Tag Archives: Ireland

May 11: The Best Medicine? ask the Irish Chaplaincy.

Another posting from Eddie at the Irish Chaplaincy.


Eddie Gilmore

Eddie Gilmore

When coming away from my regular visit to one of our Irish Chaplaincy Seniors I was reflecting on how uplifted I felt and how it had to do, in part, by how much we had laughed during the visit. This particular lady is only in her 70s but has fairly advanced dementia, and her sister moved over from Ireland to stay in the one-bedroom flat as a live-in carer. It’s a challenging situation but we always regale one another with funny stories, and we hoot with laughter.

I’ve been enjoying a book by James Martin, the American Jesuit, called ‘Between Heaven and Mirth’ with the sub-title ‘Why joy, humour and laughter are at the heart of the spiritual life’. He speaks of the importance of humour, especially in religious settings, which can easily become terribly serious and joyless. I imagine, sadly, that there are many people who might consider laughter to be incompatible with church or religion. And I was interested to see in a recent survey in the Church of England that people didn’t want their priests to be cracking lots of jokes in their sermons! It’s true that humour doesn’t really come across in the gospels. I fear this is a case of jokes getting lost in translation (besides the notion that religion is a ‘serious business’) because I like to think that the stories of Jesus were filled with humour and hilarity, and that he liked nothing better than to have a good laugh with some of the dodgy characters he hung out with.

I still remember the words of my dear friend Tony (and the jokes he told) in his best man speech at my wedding. He reminded us that the words ‘humour’, ‘humility’ and ‘human’ all come from the Latin word ‘humus’ which means earth and ground, so that when we laugh we are connected in a particular way with the ground we walk upon and with those we walk with. It could be said indeed that a sure sign of a growing connection and intimacy with another person is the ability to laugh together. Physiologically, as well, it’s healthy for us to laugh. A good, hearty laugh can relieve physical tension and stress and leave the muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. It boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, therefore improving resistance to disease. It also reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Laughter is almost as good for the body as going to the gym! And it doesn’t cost a penny in membership! I remember at one time somebody in the NHS having the idea to send comedians into hospitals to help patients to laugh but sadly it doesn’t seem to have caught on.

And talking of funny people, I was tickled to hear what happened when John Cleese met the Dalai Lama. They didn’t say a word to one another but simply broke into spontaneous and prolonged laughter! James Martin tells us in his book that the Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer Thomas Merton could be identified by visitors to his monastery in Kentucky (at a time, in the 1960s, when there were 200 monks there) because he was the one who was always laughing. And one of the many nice stories in the book concerns Mother Theresa from the time when John Paul II was pope and creating loads of new saints. A young sister asked what she would have to do in her life to achieve sainthood. Mother Theresa replied “die now; this pope’s canonising everyone”!

This season of Lent is perhaps not readily associated with fun and frivolity. Yet, in the scripture readings from Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent we have Jesus warning us (Matthew 6) not to look miserable when we fast; and we are reminded of the words from Isaiah 58 of the kind of fast that is pleasing to God:

“Let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke;

Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor”

And I would add, try and have a bit of a laugh with people as well. It’s one of the things that most profoundly binds us together in our common humanity.

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April 27: What became of Peter?

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There were a few more people in the boat that morning than we can see here: Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples; seven of them altogether. I can see how they’d have wanted to get Jerusalem out of their hair, and in any case, the message was to get themselves back to Galilee. And once there, it made sense to go fishing, just as it made sense to the children in yesterday’s picture to go fishing. They preferred the river to the lough, and could charm little trout onto a bent pin dangling from a hazel rod, putting us to admiring shame, but I digress – a little.

We, after all, were amateurs. Peter was a professional, whose livelihood depended on a good catch. Had he lost his touch? He’d lost his brash self-confidence …

The stranger on the shore could see the shoal through the mist, but Peter the professional could bring the fish in.

The story in John 21 is familiar enough: as on Easter morning, John gets the picture before Peter, but it’s Peter who jumps in and staggers ashore; Peter who is challenged three times, three challenges that allow him to accept forgiveness for three denials; Peter who is commissioned three times. And Peter leaves the lorry behind – or at least the aspirations to a better life that Joe’s lorry stands for in yesterday’s story. Peter’s vocation now was not to be a fisherman but a fisher of men, a feeder of the five, ten, hundred thousand sheep and more, even down to us today.

