Ballyloughan New Year's Day 2010

Coming to the end of this year and the decade since 2009, I’ve been looking back in gratitude at those ten years, going back a further ten to the end of the year in which Maura had died and the arrival of the new millennium. This is what I wrote then in my diary:

“The sea at Ballyloughan was still and clear as glass, reflecting all the colour - the orange, dark red and pink of the sky as the sun went down over the hills of Clare. The buildings too were washed in the colour and a cargo ship, moving slowly towards the docks, cast its shadow as it passed between the sun and the Galway coastline. The sound of birds echoed, birds skimming in formation over the water, flying towards the south.

I stood in contemplation and awe and worship. Even Vincent Browne or Stephen Hawking, if they stood here, would understand worship, without having to have it explained. It seems kind of God to let me witness this at year’s end and maybe it’s an omen of better things. Afterwards I went to the Mervue Adoration Chapel to worship the One who is behind, above, beyond and within such beauty.

Eve and Har were at home when I returned and, with Mam, we did some reminiscing and laughing by the fire. Mam and I rang in the New Year quietly, having said Mass at 10.30pm, we had and few drinks and stood at the front door at midnight shouting Happy New Year to Margaret and Brendan Dowling, the Clohertys, the Quigleys and the Kennedys who came out briefly. The air was crisp with a heavy frost and the horns of the boats in the docks sounded like they were just in front of us. This used to be a wild night for us. Now the wildness had passed to two lively parties pouring out into the gardens across the avenue. It’s another kind of life, a world apart.”
Most of those have gone from us into everlasting life.

We cross the threshold now of these two years – 2019 into 2020. Into this new decade. Every threshold, every transition has meaning – its memories and its hopes, its curses and blessings, its losses and gains. We make the crossing with Mary Mother of God, in the spirit of the Epiphany, God seen again in this little Child in the poverty of the night, the Light that shines in the darkness, Light never to be overpowered.

In revealing Himself to the Magi, God shows His absolute freedom and His ability to surprise. He is discovered in this feast, not by men of faith and not in formal prayer but by so-called pagans who were watching the stars. So accustomed were they to gazing into the night sky that they noticed when something new occurred and something really new did occur when Jesus was born. Creation reacted to his birth and the Magi were ready, open to this new event and to its surprise, the surprising self-revelation of God that we sometimes miss because we are too distracted, tightened up, closed. This is the season for opening the doors of our hearts to the Truth revealed in Christ, this Beauty “ever ancient, ever new.”


Hasting Decembers 2019

AN ADVENT WEDDING: Sublime Intimacy

Advent weddings have a special appeal, though couples getting married in December probably don’t have Advent on their minds and are more likely to be thinking in terms of Christmas.

In a beautiful cathedral the Groom stands waiting for his beautiful Bride to arrive. It’s time! All the talking is done and he faces the altar quietly, intently staring ahead, allowing no distraction to deflect him. A single tear falls from his right eye. His three-year-old niece would like to blow out the Advent candles. There is to be no distraction. Twice he has asked me to make an announcement about photography – that no one but the official photographer should take pictures. The father of the Bride thought this to be unreasonable but she had been firm. She didn’t want the photos of her walking up the aisle to be filled with the heads of happy guests leaning out of the pews with mobile phones in their hands. I had never thought of it like that before but it makes perfect sense. It also meant that the Liturgy was an attentive and peaceful experience and I was amazed by the level of reverence in this largely young congregation, 60 per cent of whom were English and most of the remainder were Catholics from near the Border where Catholicism and faith are still held in high esteem.

I’ve come to look at Advent in the context of the wreath with its five candles that has become an essential part of preparing for Christmas. As far as I know no such thing was ever seen in Ireland before the 1970’s and I suspect that our own Pallottine Sister Juliana was instrumental in introducing it. The tradition, like Juliana herself, is German and she was very friendly with Father Seamus Ryan of St. Patrick’s College, Thurles who used to write in Intercom, the liturgical magazine.

It reminds me of a procession light that moves slowly towards Christmas, lesser lights leading to the perfect light of Jesus. This handsome, beautiful couple are also engaged in a procession towards the light, climbing the white steps to the altar to the three wedding candles that represent them, first as separate individuals and then as “one body” after they have consecrated themselves to each other and to God. Their wedding took place on the feast of St. John of the Cross whose “Living Flame of Love” came to mind, an appropriate image – the living flame of God’s love that burns in each of their souls uniquely, coming together into one living flame, a new reality that had not before existed. It is a reality that has God at its centre in the most natural way possible, a reality that elevates their love to a higher level, to the realms of the divine, a grace that flows through their sacred humanity, created in the image and likeness of God. The union of a husband and wife is a most distinctive expression of the face of God, the nature of who God is. Where there is love, there is God because God is Love.

Another aspect of the Liturgy that was a source of surprise was Holy Communion. I had given the congregation the opportunity of coming for a blessing if they were not receiving Communion and some did just that but most came reverently to receive, understanding what they were doing, knowing how to receive. Not coming up just for the sake of it. It was very inspiring.

Later at the reception a really nice young Dublin man approached to say how much he loved the Mass. “You know yourself” he said “how boring Mass can be!” “Not really” I said. “But you’re a young man” he said, “you know what it’s like! But this was different!” I laughed at the “young man” bit! He wasn’t drunk but perhaps his vision was slightly blurred!

