Monday, December 28, 2020

IT’S A BEAUTIFUL THING YOU ARE DOING: Christmas 2020

 

This is not Samuel - A striking picture I found online


I drink from your cup
Eat from the bowl
You left behind in the rain
White and pure, soiled

I dip into your absence
Tasting traces of your life
And search for signs
Of you on the street

Remembering how you prayed
Out loud in the church
And slept awhile to ease
Away the harshness of days

You played music
I sang songs

We were bonded there
Where Jesus and Mary
Make their presence felt
Enfolding us in their Tent

Through weather that is

Unkind

Unfair

The above lines were inspired by the departure of Samuel (already posted in a separate blog but fit here) after I had gathered up and washed some of the bits and piece of his time here. Someone asked if he held it against me that I sent him away, if he resented me for it. The answer is below. 

Right now, I’m puzzled and frazzled by the sausages that have just disappeared out of the fridge. Was looking forward to a rare fry. Went through the fridge and freezer several times! Then in the night I laughed out loud when I remembered! And they’re only sausages after all! 

That I was frazzled was a signal, a little alarm bell that I needed to step back a bit and rest. I’m surprised by just how tired I am after Christmas. We put a lot of work into getting it ready so that it could be as good and safe an experience as possible in these exceptional circumstances. 

A huge number of hours and head space went into the booking system that was suggested we undertake, something that went against the grain for me but I did it in obedience. And it proved to have been an unnecessary exercise. We could have gone ahead in faith! When I saw how few were able to come to Christmas Masses I was tempted to think of the preparation as a useless waste of time. Tempted. But all the phone calls meant that I had conversations with many people that would not otherwise have taken place. Typing and printing all the names kept these people in my awareness, the thought of them becoming a prayer. So, I’m happy with that now. 

Christmas Eve when Angela had done all the beautiful flowers, we opened the church at 1pm and put Baby Jesus in the Crib early, as if He were born too soon, so that young families with little children could come to visit, pray, take photos, light candles. Because we could not safely hold the usual Christmas Eve Children’s Mass. 

Candles were lit, Christmas music played, the atmosphere beautiful. And I dressed for the occasion in my Rudolf jumper and Nativity face mask. Someone commented that I looked ridiculous – I think it was my Nativity face covering that drew such a reaction but the children loved it and one lad even said “fabulous!” But however I looked, it was for Jesus and for the children, for love of them. Being a “fool for Christ” has never sat easy with me but it comes more naturally as one gets older. 

Since the beginning of Advent, I have been following St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s ‘True Devotion to Jesus through Mary’ – coinciding again with the arrival and presence of Samuel. 

This morning’s Gospel from the Devotion is Jesus being mocked on the Cross, jeered at, the striking phrase being, “…IF you are the Son of God…” A big IF. The very phrase the devil used in the Temptation in the Desert – “…. if you are the Son of God…”, the insinuation being, “you’re not really the Son of God, not who you claim to be!” The seed of self-doubt planted in a spirit of mockery. A destructive, wicked thing. Anything that questions our true identity in that way is the instrument of the devil, an instrument he uses frequently to great effect. 

Silence is the response of Jesus. It would be my best response too but I haven’t yet arrived at that level of silence. For example, when the “ridiculous” comment was made I attempted to explain myself, to give an adequate reply. But I only felt myself fumbling inside. Fumbling and strangely stung. Of all the comments made that day it is the one that clamours most for my attention, like a stone in my shoe. 

“I keep silence, I speak no more since You yourself have been at work.” (Psalm 39:9) A line that is echoed in the song of Leonard Cohen – “if it be your will that I speak no more, that my voice be still as it was before. I will abide…” 

Samuel came to visit for a while and, sitting near the back of the church watching the children come in, said “it is a beautiful thing you are doing here.” His face wet with tears. “I’m always crying!” he said light-heartedly when I asked him why. 

That afternoon was a child’s time. The sight of little ones approaching the Crib, how they would whisper in innocent astonishment, making comments, asking questions, lighting candles. They spoke of their excitement, glowed with it. Memories of my own childhood visits came back to me. How I longed then to crawl in there to lay myself down with Jesus and sleep with Him in the hay. Still long to do that. Still long to live in a nomadic tent! 

The Christmas Masses were simple. Peaceful is a word people used. We heard the word of the Angel, let go of our fear, came like the shepherds to the stable and were specially blessed simply by being there together. 

For the afternoon of Christmas Day I relaxed, opening the multitude of cards and gifts that came from the abundance of love that is in this parish. Went for a walk before the sun went down. A beautiful sunset. 

And turning back into High Street I saw Samuel sitting by the Convenience Store, playing his guitar. Chatted for a while and told him there were clothes and a card left for him by a kind parishioner. He said he would come up later after he had busked and made a bit of money. 

At home, Tom brought me the beautiful dinner that Kerry had cooked for me and then I went to the church where night had fallen. The Crib glowed, many candles flickered and a woman in the shadows said, “thank you for leaving the church open!” She was in need of its solace. 

