Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Islands Listen To Me

Islands listen to me, pay attention.
The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb He pronounced my name. It is He who created me, knit me together in my mother’s womb. Already He knew my soul, my body held no secret from Him when I was being fashioned in secret, moulded in the depths. He searches me and knows my resting and rising, my purpose. All my ways lie open to Him.
I am not the one you imagine me to be.
(Readings for the birthday of St. John The Baptist)

From the time I was a boy in the Aran Islands I knew that God was with me there, and it seems that He spoke to me through island, sea, sand and rock. And it seems that the island was listening to me, that He listened to me through the same island, sea, sand and rock.

We spoke the same language, dreamed the same dream and yearned with infinite desire for simple unattainable experiences, experiences that would somehow express something of who we are in each other’s presence; who I would become in Him – He being the greater.

As with John the Baptist He would increase and I would decrease. I would ascend to the heights by descending, by waiting and waiting and waiting. I waited, I waited for the Lord and He stooped down to me. (Psalm 30)

The sea expresses something of the vastness and majesty of God, something of the expanse of my own soul, hinting at the great unfathomable mystery of God and of each of us created in His image and likeness. We are the likeness of majesty, mystery, unfathomable.

I am not the one you imagine me to be! I am mystery, unfathomable even to myself and much more are we mystery to each other, a mystery to be honoured with silence, a mystery that does not need to be worked out in all its detail.

The beauty is in the mystery. And yet we try to rob each other of both mystery and beauty in our search for knowing. It was the original mistake in the Garden of Eden – they wanted to know too much, to possess too much and in the process lost almost everything. And life became more difficult than it needed to be. Became intolerably difficult at times.

Mystery, desire and prayer require us to wait for the unfolding of what God is offering; to wait rather than to reach out and grab what we want, what we want to become. We run ahead of ourselves, we run ahead of God in our eagerness to get life right and we forget about gift and grace. This is true of our eagerness to repent and be converted, our eagerness to become better people.

I have discovered that everything I desired comes to me in its time, usually after many years of waiting, years even of forgetting what it was that I desired until the moment when it was fulfilled.

Katie took me by the hand when she was eight years old and we went walking to the river in Holycross. She told me how she has wished for things but that they don’t happen and I suggested that she tell her wishes to God and then wait like I waited for years. But it’s impossible for a child to think in terms of the waiting of a 60 year old adult. I told her some of the things that I desired as a child that came to pass in my adult.

I desired to travel on a yacht and it came to pass thirty years later; staying in a lighthouse happened after fifty years; working in radio took forty years or more. And recently I got to board a Lifeboat, a desire that travelled from Aran and around the world as far as Hastings and a distance of fifty years or so – even though the boat was only on the shore! But they have promised to take me to sea one day. It was for the blessing of the boats and sea a couple of weeks ago that this happened. Deacon Duncan and I joined Fr. Sean from Christchurch who was leading the service.
We climbed the ladder up onto the Lifeboat which became for me like the high altar of God’s own life-saving grace. Glen showed us around the inside and spoke with great affection of this boat that he has served on for 26 of its 29 years. He had become part of her and she part of him. It’s what is required of us too that we become part of a similar life-saving mission, that we embody it.

All of these experiences point to God’s attentiveness and fidelity and each experience expresses something of who I was and who I have become. The experience of the Lifeboat also suggests to me that I belong here in Hastings.

Elizabeth and Zecharia waited until it was almost too late for the child they so desired and when all hope seemed lost then God stepped in and gave the gift. There are people without children whose yearning is answered by God in unexpected ways; there are children without parents who receive the blessings of motherhood and fatherhood also in ways they dared not dream of.

The lesson is that when we find ourselves lacking the people or the things we desire, God provides in other ways. Just as I have desired to be a biological father and did not become one, but became father to specific people in a different way – so those who desire a child may find one in unexpected ways and a child who lacks father or mother may also find one in other ways. We need to be on the watch for what He will give and then to accept what and who He sends us to bless our lives.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

From Distracted Living to Faith 

The 4th chapter of the Catechism talks about 'THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH’ - faith being the human response to God’s revelation.  The ultimate goal of faith is Eternal Life with God in Heaven – that is the destination that gives meaning to our believing and all our striving.  

To obey means first of all to listen attentively to what God is saying and then to do what God has said. Obedience is not just about doing what we're told but it is first of all about listening. In the Bible the most commonly used word is the name of God in its various forms and the next most commonly used word is to “listen” – listening to the voice of God, believing what He is saying and being willing to be taught, willing to learn.  Faith is about paying attention to God, paying attention to what we are doing in life, paying attention to how we are living. 

I'm not the most faithful of environmentalists but a few years ago – on the advice of government – I decided to drive a diesel rather than a petrol car I loved my red Yaris and was happy to be doing my bit for cleaner air. Unfortunately, the government decided later that diesel was worse that petrol. 

