Four Part Harmony of Gospel moments: There is hope.

An Eastender for the weekend:                        (Voice One)
Yes. I was over in London last weekend. It was the 40th anniversary of priesthood for Paul Graham & Kevin Lowry. It was celebrated on the actual anniversary of their ordination. The celebration was a revelation.
Hoxton has changed so much. I went there 43 years ago. The parish was old then and the congregation was ageing and very few were attending Church. As we said among ourselves on Sunday – the anniversary wasn’t just about Kevin and Paul. It was a Celebration of Faith in a Community. It was a Celebration of Faith in the people who have formed Paul and Kevin. I didn’t recognise Hoxton. It is all changed. The whole area is different. All the derelict buildings are gone. All the new buildings have blossomed. It is a thriving place. The community has totally changed.
The church was packed. It was a blaze of colour, both skin-wise and dress wise. It was the rainbow coalition. It was the UN in action. There were about 20 Altar servers of all ages. The readers were Vietnamese, Nigerian, South American.
The music would lift any heart. The little ones and the older ones – were dancing and the whole place throbbed with hope and life. (They even danced up the aisle for the collection). They’ve got rhythm indeed! South Americans, Africans and people from Syria, China, Vietnam, Korea and every other shade in-between were there. It was extraordinary. The youthfulness of it all was magnificent.
The Church is dying?? Well not in Hoxton. This was vibrant. This was young. This was full of God. I spoke at the Mass and reminisced on Paul & Kevin but especially on faith, priesthood & God and there wasn’t a whisper. It was a real faith experience.  The church is lovely (150 years old).  The food & dance afterwards was lovely. I didn’t have a clue what I was eating.
The following morning – the basement was open for the winos, druggies and homeless ones to have food and a shower.  That is a rich mixture of faith, life, mercy and love.   I am amazed.  There is hope. It was a revelation.   This happens too when we see others (different people) nations, colours, as adding to the tapestry   of life. Life is enriched by inviting people in, rather than seeing them as threats. It was an explosion of beauty and Godliness.
An Augustinian General Chapter in Abuja (Capital of Nigeria)  (Voice Two)
For once, I am at chapter where there is hope.  The areas of growth in the Order are well represented here – Africa, Asia, Latin America.  We are gradually shedding our Eurocentrism.  Vocations are also picking up in the US.  There’s a good atmosphere.  But it’s difficult to concentrate due to the energy-sapping climate.  It’s the rainy season, and while it is not so hot, it is heavy and humid and rather airless – not much breeze.   (Paul Graham osa wrote to me from Abuja. He had left our Ruby celebration on Sunday evening for Nigeria)
Some words on the ruby anniversary of Priesthood:     (Voice Three)
(local and personal asides left out)  
Here is a word from the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning to begin: “Earth is crammed with heaven. Every common bush afire with God. But only he/she who sees, takes off the shoes. The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
This surely is a moment to celebrate – how earth, and place and people and moments are crammed with heaven in the colourful lives of Kevin & Paul.
In Austin Friars’ school chapel, Carlisle on the 18th September 1976. (It was the Silver Jubilee of the school). Kevin and Paul were ordained priests. Today forty years later, we are here in St Monica’s, Hoxton. They have travelled widely ever since.
Paul is here with you in St Monica’s. Kevin is in Freckleton & Warton. I am remembering Ken and Nelli, Paul’s parents who have both died. They were very special people who launched this man Paul into love and life and faith. I am remembering Sheila and Tom. Kevin’s parents who are still very young at heart and quite old in body but are deeply involved in many of our lives. Again they are great people of faith.
‘Earth is crammed with heaven.’
So we have family;
we have places;
we have moments;
we have people.
We have characters who have shaped the priesthood of Kevin & Paul.
I took part in a big celebration for some of their companions just last week – Kieran O Mahony & Paddy O Reilly (in Finglas) who were ordained shortly before Kevin & Paul. It was very nostalgic, very moving and humbling. Paddy ended his sharing to the gathered people by asking ‘what is your recall long ago when God was very young and an Augustinian called Edmund Colledge used to drop into Hoxton. I doubt if many remember Edmund. He was a professor who worked in Toronto. He used to stay at St Monica’s doing his research. He was very learned and very sharp in what he had to say. This was his throw- away line: ‘Hoxton will prepare you for life in priesthood. You can cope with anything after Hoxton. You are ready for anything. ‘
Today isn’t just about Kevin & Paul or the anniversary of their ordination. It is also about our magnificat. We all wander and wonder. We walk out. We look around. We see. We are aware. Of the Godliness of life. We see a baby. We see a death. We see love. We see a tree. We see Hoxton Square. We see an insect. A bird. We need to take off our shoes (Like Moses and the burning bush) to celebrate the holiness of life; the wonder of life; the poetry of life; the beauty of life.
Small minds can never cope with God. God is too big. Faith is too magnificent. The sound bites of life don’t catch and sum up the wonder of life. We catch the gentle breeze of life.
But Kevin & Paul’s stories trigger off memories of our own stories. These two men went to Korea. They were totally at sea. They knew nothing of the language or the culture. They struggled badly. It was totally an act of faith and a step into the mystery of God and life. They left home. They left the familiar. They were trying to find their way in a new place; in a new land; in a new world. They left all they knew in family and friends and fellow Augustinians and known places. Paul’s mother Nelli went on strike at times; she didn’t want to speak to him. She wanted her boy home and he had deserted her. I spent some time as a go-between.
But I believe they were learning not just about Korea but about life and faith and God and priesthood. They were learning to be humble. They were learning that they never fully grasp the world of God in whatever language they are immersed. I remember them coming home and that was difficult. And I remember Kevin leaving the familiar once more and emigrating to Lancaster diocese. I remember how Sheila and Tom worried. But we then sent Greg Campbell after him as bishop to mind him! I recall too the in-betweens and all the places and people in Birmingham and Edinburgh. I remember Paul coming here with Birmingham and Clare also in his past but I think of Paul saying so often how the Community at Hoxton keeps him sane as he tries to work with being Provincial and boss of the Augustinians in England and Scotland.
I cannot pass over the Reading of today without saying this: Amos uses strong language in the first Reading. He convinces us that God’s word is ever new; that faith has to be lived in the issues of everyday; that the Word becomes flesh in every culture and in every language and every day. The astute steward is a very strange character to give us as an example. I think we all like the lovable rogue (Of fools and horses – The Delboys of life). But the story isn’t in praise of the rogue. It points out how smart we have to be. To see the opportunity. How smart we have to be to catch the God moments. Otherwise we miss out. We have to be sharp-witted in this business.
So Paul and Kevin. Thank you. God has been good to us through you. You have learned so much. You are still learning. Your magnificat is for you to write and say. Those two men who left Austin Friars on the 18th September 1976 have arrived here to-day. Their story continues.
Kevin & Paul: You have blessed us. You have brought us to the Table and shared the goodness of God. You have learned the language of God and shared it. You have incited our imagination and inspired us. You have written the poetry of God in your living and challenged us. You have broken bread and have fed us. You have been faithful. You have been there in the precious moments of life when God-words are the only comfort. It is a very privileged and dangerous life.
Here is your continuing job description and your challenge:
Show us the excitement of God;
the laughter of God;
the humour of God;
the surprises of God.
Continue to be Propagandists for God; to be Marketing and Salespeople for God. Help us to Look and listen with fresh eyes and ears to the Word that God speaks each day and everywhere.   There is no room for little minds or shut imaginations. This is Korea writ large yet again for you and for always. You (we) are learning a new language every day and You (we) never perfect it. You (we) are searching for words and whispers of God always. And God is always talking and always letting us know something new if we listen. It is an exciting life; a frustrating life and an infuriating life but wonderful which means of course full of wonder. God is forever a teasing, taunting, torment. Is there a better life? Is there a more fulfilling life? For some of us – it is the right one. Why has God been so good to you and to us? Give us your magnficat.  Don’t give us a weary God or shout about problems. There is always more.
I will end with a poem from Mary Oliver (American poet) on Prayer (or my version of it) :
A cat half asleep – is that prayer?
An oak tree waving its branches – is that prayer?
A sunflower smiling at the heavens- is that prayer?
Then I heard a wren singing, drenched with enthusiasm.
I don’t care whether you believe or not; that is prayer.
The life of Paul and Kevin is prayer. The life of this community at Hoxton is prayer. And a last line then from Mary Oliver in a different poem: ‘Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’   Well go on. Tell us. Give us your magnificat. St Augustine would be very proud of you both. St Augustine is proud of this community. Your searching and your celebrating goes on. It is humbling and privileged.
What is Praying   (a last word from Mary Oliver).