During the reception the groom’s brother and best man took me aside for a chat, holding my hand all through. We’re cousins. He’s not one for standing still but stands still for a while with me, a man who is incredibly energetic, bright, a lawyer, a lover of fast cars, taking part in car rallies, plays rock music and swims in ice pools in Siberia or somewhere like that. We talk about Le Mans 66, the movie which I saw recently. He has driven in the reality of Le Mans and wants me to join him there sometime. But I think I’d die of a heart attack at such speed. And then he spoke to me about prayer – he doesn’t regard himself as a proper praying person but he puts himself in God’s hands every day which I think is a sublime prayer, the prayer of surrender. He’s almost half my age and thinks much too highly of me, though I accept the absolute sincerity of his admiration. We have a real respect and love for each other.

His trust in and surrender to God which is done with childlike simplicity is very much part of the Advent spirit. It’s what Mary and Joseph did in their own way, allowing God to do what He had chosen to do in their lives, even when it differed from their own good wisdom. It’s trusting a Wisdom that is higher than human, letting God have His way.

It was with such trust that Joseph heard the Word of the Angel Gabriel, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife!” And did just what the Angel told him to. “Take Mary home” is the phrase for the fourth Sunday of Advent that resonates with me and it connects with the beautiful poem of St. John of the Cross, “If You Want”, which my Camino Companion Mark sent to me at the beginning of this Holy Season.

you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth
as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant
never far.
If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing … (St. John of the Cross)

Under the roof of your soul you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ taking birth. I read these words to a man in a Care Home today. His illness has left him largely speechless and depressed but his eyes and his hands communicate something strong, as intent as the Groom on his wedding day. “I am no use” he manages to say but I hold his sacred hand that fills my entire being with grace and, placing my other hand on his chest and I said, “this is the stable, this is the soul under whose roof the divine comes to birth.” He nodded his head. And it is worth repeating and remembering that it is in the stable of our lives, the most unfit, unclean that the divine, the Christ comes to birth forever.

So, I take Mary home to my soul, let her take shelter under the roof of it, knowing that she bears within her the reality of Jesus who is the point of it all. He is perfect Peace, perfect Wisdom, perfect Love and there is no other to compare with Him in the entire universe. How blessed we are to know His loving kindness that visits us like the dawn from on high.


Been to see Jay at Eastbourne Hospital. This giant of a man comes towards me with his arms wide open, giving me a big hulk of a hug. He wants me to do so many things and, though obedience in me wants to do everything, I can only do some. Amazing that he wants to be homeless, sleeping in his tent in the woods. Would I check to see if his tent is still there? He feels safer there than in a building. He kisses my hand, an action that always embarrasses and humbles me. I say, “there’s no need!” And then I choose to kiss his hand. It is an act of reverence and love, like kissing the hand of the baby Jesus in the painting by Fray Juan Bautista Maino.

Walking in the cold sunlight I pass a family coming back from town with their shopping. They move slowly, looking content, unburdened. The man smiles at me. I smile back.

The sight of them makes me suddenly, surprisingly nostalgic for childhood Christmas shopping and I'm back home, going to the market in town with Mam and Colie Carr. Two bicycles. Mam haggling. A live goose on the back carrier of one bike, a turkey on the other. Did they carry Christmas trees too? The scent of pine is alive in me. The turkey hanging by its feet on the back door. Plucking it. The pleasant feel of its cold flesh. Mam dealing deftly with the entrails. A brief loneliness for all that comes over me, fleeting, passing. And there's a worn-down tiredness on me, a physical tiredness that is probably due to the fact that I am alone in my responsibility for the parish, though most of the time it isn’t a burden. But maybe it’s the constancy, and the fact that I haven’t been home for three months. That’s about to change!

Despite tiredness I've opted to walk, half hoping to get back to Eastbourne town centre to see the movie Motherless Brooklyn. Monday is movie day, my day off. I love anything to do with Brooklyn.  The sight and sound of it. But I'm unlikely to get to the cinema on time. It's a 40-minute walk. So, I give up on that and concentrate on the fact that I'm ravenous.

I get to daydreaming, thinking about the young people newly arrived in our parish from India and other countries of the East who will spend their first Christmas so far from home. Some of them are already desperately lonely and I wonder if I can do anything for them.

And I think about Christine who died last night at 8.00pm on December 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Originally from Dublin she spent all of her adult life in England, married for 68 years to Bob who died in late December last year. She could be very abrupt and in your face with her comments but she had a great Dublin heart. Her daughter Susan who had Downs Syndrome died a few years back, before my time here and Christine said of her, “I thank God for the privilege of being given such a beautiful, loving daughter.” A counter-cultural statement that was spoken with typical conviction.

Christine was moved to the hospice just a few days ago. Her daughter asked if I would go to see her this coming week but a young doctor from the parish who works at the hospice sent me a message of Saturday to say that Christine wanted the “last Rites.” The young doctor joined in the prayer as did Christine herself – three of us gathered in the name of Jesus; He Himself present with us in fulfilment of the Scriptures. The doctor withdrew, leaving us alone to talk and pray some more. I said the Divine Mercy Chaplet and she said, “thank you very much, it’s lovely to see you!” She repeated that a few times. I put my rosary beads under her pillow, kissed her forehead and told her I love her. A moment of grace.

Passing the station, this young man is standing in my path, saying something, waking me out of my daydream. He's trying to charm something out of me for a charity, telling me how friendly I look – my suspicion immediately aroused - and then he's talking about my age. "You're about 54-55?" And I start laughing in spite of myself. "Flattery!" I said, "you want my credit card details and I'm not giving it. And I'm nearly 65!" In fairness to him he doesn't push but continues talking about charity, Hastings, suspects I'm from Dublin. Galway, I say. He's from Dublin. So, the Irish in us keeps talking a while longer. There’s a team of them with a stand, probably professional fundraisers not directly connected to the charity.