On my way one Saturday morning to celebrate the baptism of a friend's baby I stopped at a "petrol" station and became distracted by a man who was looking for directions so I tried to help him while at the same time filling up my car! I drove off. Celebrated the Baptism. Went to the party and on my way home my red Yaris started to shudder and came to an abrupt stop in the middle of a busy road. A couple of hours later the rescue truck arrived and, when they guy checked the car, he told me I had filled it up with petrol. I was stunned that I could have been so stupid, so unaware of what I had been doing. Distracted living is not the best of ideas but we do it so often! 

The experience is a bit of a parable about life and faith! First of all, we need to pay attention to what we are doing and then, just as we need to put the right fuel into our car so we need to put the right spiritual fuel into our souls for them to function properly, to prevent our soul from breaking down altogether. What is happening to a lot of people now with regard to their spiritual life is that they are inadvertently putting the wrong spiritual fuel into their souls – it’s not deliberate but it has the same effect. 

And so we need to look at what we are feeding our souls with - the information, the ideas, opinions that influence our lives. Much of the information we are receiving in public life is designed to weaken and even destroy faith rather than to strengthen it. So we have to make clear and deliberate choices and the basic choice for us centres on the person of Jesus Christ.  

Eamonn Monson sac 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

FATHERHOOD: A Man And His Child

My father has been gone for nearly half my life. I was 35 when he died and one of the simple things I missed was not being able to send him a card on Father's Day, not being able to tell him I loved him in a direct personal and physical way. 

But I got used to not sending him cards, I stopped looking at them in shops and gradually Father's Day slipped from my awareness. Often it would pass me by altogether. 

This year, however, it has been insisting itself into my awareness. Every time I sat before God in prayer He seemed to be asking me to ponder Fatherhood. 

So I did! I even googled the word "father" to see what might come up and the first definition I saw is this, "a man in relation to his child", something that is specific and clear. And while fatherhood cannot be fully lived in isolation, while it exists in collaboration to motherhood, it still has a meaning in itself and is worth celebrating in itself. It's worth celebrating the particular relationship of father and child. 

At the 10am Sunday morning Mass I regularly do a walk-about homily, asking questions that the children and some adults are happy to answer but this morning when I asked why we celebrate Father's Day, why we should honour our fathers in this way – I was greeted by silence. One girl shrugged her shoulders and everyone else looked at me in silence. 

Already I've been wondering if fatherhood is in decline, is no longer valued much in our society and at Mass today I wonder whether this Catholic Christian community doesn't think much of it either. And I wonder do men themselves value it, especially when they abandon or don't keep in touch with their children.  Manhood itself is in many way a disgraced species in need of redemption.

There are plenty of experiences of bad fatherhood. But there are plenty of good ones too – those who are always there and also those who have had to leave their home because of marriage breakup but who still continue to be good fathers. There are the lost who would be good fathers but are denied access their children and those whose child has died who bear an unspeakable ache. 

Then I find myself looking at the young Dad sitting in the pew with his ten-year-old daughter resting her head on his shoulder; the father whose little boy has died, there now with his two little girls playing around him.  These two epitomize the meaning of fatherhood – a man in relation to his child, a man in relationship with his child. That this relationship has a religious, spiritual dimension makes it even more sacred, a most powerful gift from father to child. They share the life of God together in a very beautiful way. 

As I'm writing this my brother and his two young daughters call me on whatsapp video. Fatherhood, childhood in relationship with each other. And with me! 

So we honour you fathers in your greatness and in your frailty. We praise you and we thank you. While society now tends to demand perfection of us, demands that we make no mistakes – we make unreasonable demands of ourselves and each other – but children don't think in those terms. They can be demanding in all sorts of ways but they cope well with our imperfections and our faults. They operate at a different level, so it's important that you listen to your child. 

In a sense it is the child who defines your fatherhood, they tell you who you are, who you are meant to be and become – fatherhood is an ongoing state of becoming in relation to, in collaboration with your child. 
I think what it must be like the moment your child was born. You are the same man that you were before with all the same characteristics but your interiior essence is utterly transformed forever. And the first time you child called you Dada and continues to call you Dad or Daddy. Listen to these sounds, the tone and let your child tell you who you are for her or for him, how precious and irreplaceable you are. 

Listen too in your heart to the voice of God who is the original Father, the One from whom all fatherhood flows and learn from Him what fatherhood means. I am fairly familiar with God but I went to see what Google might say about the characteristics of God as Father. 

It gave some profound theological answers and one website offered 21 characteristics including Loving, kind, compassionate, strong, faithful. And one that caught my attention – refuge – citing Psalm 91: "those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the shade of the Almighty, say to the Lord, 'my refuge, my stronghold, my God in whom I trust!'" 

It ties in with the image in today's readings of the tree giving shelter and shade. It is what a father does and who he is – shelter, shade and refuge for his child. 

It's worth pondering specific qualities of fatherhood that we value. Ones that come to mind from my Dad are humility, gentleness and silence. And he was a man who admired his children, was immensely proud of each one of us ever before we achieved anything in life; he was proud of us for who we were to him. Surely this is something God the Father also feels for each of us – admiration and a holy pride!