Tuesday, December 26, 2017

BATHED IN ITS KIND LIGHT: Christmas In Hastings - Eamonn Monson sac

I love the first of everything - experiencing what I haven't experienced before. So, this is my first ever Christmas in England, in Hastings and I woke early this morning with a sense of anticipation. This will be a new experience of Jesus, blessed community and holy solitude. People have been so kind and generous and it softens any sense of loss I may have. Happy Christmas Eve from my kitchen table in High Street where the seagulls are asking the dawn to break - a sound I love so well and never tire of hearing.

On Christmas morning a chink of red light breaks briefly upon the clouded horizon, a warning perhaps to shepherds of the morning. The sea is in mighty form, thunderous and dashing its churned up brownness on the pebbled shore. An islander once said to me that the sea is never brown. It is! Here! Today! With froth on it that flies about, brushing my lips. Salty froth fogging my glasses!

Seagulls play with the wind that tosses them like rag dolls through the air. I walk among the fishermen’s huts, the beached trawlers, and the fishermen's nets spread out upon the ground, all emptied of their catch. I am fisherman and shepherd for Christ born this happy morning. I’m singing Adeste Fideles as I go. “Yeah Lord we greet thee!” We greet Him, the dog-walking strangers and I. We greet Him in each other.

There are other seagulls that strut around the empty streets chasing the discarded litter of last night. Scavenging the ripped open garbage sacks, scattered chips, empty coffee cups rolling in their weightlessness.

Last night we had a beautiful Christmas Mass and carol service.  Midnight Mass at 10! This was the tranquil adult event – proud parents with returned sons and daughters. Loved ones leaning into each other in the warmth that is offered in the birth of Jesus, delightful homecomings! Few things surpass the beauty of God’s people in a church on Christmas night. Every one of us there knows that we are blessed by being there.

It is a kind of Transfiguration. Lord, it is good for us to be here!

I find myself abiding in gratitude for all that is. I’m not looking for anything for myself in prayer and I feel a completeness that is immensely satisfying.

I find myself abiding in the present – neither looking back nor forward nor away. Simply here right now, holding in my heart all who belong to me! And in this present I am grateful for the church building in which I stand and the community that fills it. The beauty of it and the goodness of those who prepared it for this night! Beautiful as a bride prepared – the cleaning, polishing, the beautiful flowers and tree, the lovely crib. All done so quietly and humbly, with no demand for praise or recompense! All I do is turn up! There is so much hidden service done here on a daily basis.

And there is the music, the exquisite singing which has been born of much labour, a labour that I have witnessed with my own eyes and felt with my heart.

All these aspects are in their way a new birth – Jesus being born for us again in them; we being born anew in Him.

Earlier we had an altogether different Christmas Mass that was no less transforming and, while the later one was uplifting in a tranquil way, the early one was shot through with joy, the joy that is to be experienced most especially in children.

And there were lots of them. The church overflowed with the young families who are so central to the life of this community. I sometimes refer to these Masses as a holy chaos but there was in fact no chaos at all – just a tumult of life. And for all the tumult we also have the capacity as a community – both young and old – to enter together into moments of profound silence. The children do my heart so much good – the delight and the joy they bring!

It was thought that people might not turn up to the morning Masses either on Christmas eve or Christmas day but they did and I have to say well done to the parents who managed to get their children out to two Masses in one day! Quite an achievement! It was an odd weekend in that the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve came at either end of the one day!

One last lovely and unknown event was the dinner prepared by a group of mothers and some fathers down in the parish hall beneath the church. It was for a group of young adults who are in transition and have no place of their own on this day. I went down to say hi and chat briefly. The young people were so grateful to me for letting them have the hall. It’s not I who deserve the thanks and I’m truly happy for the brief pleasure it gives them.

When it’s all been said and done I take my leave of everyone. People are concerned about me being alone but I am not. There are lots and lots of people who live alone today. I am in union with them and with the homeless men I meet on the street.