And Samuel came again, to be my Christmas companion. Well, he came to collect the gifts left for him but stayed for a time, a long time. I left him in the church while I went to make him a coffee and when I returned, he was on his knees in the middle aisle, bowed with his head touching the floor. We talked, he strummed his guitar and was pleased when I praised his touch on the strings. He spoke of the difficulty of the past few days, the cold of night and the pressure he feels from having too many people, people he feels obliged to help. And I feel a pang of guilt that I have pushed him in that direction. If I knew he would be alone again so soon, I might have let him stay where he was. He stretched out on a pew and slept away some of the weariness until a friend of his arrived with dinner for him, a good and kind young man. Samuel has quite a few friends who look out for him in that way. He has a lovely way of drawing you in. 

He may or may not return but I’m sure that in God’s time we will meet again, the same Providence that gave us this Advent and Nativity together. 

I leave you with a poem by Jessica Powers (Carmelite Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit) that Derry mentioned to me in a text: 

The Master Beggar

Worse than the poorest mendicant alive,
the pencil man, the blind man with his breath
of music shaming all who do not give,
are You to me, Jesus of Nazareth.

Must You take up Your post on every block
of every street? Do I have no release?
Is there no room of earth that I can lock
to Your sad face, Your pitiful whisper “Please”?

I seek the counters of time’s gleaming store
but make no purchases, for You are there.
How can I waste one coin while You implore
with tear-soiled cheeks and dark blood-matted hair?

And when I offer You in charity
pennies minted by love, still, still You stand
fixing Your sorrowful eyes on me.
Must all my purse be emptied in Your hand?

Jesus, my beggar, what would You have of me?
Father and mother? the lover I long to know?
The child I would have cherished tenderly?
Even the blood that through my heart’s valves flow?

I too would be a beggar. Long tormented,
I dream to grant You all and stand apart
with You on some bleak corner, tear-frequented,
and trouble mankind for its' human heart.

(Jessica Powers)

DEBRIS OF HUMAN FRAILTY

 



Bare tree
Naked rosebush 
Spiking the dawn

Dripping drops of dew
The tears I cannot shed

My heart a mayhem of crows
Swooping on a single seagull
Outside in the Green
Where we played by day
And partied by night

Until grief disfigured our joy
Love fatally fractured 

The man has died
He who became my enemy

We made our peace
A defrosting 
Long before it was too late

Yet still a broken legacy
Remains

The wounds of hate 
The scars of love
Debris of human frailty 

We must stand still 
And wait for God
To win the victory
For us all

(January 9, 2020)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

I DRINK FROM YOUR CUP



I drink from your cup
Eat from the bowl
You left behind in the rain
White and pure, soiled 

I dip into your absence
Tasting traces of your life
And search for signs
Of you on the street

Remembering how you prayed
Out loud in the church
And slept awhile to ease
Away the harshness of days

You played music
I sang songs

We were bonded there
Where Jesus and Mary
Make their presence felt
Enfolding us in their Tent

Through weather that is
Unkind
Unfair

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

THERE WAS NO ROOM: Sending Samuel Away


“There was no room for them…” – the phrase from Luke’s Nativity is branded in my brain because I have become one who made that a reality for another couple at my place, in my time. And whatever justification I may find, however I might want to present myself in a good light, there is something lacking in the logic of what has taken place.

Sunday night when I left out the bin, I was somewhat perplexed to see that another tent had been set up next to Samuel’s. Perplexed because this could mean a trend was starting and I wasn’t sure that such a thing could be allowed. In the context of the virus, I didn’t want any kind of gathering that could endanger the health of people coming to Mass. Already another man who was previously homeless, now in a flat, told me he wanted to move out and to set up a tent by the church. To him I said a very definite no. Moving from a flat into a tent in the winter doesn’t make sense.

The second tent unsettled me for part of the night and in the end, I entrusted it to Our Lady to show me the way, the right way to deal with it.

At 8am I was heading out the door for a hospital appointment when I could hear Samuel praying out loud in his tent, a sound that always touches my heart, the tone and sincerity of it. I decided to speak,
“Good morning Samuel” I said, “who is in the other tent?”
“Good morning Eamonn. It’s my friend!” he said.
“We can’t have another person staying here”
“I understand” he said, sticking his head out and looking up at me in the way that he does, “we’ll move this morning! We’ll be gone by 11.”
“You don’t have to go so fast!” said I with no small amount of guilt in me. “I’m going to the hospital and will be back by 10.”

And when I returned, there they were standing in the pouring rain, tents folded, all their belongings piled into the shopping trolley and the sight cut me to the heart. I might as well be sending the Holy Family on their way. And he didn’t know where they would go, he and his girlfriend whom he loves so much and wants to marry. But he also understood my need to care for the parishioners. “And you need to take care of your own health!” he said, with typical grace.