I notice that I'm standing outside the Beacon Shopping centre that houses the cinema but it's hunger that drives me in there. Beautiful new shopping centre! Not really that much different to any other but the new excites me like a child and I’m wowed in admiration. My enthralment takes me as far as the cinema which enthrals me even more, so I decide to check if I’m still on time. Yes! The ads and trailers are still on. Then armed with a hot-dog, Pepsi and a senior’s ticket I walk through this astonishing neon place.

The Guardian website describes the movie as “a substantial and distinctive drama, unlike anything in the cinema right now” which was enough to get me interested. Edward Norton plays a lonely private detective living with Tourette Syndrome, causing him to twitch rather violently and shout out whatever comes into his head. They refer to him as freakshow, a terrible thing to say to anyone and in the beginning, you think he’s not very bright but he’s very, very bright. Well worth seeing. A very good story. Good soundtrack, including Thom Yorke of Radiohead singing the haunting Daily Battles which is somehow not as effective when listened to apart from the movie.

You come out of a cinema suspended between worlds, a floating feeling that continued the train journey home. And a day nicely spent! Thanks be to God!

It's Only Your Strength I Remember

He is one of the strongest men I know - a hunter, builder, fisherman, priest. Steady, stalwart. But the serious illness of his sister whom he loved brought him low, upset him greatly for he is also strong in love and loyalty. I was comforting him and he said, “I envy you your strength!” And I replied, “you have seen me at my weakest!” He had indeed witnessed me close up at my weakest worst. But he said, “it’s only your strength I remember.”

Memory is a strange thing. When I look back at my life as it was ten to fifteen to twenty years ago I remember it in largely negative terms, think of myself as a mess and a failure but when I read my diaries from that time I am brought face to face with something a lot more positive than I realized. When I read of other things this friend and colleague said about me in those years then I know that, in fact, I was ok – more than ok. What he has said of me bears a weight beyond all others because he confronted and challenged me, demanded that I make the changes that were necessary in my life. Perhaps the strength he admires is that I hauled myself out of a very deep pit, climbed upwards, moved forward instead of falling back or going into reverse. It was strength in weakness, the strength of God at full stretch. 

So, I remember this and thank God for it in a Magnificat kind of way. It is Mary who comes to mind now; Mary who represents all of us who are lowly; she who remembers with gratitude what God has done and honours Him – “the Almighty has done great things for me…and has lifted up the lowly.” This is exactly what God has done in me. Magnificat prayer is a positive and grateful way of remembering, a prayer that was so important to the Jews from the time of Moses who called the people to remember and never forget all that God has done. It is, of course, central to the Mass, the Eucharist which is the great prayer of thanksgiving of the Church offered to the Father in the name of Jesus. So, I thank God that I sank so low in order to know what it is to be lifted up, that I am so weak that it is God who can be so strong. I thank God for the man who saw me and sees me anew, remembering the good of me rather than anything else.

This friend has revealed something of God’s own nature to me, made it real to me, something that I have mentioned not too long ago – God’s forgetfulness – and somehow, in order for us to become truly free, we need to enter into this forgetfulness of God that leaves us free of past pain, to find a way of remembering that is a blessing for this present moment.

For more than thirty years I have been saying this prayer that came to me during an Ignatian thirty-day retreat, “Teach me to see as You see, to understand as You understand, to Love as You Love, to respond with Your Heart.” The prayer initially had to do with how I see other people, specifically difficult people whom I find hard to like. But it can apply to any situation so, in the context of memory, I pray to God, “teach me to remember as You remember, to forget as You forget, to let go as You let go, to move forward as You move forward.” 

To remember as God remembers does involved facing wrongs of the past so that justice may be done and freedom gained in the present. On a personal level there is a remembering of the past that is necessary so that we can find freedom in the present and we we don't go on forever dragging the past with us, a dragging that takes us down.

In wounded relationships there comes a time when the past must literally be forgotten so that reconciliation can take place. I waited for years for another to admit fault and apologize, until I realized that I might never get that and time was running out, life is running out. I decided to let it all go and it has made such a difference. Not perfect but better. 

And for many years I’ve also been saying a line from a prayer of St. Claude de la Colombière, “teach me perfect self-forgetfulness, for this is the only way to you!” A tall order but wise words. He teaches that There can be no peace except in perfect self-forgetfulness. We must reconcile ourselves to forgetting even our spiritual interests, in order to seek only God's pure glory.

St. Paul speaks of the self-forgetfulness of Christ in 2 Corinthians 10:1 and in Philippians 2, where he calls us to put on the mind of Christ, he has the beautiful hymn of Christ’s self-emptying. Jesus goes out of Himself towards the Father, towards us, towards the world. And that is what can happen to us the more we live “in Christ”, we become part of the outward movement of His Holy Spirit, knowing that we are remembered and minded by the Father, so there’s no need for us to think too much about ourselves, past, present or future.

As an introvert it’s very difficult for me to become self-forgetful but that is the goal and the hope offered in Jesus.

ADVENT: One Great Act of Giving Birth

“…we wait for what God has promised: new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home.” (2 Peter 3)

Memories surface in the stillness before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament - childhood, youthful, lovely memories. And a Word from the book of Revelation points me in the direction I need to travel on my spiritual journey this Advent, as a way of preparing for Christmas and for eternity. Jesus says, “you do not love me now as you did at first!” (Revelation 2) and indeed I know that my love for Him has become quiet, lacking in the kind of feeling I would like to have, needing more ardour, devotion. There was a time when I was a child and I had this really strong love for God and I find myself speaking the words of Henry Vaughan in ‘The Retreat’ “Happy those early days when I shined in my Angel-infancy. Before I understood this place…” and though I can’t return to the past, my prayer is to rediscover something of that kind of pure childlike love.

The flame of my love for God cooled down to a pile of hot embers on the grate in the fireplace, embers that wait through the night to be stoked again in the morning!