After lunch I turn again to the sea that is even wilder than it was this morning. The wind helps spend my energy, breaking open the tiredness that has gripped me, leaving me lazy and utterly content.

Back in the church I sit in the quite before of the crib, bathed in its kind light and, having indulged a bit more in the sweetness of Christmas food, by 9pm I’m ready to climb into bed. Check the doors; switch off the lights, sweet dreams! 


Postscript on St. Stephen’s Day – Boxing Day here but will always belong to Stephen for me! I was about to be sociable and go visiting when the doorbell rang. A young man, who is new to town and has become homeless, wants to stay in the Snowflake night shelter which is in our church hall every Tuesday night. It doesn’t open for another couple of hours so I brought him in out of the wretched cold and gave him tea and biscuits, plus a book and a clock that he asked to borrow. After a chat I left him to his privacy in a small room downstairs. He has in him a nature that gladdens the heart and leaves me knowing that I have had a surprise encounter with the Divine!

Eamonn Monson sac

Saturday, December 23, 2017

SIMPLICITY: Kissing The Hand of Jesus 2017 - Eamonn Monson sac

I came across a painting by Fray Juan Bautista Maino called The Adoration of the Shepherds and a detail shows one of the shepherds (though it might be St. Joseph) lifting the right hand of the baby Jesus and kissing it.

It strikes me that this is the purpose of our Advent and Christmas - to arrive at a point where Jesus is born for us again, born within us and we are called to come to Jesus and express our love for him in such a gesture.

John the Baptist goes into the desert for clarity and focus. The desert is a place of simplicity where we have nothing but the essentials to deal with and focus on. With this focus on the essentials John is able to recognise Jesus when he appears.

Last Christmas I celebrated Mass with a group of special needs adults from St. John Of God Carmona services, an experience which brought me face to face with the essential meaning of life in all its simplicity.

When I arrived in the hall I went to greet each person - 30 or 40 in all -  and when I came to one woman, the man beside her said to me, "don't be surprised if she hits you." It's an involuntary movement. I gave her my hand anyway. She took it in hers and, without a word, she kissed my hand. It was for me a repeat of what the shepherd did with the hand of Jesus and in that moment Jesus was born for me again.

At the Our Father I invited people to hold the hand of or touch the person beside them. I put my arm around the shoulder of the man nearest to me. He was very very pleased. And while we were praying, a woman shuffled up from the back with her right hand stretched out to me, looking directly into my eyes with her own beautiful, silent eyes. I took her hand and then she reached up and kissed me and, without a word, returned to her place. Jesus was born for me again.

It has occurred to me that I have aspired in these days to kiss the hand of Jesus but it seems now that he is saying to me in these two lovely women, "it is I who will kiss you." Briefly, profoundly it is done!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Portraits of a Lady and an Angel
Happy 50th Birthday Janette

Click HERE or on the photo above to view slideshow

Monday, December 18, 2017

SHELTER (A Cold December)

For the chosen
And the fragile

God's own
In them

In Christ

Than strength

Than human

He is
Virtue and

There is no other
Hope save
In Him

God knocks
On the basement
Door of my life

Enters in
A homeless
Woman and man

To sit with us
At table
And sleep there

In the temporary
Shelter offered
On a cold December night

We bathe
In the blessing
Of this Arrival


"Hide those who have been driven out, do not betray the fugitive, let those who have been driven out of Moab come and live with you; be their refuge in the face of the devastator" (Isaiah 16:3-4)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


I live by night. Something in me comes alive when walking in the dark by the sea. It sets me thinking - free of the distractions that teem in daylight. There's an ascent, a transcendence that happens here in this place at this time.

Waiting! God waiting patiently for me to change my ways and i wait impatiently for the consolation promised in the prophecy of Isaiah - not so much for myself just now but for all Who desperately need it's fulfilling, for the whole world that needs it. I am perhaps impatient for the fullness of Christ to be revealed. I would dearly love it. Dearly love to be ready for that moment!