I told them to shelter in the far side entrance while I tried to work it out in my head. Prayed for guidance. Wondered about renting a room for them for a week or so. Wondered if Brendan knew of any place. And then, out of the blue Brendan himself rang to book a place at Christmas Mass. While he didn’t know of any accommodation, he said Jane would be able to advise me. He would call her. She called me back immediately with advice that was very, very helpful. The culmination of it was that they would have a flat from the council within a few days. I'm not altogether sure that this is what Samuel wants but maybe his girlfriend does, maybe she needs it.

Samuel gave me some sleeping bags and a blanket to wash and dry, left his guitar for safe keeping. Among his belongings was a picture of Our Lady of Medjugorje which he proudly showed me, saying how much he loves it. “We have great devotion to her here” I said. “I know” he replied, “I can feel her presence with me!”

And away they went into the unknown of that wet December evening while I with a sore heart turned in home again. His going in particular has carved out an empty space within me and I can only trust that what has taken place was necessary in God’s scheme of things. It’s God that Samuel turns to in everything and to the heart. He pointed to his heart before leaving and said, “this is what matters. We are in each other’s heart!”

It may have sounded hypocritical, given what I was doing, but I said to him, “I have a great love for you!” “And I do for you!” he replied.

Love hurts.

Friday, December 18, 2020

WE WEREN'T THERE FOR THE CHICKEN: Memory, Gratitude and Joy

 


My friend was telling me how she makes gravy out of chicken wings, the mention of which brought me right back to the winter of 1976 and the night club in the basement of the International in Salthill. In order to be granted a late opening licence they were obliged to serve food and my memory is of chicken wings on paper plates and peas that had a mind of their own, going everywhere except into our mouths. Of course, we weren’t there for the chicken and peas!

It was the best of seasons, a very happy time, being still only 21 and out to taste the joy that life offered. Innocent joy, love with a lot of laughter in it and music. Smokie were singing ‘Living Next Door To Alice’, the Eagles ‘New Kid In Town’, Leo Sayer ‘When I Need You’, Chicago ‘If You Leave Me Now’, Joan Armatrading ‘Love And Affection’ – funny how food and songs stir up old memories.

Lately I’ve listened to people looking back on things they regret. Regret is something that subtly insinuates itself into the experienced mind and the sensitive conscience but we mustn’t let it hold us captive or discourage us.

The New Testament Christian impetus is to forget what lies behind and strain forward for the prize that is ours in Christ Jesus. But there is also a Biblical way of remembering which involves not forgetting what God has done in our lives; to remember these with gratitude. And if we do remember our sins of the past it is so that we should learn from them, turn from them to God and be grateful when we have been delivered from sins that no longer cling to us as they did in the past.

It is a remembering that is part of Mary’s Magnificat, her recognizing the great things that God has done for her. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for He who is mighty has done great things for me and Holy is His Name.” (Luke 1:46-55) It is a prayer that has the power in it to heal our memories so that we can recall the story of our lives in a graceful and life-giving way. We can choose to allow the Holy Spirit to inspire in us our own personal Magnificat. We can choose to rejoice.

It is a remembering that leads to gratitude. What return can I make for all his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise! (Psalm 116) The cup of salvation is the Eucharist which is the highest prayer of remembering, the ultimate prayer of gratitude in which all our blessings are gathered together and lifted up to the Lord, the prayer that contains the promise that He who has carried us to this point, the One who has blessed us all along the way, will continue blessing us in the present and into the future. It is then the source of hope and this gratitude is the stepping-stone to pure joy.

Naming our blessings matters, announcing our gratitude empowers us, giving testimony reinforces what God has done to us.


As I have been saying quite a bit lately, Samuel has brought a blessing and a joy to us over the past few weeks and on December 8th it seemed that his and our prayers were answered when he announced that he had been given temporary emergency accommodation. It was this joy that I encountered when I opened the door of the church that morning. He was delighted and excited and I was taken in to his joy, quickened by it as I got paper and a marker for him to write his message of gratitude to the people of this community. I was actually sad to see him leave but it's what was best for him. He arrived at the start of Advent and left us on this beautiful feast of Mary. I prayed that she would go with him and bless him as he had blessed us.

And off he went into the day and to his new temporary home, leaving his tent behind with some of his belongings, promising to come back and take them away gradually. When I asked what if the tent and his stuff got stolen, he said he would start again. That’s his constant attitude to his belongings. Even if he lost absolutely everything he would simply start again. That is a key element to his joy and even when joy turns to sorrow, he simply begins again.

May it be so with us when sorrow snaps at our heels, when happiness is short-lived, that we may have the grace to turn and quickly begin again.

 


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

ISOLATION: Nothing I Can Do But Be Here



It’ been a long time since I ate a boiled egg. Years and years, as my father would say and it’s my father who comes to mind as I crack the shell with a spoon like I did when I was a child with a kind of a delicate air. My father’s breaking of the shell was more like a beheading, done decisively, incisively with a knife. Straight across, no messing. Unless the egg was soft!