Of course, in childhood love is simpler, purer, less complicated but as we go through life it can become a sorrow, a hurt - experiences we need to emerge from with a different and, perhaps, a stronger kind of love.

My years as a seminarian and young priest were marked by an intense desire for God, like the feeling one gets when you live far from home. It’s a home-sickness for God. Everyone who has left home knows that feeling, the anticipation of coming home for Christmas; the waiting for the one you love to come home.

Those early years were also marked by a great appetite for prayer, though I had to be taught to moderate my zeal for prayer and for God. I used to leave what was called “sacred study” to go to the chapel to pray alone but the Rector caught me and convinced me that there’s no good praying when you’re supposed to be studying. There’s an order, a discipline to the spiritual life that means I can’t be in formal prayer when I’m supposed to be engaged in pastoral ministry, though prayer happens of its own accord throughout the day. It stands to reason but I have never since regained the same unquenchable appetite for prayer and part of me thinks now that if I were left alone to the workings of the Holy Spirit, I would have gotten the balance right anyway.

The other thing which is closely associated with the prayer goes back to how much I loved God. I just loved Him so much for Himself but a friend reminded me that I should also love people like I loved God. There was no question of me not loving people but my friend said I didn’t love them enough, so, as I often do, I surrendered to what I regarded as the superior wisdom of another. I dedicated myself to what my friend asked and it worked. It worked so well that now I wish I could love God as much as I love the people in my parish, as well as those who are obviously dear to my heart. I lost the intensity of love for God along the way and I want it back. That’s what I desire this Advent. That is my waiting!

I’ve learned that all desire is ultimately for God and that is what Advent is really about – “O God, you are my God, for you I long, for you my soul is thirsting, my body pines for you.” (Psalm 63); “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you my God.” (Psalm 42). 

And it goes beyond me, us, our families and all of humanity because the whole of Creation is in a state of groaning with us, yearning and waiting for its fulfilment in Christ – “From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly” (Romans 8).

Everything that exists is connected to Him and comes to completion in Him – “Christ is everything and He is in everything!” (Colossians 3:11) – and it is part of our Christian faith that we see ecology, caring for the earth, the environment in the context of God and not separate from Him. Our obligation is not just to the planet and all that lives on it, but to God the Creator of it all.

Something else we tend to forget and maybe don’t want to think about – there will be an end of the world as we know it; there will be the Second Coming of Jesus but the extinction we fear is not extinction but rather transformation, re-creation, fulfilment and resurrection. Caring for the earth is part of our preparation for that fulfilment; caring for our souls is also an essential preparation for that fulfilment and our entry into eternal life. The preparation takes place now. It is living now in the way that Jesus calls us to live; it is entering into the movement of the Holy Spirit who prays within us with groans beyond all utterance. (Romans 8)

TO YOU I SURRENDER (My Lord and my God)

My Lord and my God.
My God and my All.
My Lord, my Life and my Love,

I adore you profoundly.

O Lord, it is You who are my Portion and Cup.
My happiness lies in You alone.

What else have I in heaven but You?
Apart from You I want nothing on earth!

To You I surrender, give and offer
My whole self for the Mercy of Your plan.
Let it be done to me according to Your Word,
that all may be saved and
Come to the knowledge of the Truth.

Glory to You Father Almighty,
Glory to You Jesus Christ my Lord,
Glory to You Holy Spirit dwelling in my heart, 

Now and forever. Amen!

AN UNCOMMON RESPECT: The Anointing of Les

“…a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? “For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. “For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:7-13)

Les is approaching death, sleeping with the help of morphine, folded in a striped flannel sheet on an armchair, as they wait for the hospital bed to be delivered. He is 94 years old. His granddaughter Laurie has brought him to her home to care for him in his final illness with the help of Emma who looked after his apartment for him when he lived alone.

This house resembles a church. I understand that it was once a church but since have heard that it was a Bath House. In the room where Les is sleeping there is a large crucifix and a beautiful tall statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Neither of the two women is religious but they are keen that Les, who was a practising Catholic, should have his spiritual needs met as he makes the crossing from this life to the next.

They leave me alone with a mug of tea to pray with him, closing the door to give us privacy in case Les might awaken and need to talk. He remains asleep throughout the prayer – absolution, anointing and a tiny particle of Holy Communion, everything a parting soul might need. The Divine Mercy Chaplet. I speak words of confidence to him in case he might have any fear, should any struggle come to him in these final hours.

Afterwards they asked me what prayers they should say with him so I gave them the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, plus Psalm 23 The Lord is my Shepherd and a Gospel reading from Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me all you who labour…” I’m deeply impressed by their level of attentiveness to his spiritual needs, their profound respect for his faith. Theirs is a counter-cultural love, an uncommon respect for the faith of another.

Next day they phoned to say that Les was awake. Would I come again to see him? I arrived to witness the anointing of love which they were lavishing upon him. They had prayed, kept vigil, played hymns and were now urging him to let go. I knelt beside his bed where two black greyhounds had settled, keeping their own kind of vigil. It was as if they sensed what was happening. I held the hand of the dying man and prayed again. It was the Hour of Mercy, a time of surrender and I find myself, as I often do in such situations, praying Psalm 131, “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor haughty my eyes. I have not gone after things too great nor marvels beyond me. Truly I have set my soul in silence and in peace, as a child at rest in its mother’s even so my soul.” After a couple of hours, I left because there were two people in hospital I needed to see. Les was in good hands. A man named Ant arrived to spend the night keeping watch by prayer and meditation.

Next day again during the Hour of Mercy I got a call to say that Les had died at two minutes to three. May he rest in peace and may those who attended him so well be abundantly blessed. Theirs is one of the great works of Mercy that should be told in the same way as the generous action of the woman who anointed Jesus, acts that fill this world with a beautiful fragrance.


