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.

The Cenacle of Our Time (A Prayer)

Eternal Father
You draw us to yourself
In Infinite Love and Mercy
That we may find
Our true selves
Our true Mission
In the Heart of Jesus.

Deliver us
From all that would rob us
Of this present moment
For now is the favourable time.
Heal our memories
And our anxieties

Bless us
Every single one of us
That we may abide with Mary
In the Cenacle of our time
And under the impulse of the Holy Spirit
Go forth as Missionary Disciples

To see the world as Christ sees
To understand as He understands
To love as He loves

We adore you profoundly
With all of Heaven
And the whole of Creation
In Jesus Name. Amen!

Jesus Is The Kindly Light

The oddest thing! Walking home in the dark my eye caught sight of a piece of paper trapped at the base of a seafront bench. It was flapping in the wind and it looked somehow familiar. I bent to pick it up. A Pallottine Mass League certificate that was issued at the Pallottine College, Thurles in 1996 when I was a member of the community there. I recognized the script and know who typed it but have no knowledge of the person enrolled. So, I googled his name when I got home. Flight Lieutenant Gregory Mark Noble died at the age of 28 in an RAF air accident which happened in Norfolk in January 1996. Why should this distinctively Pallottine document find its way into the path of the only Pallottine in this town? I find myself praying for him, for his family, for the secretary who typed the cert, her family, for the rector of the college and the community. But mostly I pray for Greg himself and his memory. Such a sad loss of a young life.

Before the paper caught my eye, I had been pondering what I would say next Sunday – the Gospel of the Ten Lepers and the Canonization of Blessed John Henry Newman. The latter had a significant impact on my young life. On one occasion I misused him for my own advantage. Coming up to an examination in public reading in College, a friend told me that the President was particularly fond of John Henry Newman so I chose to read a piece written by him and the President was so wowed that I won the first prize in English. It wasn’t right to manipulate the situation in that way and I’m not proud it.

More significantly, John Henry Newman touched my life through his hymn ‘Lead Kindly Light’ which became my constant prayer during a two-year vocation crisis when I felt I was unsuited for life as a priest. It is a prayer that I turn to even now when I am uncertain about the path that lies ahead.

1.      Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on;
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

2.      I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on;
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.

3.      So long Thy pow’r has blest me, sure it still
Wilt lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Jesus is the kindly light that led John Henry Newman to the Truth that eventually led him through various stages of conversion into the Catholic Church; Jesus is the kindly light that drew the Lepers (Luke 17:11-19) from the shadows to the experience of healing; Jesus is the kindly light that leads us to the Truth and to New Life in Him.

It is often the experience of a crisis of some sort that sends us seeking Jesus with all the intensity of our need, when we have the desire to be healed like the leper Naaman (2 Kings 5:14-17) whose flesh became like that of a little child, the desire to be restored to the spiritual and emotional purity of the child. And when our feet become unstable and sore, our physical feet and all else that becomes unsteady in life, it is to Jesus we turn – “keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” We learn from Him the wisdom of taking one step at a time, one moment at a time and not allow the distant scene of the future to overwhelm us.

Central to the kindly leading of Christ is the path that leads to gratitude, that I become a person who sees reasons for giving thanks to God, one in whom gratitude grows the more I express it, in the way that love between two people grows the more it is expressed and shared.

The great loss in life is that we take God for granted, that we use Him for our own advantage and when we have received what we need we become one of the nine who go away and do not return. It is common enough for people to use religion in this way. Perhaps it is true that nine times out of ten we behave like this in relation to God, short changing ourselves in the process. But even when this is true, the kindly light of Jesus finds ways of leading us, seducing us, drawing us to Himself in spite of ourselves and all of our mixed motives.  I’ve seen this many times and it is a wonderful grace. “We may be unfaithful, but He is always faithful!” (2 Timothy 2:8-13)

SOMETHING PRECIOUS: Love's Unquestioning Duty

I peer through the curtains of the morning to gaze upon the unwelcome day, then choosing to welcome it in the name of Christ, befriending the unknown that awaits my love. One by unexpected one they arrive by grace.

“You have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:14)

A friend has been looking after her ailing father for the past few years and I have seen how exhausted and frayed she becomes, wondering at times where can she find the strength to keep going. But she finds it, she does all that needs to be done. It is her a God-given duty, the duty of her love for him and there is no question of not doing it. It is love’s unquestioning duty and it doesn’t always feel like love.

It’s what Jesus talks about in the Gospel, “when you have done all that you have been told to do, say, “we are merely servants, we have done no more than our duty.” (Luke 17:10) It is our duty to be servants of each other’s need, a loving duty that lays down its life in service of each other.

Those we care for are the “something precious” that St. Paul speaks of, those whom we are called upon to guard with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I see it all the time here in the parish. Parents bringing their children here to Mass, carrying them in the Offertory Procession, guarding them through all of life. I see how precious is the child in the womb to an expectant couple, how both mother and father are somehow transformed by the reality of pregnancy; how through all the difficulties of pregnancy a woman perseveres in the loving duty of motherhood and there is no question of her giving up. And sometimes, sadly, the preciousness of the child in the womb is only realized when it is lost. The expectant mother is for me one of the most powerful symbols of what life in all its aspects means at its very core – our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual life.

I see a little sister caring for her brother, I see teenagers being attentive to their grandparents, husbands and wives looking after each other through the challenges of getting old. There are many, many examples among us of this loving duty that does not give up, that keeps going against the odds and these are sure signs of God among us.

Through all and contained in all of these there is something else precious that has been given us to guard and protect and that is our Catholic Christian faith; it is the person of Jesus Christ whose life in us we are called to guard with the help of the Holy Spirit, in the duty of love that does not give up. Jesus is precious in Himself and most precious of all whose life within us can be compared to the life of the child in the womb, to be tenderly, carefully minded so that it can grow to maturity within us until we are ourselves are fully matured. Only in Him is the fullness of maturity achieved and it is a lifelong process that we do well not to give up on, but to wait and wait and wait for it to unfold.

“If it comes slowly, wait, for come it will without fail.” (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

Lord, teach me to see others - every precious single person - as you see them, to understand them as you understand them, to love them as you love them. Teach me to see precious Earth and all that it contains as you see it, to love it as you love it, to guard it according to your plan. Teach me to see the past as you see it, understand it as you understand it and in your mercy that I may be healed of the hurts I have experienced, and be forgiven for the hurts that I have caused, that the past may be redeemed. Teach me to see the future as you see it, without fear or anxiety, to move towards it with hope and trust in you. Amen!

The Call of St. Matthew (Caravaggio)

When Jesus enters the room
My hands are still on the money
Fingers fiddling

My mind distracted by it
My soul oppressed by its demands
My heart tangled in its deception

Then glancing sideward
I see the Hand outstretched
Finger pointing like a new creation’s
Dawning light

And when He speaks
It is clear that I cannot
Serve both God and money
It is He that I must follow

However harrowed be my life

I grow younger as I near Him
A beauty ever ancient
Emerges ever new

Sitting with Him at table
We sinners are drawn in
To an intimacy Most Divine