In most other things my father was not like that, being decisive only about time and work and perhaps going for a pint. Otherwise, he was quiet, very gentle and almost unseen. Very non-violent. Peace loving to a fault.

In these uncertain times we might long for a decisiveness that would last, for plans that would endure but we can’t be sure that any of our decisions will survive beyond the moment.

On Friday I posted on our website my plans for the parish for the next two weeks. Normally I go week by week but some parishioners were asking for plans that went beyond Christmas so I made a plan up as far as January 1, 2021 and something within me said that these plans might not work, that they would be subject to change. That “something within me” has been incredibly accurate of late.

The plans unravelled within a day when I received a very decisive and incisive phone call from the NHS Test and Trace after “something within me” said I needed to go upstairs before Mass. That’s when the phone rang and normally, I wouldn’t answer it so close to Mass time. But I did and the voice asked my name in a strange accent and then said something like, “I need to inform you that you are legally obliged to self-isolate immediately!”

That threw me into a bit of a spin and when I said that I was due to say Mass in a few minutes, that people are waiting, he repeated the exact same sentence as if it were an automatic recording. “This phone call will take about twenty minutes!” he said. “I can’t do twenty minutes now.” I said, “I have to tell the people in the church.” “May I remind you that you are legally obliged to self-isolate immediately!” But I persuaded him to let me go and asked him to call back in five minutes.

So, I ran down to the church and remarked to myself how lovely it looked and felt. Went to the microphone, somewhat out of breath, my thoughts spinning – there are funerals that will have to be re-arranged, a visit to school cancelled, the Ordination to the Diaconate of Stephen O’Brien to be missed, and many other considerations.

I made the announcement, explaining the situation. Looking at all the lovely faces I felt a great dislike for what I was saying, doing. A priest never likes to leave the congregation in the lurch, to send them away into the night. And I didn’t even think of giving them a blessing which is what they would like me to have done. Asked them to let me leave first, waved at Terry to shut everything down, blow out the candles, switch off the lights. This was all bound to happen. We’ve gotten away lightly till now and I’m worried about who might be affected. The numbers in Hastings have been rising rapidly in the past few days.

The response from the parish community has been typically positive, generous, loving and concerned. If I accepted all the offers of shopping, I could open a supermarket. And all the prayers that are being prayed! An ending to the day that could not have been predicted when I got up in the morning.

The other surprise of the day was Samuel. Since he hadn’t taken his tent with him, I was planning to go in search of him to ask his permission to use his tent as an outdoor crib for Christmas. But as it turned out there was no need to go in search of him because when I walked out my door, there he was with all of his belongings standing by his tent. He was back! The emergency accommodation didn’t work out and he was looking very contrite, offering to move his tent if that was what I wanted. But how could I send him away when I had been planning to use his tent? I could hardly evict him now, not that I wanted to. The sight of him gladdened my heart and he was glad to be back near the church and looked forward to resuming our conversations, though my isolation put that on hold too.

I experience a certain amount of guilt at having all this time to myself, not being able to do what I should be doing, especially when I’m feeling fine and do not have the virus myself. Then a thought came to me when I was praying, a memory of a poem that speaks about how Jesus on the Cross was prevented from doing what He would want – that hands that longed to heal were held back from doing anything, held back because He was nailed to the Cross. It strikes me now that the same applies to Jesus in the womb. While He was in the womb there was nothing at all He could do about the needs of humanity. He simply had to be carried. So now it seems that this church in which I pray alone is the womb for me, the reality in which there is nothing I can do but be here, be carried. And to be in solidarity with all who experience isolation of any kind.

The experience has alerted me again to the closeness of the virus, made me even more aware of the seriousness of it and it has made me more cautious. So, I will wait within this Advent isolation and make use of it in the best way I can and I pray for the whole parish community and those beyond who are most in need of the Merciful Love of the Lord.



 


Monday, December 14, 2020

THE CRIB OF OUR CLAY (An Evening Meditation)





Bring my thoughts home O Lord
Like the herd of an African twilight

Draw us in from the places
Of the day where we have strayed

Our

Scattered minds
Spun-out hearts
Spent souls

Settle us down

That we may abide
Within

That I may abide
With myself in You
And remain here

Attentive

Eyes attuned to see and perceive
Ears attuned to listen and hear

What stirs in the unfathomable
Depths

Interior mystery

Wisdom of Christ cradled
In the crib of our clay


Sunday, December 6, 2020

THE MESSENGER: A Voice that Speaks of Peace



There is no greater sorrow, no hurt so brutal, no wound so deep as that of a Mother and Father at the funeral of their child. It has drawn from them an intensity of love that they had not previously known, that they did not need to know, a love that is bereft of life, the particular life of their child. It both cries aloud and remains silent behind the mask of this coronavirus time. Only the eyes are left to tell, eyes red and wet with pain. The body trembles, feels it will fall to pieces. It doesn’t! Because this is the love that keeps on going when it cannot. It must. 