“Are you happy there?”, she asks on the phone from across the sea. Happy is a word I treat with a bit of caution because I read once that it comes from a word that means hap-hazard. And indeed, happiness can be quite hap-hazard, unpredictable.

But I am happy now! A feeling has come over me lately, quite a strong sense that my whole life to date has been a preparation for this place and time. It used to seem that it was all fragmented, one experience or period disconnected from the rest but now it appears to me like one great continuous arc from eternity to eternity.

Celebrating Mass is never easy because it is an awesome reality – this great mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection which I am privileged to share in a most intimate way. Never easy but here in this place, at this altar, in this church I feel at home and content in a way that I have never felt anywhere in my entire life as a priest. And that’s nearly 40 years!

The church itself is most beautiful, the most beautiful that I have served in. People, strangers wander in here and look up, look around saying what a beautiful place it is. It has a monastic feel for me and it seems to be the monastery that I have been seeking for many years now and I find this prayer appropriate, “O Lord, I love the house where you dwell, the place where your glory abides.” (Psalm 26) But it’s not the building, however beautiful! It’s what’s within it that matters; the abiding Sacramental presence of Jesus and we the people who gather in prayer every day, every week. The essential wonder of this place comes down to persons – Jesus and His people.

Indeed, Jesus Himself seeks to draw us from what is solid, external to the interior of everything. While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, "All that you see here- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down." (Luke 21:5) The structures that we place so much trust in will be dismantled, especially those that are obviously unjust but also those that are essentially good, yet have lost their way. It is when the Church seemed to be at its best, most strong and ordered that the most wicked things were going on within and beneath. 

The cleansing of the inside of cup and dish is uppermost in the mind of Jesus; the cleansing of the interior heart, soul and mind is what He seeks. And so, within this special place where we pray together, Jesus seeks to go further inside still, inside the deepest part of our lives to save us from our sins, to heal our wounds, to restore us to our innocence.

Recently I baptized a six-month old baby boy who took hold of my left hand and looked steadily into my eyes as I was pouring the water over him. The two of us were held in that mutual gazing and it seemed like God was saying, “this is how it is meant to be; this is how it can be!” The child is placed by Jesus at the centre of the Gospel of the Kingdom; the innocence of the child is available to us. In this place we can be restored to an innocence we have lost over the course of our lives.

This is what happens to us – the experiences of life can erode the innocence of our baptism; we damage ourselves by the sins we commit; we are damaged and hurt by life experiences but, as the Prophet Malachi teaches, “for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out will healing in its rays.” (Malachi 3). Jesus is the Sun of righteousness who offers us the possibility of being healed; Jesus in the Eucharist; Jesus in the Word.

On a pilgrimage to Medjugorje many years ago there was a woman in our group who was extremely bitter and I was tempted many times to tell her what to do with her bitterness which was having a corrosive effect on the rest of us, but I stayed quiet. Then, on the last day we had a prayer meeting during which someone asked me to pray over each person. Every time I placed my hands on a person’s head, a Word of Scripture, the Word of God would jump into my head. I just spoke the Word over the person and something happened to each one. When I came to the bitter lady, this is the Word that came to me, “I will console you and give gladness for grief!” There was a dam burst of tears. She cried a lot and, when I asked her later what had happened, she told me her husband had died five years earlier and in had left her bitter and angry. This is an example of the impact of the Word of God. Her grief found healing and peace. You can never take the Word for granted. We are not in charge of it and it doesn’t happen automatically. But when the conditions are right, when the moment of grace arrives, then there are miracles.

Healing is often kept at a distance by ourselves because, even though we want to be healed we cling to whatever it is that needs healing. It has become so much part of our lives that we don’t know how we would live without it; we fear the emptiness it will leave behind. An addict is afraid of what life will be like if there isn’t another cigarette, drink or drug. And it is important when healing has taken place that we fill the emptiness with what is good, that we allow God to fill the emptiness. Jesus uses the example of a house possessed by a demon. When the demon has been driven out and the house is in a perfectly clean state, the demon goes off and gets more demons to come and fill the house. Emptiness is an opportunity for God but it is a risky thing and we need to be very vigilant about what we allow into the house of our heart and soul.

The same applies to the sins we struggle with. Like St. Augustine we can be reluctant to let them go or we might not want to admit that there is sin in our lives, not realizing the damaging effect unacknowledged sin can have on us, or sins that we are not striving to repent of. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

God is faithful and forgiving. It is the Word of Mercy that heals us of our sins but we often find ourselves unable to accept God’s Mercy. We are unable to forgive ourselves and project this onto God, thinking the he cannot or will not forgive us. We might live under the burden of guilt, guilt of the present and guilt of the past. To this God says, “I no longer call your sins to mind” (Jeremiah 31), which Pope Francis says is God’s weakness – He is forgetful, doesn’t remember our sins. He has cast all our sins behind His back! (Isaiah 38:17)

So, we take a quiet time now to enter into the inner sanctuary of our souls and in the silence, allow what needs healing to rise up before God, the hurts and the sins that wound us. Let the risen wounds of Jesus touch, bless and transform our wounds into image of His glorious wounds, His glorious Body.

“Heal me Lord and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved, for You are my praise!” (Jeremiah 17:14)

A Patient, The Police and A Priest

He turns up in the morning rain, without a jacket, carrying a sleeping bag. All wet. I don’t have much time. A funeral is about to begin. He looks pleased and I’m pleased to see him too even though he shouldn’t be here at all. Shouldn’t be out, having been sectioned for twenty eight days a couple of weeks ago. He said they gave him leave. I give him bread, cheese, coffee and milk and send him to the hall where he can have shelter. A bit of privacy. And a smoke by the open door, thanks to the kindness of Terry. I put his sleeping bag in the dryer. 