My impatience nowadays is generally reserved for the computer in the Office that is impossibly slow. It used to be driving that threw me into a rage but I drive less now and do so with relative calm.

So, it's the computer I get mad with now, shout at it, say things that I shouldn't and am somehow diminished in the process.

It's a useless and futile impatience - except maybe it's a way of letting off steam. But there is a call to find an alternative, to prepare in my heart a place for something better, to prepare a way for Jesus to redeem whatever it is that makes me react as I do.

If the truth be told I'm impatient with myself for not being who and what I could be. Like Poirot in the recent version of 'Murder On The Orient Express' I see the world as it should be, not as it is. That's how I see myself and, though that might appear to be something of a curse, I see the blessing in it because it keeps me striving, moving.

Thankfully I have arrived at the wisdom of the addict, knowing that I cannot save myself. There is only One Saviour and it is for me to prepare a place for Him within myself, to clear away what I can of the interior clutter.

The Prophecy of Isaiah and John the Baptist; the Good News of Jesus is for our time, our society, our community and family. But it begins where all change, all justice, all peace begin - in every single human heart and soul and mind.

The clutter that needs to be cleared in me is the futile impatience that I've spoken about and I sense that the alternative, the solution is already within me.

God seems to be leading me to a childhood experience in Aran, a place that is one of the central sources of nourishment in my interior life. It is an experience of peaceful patience, a patient watchfulness that is the call of Advent.

This is not a return to former innocence; it is not simply something of the past. It is here and now that I am led to access a present interior alternative.

I am the boy who is shepherded by the warm and saintly Mary Ann McDonagh. I play alone on the beach in Kilronan. She calls to me from the front door of her pub and takes me to her kitchen where we pray - with her sitting in a chair by the table and I kneeling, hands resting on her lap.

After prayer there was tea and Kimberley biscuits and then she would take me to the window in the pub that looks out over Galway Bay. My job was to watch out for the steamer, the ship that sailed the three hour journey from Galway.

No one knew the time of departure because there was no timetable. The Naomh Eanna left when she was fully loaded with the food and other supplies that were necessary for life on the island.

So my waiting was a long process which I undertook obediently and patiently. For a couple of hours I would simply watch the sea until the ship appeared as a tiny dot on the horizon. I got to know the sea and my gazing became the training for the contemplative part of my soul.

I go back to that experience in order to reawaken the childhood patience that still resides within and I come to peace now when I go back there.

There is of course an impatience that is good and holy such as our impatience for the rights of the homeless and the poor of our town; an impatience with the system that keeps them there; an impatience with ourselves to do something more than provide the night shelter and food we offer once a week. This kind of impatience needs to be expressed effectively so that the right thing is done for those who need it.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Maranatha: Hope for the Hopeless - Eamonn Monson sac

In the early 1980's the famous Benedictine monk John Main came to Tanzania to give a retreat and teach his Maranatha method of meditation. It's a simple method of sitting still for 20 minutes morning and evening, repeating the Word 'Maranatha' over and over in silence. The word is referred to as a mantra. Maranatha is the great prayer of Advent and it means 'Come Lord Jesus', expressing the profound yearning for God that is in the heart of every person. It is the Advent prayer of the whole Church. 

The retreat was attended by the Medical Missionaries of Mary and some Pallottines and it's safe to say that the sisters were more enthusiastic about it than the priests.

One day, a long time after the retreat, one of the sisters was on her way to Arusha and she stopped for a break in a Pallottine Mission house where she asked the priest, "how is your mantra going?" "Well sister" he replied, "it's like this! Every morning I get up and I sit down and I say to myself, 'hopeless, hopeless, hopeless!'"

Hopeless - this is something we often feel in relation to prayer and our spiritual lives; people feel hopeless about a lot of situations. Hopelessness affects the sick, the old, the addict, the sinner, the child at school, the student, the unemployed. It affects many people coming up to Christmas.