She was seventeen and she died in a purple season, the season of Advent. Purple, her favourite colour. A deep, quiet and kind girl. She cut her beautiful long hair and gave it for one who had none. Thoughtful of the other. 

Into this and into all our sorrows enters the Messenger! The prophecy of Isaiah that refers to John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. 

God says, “Look, I am going to send my Messenger before you!” 
We reply, “Let us listen for the voice of the Lord and enter into His Peace” 
“Console my people, console them. Speak to the heart…” says God 

The prophecy belongs to history and it belongs to now, for in this day the Lord sends the Messenger to prepare in our hearts a way by which Jesus may enter, a place in which he can stay. It is for us to recognize who or what the Messenger is. It may be an event, an experience of life or it may be a person whom the Lord uses to speak His Word to us in our time. Let us listen to the voice of the Lord and enter into His Peace. When we listen and hear what the Messenger is saying, the result is Peace and Consolation in the Lord. I pray this for the couple who have lost their child, the girl who has lost her sister.

So, let God through the Messenger speak to your heart, to that part of your life that is in need of consolation. It is easy for us to be worn down by the experience of this year, to be pessimistic or sad about the kind of Christmas that lies ahead of us and perhaps the repentance to which we are called is that we should listen to and receive God’s consolation rather than being consumed by the distress that is all around us. Repentance was part of the message of the original Messenger, John the Baptist. Repentance, a change of heart, a turning to God. 

Samuel is clearly the Messenger in my life right now. When he arrived, I had presumed that he was in need of help – money, food – and that I would be the one to help him, thereby being in a position of power. But something from memory told me that I should let him take the lead, dictate the pace, be the one to say what was needed. I can do that most of the time but a couple of times I couldn’t stay out of the way, mainly because of the weather. Wednesday was a rough day of wind and rain so he spent most of the day in his tent. I went with the intention of inviting him inside but he poked his head out of the tent, smiled up at me and said, “I’m fine, I’m used to this!” “You don’t complain” I said. “I don’t” he said. I said, “you’re an inspiration!” “That’s very kind of you!” he replied. I meant it. 

I know that he usually bunks down for the night around 7pm but still I went to him at 8pm when the night was rough again. “Samuel” I called “are you alright?” He simply said, with a slight note of exasperation, “I’m trying to sleep!” 

He was at Mass this morning and loves coming into the church. It’s beautiful to see the positive impact that being in the church has on him. He says it keeps him free from negativity for the day. On this frosty night he is sitting contentedly on the church steps drinking a jar of soup given him by one of the parishioners and when I hand him the £10 that another parishioner gave for him, he doesn’t want to take it, saying that he really doesn’t need it. I insist, because it’s not my money and he decides he will save it up and maybe he’ll eventually have enough to rent a room. And still I check that he will be alright sleeping out in this cold night and he assures me he will. 

We have a lovely conversation out there in the night. His companionship is so kind, the tone of his voice so tender, the light in his eyes so bright. How good it is for me to have one like him to whom I can say “good night and God bless”, to have the same said to me in return. We end our chat by him handing me his Book of Common prayer, asking me to read the part that is open which I do by the light of the door. A very striking piece from 2 Timothy chapter 4: 

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 

Handing him back his book I asked, “could that be me?” “It could” he replied “or it could be me!” 

The last word was, “God turns all things to good with those who love Him!” 

A last, last word! Before going out to Samuel a memory from my first year as a student in Thurles came back. It’s of a song that I haven’t thought of in years. One that I loved, one that maybe I will learn again and sing one day when recording Mass – the only time that singing is allowed, since it’s done alone in an empty church. Have a listen. It’s rather appropriate in the present context: 




"The poor of the world are my body," he said,
"to the end of the world they shall be.
The bread and the blanket you give to the poor
you'll know you have given to me.
he said," You'll know you have given to me."

(Sydney Carter)








Sunday, November 29, 2020

SAMUEL: By Whom God Is Heard

 


He used to live in the shelter at the end of the seafront near the old bathing pool, the shelter in which the Name of Jesus is inscribed. You could see him cycling in that direction, looking happy with himself and he might glance in your direction as he did with me a few days ago. He smiled, I smiled and something within me said, “this man is going to come into your life!” And I wasn’t sure that I wanted him in my life at all.

This beautiful Saturday morning, awake early I decide to open the church in case anyone might want to come in for a candle and a prayer, as Maria sometimes does on her way down to the shop. Today she doesn’t arrive but as I am pottering around the sanctuary getting ready for Advent and listening to Advent music, I notice a man come in. He kneels to pray in the half light and I leave him to it for a while.

Then I decide to go to the church door in case he needs something and, sure enough he follows me out into the sunshine. The first thing I notice is that someone has pitched tent between the church door and the door of my house and my immediate reaction is utterly shallow, concerned with the appearance of it, concerned about what the neighbours might say.

