GLASTONBURY: Do You Love Me More?

It’s Monday, my day off and knackered is the only word for what I feel. I’m having an americano on the pier in sunshine. It must have to do with the intensity with which I live the weekends, especially in celebrating Mass. A surprising thought entered my mind during the consecration at the last Mass yesterday, just as a weary knee genuflected - "this is where I would like to die - here, celebrating Mass!" And in the state of grace! An honest, unbidden desire! And I thought of how awful that would be for my family and all who love me. I know the awful shock of sudden death and yet, if God chose to call me in that way, then I would serve them best by it. You never know the kind of thoughts that fly through your head at such sacred moments.

Friday, we had Mass for the feast of the Sacred Heart up at the school. Always a special experience from the time I walk in the gate to be mobbed by the children from Reception, many of whom want to hug me, others want to tell me about their cuts and bruises.

I used photos of my resident pigeons, projected onto the wall, to speak of God’s constant and protective love – the way the mother and father pigeons take turns sitting on the eggs to keep them warm and safe. They laughed when I said, “of course God doesn’t sit on us!” The children get it. It’s such a simple message, the message of the gospel. And it’s such a joy to watch the uninhibited bopping of the children to the rhythm of the hymns. They are so happy in the moment, happy in the message. Trustful in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And what a delight it was for the Vigil Mass of Saints Peter and Paul to have the First Holy Communion children back in all their finery, presenting them to the congregation, hearing them declare with St. Peter their love for Jesus.

Saturday began and ended with the sudden deaths of a young mother and a young father, both from different families, not connected. I feel I have failed both, could not save them from the terrible sorrow that has descended upon them. Sudden and tragic deaths leave all sorts of confused feelings in their wake and I have to make a rational decision to bring my feelings of failure into the Heart of Jesus where the right balance is to be found. The heart, the spiritual heart in all of us is where emotion and reason come together in harmony. It’s the right place from which to live our lives. It’s where I know that God is God and I am not!

The rawness of death doesn’t simply disappear and in the late evening I escape into Glastonbury on BBC. It awakens an old love, the obsessive, passionate love of music that was mine in the late 60's and 70's. The joy I behold now on the tv screen. The power of live music and the shared experience in the simplicity of our youth, gathered around a record player in the sitting room. We listened to each other's records, talked through the songs, their meaning, admired sleeves.  We borrowed, swopped, loaned, taking great care not to scratch the vinyl. 

The radio cassette recorder on top of the fridge in the kitchen, the pause and record buttons ever ready for whatever favourite track Larry Gogan or Pat Kenny might play. I knew everything that was to be known about the charts, the year, the date, the position a single entered into the chart, how long it spent at number 1. It became an obsession, the thing I loved more than anything, a kind of possession. 

Then there came a time when I knew that the obsession was interfering with my spiritual development and it seemed that Jesus was asking me as he asked Peter, "Do you love me more...?" More than music! I loved Him but not more than music and realized I needed to. And still not ready for the "more" I began to pray that I would come to love Him at least as much as music. It took years for Grace to achieve its purpose but it was done eventually, as has happened with a number of my addictions, the insatiable cravings of my being. In this lies my hope - that my current addictions will find their consummation in Love of Jesus. It seems to me that when I love Him more, then all my loves find their proper place and expression. I did not lose music in the process of coming to love Him more. It's one thing to say this of addictions and desires, it's quite another to say it of the people I love, yet it seems to be what He asks. It's there in the Gospels.

Getting over an addiction, emerging into the most genuine of Loves is part of the process of getting to know who Jesus really is. To know Him is to love Him, to love Him is to get to know Him better and, by extension it is to arrive at the best possible way of knowing and loving those who are given to me in life.

The pigeon’s eggs are symbolic of breaking out of the shell that encases us – breaking out, breaking through, breaking into the new life that is offered. And this experience of the pigeons is utterly new, something I have never ever seen before, hinting at the ever newness that opens up for us in God.

And there they are, eighteen days later, these little scrawny baby birds. Ugly looking things at first sight but when I allow myself to “see” them, they are a wonder. They remind me of unborn babies. That thought sends me into a spin! I was reading about a woman who regrets having voted “Yes”in last year’s referendum in Ireland. She and other “yes” people are distressed by the laws that have been introduced. I am impatient with such regret, intolerant of it because it is utterly useless and absolutely too late.

I'm reading a friend’s weekly account of her experience of being treated for cancer, of living with it. It's a "live" diary, happening now, every day. Her resilience, courage and humour inspire. This week she writes about how we might imagine ourselves dying - something I do from time to time. Mam's death is the ideal. Ten days living with the knowledge that she had cancer, expecting three months but we seized the moment and had ten memorable days. She died at home with her children gathered round her celebrating Mass. 

Mam’s sister is now seriously ill in hospital, our last remaining aunt. After Mass yesterday I went up to London to visit her. She was sleeping so I sat looking at her, praying silently. Like Mam she has macular degeneration and, when she woke up, she looked at me saying, “hello, who is it?” When I leaned over her and spoke, she knew me. “I thought you were that man with the white beard from the Dubliners, the one who plays the fiddle.” We laughed. She too is resilient and very patient with her lot. She’s waiting for one of these scope tests and hasn’t been given any food or drink for four days. It’s awful but she isn’t complaining when she says how she longs for a cup of tea and chocolate.

As I’m leaving, I lean over her again and give her a quiet blessing. She holds my face in her two hands like she always does when we say goodbye. It’s the tenderest of gestures. She is not holding on to me, she is giving to me, perhaps giving me away. I tell her it feels like a blessing when she does that. She said it feels like a blessing to her when she touches my face.

It was late when I got back home but the buzz of travel was too strong in me for sleep so I went to Glastonbury again on BBC playback to watch Kylie. Her music doesn’t do it for me but I’m very fond of her.  It’s an emotional event because of her experience with cancer but it’s also a very happy one. Before calling it a day at around 1.00am I looked back at David Bowie at Glastonbury 2000, a stirring performance of ‘Heroes’. He was once one of the objects of my obsessive musical love from his first appearance on Top of the Pops in July 1972.

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