Last year more than ever I had been affected by the early darkening of the evenings of winter. It comes in so fast even on bright days and it will continue to get darker a bit earlier every day until near Christmas. It's like the darkness tugs at the darkness within myself, tugs at my depression, seeking to bring me down.

One day at home in Mervue, Galway I was standing in the kitchen, looking out the window into the back garden. It was so dreary and damp and cold. And it touched the dreariness within me, seeking to take hold of me.

Like my mother I like to go out into the garden first thing in the morning, just to look at it, but that day I thought 'I can't go out into that misery'. Still something persuaded me and as I walked I saw in the midst of all the dreariness a fuchsia in full bloom. It was one I planted there earlier in the year, one of my very few successful plantings. And it struck me that God was reminding me that it is always necessary to be on the lookout for signs of hope and beauty.

We are one with Jesus who is saying to us in the gospel - stay awake, be alert! Be aware that, as this fuchsia is the work of God's hand, so are we - even more so. And God is our Father as He is the Father of Jesus. He is hid from us in the mess of our lives and He is there to be found, to be waited for and searched for. This is an essential of our Advent, our preparation for Christmas, for the coming of Jesus who is always Hope for the hopeless!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


She stands at the crossroads
Of time and eternity
Intersection of all creation

A desire as old as Eden
Burning in her soul
The yearning of every child

Who has graced the earth
Embodiment of  humanity's Hope 
Of Redemption, Restoration

She has held in her heart
The wandering aridity
Of the desert and there 

He comes to find 
Lifting her up and keeping
Her the apple of His eye

Humanity has found
A response to God in her
From her is deliverance

Brought forth in Christ
In whom we are born and breathe
Our perfect peaceful consummation

Healing for our scars


As a Prayer


You stand at the crossroads
Of time and eternity
Intersection of all creation

A desire as old as Eden
Burning in your soul
The yearning of every child

Who has graced the earth
Embodiment of humanity's Hope 
Of Redemption, Restoration

You have held in your heart
The wandering aridity
Of the desert and there 

God comes to find 
Lifting you up and keeping
You the apple of His eye

Humanity has found
A response to God in you
From you is deliverance

Brought forth in Christ
In whom we are born and breathe
Our perfect peaceful consummation

Healing for our scars


Eamonn Monson sac
November 2017

Thursday, November 23, 2017


A man going underground
Looks furtively around
In case he might be found


In his descent
To the hollows
That echo

In the dark

Where barefaced lies

Parade as truth
Shadows masked as pleasure

God is there
Because He cares
Though man is unaware

His Face uncovered
And unnoticed
He waits and waits

With infinite Patience

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

ICON: An Encounter With God - Eamonn Monson sac

Back in 2009 I was looking online for a retreat and my attention was drawn to an Icon Retreat that was taking place at the Redemptoristine Convent in Dublin. At first glance I thought it might be a peaceful time of gazing at these sacred images, a time of respite from the fractious life that I was engaged in at the time.

But it wasn’t simply a time of gazing! It turned out that participants would have to paint (write) an icon. Painting is not one of the talents God has given me but this retreat was tugging at my soul and seemed to be inviting me to stretch myself.

So, on a Monday morning in October twelve of us sat at our tables ready to begin. Our teacher was Mihai, a young Romanian iconographer. I felt like a four-year old starting school, looking at the space in front of me. The brushes, the picture that I was to work from, the blank white board onto which I would attempt to reproduce the lovely image of Our Lady. It promised to be an awful mess!

We listened to our teacher, did our best to follow his instructions and it meant picking up the brush, dipping it into the colour and applying it to the board.

I prayed as I worked for seven to eight hours a day, my mother’s memoriam card on the table as my companion. She had died just over a year previously and grief still stirred strong in me.

Looking at my icon now, eight years later, and reflecting on the process that brought it into being, it has come to be a symbol of what talent is all about. This is in the context of the Gospel reading for the 33rd Sunday.