When I turn to look at the man, I realize he’s the one on the bicycle with the smiling eyes, his face now wet with tears of grace from praying in the church. “I hope you don’t mind” he says “I was moved on from where I was and didn’t know where to go so, I prayed to God and He told me that this would be a good place. It’s just for a few days and I promise to keep the place clean!”

His name is Samuel, “the man who listens to God!” The man by whom God is heard and now that I’ve gotten over the surprise and the appearance of the tent, I know that this is from God, an Advent moment that has come before its time. Only yesterday I was lamenting the fact that we can’t host the Snowflake night shelter this year because of the virus. And here now is the snowflake I had been seeking. Here is one who has come to find shelter between two doors, asking nothing more and giving me the gift of his presence. I had also thought about putting a crib outside the church this year and here is a living crib, a stable dwelling for Jesus, Mary and Joseph that they may abide with him, that they may abide with us.

He is twenty-eight years old and has been homeless for about ten years. Homeless is probably the wrong word because the tent is the home where he feels safe and free. Free from the hurt and abuse he has suffered, the telling of which brings fresh tears down his face. And he is unconcerned about his few belongings, even if they get stolen because he has learned that when you give, you get more in return.

So, there it is! People have been putting Christmas decorations up early to offset the gloom of lockdown. For me now both Advent and Christmas have already arrived before they have begun. The impeccable timing of the Lord!

There’s a robin chirping in the crisp morning air and I hear Samuel singing inside his tent, emerging into the cold day with a smile and plays Silent Night for me on the harmonica, his hands flourishing as if he were conducting an orchestra. He doesn’t know that in my sleepless night Silent Night was the song I was humming. And he tells me how safe he feels to be near me and the church.

While Samuel wraps up and closes up his tent, I head out for my walk, happy in the knowledge that I have seen God face to face. In awe and wonder. Wondering who am I that I should be visited so!

Arriving back from my walk I see a man with long grey hair reading the notice on the closed door on the church. He’s leaning on his bicycle. I say hello and ask if he’d like to go in. He begins to speak and starts to cry so that he can’t get the words out but when he eventually recovers his breath, he tells me he’s afraid to go in because he might break down if he does.

It started for him in Sacre Coeur in Paris where he had an overwhelming experience of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. “He was just there” he says with emphasis. It knocked him out and when he came out of the experience, he had an intense feeling for all people, especially those who are lost. The feeling seems to be unbearable, makes him cry and it’s a feeling he gets whenever he goes into a church.

This account astonishes me for its similarity to one given me by Martin, a year before he died. He talked about how he had become an atheist at the age of 16 and, still an atheist at 24, he found himself going up the steps of Sacre Coeur in Paris, just one of the many enthusiastic tourists gathered there. It was night but the doors of the Basilica were open and he found himself drawn to the light there and on entering he saw the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar and it seemed to be a blazing beacon that reached out to him personally, taking hold of him. All he could do was fall on his knees. He cried in the telling of the experience.

After he left Sacre Coeur back then, he started to rationalize the whole experience until he dismissed it altogether and reverted to his atheism. But that light would emerge in him many years later, it would lure him back to the faith into which he was baptized.

It's now Sunday. One of our Parish Community came to me during our time of prayer this afternoon. She told of her experience as a young woman in Madrid where she found herself homeless and without money. She went into a church and when she emerged to stand outside, she looked down to find a sum of money on the ground right by her feet. It was what she needed, it kept her going and she came today to give the equivalent of that money to Samuel in gratitude to God.

“Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus” is the prayer of the season of Advent. It is our basic preparation for Christmas and, as Shirley said, “He is already here with us in our waiting!”

While out walking yesterday, a friend sent me the following quote, unaware of what was already taking place:

"If you want, the Virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy, and say, “I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.” Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ, taking birth forever." (St. John of the Cross)


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Saturday, November 14, 2020

AT THE BATHING HUT CAFE (A Prayer)

 



Take me further Lord

Than I had planned to go this day

 

To pause by the sea

And hear you speak

In its heaving crashing waves

The liveliness of wind

 

Lingering longer there

Over coffee on a bench

At the Bathing Hut Café


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Oil For Our Lamps: Remembrance Sunday



There’s a black darkness on the sea tonight, like the Biblical darkness to be felt and I wonder what it would be like to venture into that horizon, to be enveloped in it without being in a hurry to light it up, to wait within it for the dawn to come. 

Down on the shore, three people are gathered around a vibrant fire that lights up their faces, the wonderful scent of burning wood drifting through the air. Further on up a small group are trying to light their Chinese lanterns, perhaps for Remembrance Sunday or maybe for a loved one who has died. It’s not going too well. One young man succeeds in getting a flame going, runs with it that it might catch the breeze to rise into the night, but each time he lets it go it simply flops down on the stones. And I absolutely sympathise with his utter frustration when he gives it a kick and eventually stomps on it. 

Getting our lamps lit and keeping them burning isn’t always that easy, as the foolish bridesmaids discovered in the Gospel. The light needs to be carefully tended and it needs oil to keep it going. 

