
may every thought of my mind today
be an act of love for You.

I kiss the Wounds of Your Sacred Feet,
with sorrow deep and true,
may every step I take today
be an act of love for You.

I kiss the Wounds of Your Sacred Hands,
with sorrow deep and true,
may every touch of my hands today
be an act of love for You.

I kiss the Wound of Your Sacred Shoulder,
with sorrow deep and true,
may every cross I bear today
be an act of love for You.

I kiss the Wounds of Your Sacred Heart,
with sorrow deep and true,
may every beat of my heart today
be an act of love for You.


After hearing confessions for an hour I left the church in silence to return to the silence of my house.

A spirit of holy quiet has descended upon me, the silence of the tomb, the silence of not knowing what comes next. There's no knowing what will happen but something will happen.


ANOINTING: The Fragrance of Love

Chrism Mass reminds me of Mam and Dad, even though we never attended one together but it was one of their favourite events of the year. Bishop Eamonn Casey of Galway began the custom of inviting the parents of priests to the Chrism Mass every Holy Thursday and afterwards to lunch in the Sacre Coeur Hotel. They felt honoured and acknowledged. And why shouldn't they be because there is no priesthood without them! 

This year for the first time I'm at the Chrism Mass in the Cathedral in Arundel, following a frustrating two-hour drive. Beautiful church, lovely liturgy, magnificent singing! And heart-warming encounters with priests and people I have never met before. 

My mind wanders back and forth to my parents, to the other Chrism Masses I attended in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin during my time in Shankill, to those who attended with me – Joan Duignan, Derry, Jaimie, Liam, Pat Maguire. We would go for coffee afterwards. 

This is an occasion for the renewing of our priestly commitment in the presence of the Bishop and People and it's for the blessing of the Holy Oils which we will use in the coming year for the blessing and consecrating of the People. 

The oil comes from the olive tree, a sacred tree in the history of salvation and a sacred symbol in my own spiritual journey. Many years ago I found myself identifying with this tree and the words of Psalm 52 always resonate with me - "I am like a growing olive tree in the house of God!" 

It is a symbol of trust and hope and it is a symbol of surrender, sacrifice and suffering. The three-thousand-year-old olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane that was there for the agony of Jesus found its place in me since the time I saw it.  

The fruit of the olive tree is crushed in order to produce the precious oil of anointing and healing. So we too are crushed in order to produce the anointing necessary in our time. It's the way of things, the nature of who we are. 

And we are anointed in many ways. In the morning I spent two hours hearing the confessions of year six pupils in Sacred Heart. Not all of them wanted the sacrament and not all of them are Catholics but they came to express something and in blessing them I was blessed myself, came away from them feeling renewed. 

When I got back from the school another anointing was waiting to surprise me! In the post I received a Spring Easter card from my youngest niece Laura – the seven-year-old who is not often given to expressions of affection. It was a carefully constructed card made by herself at school and it overflowed inside with hearts and love and began with the words "I miss and love you" and was signed "Lots of Love!" 


Even before the Passion has begun I am already touched by Easter! It is like the anointing of Jesus by the woman whose fragrance of love filled the entire house!

May the life of the Risen Christ find new expression in the ordinary experiences of our days! 

HOLY WEEK: A Reflection - Eamonn Monson sac

“My soul at once becomes recollected and I enter the state of quiet. Everything is stilled and the soul is left in a state of great quiet.” (St. Teresa of Avila) 
 
 
 
As we enter into Holy Week we are invited by God into a state of quiet recollection in prayer as we contemplate Jesus in His Passion, as we “look upon the one they have pierced.” (Zechariah 12:10). The appropriate form of prayer is that of silent gazing, a silent gazing on the person of Jesus, a loving gaze and a total surrender to Him in which I put aside my own thoughts, my agenda and my struggles. I surrender my self-preoccupation and allow love for Him to be stirred, awakened within me in the silence. 
 
We sometimes flinch and turn away from the silence because we cannot bear our own pain and we cannot bear the full impact of the suffering of Jesus.  “He had no special beauty or form to attract us; there was nothing in his appearance to make us desire him. He was hated, despised and rejected. A man of suffering, acquainted with grief. People would not even look at him, turned their backs, hid their faces from him, averted their gaze.” (Fourth Song Of The Suffering Servant, Isaiah 52-53). But if we are to experience full blessedness of Holy Week and Easter then we should not turn away; we need to keep on gazing. 
 
Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of Comunione e Liberazione, speaks about spending Holy Week simply looking on the face of Christ as the way to being changed or transformed. If we spend our energy in this sacred time getting caught up in our sins or wanting to be perfect we will end up tired and unchanged at the end of it. 
 
“Looking Christ in the face changes us. But to be changed we need to really look into his face with the desire for good, desiring truth.” 
 
It helps to understand that when we gaze on Jesus we are gazing on the fullness of who He is. When we gaze upon the Crucified we are at the same time gazing on the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Infant of the Incarnation in the stable, the Compassionate Healer and the Risen Lord – all of the expressions of who Jesus is provide us with the grace we need to continue looking at what we would rather avoid. 
 
Something more happens in the prayer of gazing – we are drawn to Him to enter into Him as He himself has entered into us so that we experience everything as He does. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person.” We see as He sees, understand as He understands that in the awfulness of suffering, in abandonment, He is not alone. We are not alone. The Father who seems absent is with us in hidden form sustaining Jesus, sustaining me, sustaining you! 
 
Entering into the experience of Jesus is an essential development in our interior spiritual life. Entering in and not staying outside. 
 