Talents are God's own gifts given to us to enhance our lives and help us on the road to salvation. They are evidence of God's presence and activity in our lives, given in imperfect form to be developed and brought to perfection by our use of them. Like grace, we have to use our talent or lose it and losing it we let it die.

Ayrton Senna made great use of his talent for driving. A practicing, bible-reading Catholic he saw his talent for what it was - a gift given him by God - and driving formula 1 became experiences of God. On a practice run on the track he had an experience in which he transcended and entered into another dimension and spoke of having a vision of God as he crossed the winning line in a race.

I think of my mother baking brown bread - the taste of her bread fresh out of the oven, a taste of goodness, a sacred taste that somehow connects me with heaven, with God.

In my view, this is what God intends when he gives us gifts and talents - that they become a point of encounter with God, that they bring us authentic spiritual experiences when they are exercised in the way that God intends. And they only achieve this in our lives when we collaborate with God in their development.

My icon was a collaboration between God, Mihai and me. Without either one of us it would not have come into being, would not be what it is. God inspired, Mihai instructed, cajoled, challenged and worked on the parts of the icon that I could not do but - importantly for me - the face is mine. Each one doing that retreat reproduced the face of Our Lady very distinctively. I was quite amazed when I drew the first sketch of the face, amazed by myself and very grateful to Mihai who is a symbol and an image of God in the whole process.

Using one's talent is not simply about one's own personal experience of God. It is also given to touch the lives of others so that when they experience any one of our talents they are in touch with the presence and activity of God. My talent can become for you an encounter with God.

The original and abiding meaning of my icon has to do with suffering children. I took with me on the retreat the Murphy Report that had come out earlier in the Summer. It told the harrowing stories of historical institutional abuse and it knocked the stuffing out of me.

Around the time it was published we had a meeting of religious leaders about how we should respond to and deal with the report  -  on a personal as well as a congregational level. One of the speakers, a psychiatrist I think, spoke of how the stress might affect us. One symptom is a difficulty in swallowing which was something I was experiencing. Of course I had been wondering did I have throat cancer! But it was stress!

Another effect was that I ended up in hospital soon afterwards with a suspected heart attack but that too was stress. I remember lying on the bed in A&E for hours on end, not caring if I lived or died and in a strange way I felt like hospital was a refuge from the awful reality that had been unleashed upon the tender lives of innocent children.

During the icon retreat the section  of the report I was reading was on Letterfrack and the only thing I could do was to pray and paint the pain of those children into the icon that was slowly emerging in front of me.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons why my icon looks sad. A friend commented, "next time you might make her smile." It wasn't a time for smiling. And even though I was affected deeply by the suffering written of in the report, what I felt was nothing, not even a shadow of the reality.

Four months later I heard Heidi Gilroy speak at the Divine Mercy Conference about her experience of having been abused by a soldier when she was a little girl. As she described it I started crying and couldn't stop. I sobbed all the way through her talk and for quite a while afterwards. She broke open my understanding and my heart. It was as if the heart of Jesus himself was crying. I cried for the suffering and then I cried for the Mercy she spoke of, the Mercy that brought her healing.

The icon is called Our Lady of Letterfrack, Mother of the Abused - that's what it has stood for these past eight years. Its what it still stands for. 

And I've noticed now that tiny cracks have appeared all over the face of Mary like the veins that break out over the skin of the harrowed life. It occurred to me that I ought to have varnished the icon as a protection but on second thoughts there is something authentic about what is cracked and damaged; something lived-in rather than preserved.

But, cracked and sad though it be, it is not only a sad icon of suffering, it is also one of survival and has great peace; it is in itself a perpetual prayer for peace and healing.

I have not written another icon since and I think there are some talents which we are given to use occasionally, maybe only once in a lifetime, for a particular purpose. There are other talents that need to be used regularly.