A few hours later when the funeral is over, I get myself some lunch before going to check on him and phone a relative of his to see if the family can do anything to help him. They can’t. The phone rings. It’s the police. Missing persons. Had I seen him? Yes, in the morning. He needs to go back. 

Phone rings again. The hospital this time. They’ve been informed by the relative that he’s “with” me. He was, I say. I’m told in the strongest, blunt terms how serious this is, how dangerous - as if I were somehow to blame. I take it on the chin. But later think to myself that it is they who let him escape, not me. Of course it's worry that makes a person talk like this. It’s clear to me that the patient needs psychiatric help and he was in a secure unit because he attacked someone. The nurse on the phone tells me that 999 has to be called and, to be fair to him, he offers to do it for me, knowing that there are issues of trust between me and the patient. When he was arrested two weeks ago, he gave them my name as his contact.

I’ve seen his distress, the wild thing that goes off in his head, making him see reality in a way that I can’t see it. We see and experience the same reality in very different ways. But he has never been a threat, never intimidating, even though he’s a big strong man.

The large crucifix upsets him because he sees Jesus alive and moving on it, sees Him suffering and so he feels compelled to take the cross down so that Jesus can rest. 

After the call from the nurse, I go back down to the hall and talk to him about the need for him to return to the hospital but it frightens him. He’s sorry but is afraid of returning there. And I’m conflicted, torn between my loyalty to him and my obligation to the civil authorities. The need to obey those in power is very strong in me, like a survival instinct, one that has to be challenged because it risks surrendering the weak to the strong, the helpless to the powerful. He won’t be persuaded and, in some way, he now becomes the authority that I am willing to obey, need to obey. I have seen plenty of times how vulnerability can turn from being a grace into a way of exercising power. What is necessary is to do what is right, regardless of either power. 

“I love you to bits” he says, hugging me as I leave him again. “I love you too” I say. He walks about happily in the new Sketchers that Mary bought for him, wearing a rain jacket he found in one of the stores off the hall. 

Back in the house, the police phone again and, with a pang, I tell them where he is. Then I go to the church to watch and wait and pray. It’s the hour of mercy. He emerges from the hall and tells me he’s leaving. I tell him that the police are looking for him and that they will eventually find him. It will happen tomorrow he says. 

Ten minutes later the police ring at my door. Two squad cars. Two men and a woman - each one very pleasant. They’re not a threat. I have an idea where he’s going and tell them. They’re afraid he might get agitated and ask if they can use my name to calm him. I said no because it might damage the bond between us. My answer is accepted and I tell them too that I’ve never felt under threat from him. He’s usually calm with me.

They don’t find him. This I know because I bump into him while out walking. Says he’s going to sleep in a hut near one of the old lifeboats but later he walks past me at speed, accompanied by a young woman, so, a little concerned I decide to phone the police to tell them I’m looking at him. As with every modern phone system I’m put on a queue, being apologized to time and again for the delay. They’re very busy at this time. Twenty minutes later I hang up because he’s well out of sight. 

Next morning, I spot him from an upstairs window walking down our street, carrying his sleeping bag. My heart goes out to him but still I feel obliged, for his own sake, to call 999 and I’m dealt with more quickly. Later, I find his sleeping bag in the church lobby but of him there is no sign. I’ve gone out looking for him and return each time to find his sleeping bag still there. Still there when I lock the church at the end of the day. And I pray for him wherever he may be. And wonder will he know that I'm to blame if he has been found.

It's more than a week later now and he has phoned me a couple of times from the hospital. A woman from the parish was outside the church when the police came for him. She recognized he needed help, encouraged him and escorted him to the van.

He said they have taken all his clothes, so I phoned the nurse in charge who told me that J could do with clothes and when I asked his advice on what to get, size etc, he said, "Here I am, a  49 year-old man talking to another man about clothes!" It was said nicely. So, without his advice I decided to go shopping for new clothes rather than going to a charity stash somewhere. And I'm glad I did because, when J received the parcel he phoned me with the delight of a child. The idea of having new clothes made him so happy. He said, "now I can be warm for the winter and I can go to one of your Masses."

So, that is a little lesson to me - how difficult it is for the poor to come to church; how important is the dignity of new clothes.

It was said to us at a Jesus Caritas retreat recently, "the clothes in your wardrobe and the money in your bank account belong to the poor." It paraphrases the teaching of some great Saint whose name I've forgotten but it's the message that matters. I haven't forgotten and must never forget the message. So, anything I have done, am doing or will do for a materially poor person is simply giving them what is actually theirs and there's no credit due to me at all then. And I am so enriched by my encounters with them, most specially by our mutual loving.

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 2019: We Emerge Through The Clouds Of Grief

Remembrance Mass St. Mary Star of the Sea

On the third day of the Camino to Santiago I walked alone the 29km from Larrasoana to Zariquiegui via Pamplona and ended up being the only pilgrim in a private hostel in the tiny village.

While walking through the beautiful city of Pamplona I became aware of how at ease I am in an urban setting. I love the sea, the country, solitude but at the end of the day I am urban born! During the Camino I came to a heightened awareness of the sacredness of the city - the humanity of it, the presence of God in it. Later Pope Francis wrote in 'The Joy of the Gospel': "God’s revelation tells us that the fullness of humanity and of history is realized in a city. We need to look at our cities with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares.  This presence must not be contrived but found, uncovered. God does not hide himself from those who seek him with a sincere heart..."