There’s good in the heart of the likes of Joe’s dad, working hard, denying himself to provide for his family with a lorry he could earn more money from. No wonder Joe was proud of him! And then some of us are called to leave our father’s house and spread the love of the risen Lord. Come to think of it, that’s you and me as well. We should all be ready to share the love, even with a  simple smile to a stranger whenever we leave the house (and perhaps at home as well; but that can be a real challenge!)

Happy Easter!

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April 26: What became of the fish?

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This was Brocagh School in County Leitrim, close to the Irish border, in 1969. A year or so later the little 2 classroom schools would be all closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. The assistant teacher was leaving anyway to get married! So this is an historic photo graph! As seminarians (student priests) we went two and two to the little schools and gave the children an RE lesson each week.

It was Mrs McCormack who gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row. One week after Easter we had John’s story of the breakfast by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith; I felt the lesson went well. I had the ultimate visual aid close at hand in the lake: Lough MacNean.

The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and has always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

An earlier version of this true story appears in thepelicans.org.uk website, Gallery p356.

MMB

Here, for the record are names of the children as far as their neighbours could remember them. Back Row: ——, Paddy McManus, John McManus, Jimmy Peckanham, ?Junior McHugh, Sean McGivern, Sean Clancy, Thomas Kelly, Ann Keany, Bernadette Clancy; 2nd Row: ?Teacher —— Agnes O’Hara, —— Breege Campbell, Bernadette Kelly, Kitty Cullen, Lily Pechenham, Owen O’Hara, Marie O’Hara, ——, Ann Brady, Ann McHugh, Ann Kelly, ?Mrs McCormack; 3rd Row: Josephine Clancy, —— McPartlin, ——? Gerry Clancy, ———, ———,———, Veronica McHugh, Geraldine McGuire, ?Teresa Keany; Front Row: Bridget McManus, Noel McManus, Ann Kelly, ——, Joe McLoughlin, Joe McHugh, Hugo Clancy, Margaret McGuire, Damien McGuire, Rosaleen McLoughlin (Thanks to Olivia O’Dolan, Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady- Keaney and Bridget Brady – Fitzpatrick; Ben McHugh and Clancy family

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You came to see me

Here is another post from Eddie Gilmore about the work of London’s Irish chaplaincy with prisoners, as well as an interesting reflection on his own early career and on friendship.

Will.

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Daniel O’Leary RIP

Daniel O’Leary RIP

Eddie was community leader at L’Arche Kent and is still very close to the community. He now works at the Irish Chaplaincy in London, from where this blog has been taken. 

 

I was sad to hear of the death in January of Daniel O’Leary, the well-known and clearly much-loved priest, spiritual writer and retreat-giver.

Daniel was a Kerryman who spent much of his priestly ministry in the Leeds diocese and also taught theology and religious studies at St Mary’s, Strawberry Hill. His writings had a certain light touch to them, and indeed he had at one time a regular piece in ‘The tablet’ called ‘Travelling Light’; yet what he had to say was profound, very down to earth, and had an evident authenticity. There are none of us on this earth who are without our struggles, and I’m sure that Daniel had his, but he was able to make something creative from it. His slim but inspiring volume ‘The Happiness Habit’ contains, among many other gems, a wonderful piece of Hasidic wisdom:

“Rake the muck this way, rake the muck that way; it will still be muck. Instead, start dancing your life thankfully on this beautiful earth”.

The theme of thankfulness and gratitude is a common one in Daniel’s writing. He encourages us in ‘The Healing Habit’ to repeat at the beginning of every day the words ‘Thank you’, and he quotes Meister Eckhart, the 13th Century German mystic: “If the words Thank You were the only words you ever uttered, you would become a magnet for love and beauty”.

Reading some of the obituaries following Daniel’s death, I was struck by a sense of humanity and compassion; of him being always prepared to meet and accept people where they were. Jonathan Tulloch recounts in ‘The Tablet’ the joy of a neighbour when Daniel had agreed to baptise her granddaughter, which had been refused by another priest. Tulloch was later brought by this neighbour to mass at Daniel’s parish of St Wilfrid’s in Ripon. He found himself in a packed congregation amidst a troupe of Morris dancers who had been organised to accompany the offertory procession. I think I would have enjoyed a Daniel O’Leary mass!

Another common theme in Daniel’s writing is the call for us to get in touch with those places within us wherein lie our deepest longings and dreams. ‘The Happiness Habit’ begins with a quote from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”. There is an echo here for me of the American poet Mary Oliver who also died recently. Her poem ‘The Summer Day’ concludes with these lines:

Doesn’t everything dies at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

 

I give thanks for your life Daniel. You seem to have lived it well, and I am inspired by you to try and do likewise.

