|Dolores O'Riordan painted by Ryan Gannon Foster in January 2018|
Morning. Bright and crisp. October 9th – my father’s Birthday, may he rest in peace. Born in 1911. It’s also the Feast of St. John Henry Newman, Britain’s newest Saint. From outside, the voices of children echo through the church door. The prayers I requested of them are on the small table beside my chair in the sanctuary so that, as promised, I can bring them to Jesus when I pray. The voices I hear are glad – parents and children on their way to school - light and happy. Most children seem to like going to school but some don’t and I can empathise with the latter because, from beginning to end, from the age of four to seventeen, I didn’t like school at all. So, I’m really happy that it’s so far behind me, to be where I’m at now.
This is a most special time of day. Morning – once the drama of waking and getting up is done. The silence of it. Silence without interruption. Except what saunters into my mind but even that is not an interruption but is rather material for prayer. Right now, it’s Dolores O’Riordan who enters in, the young Dolores playing the organ in a country church more than thirty years ago. Playing for the parish Mission that John Fitzpatrick and I were giving. A bleak place with a dedicated and excitable parish priest who took one look at me, then turned to John to ask in a voice filled with doubt, “can he preach, can he preach?” He had the tendency to say everything twice as I sometimes find myself doing now! I was then in my early thirties with a black beard, black hair and big glasses that made me look like Gerry Adams. So, it’s understandable that he would be sceptical about me!
Dolores grew up out of her country village and into the famous band ‘The Cranberries’ – an artistic, wailing, troubled and sensitive soul who wrote and sang great songs. She is regarded as having “one of the most recognizable female voices in rock in the 1990s and in pop history.” I liked and admired her, was inspired by her uniqueness in the entertainment world in defending life in the womb. And I realize now that she has blended with Sinead O’Connor in my memory, Sinead whose album I have attributed to Dolores – ‘I Do Not Want What I haven’t Got’, a title that has struck me as Biblical and wise reminding me of what St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (4:12-13). “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
The song has her walking through the desert, unafraid, because “I have water for my journey, I have bread and I have wine. No longer will I be hungry for the bread of life is mine"
I do not want what I haven’t got! But we start at a very young age wanting, demanding what we do not have. Some years ago, in Shankill my brother and his family were staying for the weekend. We went to the supermarket and as we were leaving the shop Laura, who was about two years old, lingered and I lingered with her while the others went on ahead out of the shop. Something attracted Laura’s eye and she said, “I want that!” I said, “not now” or something to that effect. She insisted. I insisted. She started screaming. I was embarrassed, especially as I was wearing my clerical collar. People stared. I picked her up and carried her screaming out of the shop. It’s an experience familiar to most parents. And the child in us goes on demanding into adulthood, creating a discontent, an envy within us. We want what others have – their success, their talents, their house, their looks – while the Gospel is inviting us to the peace of not wanting what we do not have, the peace of being content with what we have and, more importantly, with who we are.
Coronavirus has reminded us that we cannot have things our own way but it’s possible that we haven’t actually learned the lesson at all. And through this pandemic God has been calling us to look beyond the now and pay greater attention to what is promised beyond this world. Mortality has been looking back at us from the mirror of life, our own mortality but it too is a difficult reality to face.
The readings for the twenty-eighth Sunday hold out the promise of the banquet of eternal life when God will dry our tears and take away our shame. It’s the wedding feast that the strong and healthy are not interested in, the table that is occupied by the stragglers of life, the weak, the lame, the poor. This is the table that is largely rejected by the young in their response to the risks of the pandemic and it is left again to the old and vulnerable to bear the burden of responsibility. We would lock them away again. We will be locked away again – and I say “we” because more and more my age is being spoken of as being vulnerable, in need of shielding. So, it is to us that the banquet of eternity appeals, that we might be consoled by the hope that after all this there will be the best of times in the presence of God and the chosen of heaven.
But the banquet is not just for the next life. We are invited to discover the banquet that is ours here and now. We are the banquet to each other, this life itself is the banquet and the Table of the Eucharist belongs to us, even to those who are not in a position to come to it. We gather to this table on behalf of all, that all may be save, redeemed, rescued from the scourge of our time. The scourge of body and soul.
The banquet has taken place in this parish, in our church in most beautiful ways over the past couple of weekends. Again, we could not have the First Communions or Confirmations as we wanted them and we had to settle for something a lot simpler and it seems to have worked, certainly from my perspective. But not just mine! After last Sunday’s First Holy Communion Mass everyone lingered in the church, seeming reluctant to leave. A couple of the children described the experience as “amazing” which is more than I expected to hear. There’s was joy in the aftermath as they ran and played outside the church looking beautiful and handsome and cool. There are some amazing photos which I would love to share but can’t of course.
Today we had the Confirmation of fourteen of our teenagers and I had the honour of standing in for the Bishop. My first time ever to be the celebrant of Confirmation Mass. The real honour was giving the Sacrament to this particular group who were lovingly prepared by Deacon Duncan through the whole of last winter. I had a few sessions with them and loved their presence in my house every Wednesday evening. Their energy mixed with the cool reserve that seems to be essential for their years, their innocence and enthusiasm for life.
Who knows what the Holy Spirit will do in their lives? Or when they will be taken by surprise by the unpredictable Wind that blows where it will? I pray that like me they will feel the wind shaking the tower of a lighthouse, or be knocked off their feet by the wind that blows on the Atlantic edge of an island. Feel these things and sense the Holy Spirit touching them. Or be like Ayrton Senna who experienced God in the sport that was his talent. I pray that in the ordinary things of life they will be always ready for the surprise that God has in store for them and in meeting that surprise, something in them will leap for joy.