Coming into the light
I have so much to be grateful for, I now realise. Instead of thinking of all the things that went wrong or any negative factor, I now look and see how blessed I have truly been in my life. I want to name the blessings. I want to live out my days in the spirit of gratitude for the life I have lived and the road I have walked. By naming and writing of these things I hope to open my eyes more and more to the truth of these good things in my life.
I want to begin with widowhood. It has been a suffering first of all, but I am coming to the point where I now understand it as a normal part of life’s story. My mammy was widowed for 22 years after my father’s death. She suffered and she cried but my word, she made great go of her life right to the end. Mammy is my great exemplar now for my own widowed days. My grandmother was widowed in Ireland for 42 years and she was mighty! I pray to her as we pray to the saints for the grace to live the brave life. My grandfather was widowed for 11 years and he was a true soldier of life. This holy trinity of forebears are my backers now.
I want to count the blessing of my becoming and being a priest. Although the years of seminary were years of suppressed life, yet I grew in the ways of the Gospel and in an intimate knowledge of the Lord among those confreres with whom I shared my days. I became a person of prayer and prayer, that simple awareness and ease of talking to the Lord has never left me. Saint Alphonsus used to ‘bang on about it’ and he was not wrong.
I am grateful for the years of priestly life that I had because people approach you and entrust you with the confidences of their hearts, the joys and the sorrows, and to be treated in this way is the deepest privilege that there is in life. Priestly character and insight comes from the way that people expect you to be. People make priests.
I am grateful that I met Margaret and came to married life. She opened me to the love that I needed in life, and from which a narrow seminary system had debarred me. My ‘human development’, a matter only lately taken up in priestly training, was stunted by the system that I entered. Oh, I was a fine looking and kindly operator on the outside, but the heart was sore. Margaret simply took me by the hand.
I am grateful for the gospel every day. I join in the daily mass of the Church as I sit here in my house every morning and read the scripture and be still. I have so much still to learn and a road yet to walk. The gospel is my great companion and in union with the Church.
I am grateful for the spiritual life that the faith has given me and for the kind of person it has formed in me over the course of the years. The gospel informed my priestly years and also my years as a mediator. Only now am I realising that I never stopped being a priest. You can never stop being, who and what you are. Each stage of life, each layer of life has formed on the foundations of what came before, and so I am happy boy, persevering student, kindly priest, lost soul, happy husband and father, skilful mediator, sorrowing widower, and now a person who looks back at it all and wants to embrace the whole story and march on.
The danger of declining years is to feel diminished in one’s self, but Saint Paul had the answer to that. Even as the body fails, the spirit grows stronger every day, for we are on our way to meet the Lord who comes to meet us every new day. I trust that the faith, which has guided me all through these years, will not desert me now. Or, rather, that I will not desert the faith that has never deserted me. And by faith, I mean the Lord.
I have been sad this past while. Five years since Margaret died. I have struggled to be alive. If the Gospel is genuine it has to be able to power me through this stage of my life. I have counted my sorrows long enough. Now I count how blessed I have been. Put them together and they make a cross, a cross, which by God’s grace I am happy to carry.
What was it my mammy said? Each stage of life prepares us for the next.
23 September 2017