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13 February: The love of those whom we do not know.

I think we need an antidote to Virginia Woolf’s desperate feelings of superiority to others. We are put on this earth to love God and our neighbour, that is what being human is all about, whether or not we abide by the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures. GKC did both. Here he writes about the young Robert Browning, but also ‘almost everyone’.

“Love of humanity is the commonest and most natural of the feelings of a fresh nature, and almost every one has felt it alight capriciously upon him when looking at a crowded park or a room full of dancers. The love of those whom we do not know is quite as eternal a sentiment as the love of those whom we do know. In our friends the richness of life is proved to us by what we have gained; in the faces in the street the richness of life is proved to us by the hint of what we have lost. And this feeling for strange faces and strange lives, when it is felt keenly by a young man, almost always expresses itself in a desire after a kind of vagabond beneficence, a desire to go through the world scattering goodness like a capricious god.”

(From “Robert Browning” by G. K. Chesterton,  via Kindle)

Photos: Amsterdam, MMB; L’Arche India; St Maurice Pilgrimage; Brocagh School, Co Leitrim 1967.

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11 February: Of such is the kingdom of God

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I thought I’d put these two passages together for the Sunday when we read the extract from Luke – only to find that these verses are not used. So here we are today instead, it’s Mary’s feast day and she features in this post.

And they brought unto him also infants, that he might touch them. Which when the disciples saw, they rebuked them. But Jesus, calling them together, said: Suffer the children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen, I say to you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a child, shall not enter into it.

Luke 18:15-17.

I am used to rather sentimental pictures of this story, a stained glass Jesus who looks like a film star, perfectly trimmed beard, freshly shampooed blond hair …

But I cast my mind back and thought of the children making the Way of the Cross with me in St Thomas’ church, Canterbury. Spontaneously a group of them gathered around the life size Mary and Jesus in the Pieta. wanting to stroke, console and condole with the Sorrowful Mother.

There was no disrespect in this, and mercifully, no-one present took offence. Yet I could imagine the tut-tuts that might have been uttered another time. No doubt the little ones who met Jesus in the flesh wanted to touch him and climb all over him, and it’s not difficult to envisage the disciples trying to pull them away. But ‘of such is the kingdom of God.’ I think it is fair to let this phrase suggest that Jesus felt himself within the kingdom when the children were swarming over him.

Pope Francis gave his customary press conference on the plane returning from World Youth Days in Panama

At the end of the conference the Pope thanked reporters for their work, and left them with a final thought about Panama: “I would like to say one thing about Panama: I felt a new sentiment, this word came to me: Panama is a noble nation. I found nobility.

“And then”, he concluded, “I would like to mention something else, which we in Europe do not see and which I saw here in Panama. I saw the parents raising their children and saying: this is my victory, this is my pride, this is my future. In the demographic winter that we are living in Europe – and in Italy it is below zero – it must make us think. What is my pride? Tourism, holidays, the villa, the dog? Or the child?”

I am proud of my children, though (or even because) they are all very different. But it would not be a healthy pride if they needed to win my approval rather than doing right, and following their own vocation rather than one laid down by their parents. I can say of my family – with those Panamanian parents – this is my victory, this is my pride, this is my future. Though I trust I will not be too much of a burden to any of them when I’m definitely doddering!

Brocagh School in Ireland, 50 years ago.

 

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January 6: Pope Francis visits the Franciscans.

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While he was in Dublin Pope Francis visited the Capuchin Franciscans at their centre for homeless families and spoke to the friars as well as the people who turn to them for help. This seems an appropriate reading for the Epiphany, when the Wise Men visited the baby born in a stable, and destined, like so many before and since, to flee into Egypt.

Dear Capuchin brothers, and all of you, my brothers and sisters!

You have the grace of contemplating the wounds of Jesus in those in need, those who suffer, those who are unfortunate or destitute, or full of vices and defects. For you this is the flesh of Christ. This is your witness and the Church needs it. Thank you.

It is Jesus who comes [in the poor]. You ask no questions. You accept life as it comes, you give comfort and, if need be, you forgive. This makes me think – as a reproof – of those priests who instead live by asking questions about other people’s lives and who in confession dig, dig, dig into consciences. Your witness teaches priests to listen, to be close, to forgive and not to ask too many questions. To be simple, as Jesus said that father did who, when his son returned, full of sins and vices. That father did not sit in a confessional and start asking question after question. He accepted the son’s repentance and embraced him. May your witness to the people of God, and this heart capable of forgiving without causing pain, reach all priests. Thank you!