The light is the Light of Christ, the flame of Divine Love and the oil is the Grace given to us to keep the Light burning. Grace and Light are badly needed in our time. And the mist that comes gently in from the sea makes me feel how much we need a kind mist to settle on our world that is riven by so much harshness. 

The oil, the Grace that is given to us comes in a special way through prayer, those times we spend with God as a community or alone in a personal way, those sacred moments when we are being filled with the oil of God’s Grace so that the Light of Jesus may be lit and burn strongly within us. It is especially in times of darkness that we need the Light. 

And so, my prayer for all of us is that we would have the wisdom and the good sense to pray; that we would ask the Lord to teach us to pray in the way that is necessary in our personal life’s situation and in the situation of our society at this time. Good sense and wisdom! The Gospel speaks about the sensible bridesmaids who had enough oil to keep their lamps burning. It is wise and makes sense that we keep our connection with God going, knowing how necessary it is, knowing that it is as vital as the oil is to the lamp, as vital as the air that we breathe, the food we eat and the drink we drink. Prayer in the presence of God is as necessary for the soul as all of these things are for the body. 

One of the gifts of Grace that we get from God in prayer is the gift of hope. Hope, especially in relation to death and the afterlife. St. Paul speaks “about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) At first it seems like Paul is saying that Christians should not grieve at all but when we look at Jesus crying at the tomb of Lazarus, it is telling us that we too should cry in the face of death. When I look at my own personal experiences of the deaths of loved ones – when my father died, I cried instantly without thinking; when my mother died, I cried instantly and when my sister died suddenly, I wailed. We are made to grieve. Just like we are made to love. 

What I think Paul is saying is that when we grieve our grieving should be infused with the Grace of Christian hope, hope in the eternal life, hope in the resurrection. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him.” We do not understand how this will happen but because we believe in Jesus, because we trust Him, we trust His Word. Like the Word He spoke to the thief of the Cross, “today you will be with me in paradise.” That is given to all of us who turn to Him, especially all of us who live for Him, all of us who repent in His presence and accept the Grace of His Mercy and Mercy is the oil of Grace that keeps the Light burning within us. 

Today we remember with hope those who gave their lives in war; our own loved ones who fought the battle of life, whose names are carved into our bones; the forgotten dead who might need our prayer on their pilgrimage home to the House of God. And we remember the veterans who survived war and are with us, those among us in our parish – husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and mates whom we are proud to know. I speak of men because they are the veterans I know but there are also wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends who have served and given their lives so bravely and generously. We bless their wounds and all that is strong and frail within them – like the frail and resilient poppy that blossomed long ago in the battle fields as testament to our ability to survive and thrive through the greatest challenges that life may send our way.

 

Friday, November 6, 2020

First Friday Mass of the Sacred Heart November 6, 2020


"For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body." (Philippians 3)

Thursday, November 5, 2020

MASS OF THE HOLY SOULS NOV 5TH


"nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."
(Philippians 3:8)

Sunday, November 1, 2020

TO BE A HIBERNATING BEAR: Entering Lockdown Again

 



Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him.

(St. Clare)

On this day nine years ago I started the Camino to Santiago, an anniversary I like to remember for many reasons but especially because it is the road that led me into the lives of my three companions.

My first memory upon waking this All Saints morning is the story of a hibernating bear from long ago in childhood. The bear gathering Autumn leaves with which to cover himself and beneath this blanket he sleeps the whole winter long. The thought of this November lockdown has me saying to God, “I’d like to be a hibernating bear now!”

Not that I’m in a difficult situation, and not that I actually mind the lockdown at all but some tired part of me has cracked open. The constant drone of coronavirus has a wearing effect on us all. I simply want to lay down and sleep. Not even to have the obligation of finding meaning in what is happening. I want to be the bear in a storybook but I’m not.

The readings for All Saints return me to the centre of my life. The centre is Jesus – the Lamb upon the throne of the Apocalypse, the one surrounded by the thousands and millions of heavenly creatures who simply fall down and worship Him. The centre is to gaze upon God and, in seeing Him as He really is, to become like Him. The apostles gathered to Jesus for the Sermon on the Mount, drawing life and strength from His Word, His Beatitude. How blessed!

The centre is to seek His face as it is revealed to us in every circumstance of life, so often the face that is hidden, seeming not to exist at all, in the perplexed, puzzled depths of sorrow. To seek and find the face of Christ in the beauty of those around us, especially entering into lockdown, to find reasons for joy in beauty, reasons to be positive instead of negative, hopeful instead of hopeless.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

GAZE, CONSIDER, CONTEMPLATE


Beautiful, tranquil music from the Poor Clares of Arundel. Apart from the Icons, photos were taken by me in Galway and Hastings. One picture is by my friend Mark Teiwes - Bibles open before the Blessed Sacrament in the Franciscan Church in O Cebreiro on the Camino

Monday, October 19, 2020

I LOVE YOUR FACE: The Mission of the Child

 


Speaking at his Grandad’s funeral my dear friend Father Jaimie speaks about the greatness of the child in the eyes of Jesus; how we have to forget ourselves in order to remember and in remembering to become a true child. A little child who is content with the little daisies of life, content to be a daisy rather than a big impressive flower. It reminds me of a woman spoken of by John Moriarty in his autobiography, ‘Nostos’ – he asked his father why this woman was so happy and his father replied that she is happy because she is not seeking to be a tree where only a bush can grow. Something like that. Meaning that she is content to be who she is.

