Be willing to be a beginner every single morning
The Pelican, Kingfisher and Heron:
The Pelican took off for the River Avoca. It needed a change from Fota. The fishing must be better in Wicklow. It was only a little jaunt. He will return home shortly. Will his wings be clipped on his return from holidays? There was such a suggestion on Radio. I didn’t see any pelican on the Tolka. I did meet a young lass this morning. She was a minimalist as regards clothes. I was freezing and just shuddered as I passed by. And then another younger girl (Angela) appeared. She was bouncing a sliotar on her hurley. Jason Sherlock would be proud of his first cousin. This was at 06.30 in the morning! I reached the Tolka. The heron was slouched over the water. There was none of the usual dignified strut or arrogant aloofness. Moreover I think the heron missed the kingfisher who flashed by in a trail of colour. I told Máire (our photographer) of the sighting and she was jealous!
Joe Dunn’s book comes to mind. No Lions in the Hierarchy (1994). A few lions roared and frightened the natives in recent weeks. One interview was even described ‘as a bravura performance.’ Many of the rest of us were embarrassed at the stupidity of it all. We badly need lions who will speak up and speak out. Robust engagement is necessary. It is more usual to be awash with the swamp of apologies. The hierarchy has been cowered into total submission. The sadness of failure has smashed the back bone for outspokenness in many of our leaders and too many priests. However, arguments must be picked. Battles must be chosen. The issue of First Communions and Confirmations was not the right battle. It also created chaos in the local churches. There is nothing macho about being ‘agin the Government.’ I know it is easy for some to take up the cudgels and to start bishop-bashing. I never think that this is right. They have an impossible job to do. There are very few suitable candidates available for the jobs and then so much of the work is taken up in tedious administration. It is hard for them to hold the nerve and to stick with the vision. I recall my own end days in similar leadership. The issue of clerical abuse arrived on my desk only after the final meeting of the Council and the last days of my term of office. (Twenty-four years ago). That isn’t the way of things these times. However, we were let down recently by the stance of some bishops.
I was asked to say some words for the Golden Jubilees of priesthood. I drifted back into the distant past and remembered. Golden Jubilarians seemed ancient and even antiques. Who were fit for the museum of life. And now many of us are there! There will be five present and three who can’t make it for this celebration. If those eight could only tell a little of their stories it would be a revelatory jigsaw of reflections. That is what I would like to hear and then to listen to the local parish community speak of priesthood and of those men whom they know or knew at various times. I listened today to Liz Nolan (on Lyric) introduce Ravel’s Bolero and wondered. There are indeed reoccurring melodies in the life of these priests but I incline more towards Jazz as the musical metaphor. The improvisation. The team work. The flexibility. The God-beat of daily life. I thought too of Teilhard de Chardin’s Hymn of the Universe and especially Chapter one, The Mass of the World. I thought of Meister Eckhart’s line (or many quotes) “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough” plus “and if your life seems only a heap of fragments; bring Him the fragments.” Or that much quoted line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” (Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities). But I suppose above all, I came back to 1Kings 19 and that breeze; to Jacob with that ladder/pillow with ‘God being in this place’ (Gen 28.10); to the sulking Jonah and the castor oil plant, (Jon 4,) and to Job 38 and maybe Hosea might get a look in too. None of us can be priests unless we can set free the poet of God within us and indeed the clown or comedian! It is a privileged and wonderful life.
The West asleep!
Afghanistan is in turmoil. Libya has never recovered. Syria has been forgotten. Iraq is mired in history. The powerful West hasn’t managed to do very much except make things even worse than they were. There was an arrogance in the West that we so much wanted to bless these people with the gift of our democracy. It takes humility to step back and notice how broken democracy is in the USA. Where the break down in the normal order of respect for voting and for truth has taken such a tumble. The West has left such a mess. Afghanistan is collapsing. So many lives have been lost and for what?
Indi She is amused. She has seen and heard many who are very upset. There is an outbreak of war. She can’t understand how worked-up people get about First Communion and Confirmation. They are ferociously agitated and willing to attack everyone. The wicked Government. The confusing bishops. The local priests. The schools. Anyone but the virus! They are so hungry for God. It is as if they are screaming as though they were caught in a famine. They are on a starvation diet. They want God. That is her conclusion. What is their problem? Do they miss Church that much? Will they be knocking down the doors of the church when everything opens up even a little? All she wants herself is to be Christened. But she is patient. She looks around.
For her, God talks to her every day. The sun comes up. The morning says hello. The birds fly by. The animals in the field go about their business. The hills look out at her. The river is beautiful as it winds its way. She is fed. She walks around and investigates. People call. Everyone is different. She believes that Kellie Harrington was right: “Put a smile on the nation’s face”…That is what Indi sees and wants and does. She is happy. She finds new words every day. She has her spake. Life is good. She has her Communion. And it is a rich diet.
Seamus Ahearne osa