“It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”

Indeed – that voice must speak. Thanks Paul & Kevin; Thanks Hoxton Community; Thanks be to God.    Let that voice speak.
Sculpture in Context:                           (Voice Four.)
The annual exhibition is on in the Botanic Gardens. There is the scatter of pieces around the gardens. I went traipsing hither and thither today allowing the ‘works of art’ stir my spirit.
I wasn’t grabbed this year by any exhibit as I had in the past. I will always muse over ‘Earth woman’ of years ago. The bronze woman in her grass skirt who was twirling in her nakedness and dancing. A child came along and immediately began to dance. That child had met a work of art. It was beautiful.
Today I was moved by the contrast and the context. The pieces of sculpture were puny and dwarfed by nature surrounding them. The flowers and the scrubs and the trees were beautiful. The gentle wind seeped into the heart of my imagination. I was moved. The kaleidoscope of colour in Hoxton; in Abuja; in the Botanic Gardens, is soul music.
Seamus Ahearne osa

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One Comment

  1. Padraig McCarthy says:

    Thanks Séamus.
    When I arrived home from Mass this morning there was a prayer meeting going on in front of the house. Startling. A murmuration of starlings in the mountain ashes along the road, singing in starling harmony. Some feeding on the red berries. Of a sudden, they took off swirling together at great speed, and disappeared. A few minutes later they were back. (Were they the same starlings?) Then off again.
    My way of joining in the Laudate was the sense of wonder.
    (Birdwatch Ireland says: “For some species, like Swallows, all the birds migrate. For others, like Starlings, some migrate and some do not. In this case, those that migrate are moving away from harsh winter conditions, while those that don’t are already living in an area with favourable winter conditions. These birds are ‘partial migrants’.”)
    My camera was not quick enough.
    For a murmuration of starlings Galway 2013, see

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