It seems that for my ongoing Pilgrimage home God has given me a number of one-off experiences to keep me going further and further down the road - the Icon, the Camino and the Lighthouse, to name a few. The important thing is to recognize what is sent, to embrace it and allow it to achieve what it is sent to do.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

RED: THE COLOUR OF HOPE - Eamonn Monson sac

The oil in the lamps of the bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) represents the grace that God has given us to help us encounter Christ in our life experience. It is the grace to wait in the time of waiting and it is the grace to go out and meet Him when the time for going out has arrived. It is the grace of alertness, the grace of vision and the grace of action.

The life of grace is not so much a state of ethereal tranquility but more a powerful impulse that sends us crossing vibrant, stormy seas; a climbing of steep ascents that leaves us gasping breathless. Grace is an adventure into the mystery of God, an adventure in which we stumble and fall; it is a bruising and a breaking. It is rest after struggle and healing after hurt, a healing that is greater than the hurt, a grace that we would never know without the hurt. There is always hope in brokenness. In God nothing and no one is damaged beyond repair.

The thing about this grace is that it is personal, given uniquely and differently to each one of us. It fits the person that we are, is designed specifically for each one. So, it cannot be passed on to another or shared even if we would like to. That’s not to say that we can’t help another to experience their particular grace but we can’t give it to them. It is not ours to give. It is God’s!

The story of the bridesmaids is a sober reminder to us to treasure grace, to use it or lose it. At least that we try to use it, strive to search for Christ every day of our lives. Strive! This is a word used by Jesus and it’s a word that offers us hope. We don’t have to get it perfectly right. We just have to try!

When I was a small boy I had and beautiful red car, a toy that I loved and played with constantly, revved it up so much that it broke down and wouldn’t work any more.  I was very desolate so my mother said I should leave it on the window sill in my room and maybe Santa would take it away and fix it. That night I did what I was told and next morning the car was gone. 

I didn’t really expect anything to happen but, when Christmas came, there in the midst of my presents was my lovely shiny red car in perfect working order. As good as new!

In later years when I was going through a very difficult period in my life and not coping very well, one Christmas my mother handed me a gift and to my delight, what was it but a red car similar to the one of my childhood. She said nothing but I knew that she was telling me that, as the broken car of my childhood got fixed, so would I too get somehow fixed beyond my brokenness. And so the red car became for me a symbol of hope, the hope of being restored, repaired when I was damaged and broken.

This is central to the grace that God gives us – that we have hope when things are hopeless; that we watch out for signs and symbols of hope. In the battlefields of Europe during World War I the red poppy became such a symbol of hope. There in a land that was torn apart and scarred by the savagery of war; there in the midst of such destruction and death, the impossible happened when the fields blossomed with beautiful red delicate poppies.

There is significance in the delicate nature of the poppy. In it God is telling us about the power and resilience of what is frail, what is delicate and refined. It is a symbol of the grace that is given to us, that we so often reject because it is frail. But as we are reminded in the Bible – the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength, the frailty of God is far more enduring than any human power.

All of this is embodied in the reality of Jesus whose life on earth began in the frailty of a baby and ended in the frailty of the condemned on the blood red cross, the silent sleeping of a body in the hopeless tomb. And out of that hopelessness He emerged into new life so that we might emerge from our brokenness into lives that are truly transformed and, even though we bear the scars of our wounds, they are themselves the scars of transformation.

Red, the colour of hope - red cars, red poppies and the red blood of Christ by which we are redeemed. Just as in the mystery of Christian life we wouldn't know the wonder of mercy if we hadn't sinned, so we wouldn't know the sheer pleasure and wonder of being healed if we had not been wounded in the first place. Grace abounds all the more!


Postscript: I spoke about this today in my homily and after the 11.30 Mass a four year old girl came and handed me this little red car which she found in the church and thought I should have it because of what she had heard me say.  The Lord speaking to me again in the unexpected gift of a red car at the hands of a child. If anyone knows who this car belongs to I'll keep it safe till next week.