And you, dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for the love and the trust that you have for the Capuchin brothers. Thank you because you come here with trust! Let me say one thing to you. Do you know why you come here with trust? Because they help you without detracting from your dignity. For them, each of you is Jesus Christ. Thank you for the trust that you give us. You are the Church, you are God’s people. Jesus is with you. They will give you the things you need, but listen to the advice they give you; they will always give you good advice. And if you have something, some doubt, some hurt, talk to them and they will give you good advice. You know that they love you: otherwise, this Centre would not exist. Thank you for your trust. And one last thing. Pray! Pray for the Church. Pray for priests. Pray for the Capuchins. Pray for the bishops, for your bishop. Pray for me too … I allow myself to ask all this. Pray for priests, don’t forget.

God bless you all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

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October 18. Truth telling XII: Dying to Tell the Story.

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It was decades since I had been in Dublin, and even last month I was only passing through, but as my friend led me through Dublin Castle Gardens I noticed this bust and went back to look. Veronica Guerin should not be forgotten.

A career in accountancy gave Veronica Guerin the forensic skills to investigate how Irish drug barons operated, including their money laundering schemes.

Once their crimes were brought into the open by her well researched articles, the gangs set out to frighten her with threats of violence against her and her son. They even had her shot in the leg, but she continued her investigations.

On 26 June 1996 she was shot dead at a red traffic light by two men on a motor cycle. She left a husband and young son. She had prepared a paper entitled ‘Dying to Tell the Story: Journalists at Risk’ to be delivered at a conference in London two days later.

A martyr for the truth, and by no means the last.

Let us pray for all who risk their lives for the truth; the truth that will set us free. And pray for the gift to be not afraid when faced with moments of truth in our own lives.

MMB

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20 August: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXII. Gatherings of the faithful.

“The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World” is the theme chosen by Pope Francis for the 9th World Meeting of Families.

Families and others from all over the world will gather in Dublin from August 21 – 26, 2018 to celebrate their lives together, to share their experiences from different parts of the world, to reflect on the different challenges they face and to grow together in faith.

As we thank God for our families and pray that this week in Dublin will bring grace to many, here is an extract from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis telling about the Chapter of the Rush Mats, when many friars gathered for a big conference, and attracted many local people who wanted to join in. These pilgrims for World Youth Day in Krakow were not dampened in spirit, rather inspired by the great company they were among.

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No-one was wearing hi-viz jackets to restrict numbers in Saint Francis’s day! Here’s the extract.

They either prayed, or said the office, and bewailed their sins or those of their benefactors, or discoursed concerning the salvation of souls. In the camp were roofs of willows and rush-mats set apart in groups according to the brothers of diverse provinces; and thereby was this chapter called the Chapter of the Rush-mats; their bed was the bare ground, and for such as had it a little straw, their pillows were stones or logs of wood, For the which cause so great devotion towards them was felt by whoso heard or saw, and so great was the fame of their sanctity, that there came many counts, barons, and knights, and other gentle folk, and many country folk, and cardinals and bishops and abbots with many other clergy, for to see this holy gathering, so great and so humble, such as the world had never seen before, of so many holy men together: and chiefest of all they came to see the head and most holy father of that holy band, the which had robbed the world of such fair prey, and gathered together so devout and fair a flock to follow in the foot-steps of the true Shepherd Jesu Christ.

The chapter general being then all assembled, the holy father of all and minister general, Saint Francis, in fervour of spirit set forth the word of God: and preached unto them in a loud voice as the Holy Spirit made him to speak; and as argument of his sermon he set forth unto them these words: “My little children, great things have we promised unto God, much greater far hath God promised unto us, if we observe what we have promised unto Him; and of a surety shall we behold what hath been promised unto us.

Short-lived is the joy of the world; the pain that follows it is everlasting; little are the pains
of this life, but the glory of the other life is infinite.”

And on these words he comforted the brothers and to command hearts into obedience and reverence for Mother Church, and unto brotherly love, to God for all men, and to have patience in adversities of the world, and temperance in purity, to observe modesty and angelic charity and to have peace and concord with God with men and with their own conscience, and love and practice of most holy poverty. 

Frontispiece from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis; pilgrims to World Youth Meeting in Krakow, another big gathering.

 

 

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