It's an incredibly beautiful day at sea. The ship sails steady on the white edged choppy waves and peace reigns now, with loneliness left behind in Dublin port. Mostly left behind. Out here I am suspended between two realities, ready to return yet slightly apprehensive. There is a tug between home and Hastings, both of which I love; a pull between Ireland and England, this world and heaven.
In a meditation at the retreat in Thurles, the director asked us to be blind Bartimaeus begging, to imagine ourselves being him. It’s a meditation I have guided on retreats going back many years, so it was necessary for me not to be stuck in an established way of seeing this gospel.
I wasn't blind but paralyzed, unable to walk, sitting on one of those four wheeled mobility scooters for the disabled. Disabled is a word still used in the UK. I am disabled in the meditation but my scooter takes me to Jesus at speed, the cloak flying off my back. When Jesus asks me, "what do you want me to do for you?" I'm supposed to ask for some form of healing or simply to make me light hearted but what comes out of me is, "take me home!" Home is heaven. And home is also that state of being truly myself, at ease with that reality and its potential. It's not something that gets answered in a hurry. It's an ongoing process and a future hope.
In another exercise the retreat director draws our attention to an empty chalice on a table with a cruet of wine beside it. We are each to pour a drop of wine into the chalice. What we pour represents our desires, the desire we have spoken to Jesus in the meditation. The chalice with wine and desire will be consecrated at Mass the next day. I have been asked to lead the Mass and as I sit in silent preparation it strikes me that all of our desires are mingled together in the wine, all of our lives mingled inseparably, so that at some level it is impossible to distinguish one person’s desire from another’s, one person's life from another's. It is a mingling that will become the Blood of Christ, His very life and ours.
I have spent the last days of my holidays with the Pallottine community in Thurles and visiting some friends in the town. A happy, graceful time, an experience of Divine Providence.
After lunch with my good friend in Roscrea we went back to her family home where we watched the All Ireland football final, me sitting next to her ailing father, feeling the kindness of him and the blessedness of being there.
From there I went to Cashel to visit one of our priests in a nursing home. He’s doubled over in his chair watching a programme about lambs on television. Apart from being bent over he looks very well and when the chatting was all done, he asked me to bless him and I asked him to bless me. So, we sat there holding hands, heads bent into each other in an enfolding I previously experienced with Noel a few months earlier.
As I was driving into Thurles a friend of my brother’s saw my English registration, contacted my brother to ask him to ask me to pray for his mother-in-law Ann who was dying. I went to the house to pray with her. She wasn’t short of prayer or of people to pray with her but I felt I should go and offer my bit of spiritual support. Ann prayed along with those prayers that were familiar to her. It was another blessed and peaceful moment. Ann died the next morning. She is at peace.
Being present for the first day of the community retreat gave me a great opportunity to meet all the Pallottines who were present, all of them joyful encounters, perhaps especially with those who were my students back in the 1990’s, the warmth of their embrace.
My novice master from the early 1970’s is physically beginning to show his age and he sits silently at mealtimes, saying nothing unless he is asked a question. One afternoon I found him sitting alone at a table while everyone else was on the other side of the dining room drinking tea and talking loudly, so I went and sat with him. He no longer recognizes me by name but I like to think he knows me at some deeper level. We talked about his childhood and he told me at length about cycling to school, the cold wind of the river in winter and in the summer cycling half way up the country to visit relations. He has told me this before, many years ago when I myself was sick and it’s something I never tire of hearing.
Spent my last night alone in the Provincial House in Dublin with some old ghosts of mine that seek to trouble me but I had the grace to dismiss them, setting my gaze to the present, pressing towards the future and its hope. This is the Scripture that greeted my on my first day back: “Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, Yahweh declares, plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. When you call to me and come and pray to me, I shall listen to you. When you search for me, you will find me; when you search wholeheartedly for me, I shall let you find me.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)