Friday, November 10, 2017


The effortless 
Rise of smoke


In the still
November air

Like prayer
Into the nothingness

Of problems solved
Tensions dissolved

In the warm hearth
Of the ordinary

Tender the Veil 
Of Peace

Falling over 
All and a gentle

Tide at night on 


Where searchers'
Lamps explore


In the beauty


The night

And heading 
Home again

Heart of Heaven's
Bliss here

On Earth

Sunday, November 5, 2017


The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Matthew 23:12)

Experiences of humiliation can lead us to become humble but they are not in themselves virtuous; feelings of inferiority can also lead us to humility but they are not in themselves virtuous. Jesus calls us to humility and not to humiliation or inferiority.

My mother had a very simple answer to my inferiority complex! She said you should neither look up to anyone nor look down on anyone and that Jesus is the only one who is perfect.

So in my search for humility I am called to focus on Jesus rather than on self and through Jesus to be taken into the perfect embrace of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – where we encounter love and mercy in its perfection. Humility is born when I have the grace to be still and know that God is God and in His presence I “bow and bend low” in worship.

In His presence I discover who I am and who you are. None of us is either greater or less than the other. As Jesus says when He warns us against self-promotion, “you have only One Father”, One Master, One Teacher and we are all brothers and sisters.

Psalm 131 introduces us to the deepest possible form of humility:

Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.
O Lord, my heart is not proud
  nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
  nor marvels beyond me.
Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.
Truly I have set my soul
  in silence and peace.
A weaned child on its mother’s breast,
  even so is my soul.
Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
  both now and forever.
Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.

My heart is not proud! Truly I have set my soul in silence and in peace. A weaned child on its mother’s breast, a child at rest in its mother’s arms, even so my soul! The heart of humility is here and this is who we are called to become – a trustful child in the arms of God.

I have had the grace to hold my five nephews and three nieces in their infancy. It has always been an experience filled with love and emotion. At Mass this morning I was asking the children if they had ever held a baby and a number of girls and boys said yes. “And what did it feel like?” I asked. The boys shrugged their shoulders but the girls said immediately that they felt love and they felt emotional! I guess the boys did too but they didn’t know how to put it into words.

Babies can be trustful and sometimes cautious and restless in the embrace of an adult. I’m thinking of the two youngest because my experiences with them are the most recent and therefore my memories of them are clearer.

Laura was the most chilled baby ever. I often tell her that she was silent for the first six months – until she found her voice and when she found that then there was no stopping her. She would just lay there sleeping or in a dreamlike daze. I have memories of her sound asleep on her father’s shoulder. She represents the kind of trustful abandon that is at the heart of Christian spirituality.

Katie was more alert and less inclined to sleep but I had this experience with her when she was a few months old. I went to visit one Saturday and Elaine was doing the cleaning, so she put Katie into my arms, put me into the sitting room, asked me to look after her and closed the door.

So we sat there on a rocking chair, Katie and me, playing and chatting in the way one does with a baby. And after a while she rested her head on my chest. So I sang to her. Sang songs in Swahili, sang hymns and she fell asleep with her head resting on my chest and she remained like that for over an hour.

This became for me a most precious period of meditation. I simply held her, gazed on her, felt the warmth of her. I was deeply touched by the way she trusted me enough to fall asleep and it seemed in this that God was inviting me to be like her – a child resting trustfully in His arms.

I go back to this from time to time. Each one of us can enter into such an experience in prayer. Simply close your eyes and in the privacy of your soul where only you and God abide. And there you can surrender to Him, be held by him, loved by Him.

In our strength we resist going to such a place within ourselves but Alcoholics Anonymous have discovered that surrender to the Higher Power is essential for recovery. Addicts in recovery understand this too.  Our Higher Power is God, revealed to us in Jesus.

It is especially important for us to surrender to the Divine Embrace where we are not well. Another memory from my own childhood is in a time when I was very sick with shingles, my mother took me into bed with Dad and herself and, though she could not take away the pain, could not make me better immediately, I felt secure in her embrace. And it’s the same with God. Not that He cannot take away the pain but He holds us through the necessary experience of pain and sees us through to the other side of it.