The morning of November 4th, this solitary pilgrim celebrated Mass alone on the dining room table of the hostel. Alone and not alone. There is always the Communion of Saints and the whole of God’s People. After breakfast I left Zariquiegui at 8.00 a.m. Dark and wet like the day I set out on this journey, the rain was pouring down, the ascent of the Alto de Perdon muddy and slippery, the fog thick and I might be Moses entering into the thick darkness where God was. The air was filled with the eerie sound of a hundred barely visible wind turbines.

Being Friday I decided to pray the Stations of the Cross internally, arriving at the top of the hill for the crucifixion – an appropriate convergence, serendipitous, providential. The monument there is familiar from the movie ‘The Way’. It is the Mount of Pardon and so I see this as a moment of Mercy.

On my way down the other side at the placing of Christ in the tomb my mind was instantly back at Calvary in Jerusalem 1999 a month after Maura’s death. A consolation was given there in that holy site in Jerusalem, under the altar that marks the site of the Cross of Christ. There's a hole in the ground where I lay down my head with all my sorrow and there came to me a most beautiful scent. Thinking there might be blessed oil in the hole, I reached into it with my hand, finding only emptiness but the scent remained and it was real. Afterwards I mentioned the remarkable scent to the group but no one else had got it, so I figured it was a gift of God to me in my grief. He does that! Afterwards we went into the tomb of Jesus and I placed Maura in it and cried and cried a torrent. Now in this place of the Camino I not only placed Maura but Mam & Dad and my own past with its failure, its pain, its shame.

And the tears flowed again! And though I was totally alone, miles away from anywhere, I tried to hide my tears at first because they embarrassed me. But I dropped my hands and my guard and let go, crying all the way down.

At the base on the other side there is a hint of resurrection. The last breath of the old life is the beginning of an alleluia that comes to my lips but it is a song that will not be sung until it encounters the alleluia of the Holy Spirit. Then life will ignite in me. The opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics comes to mind and I think of myself as the flaming arrow shot forth by the archer to light the Olympic flame. That is the journey, the Camino – lighting the fire, fanning into a flame the gift of God. And to my surprise and pleasure, the clouds parted, the weather cleared, the sun shone and I sang other songs. Thus, we emerge through the clouds of grief into the brightness of a new day and those who have died emerge to live in the brightness of a new and eternal dawn.

And I learned that day what I had known all my life but now know at a deeper level, that the tomb is not the end. The graveyard of our sorrows, deaths and failures becomes a place of hope in Christ. It is the location of the resurrection, the transient resurrections of this world and the complete resurrection into eternity. On this Remembrance Sunday, as we pray for our deceased loved ones and all the dead. As Christians we have this assurance that death is not the end. Life is changed, not ended. Our God is the God of the living, "for to him everyone is alive" (Luke 20:38)

Bereavement Chapel at Star of the Sea

A Complete And Humble Loving

On the street in Rome

We are pilgrims, passing guests, olive trees of trust in the House of God, this magnificent house of life, the wide-open welcome of God’s presence. The groaning of Creation is in us; the sighing of the Spirit; the wordless prayer of a man that rises from the depts of unknowing nothingness, out of the bowels of the earth, his own humus. The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds. It begins head bowed, eyes downcast, not daring to look towards heaven but the result of this prayer, by this prayer we are lifted up into a new intimacy with God.

I’ve been committed to God all my life as a Catholic Christian and, since the age of seventeen, have given my whole self to Him as a Pallottine and as a priest since I was twenty-five. Part of that journey has been the pursuit of the virtue of humility that has eluded me time and again; all efforts to achieve it have been in vain. I have been humiliated many times and have humiliated myself many times more, but that is something other than virtue. Those experiences have only resulted in self-hatred, though even that must have been turned to good by the grace and mercy of God.

True humility has come and embraced me in the homeless poor women and men of this place. I don’t go out seeking them and am not involved in a campaign for the homeless, though we do host a weekly night shelter in which guests are welcomed with love, given good meals and a warm place to sleep during the coldest months.

It seems like we find each other in the time of God’s choosing, a moment in which I enter with them, one by one into a lowly place; not a question of me going “down” but entering into a place where I become humble. And if I humble myself as Jesus requires then I do so by this graceful entering into a humble state with another, through whom and with whom I am exalted. It is the exaltation of love, the love we have for each other, a love in which we are emotionally taken beyond the limitations of the physical; we transcend spiritually. When he says to me, “I love you”, he is giving me everything that he has, more than he might ever take from me. It is a complete and humble loving.

Two people in particular have recently found their way into my heart and my prayer – a man and a woman who have no connection with each other – and I have seen their groaning, their true prayer, pierce the clouds in ways that they might not expect or even wish. Both of them have ended up in hospital where they are getting the care they need and, hopefully, this will set them on new paths to better, safer, more comfortable lives.

The woman is doing well and, though she has a long, long road ahead, she is in a place of hope. He was taken in by the police because he went crazy and attacked someone but he couldn’t help it, can’t help it when his head goes crazy inside him. He gave my name to the police as his contact and they kindly told me of his situation but he has subsequently been sent for psychiatric treatment and, because of data protection, no one is allowed tell me where he is. I’m not even sure if he has given his real name. So, I find that I must let him go until he chooses to return, though I will still search for him and hold him in my heart in prayer.

