By Pelham Beach: I Think As I Pray

A beautiful Friday afternoon. Walking the sea front by Pelham Beach in the direction of the Bathing Hut Café which never seems to be open and is exactly three miles from my door. It’s a walk I do every other day, mostly in the evening. Six miles in total and it’s really good for my head.

I pray as I go and think as I pray and often just let my eyes and my mind float, taking in what’s there. The beauty of everything. Every one.

September 28th. I remember it’s exactly a year ago since I was inducted as Parish Priest of St. Mary Star of the Sea. 28 is a significant number – January and July. I was 28 years old the last time I became a Parish Priest in Galapo, Tanzania.

I don’t know how to assess the last year, to know whether I’m doing well or not. There’s always a bit of a shadow lurking to suggest I will never really get it right, that I never have in fact gotten it right. The shadow suggests that my mistakes - past and present - are bigger than they actually are.

The devil is an accuser. The Bible says that the accuser has been thrown down, that we have conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, he who accuses them day and night before our God. They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…”’ (Revelation 12:10-11)

He may be down but is certainly not out. He still has what it takes to pull me down.

But I don’t give in and find myself living in the present quite a bit – it being the only thing I can be sure of and doing my best in every moment is all I have control over. 

There are things I will never get right but it's not so much about me getting it right or getting it right at all. It's about us as a parish, what exists when we come together. There is certainly great warmth and happiness, and for me a sense of completion especially at weekend Masses.

Two, no three things have been recurring in my mind and life over the past few days – eyes, the unfairness of life and the Camino, the latter never being too far from my consciousness.

Yesterday morning at eight I got a call from the hospital to go and see a man who is terminally ill. A young husband and father of three little children. He cried profusely at the unfairness of it all and he knows the prayer, speaks it in the face of such a hard reality. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Only God has the answer to that and sometimes, as in the case of Jesus, the answer is silence.

This man has beautiful blue eyes that look directly into mine and offer me a vision of his soul. Beautiful soul. Frightened and beautiful. And he is disappointed that he never got to do the Camino. I said he’s on an altogether different kind of Camino now but, like the one that leads to Santiago, the principle towards every destination is the same – one step at a time, one moment.

Later I had a funeral at the crematorium. It’s where older Catholics are brought by children who have no connection with the Church for a ceremony that has little connection with the faith of their parents. It’s just the way things are and the challenge for me is to find the connection with God that is actually there.

The coffin came in draped in a beautiful multicoloured blanket that was knitted by her friends and included two pieces knitted by her young grand daughter and grandson. She was carried in to the sound of Dolly Parton singing “Coat of Many Colours” and it was in this that I found my connection. Jacob giving his beloved Joseph the coat of many colours, symbol of God the Father’s favouritism, His lavish love, symbol too of the colour of the deceased woman’s own love.

I would love every Catholic to have a funeral Mass in our church but I always offer Mass for them anyway. Perhaps there is something honest about a simple crematorium service and, of course, there are no restrictions and great freedom. People can play whatever kind of music they want and read whatever kind of readings they want. And no matter what is sung or read, there is usually a way to find God through it. I suppose that’s what the Incarnation is about – God present in the reality of people’s lives.

Today we had a funeral that was a beautiful blend of both church and crematorium. A 66-year-old man with Downes syndrome who loved the Church, especially its joyful music and loved Manchester United. It was my first time seeing a Man United coffin and I decided to wear red vestments in his honour.

At Mass we sang ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, two Gloria’s, ‘Bind Us Together’, ‘Shine Jesus Shine’, ‘Give Me Joy In My Heart’. In the Crematorium we had ‘Football’s Coming Home’ and ‘Glory Glory Man United!’

Last night I had dinner with two couples who are getting ready to do the Camino and they wanted to pick my brain on it. Talking about the Camino for me is as life-giving as being on the sea. Blisters, boots and socks were gone over at length. The kind of clothes to wear. Hostels. And we got talking about the long climb up to O’Cebreiro, arriving in that lovely Franciscan church with Exposition and the row of Bibles in many languages. Singing ‘Bess The Lord My Soul’ – Mark, Becky, Brend and me!

