Back to Her First Love

April 29, 2024. Forty-five years ago today I made my Final Profession as a Pallottine on the Feast day of St. Catherine of Siena who expresses well what goes on in me when she speaks these words to God, “You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.”

But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. Desire! For a long time, I have thought that every desire of my humanity is at its heart a desire for God but maybe that’s not the case. Maybe I glamourize my desires when, in fact, they are actually mundane, and even base, having nothing to do with God at all.

Vocation Sunday leaves me questioning the sincerity of my own vocation. Not the vocation itself, for I believe that God called me before He formed me in my mother’s womb. But I question myself, my living of that calling.

On the face of it I look like I’m doing a fairly good job. Weekend Masses are alive and a source of great joy. I love the people of the Parish and I think I give my very all to that love. But I have questions.

In Rome a couple of weeks ago I found myself on the periphery of St. Peter’s Square, on the outside of it, having failed to gain entry before Pope Francis appeared. The queues were too long. But I still had a view of him in the distance at his window, heard the sound of his voice, received his blessing even on the periphery.

The idea of the periphery stirred something in me. A thought for anyone who is on the periphery of life. The thought that my own life is actually peripheral, not amounting to a whole lot and wanting to be more significant. Believing at the same time that the significance of life is always to be found in the person I encounter in the moment and in my encounters with God.

It is perhaps my encounters with God that are in question. Do I simply dabble in a peripheral relationship with God and not allow myself to get to the heart of that relationship? Is my desire for God not genuine at all?

And then I come home to the funeral of Colette. During his tribute her husband said this of her, “..the mainstay of her life was always her faith in God, and I am grateful that she was lent to me for 60 years, but now she has gone back to her first love.”

Prior to meeting him she had spent a short period in the convent, an experience that seems to have marked her life positively and remained with her until she died. Theirs was a great love. The testament of their love was very evident in her final years of illness during which he looked after her at home almost single-handedly.

Then one morning he phoned me to say she was in end-of -life care, asking me to come and anoint her. The last rites, as they say here. It was arranged that I would go to the house that afternoon but in the later morning something prompted me to go immediately. There was no answer to the doorbell or the phone and after waiting about ten minutes I got into my car to leave.

Just then their daughter and granddaughter arrived and with them I gained access to the house where we found Colette in her last moments. She died as I anointed her. It was her time. It was midday. It was providential.

Difficult for her husband that she left while he was out getting the shopping, one of the rare times when he left her alone. But she didn’t like goodbyes and it seems to me that she needed him gone out so that she could leave him without goodbye. It happens like that sometimes.

I am struck by the fact that God often has me in the right place at exactly the right time and this testifies to the authenticity of my vocation. Experiences like this keep me hanging on, especially when the voice inside me says that I can’t keep going on any longer.

It’s not my doing, but God’s. It is not about me.

All the same I need indicators, confirmations. But the strongest confirmation came when Alan spoke those generous words about God being the mainstay of her life. The words, “now she has gone back to her first love” stirred something deep within me, a knowing that brought tears to my eyes. It described who I am, more than what I do.

How devastatingly lonely this first love can be. And when I say this, I know that people will want to step in to take away that loneliness. And if they did step in I might surrender to the comfort of it. But it would not be right because the loneliness has its meaning and is meant to be lived. It stretches one beyond all boundaries.

It is perhaps the loneliness of Jesus Himself and the loneliness of the world. It is perhaps both my truest prayer of desire for God and my truest prayer of intercession for the lonely.

Celebrating a wonderful wedding the other day, I spoke about how the face of the spouse is an icon of God, that when they gaze upon each other they catch a glimpse of God. This is true, not only when they appear at their best but maybe most specially first thing in the morning when they awake beside each other, seeing the face of the other. As a celibate I will never know this, but I think it must be a very precious experience. Afterwards a woman said to me how she loves seeing her husband’s face first thing in the morning. Beautiful to hear and watch her saying this.

One final thing. I go through quite a bit of metal anxiety because I am not an administrator, not an organizer of the kinds of structures that are demanded of a parish community. I don’t like institutional structures at all and have a naïve longing for the simplicity of the Gospels.

I am also anxious about the physical structure of our beautiful old church building that is leaking at a terrible rate, and I can’t get myself going on sorting it.

But the Lord provides in all sorts of ways. One way came recently from a nine-year-old girl who met me on the street after school one day. “Father Eamonn” she said “I’m worried about all the leaks in the church and I’m going to sell toys to get some money to fix the roof.” Darcee and her friend Roxy did just that yesterday. They sold toys for £1 each before and after Masses and they collected £263.

The initiative of the child impressed me greatly and it was like God saying that what is required will be provided in all sorts of little ways. The initiative has also got lots of people talking and interested in getting involved. All we need now is for someone to organize and harness all the interest. It will be done.

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