In my summer holidays as a young priest I used to go to the pub every night. I loved beer and I loved Guinness especially. I enjoyed being out in the company of others and the ale, going down, relaxed my unsettled soul.
I always went home to my parents for the holidays. Visiting parents and having holidays were not separate things in my world. Having left home so early in life, at eleven, I was, all unconsciously, attempting to get back home and to make up the days and the knowing of my mother and father, for all the time I had lost.
My socialising was also a making up for lost time. Six years locked away in the seminary, miles from anywhere and light years away from the ordinary world, and this during those vitally important growing up years of 18 to 24, meant that the vitality of youth, so long delayed, now needed an outlet. Guinness came along.
When I left London, after four years of parish life, a fine Cavan man and parishioner wrote in the parish magazine that they were sad to say goodbye to me, ‘that popular priest’. I was struck at the time by the adjective he chose to describe me. Not the holy priest, not the dedicated priest, though I tried to be both of these things, but the popular priest, the guy who enjoyed football, running dances and having a pint.
What I couldn’t see then but see so clearly now is that I was filling up a void, a great emptiness inside me which only human love could fill. It wasn’t long, therefore before I fell in love and very upsettingly for both parties, and then plunged into depression for an unresolved issue for many years thereafter.
Then one day I met Margaret and so began my journey into the light and into my freedom and into the simple joy of love.
I could not see or understand during my priestly years what was happening to me. I did not know that something was missing from my life, something I deserved to have, like anyone else. I was a priest and surely therefore I would be a happy person in a fulfilling career. No such luck.
The institution of the church equally could not see or understand what it was doing wrong. It operated a programme of recruitment for the priesthood and ticked all the boxes as it went along and when the day of ordination came those ritual words were recited – ‘after careful examination among the people of God’. Really?
We are blind to so many things in life, both individuals and organisations. I can see the failings in others easily. I stand outside them and my view is unhindered. But it is not easy to see my own failings or funny ways. We need some distance in order to get some perspective on ourselves. I can look back at my thirty year- old self and see exactly what was going on. At the time I could not see any of this. You cannot play the game and watch the game at the same time. And some things are just too hard to name at the time. They carry too much weight, too many implications for us to manage.
How do we take the plank out of our own eye? How do we recognise what the plank actually is? We need a mirror to look into. Mirrors can tell us things we cannot tell ourselves. Another person can be a mirror if we allow them to be. A friend, a counsellor can be a mirror.
Here in my house I have three mirrors and they each tell me something I cannot tell myself. My bathroom mirror gives me a general impression of how I am. Another hand mirror has two glasses of differing strengths of close up. They magnify the features of my face and give me more exact information.
A mirror talks back to you and it does not necessarily tell you what you want to hear. But if you are brave enough to look you will discover something helpful for your life.
Take the plank out of your own eye first, the Lord says. Right, but how are you going to do that?
26 June 2017