Brend has beautiful eyes that speak. Last week at Mass Martin West from Hastings Street Pastors spoke about the eyes of a young man that spoke, that pleaded and I’m thinking of the eyes of a little girl in Shankill.

I had just finished Baptisms and the crowd were milling round very noisily when a grandmother pushed through the gathering, holding the hand of her little granddaughter. The woman told me the girl couldn’t hear or speak and would I bless her with the baptismal water.

So, I got down on my knees in front of the girl so that we were about the same size. Dipped my hands in the font, bringing the holy water under her long black hair, only to discover that the child had no ears at all and I said straightaway to God in silence, “Oh my God, she has no ears. This is so unfair!” and my heart sank into sadness.

But then our eyes met and hers were smiling serenely. There was no unhappiness in her. She was living her reality contentedly. And it was as if God said to me, as if she herself said, “touch the place where her ears might be, touch this part of her beauty and bless it.”

I can still feel the softness of the flesh there and I can still see her eyes and feel her happiness. And still on my knees, still looking into her eyes I asked if she would bless me. So, she dipped her hand into the font and blessed me with a quiet smile. It was like she touched the damaged parts of my life and pronounced them beautiful.

It’s what God seeks to do for all of us when we come to Him, it’s what Jesus asks us to do in His Name, to be with Him rather than against Him, to be with each other rather than against each other. To bless the broken parts of our lives, not always to fix what is damaged but to find the beauty in them, to pronounce them beautiful.

At the end of next month, I will visit each class in Sacred Heart School and on that day, I will send each child on a mission in the name of Jesus to bring a blessing home. I have great faith in the blessing that is given by a child. It is the simplest and loveliest of things.

I take a moment to visit the damaged parts of my life, those parts that I think of as unlovely, even ugly and I allow the child Jesus to pronounce a blessing over them. Amen!
On my way back I go through the town centre to by some glue and stuff for making cards. The place seems to be winding itself up to live it up for the weekend. Some men in a bar are already talking more loudly than is necessary. It seems like they're already well oiled. 

And I catch the words of a young man passing by as he tells his companion, "he left us when I was five."
God bless and protect them all. God bless us all.


In this fallow land
My debts rise up
To harass

Having no way
Of paying

She becomes
The Tent of Meeting
With our Savoiur

Bowing in Adoration
Of Him
Protecting me

It is a serene enfolding
Peace filled sanctuary

I am all yours
Mother of Christ
Mother of the world

My Mother

In Him who cancels
Every burden of debt
For the poverty stricken soul

The Lord Has Opened My Ear

The Great Commission by Gerry Flaherty in Loving Memory of Fr. Seamus Stapleton SAC

“The Lord has opened my ear. For my part I made no resistance, neither did I turn away.” (Isaiah 50:5)

Sometime before he died, Fr. Seamus Stapleton commissioned a painting to be hung by the baptismal font. Sadly, he died before it was completed but the artist, Gerry Flaherty carried on the work which is entitled “The Great Commission”. I collected it when I was in Ireland in August and we hung it in its place on September 14th which is Seamus’ birthday and feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

The setting is Rockanore here in Hastings, so it localizes the Gospel, brings it home to us and depicts Jesus on the shore with St. Peter and some saints who were of importance to Seamus and includes St. Vincent Pallotti. The rest of the apostles are on their fishing boats coming in to shore and you will notice on the front on one boat is Fr. Seamus himself dressed in white. The decision to include Seamus was made by the artist after his death and it means for us that Seamus is present with us in a visible way and will remain present through all of time.

It’s worth taking time to ponder the painting. Firstly, I imagine that Jesus and Peter are having the conversation from today’s Gospel. Who do you say I am? You are the Christ. You are Peter, the rock. Get behind me!

Secondly, I think about where I am in this picture in relation to Jesus and I have already found where. Thirdly, I think of which saints I would place in the painting and lastly, I think of what Jesus and I would be saying to each other.

In commissioning this painting Seamus was listening to the inner voice of the Spirit and through it has given us a message, a prayer and a meditation.

This is the ideal – that the interior ear of heart and soul and mind is open to hearing what God is saying, that we listen and offer no resistance to what is being said by God. Last week we witnessed the healing of physical deafness through the commanding prayer of Jesus – “Ephphatha, be opened!” Today we might ask Him to do the same for us in our inner selves.