VESPERS (By The Sea)

"...he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord..." 
(Genesis 28:12-13)

Prayer turns the soul
To the red October sky
Evening respite
From relentless rain
Relief from pain

Quiet waters touching
The edge of everything

Removing her scarf
She bares the shriven
Head of her illness
Bowing with Love's
Own Humility 

To God Who Is
Known to be
In the sanctuary
Of this place

Stairway between
Heaven and Earth

He walks on the top of the heights of the world; the Lord, the God of Hosts, is his name. (Amos 4:13)


It's my day off, the walking is done and I'm flicking through the television while waiting for 'Dublin Murders' to begin. My attention is caught by an Irish Country Music channel. Not the kind of thing I usually go for but I'm more open minded than in my youth so that I can listen to Margo and Big Tom and appreciate what they are doing. It's a kind song about life-long love, the last recorded by Tom before he died. A Love That Lasted Through The Years

And it's while I'm watching that on YouTube that I come on 'Shower The People' which was written and originally recorded by James Taylor but it's the Ray Lynam version that I love most. It was released by Ray in 1980 around the time of my ordination and, at the request of the Ffrench family, was played for me on RTE radio the day of my First Mass. The only part of my homily from that day that I can remember is the message of the song, "shower the people you love with love." It's what I have set myself to do as a priest, though sadly there are times when I have failed badly in that endeavour. Still do!

Shower is a word of the moment. It has featured in the weather forecasts of the past month or so. Shower in the plural, showers - downpours. This morning as I was settling in to my place of prayer the doorbell rang and for a moment I thought to ignore it but the rain was bucketing down so the person on the outside mattered more than my day off, or even my prayer. Opening the door turned out to be my act of adoration.

The man has been coming around a lot lately, sleeps in the woods and was dripping wet and wanted to be let into the church lobby. We brought him into the parish house, one of the meeting rooms where he could drink coffee and get warm. Persuaded him to take off his clothes so that we could wash and dry them, gave him a blanket to cover himself. He was content while I dipped in and out of prayer and Mary did most of the washing and drying. She's better at that than me and between us we wonder how we can help him in a more permanent way. We don't know what to do. We wonder and worry about the homeless people of this town who sleep out in this most cruel weather.

He emerges from the room at one stage and announces, "Eamonn I love you! I love you for doing this!" It is he who is showering me now. Another man said it to me after Mass one Sunday. It wasn't what he intended saying and was afraid that I would be offended by him saying, "I love you!" I wasn't! He said later to his wife that there is a way in which he loves me. A few days earlier I was visiting his family to ask the couple if they would bring Holy Communion to an elderly neighbour of theirs. Their three-year-old son went off to another room and kept calling out to me in the softest voice, "I love you!" It is said frequently by children, many of whom run up to hug me, reach out to hug me as I'm walking up the aisle to begin the Family Mass. Shower the people you love with love, show them the way you feel! Children do!

It happens when I'm least fit that a stranger wanders into the church on a Saturday night after Mass when I'm tired after the day and all I want is to go upstairs for a cup of tea. But they come and need to be given space and time and a hearing. Sometimes they are under the influence and noisy and people become a little fearful for me. One night three young adults waited behind a long time until a man finished what he wanted to say. As I led the man to the door, there they stood like three guardian angels, like the three Angelic visitors who came to Abraham. By these too I am blessed.

In some situations when I am emotionally vulnerable, I become very afraid. Words that people say that are designed to hurt, do hurt and fill me with irrational fear but I never feel under threat from those who wander in from the street with their burdens to unload because it is not about me, it is about them and I am simply the instrument of God's hearing. A father whose son died from an overdose, an atheist who would like to believe, a woman who cannot get over her grief, men and women who cry over the stuff they have done in life, people alienated from family, people filled with hurt and anger. They shout, spit it out, say it like it is and they usually go away calm, simply because they have been heard and some kind of connection is made with God.  By them, with them I am altered, made humble. They often look around the church in the darkness lit by many votive candles and say, "there is peace here!" There is peace indeed. And I myself am filled with peace by these encounters.

Another television series that has taken my attention is, 'World On Fire' about the World War II. There's a scene where a bus full of children with various disabilities and down syndrome children being taken in to a clinic where they will be euthanised because they are seen to be unfit for the pure society that the Nazi's are trying to establish. It's a drama, a drama that's telling a truth and I'm struck by the face of one little girl looking out the window of the bus. She reminds me of an elder parishioner who gave birth to a down syndrome daughter many years ago. The daughter died a few years past and her mother said to me, "I thank God for the privilege of being the mother of that beautiful girl!" It is lovely to hear a young mother speak thus of her child, "I loved this child from the moment she was conceived." Those are the sentiments of a Godly person, in contrast to the sentiments of the Nazis, in contrast to the sentiments of the politics of abortion in our time when children with down syndrome are killed in the sanctuary of the womb, as are children with life-limiting conditions. I think of young mothers are was put under pressure to abort their baby because it was feared the child would have a life-limiting condition. I know those who have resisted such pressure and were accused of being selfish. And the child was born without any life-limiting condition. There are many such stories.

People who would express outrage at what the Nazis did are the very ones in our time who are pushing abortion as the solution. The photo of Michelle O'Neill and Mary Lou Macdonald celebrating the introduction of abortion in Northern Ireland fills me with bitterness, a bitterness that makes me say that it's no surprise at all because death of the innocent is part of Sinn Fein's very essence, even if they began with noble intentions.

Here I am banging on about this and it makes absolutely no difference. But I suppose I have to, have to hope, have to see the beauty of life in the midst of horror as many brave people did in the Nazi concentration camps of the war.

"I know that things will be alright" sings Big Tom. As a Christian I have to believe this, to believe that justice will be done on behalf of the poor and the millions of lost lives. And my mind goes back to my youth when Margo lived in Glenina Heights and I was supposed to interview her for the Youth Club I was in. Never plucked up the courage to knock on her door. And Big Tom brings me back to the Mercy School hall when I used to go there to have lunch with Maura and Margaret Allen and the Corcoran sisters jived to Big Tom's 'You Know I Love You And I Always Will' - slapping the floor hard with their platform shoes. Memories and hopes flow in and out of each other.