The Pharisees missed the point of Jesus because they always remained on the outside looking in, always questioning, judging, condemning. They would not sit at the table of intimacy and mercy; they would not come to the banquet. 
 
There are many things that keep us on the outside, including those things that kept the Pharisees outside but perhaps our greatest obstacles are guilt and fear. Guilt keeps us from coming to the table of mercy; we feel unfit, unworthy to take our place because we are ashamed. Yet, it was the worst of sinners who sat at table with Jesus in the gospel and perhaps this was made possible because they shifted their gaze from themselves to Him. 
 
Fear of suffering – the thought that God might ask too much of us - also keeps us at a distance, the prospect of unbearable suffering puts us off, turns us away, creates a resistance in us.
 
Within the experience of suffering we find that, with our gaze fixed on Jesus, there is the capacity to endure in the strength that comes from Him – “I can do all things; there is nothing I cannot master in Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) 
 
It helps to allow the Spirit of Jesus in His Passion to pray within us. In the garden of Gethsemane His distress, terror and agony give expression to ours; his darkness expresses ours; his struggle our struggle. In His abandonment on the cross he cries out our feeling of being abandoned by God – “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” And because we are in Him and He in us, we are ultimately led to the moment of surrender to the Father which is the goal of all life and the point of all gazing, all prayer. Not my will but yours be done. Father into your hands I commend my spirit! Surrendering in trust into consummation, consolation, completion! 
 
Eamonn Monson sac 
 

NOTHING IS EVERYTHING (In The Hands of God)

I miss you my Love this desolate night. My face turned to the cold wall, sickening silence. Hours and days of it. The only hint of You is that question You have asked these forty years and more - "Can you drink the cup that I must drink?"  (Matthew 20:22). The answer is always yes, though I often kick against the way in which the cup is given.

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Recently it dawned on me that, unusually, I had come through the winter without getting depressed and I was moving towards Lent full of purpose and confidence. I knew what I had to give up and take on, fully aware that the practises of Lent should lead me closer to God, make a better person of me.

Lent had hardly begun when I was hit by a nasty cold that soon turned into a viral infection but I still went ahead with plans to spend a few days in Worth Abbey, feeling the need of a monastic experience - the first since my arrival in England eight months ago.

It was wonderful to walk into the silence of the place. The great circular church looked and felt like a tranquil desert, the perimeter of pure quiet.

Seeing Canon Tom Treherne there was an added blessing. He was my neighbouring parish priest in the first few months of my time here and he did a lot to help me settle in to this new life. He was leaving that evening but it gave us a chance to catch up.

Things started to fall apart for me that night. The pain in my throat and chest became intense and I was finding it hard to breathe so I couldn’t sleep. Next day I knew I had to come back home to Hastings and my own bed despite the efforts of the guest master to persuade me otherwise. Went to the doctor who told me it was viral and just had to be endured. It would take at least a week she said. My voice sounded like something alien, like it came from the bowls of the earth! It's a virus that has hit many people this winter and lasts longer than one would like.

Thankfully Fr. Tony was here to fill in for me for the week so it gave me the freedom to stay in bed as long as I needed, though I dislike having to stay in bed. A week later, when Fr. Tony had to leave, my sister Evelyn came over to mind me. Having family near at such a time makes things more bearable. 

I’ve never felt as ill in my whole life. All my confidence left me, my enthusiasm for Lent evaporated and the feeling of God’s presence disappeared. I knew by faith that He was there but I felt nothing only misery.

Like Hezekiah in Isaiah 38 I turned my face to the wall and, though I felt sorry for myself, I found myself thinking of the people being bombed out in the suburbs of Damascus. I also thought of my friend who has been sick in bed for 30 years. And the family of Autumn, the girl who died in January at the age of one year and two months. Others here and at home who are struggling with serious illness. I prayed for them and reminded myself that their plight is infinitely worse than mine.

I was housebound for two weeks and it was a great relief to be able to celebrate public Mass again, a reminder to me that this is truly my vocation, the altar is the place where I belong. The concern of the people of the parish and the neighbouring priests was a real blessing, expressed in messages, in daffodils, biscuits, chocolate and other gifts that came to my door; expressed beautifully in the messages that the little children brought to the altar on my first Sunday back; expressed in the prayers that were offered on my behalf. When I couldn’t pray myself, I was sustained by the prayer of the people.

My energy levels are still low, as are my spirits and I know that Lent has been taken out of my hands by God. It’s as if I have become the desert, the nothingness, the silence. And when the song ‘Breath of Heaven’ sings these words in me - “I offer all I am for the Mercy of your plan” - I know that all I am is nothing and nothing is everything in the hands of God.

Like Moses I have sought to see the face of God, wanting my life to be hidden in Him especially in the Eucharist, a tender hiding. Like Moses God has hidden me in the crevice of a rock, a hard place. He has shadowed me with His hand and permitted me to see the back of Him. (Exodus 33:18-23)

It may not be the kind of spiritual experience I would choose but whether it is shadow or light, hidden or revealed - He is always here wherever we are. And perhaps it is a lesson for all who are drawn by Him into the cloud, that strangely it is in cloud and darkness we discover the radiance we aspire to.

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This is Lent
40 Years of days
Deserted

Not one bit of
Solace

For the child
Of the bombed out
Syrian Suburb

For my friend
Confined to bed
A lifetime

For the mother
Of the little girl
Who died too soon

For me

It would drive you
To drink
The numbing kind

But it is the Cup
You offer
Brimful of sorrow

And suffering
That seems to
Have no meaning