Listening is not always easy. Sometimes we listen only to what we want to hear because we are often afraid of what is being said, confused by it, cannot take it in. We dismiss the Word of God and by doing so deprive ourselves of the most profound blessings.

Peter is an example of the difficulty we have in truly listening and receiving what Jesus is offering. On the one hand Peter hears the question, “who do you say I am?” and he offers an answer that is divinely revealed, showing how in tune he is with God. In St. Matthew’s version of this Jesus goes on to say to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19) By this response Peter becomes the first Pope.

But it’s one thing to say under the influence of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Christ; it’s quite another to accept what that actually means in practise. So, when Jesus explains that to be the Christ will involve rejection, terrible suffering, deat and finally resurrection, Peter won’t hear of it. He seems not to hear the part about resurrection. He stands in front of Jesus and literally blocks his path saying, “this must not happen!” And in saying this he moves from being the divinely inspired instrument of God to becoming an instrument of the devil. He is a complex man who holds serious contradictions within himself and in this he represents all of us in the greatness, the sinfulness, the best and worst, with all our paradox and contradiction.

Jesus rebukes Peter and puts him in his place but He doesn’t dismiss or reject him, doesn’t revoke the calling conferred on him. Jesus knows the plans He has in mind for Peter, He knows exactly what He is going to do with him (Jeremiah 29 & John 6).

Peter’s place is not in front of Jesus but behind Him; it is not for Peter to go ahead of Jesus but to follow Him; it is not for Peter to block the path of Jesus but to make way for Him. Peter represents Pope Francis and he represents you and me – who we are and who we are to become; what our place is in relation to Jesus and His mission. Jesus knows the plans He has in mind for each of us, even when we get it terribly wrong. He knows exactly what He is going to do.

The place that Jesus has chosen for Himself is right in the midst of human suffering and it is there that we best find him. We sometimes use suffering to question God and to run away from Him but if we would only listen and stay, then we would find Him right at the heart of our own personal suffering, at the heart of the suffering of the world – as its Redeemer and Saviour and Lord.

So, let’s take a moment to pray and listen. Ephphatha, Lord, you have opened my ear and I offer you no resistance, I will not turn away. I will follow behind you, walk with you but never ahead of you. I will not be an obstacle in your path even though I may not understand what you are doing. You are Jesus my Saviour. You are my Lord, my Life and my Love. I adore you profoundly. Amen!

MARY (A Prayer)

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


Sailing east into the morning sun on a calm sea, with Ireland behind me, I am grateful and make a prayer of thanksgiving for all who have blessed this past month from the moment I arrived in Dublin at the beginning of August until leaving it today. My friend and my friend! Family and all whom I encountered inbetween. Kind people who speak kind words, the sort who build up rather than pull down. That was the quality of this time.

I asked the girls what were the highlights of their summer. They said, "everything!" - having had a great time. I too could say there were a number of special moments but I also like to name specific experiences.

A different kind of experience came when I was welcomed into the home of my Camino companions and their two sons - one aged four years and the other four weeks. 

The uniqueness of this was being with a baby so young for such a long period, observing him develop day by day, being trusted to hold him and being trustworthy in this time of our shame. He learned to be at rest in my arms, feeling safe enough to fall asleep and, as time went on he seemed to see me and made those lovely baby noises to me, smiling. 

It was as if God had come into my arms to remind me of who He is and who I am, for I too rest in His arms. A safe place for me to be and I slept like a child, protected from the storms.

This is one of the treasures I hold in the earthen vessel of my being as I return from fallow land to a new season in the vineyard of the Lord, as we say.

Departure and arrival are enfolded in fire and water like a prophecy of what is to come, inviting me to trust  God like the little baby trusted me.

The sun that rose and shone on the morning over Dublin Bay shines again so beautifully in its setting over wheat fields as I get closer to my Hastings home. 

And the bottle green sea is clear, pure and perfectly still where a woman in her deck chair continues knitting, even as the night closes in.

All is well and all will be well, all manner of things as Julian of Norwich might say.