Head bent, looking straight down at the crucifix in my hands, I pulled everything back up into myself. And carried on.
The soil of my heart is ploughed and harrowed. The parable of the sower features at Mass these days. As a young man, whenever I heard that gospel, I used to worry about the state of my heart, that place within where God dwells. Is mine a shallow, unfaithful, hardened soil where only thorns and briars can grow?
But the years testify to something more, something better and I must confess it as a blessing from God that the soil of my heart is rich and fertile, a place where the seed of God's Word has been able to grow. I don't know what the yield is. Hardly 100 fold but maybe 30.
Soil becomes tired, depleted and needs to lie fallow for a while, left alone, unsown, unused, so that it can be restored and made productive again.
It's hard to let that happen, to simply lie back and leave everything to the Divine Ploughman Planter but that is precisely what is needed now and it requires total trust in Him.
If you only knew what God is offering said Jesus to the woman at the well; and to Jerusalem, if you only understood the message of peace but you would not! He said it to them and says it now to me and to anyone who will listen.
We spend so much time and waste so much energy on who and what has stolen our peace when the one thing necessary is right in front of our eyes. The One who is Peace!
There are moments of grace when we find ourselves doing the right thing. The boy at his grandmother's death bed who takes up the prompt to speak to her in words like these: "Grandma, I don't know if you can hear me but I want to tell you how much I love you and I will never forget you."
And he bent down to kiss her and she who was unconscious opened her eyes, smiled at him and began a conversation that was still going on when I left. Awkwardness or shyness might have held him back but he did it, said it and caused something beautiful to happen that otherwise would not have happened.
There's another woman waiting to die and I have been called to her a few times. She has beautiful blue eyes that she can't fully open now. She was looking for an Irish priest and thought we were all dead but they found me and I introduced myself as one of the surviving ones. It's a pleasure to pray with her in Irish and speak some words of Swahili - she lived some years in Kenya and Tanzania. Most of all there's solace in quietly holding the hand of this fallow life that has been so fertile in its years and will be infinitely fertile again.
We're so used to God in Ireland - though He has largely been repudiated there now - that it still stops me in my tracks when I meet someone who has no knowledge of God at all, not just doesn't believe in God but has no conscious experience of God. They come as part of baptism, wedding and funeral parties. Everything that we are - the church building, me, us - is foreign to them.
Some wander in from the street and I notice them there at odd times during the day, feeling that the open heart of Jesus had drawn them there unbeknownst to themselves. And that's why it's important that the doors are left open as much as possible .
Some are captivated by the physical beauty of the building interior. And some feel a presence that they know not but which they speak of in tones of quiet awe.
I had a wedding today. One of the musicians has no belief in God but in the course of our interaction I can see a very fine soul that would be greatly enhanced by a personal encounter with God and much as I might like to make that happen, it is not for me to make it so. It happens by grace and in mysterious ways.
My first wedding without Mass - just the marriage ceremony. It makes sense not to have Mass when one half of the couple is not a believer in any shape or form. But it had come to mean something to him. The months of meetings and preparation brought him to identify with the place and created a bond between the three of us and he was really happy. A year ago the idea of getting married in church in front of a catholic priest might have been totally out of the question.
It makes me think again that friendship is key and maybe more important than evangelizing, preaching or teaching. And the atmosphere of the community is vital. Here at Star of the Sea we have no formal community structures apart from Sunday Mass but there's an atmosphere that attracts all sorts of people who turn up for different kinds of experiences. Some come to one Mass for the Latin singing, others come for the vibrant atmosphere of the family Mass and others come for the silence of the Saturday evening liturgy. Those who turn up are children and actors and artists and women and men. Only God knows how they get here. Only God knows!
Anyway, I started out knowing that I am depleted and need to lie fallow for a while, to lie fallow before God and be restored.
This is a poem I wrote a few years ago:
The warm curve
Of brown ploughed
Soil in Spring
Conceals the way
Of its coming
Sharp shining steel
Sod upturned exposed
To air and rain
And seed and grain
The need of it
The way of all ploughing
The ploughing of the heart
The pain of it
And oh the lovely