On Mission Sunday I’ve been struck again about the place of the child in my life, the Mission of the child that constantly lifts up my heart, draws me closer to God and to my true self, simply by being the child they are.

Last Sunday after Mass a ten-year-old girl commented on my mask.  It’s pale blue with white daisies. Probably not what I would have chosen but it was given me by a friend and so I wear it in fidelity to our friendship. The girl said, “I love your mask!” and immediately her three-year-old cousin said, “well I love your face!” He is of African origin and it was said with the emphasis and enthusiasm that only an African possesses. So, I was immediately lifted up in the joy of this innocence. And for some reason I go around singing David Bowie’s ‘Rebel, Rebel’ – your face is a mess! The emphasis is oddly the same, like there’s a particular joy in the mess.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

LOSS: The Need To Be Found

In the early 1960’s things were hard economically and my mother never tired of reminding us that “money doesn’t grow on trees” and that it was hard to “make ends meet.” So she was understandably furious when my older sister Maura, who was about 8 years old,  lost the thrupenny piece on the way to the shop to get something for the tea. I was with Maura when she decided to throw the money in the air to see if she could catch it. She didn’t and it got lost in the grass. It was a dark winter’s evening. The searching was intense. And it was in vain. The value of it in today’s buying power would be about €15 and it must have been near the end of the week and there was no more money. It was a very frustrating reality when you  had children to feed.

My mother, like all of us, used to stress  from time to time over the loss of hard earned material things and then came the day when she lost her daughter. Maura didn’t wake up one morning and all of our experience of loss reached an altogether different level.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

St. Teresa of Avila: Let Nothing Disturb you




“My soul at once becomes recollected and I enter the state of quiet. Everything is stilled and the soul is left in a state of great quiet and deep satisfaction.” (St. Teresa of Avila)

St. Teresa of Avila has been one of the most significant guides of my spiritual life since I was 17 years old. I began reading her very early in my life as a Pallottine and there are two moments – a dream and a time in prayer - that have connected me to her.

In the dream I walked into an old unfamiliar church where I met my father who was already dead at the time. He pointed me to a side altar at the top left-hand side. When I went there I saw St. Teresa’s tomb in front of the altar. It was like the Italian ones with the shape of the body carved in marble; she was sleeping covered with a blanket. Then she stirred and woke up, telling me to stand between her and the altar. “Stay here” she said “and I will take care of you.”
The second happened during a charismatic retreat when I was resting in the Spirit, in a state of quiet. A rope ladder came down from heaven and standing beside it was St. Teresa who pointed to the ladder and said to me, “I have given you the means to ascend to the heights.”
With these I am both emotionally and spiritually connected to her, even though I don’t pray to her that much but this prayer of St. Teresa I say very often:

"Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away.
God alone never changes.
Patience obtains all that it strives for.
Whoever has God,
Lacks nothing.
God alone suffices."

  
                                                    Ecstasy of Saint Teresa - Artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini



Sunday, October 11, 2020

CONTENTMENT: I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got

 

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!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

THE CATHEDRAL OF MY HEART

 


“I always keep a candle burning for you in the cathedral of my heart! Yes, I always do!” So writes a friend all the way from Germany, across the distance of ten years. It’s that long since we met. We’ve known each other for about twenty-four years and were thrown together a lot in the course of work for the six years from 2005-2011. He’s a big, strong man and we’re as different as chalk and cheese. I drove him crazy with frustration at times but we have common ground, we are bonded by all of our experiences together and we even daydreamed of setting up a contemplative cenacle together. He is one of the most God-like people I know and it is an honour to be so respected in the cathedral of his heart.

As a priest I find some of the best expressions of who God is, what God is like in the noble expressions of motherhood and fatherhood that I encounter. Something that parents want for their daughter and son is that they be treated with respect by others and when their child is treated with disrespect it is a source of great pain.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

ALL SOUND CEASES A WHILE

 


All sound ceases a while – the pausing of the wind that beats on the roof, the noise of traffic subsiding. I am Samuel in the sanctuary of the morning – “speak Lord!” A child’s footfall patters outside in the pouring rain, a voice that speaks of pleasure while the song of a robin dances in the sky.

“There has been a delay” said the boy as he stepped through the church doorway. He was referring to his First Holy Communion. Four months of a delay. And, when it came to receiving his First Holy Communion, this boy skipped up the aisle with delight.