I will remember Christmas 2018 with this picture of Jack, nine years old, captured in the wonder and excitement of a gift he half believed came directly in response to his Santa letter.
It’s been a year to begin coming to grips with the reality that aging is not an illness, something I’ll get over. I have to live with it. Joan Chittester says that life is simply a series of lives, each with its own task, its own flavour, its own kinds of mistakes, its own sins, its own glories, its own kind of deep dank despair, its own range of possibilities –all designed to lead us to the same end – happiness and a sense of fulfilment in God. These very worthy reflections all take a back seat in my consciousness every time I can’t open a lid, or climb a ladder, or need help to carry four bags of shopping from the car to the kitchen bench. Small everyday reminders that bits of me are wearing out and not all of them are replaceable. And an opportunity to practice graciousness when help is offered.
I have read a smorgasbord of books over the past twelve months. Current fiction, like Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut and Whipbird, Robert Drewe’s story of a weekend in the life of a dysfunctional Australian family. Then there’s read-agains by Jewish writer Chaim Potok, whose words feed the mystic in me and Susan Howatch’s series set in an Anglican archdiocese that remind me how not to do spiritual direction. Essays by writers like Ursula Le Guin (No Time to Spare) and Zadie Smith (Feel Free) are for slow reading and I’ve dipped in and out of Mary Olivers poetry collection Devotions as well as her essays, simply titled Upstream. Then, for ‘just one more chapter’ in a genre new to me, Australian crime writing, I’ve read The Broken Shore by Peter Temple and Dangerous to Know by Anne Buist. No new spirituality titles for me this year, instead I re-read portions of books that I have found life-giving in the past, and was not disappointed in what I re-discovered.
In late August my book, A Gentle Unfolding: Circling and Spiralling into Meaning, was launched, followed a month later by the sudden death of its publisher, David Lovell. David Lovell Publishing was a one person business and his death meant that follow-ups like publicity and information about sales came to a sudden stop. As far as I can ascertain A Gentle Unfolding: Circling and Spiralling into Meaning is for sale at Paulist Bookshops, John Garratt Publications and on Amazon and Book Depository. Read it and let me know what you think.
This is what my very busy niece found time to tell me after she had read the book.
I meant to email you after I finished your book. I really enjoyed it. We need many more like it. It’s incredible that the vocations of women are ignored or limited. I know many bold catholic women who have inspired people to do great things but done it quietly and organically. They could do so much more if they weren’t hampered by egoists who like wearing fancy frocks and have limited experience with family relationships. Really glad you shared your story. I hope it is widely read and inspires more women to write. Teresa Scanlon 23/12/18
Jack again! He’s in Grade 3 at a parish school and this year his class was prepared to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. I have to say that I don’t believe sacramental reconciliation before First Communion is necessary for nine year olds – much more appropriate for the parents. What I did appreciate, however, was the link the lessons made between home and church. Like many children today Jack is familiar with time-out for hurtful behaviour followed up by a chat about the why of it all and an apology where needed, finishing up with a hug. If the celibate male clergy of the institutional church were part of a family practice like this they might re-think the necessity of rules regarding children and sacramental Reconciliation before First Communion.
Love is a thing that happens in ordinary places – in kitchens, at tables, in bedrooms, in workplaces, in families. May you find that love in 2019.
Rocket Man, Starman, Life On Mars, I Am I said. Songs of my youth. Songs of identity, that interior aspect of me which reaches for the beyond. I am captivated by Voyager 1, the probe sent into space on September 5, 1977, five years to the day after I entered religious life and on the very day I returned to the community, having been away for more than a year.
Back then I had no knowledge of Voyager but we have somehow been travelling together these 40 years. There are journeys and journeys, I like to say. For every journey we undertake there is a deeper, spiritual significance that we are not always aware of. I have been a voyager, a wanderer pilgrim in spirit all my life – making journeys of significance and mostly journeying into the interior space of who I am; who I am in relation to others and mostly who I am in relation to God. My Mother called me Siddhartha, the nomad.
Voyager 1 has become a kind of teacher to me, a teacher of what is beyond. The sheer immensity of its journey! When it was launched, it had an initial mission of about four years, after which it continued on an extended mission that brought it to inter stellar space, the first human made object to travel that far and it has left scientists amazed that it still works. It travels at about 60,000 kilometres per hour, having travelled a distance of over 13 million miles. If it keeps travelling it will reach what is called the Oort cloud in 300 hundred years, taking it another 30,000 years to pass through it!
Voyager has been witness to the vastness of the universe; the sheer scale of it is staggering and it leaves me gasping in awe. And if the creation is so immense, then how much more immense is the Creator, how staggering and awesome! This is what happens to me when I read the first lines of the Prologue in John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) and it is there that I always have to pause and from there my meditation takes off into the awe-inspiring magnitude, the wonder of what it was like in that “beginning”, which is not a beginning at all but infinity, eternity.
In the beginning there was silence, that great silence in which the Word was begotten, the Word through whom everything came into existence. Silence! Jesus says of himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 22:13) The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Aleph which corresponds with Alpha and Tav corresponds with Omega. Aleph is soundless, silent, suggesting that Jesus is the silence in the eternal beginning before being the spoken Word that gave birth to the creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And God said…” (Genesis 1:1-3)
How deep are the rich mysteries of God; how inadequate language is – the words we use to express a reality that is so far beyond expression. And yet within each of us there is an innate need to reach out and grasp something of God.
So I contemplate the great silence that is infinitely more expansive than the distance travelled by Voyager. I contemplate who God is in that reality. For compass and guide I take flight with Voyager and I am immersed in the Bible, the sacred Word of God that is alive and active with layers of deeper meaning, unfathomable depths. “I thought of my God and I sighed!” from Psalm 77 – Blessed Pope Paul VI identifies this as summing up the whole Prayer of the Church. To pray is to think of God; to think of God is to sigh with groaning beyond utterance which is nothing other than the prayer of the Holy Spirit within us (Romans 8:26).
Above the moon and stars
Beyond the edge
Of what is known
The space between all things
The quiet dark
The womb of light
Where speed and stillness merge
And distance has no measure
A thousand years
A single day
Is all the same
Where Love And Hope and Faith
Remain pure and perfect
Rev. John Joseph O’Brien 1935-2018
Declare this with cries of joy and proclaim it, send it out to the ends of the earth. Say, ‘The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob.’ (Isaiah 48:20)
“Unleash the Gospel” is the title chosen for the renewal programme of the Archdiocese of Detroit, in the United States of America. The vision which underlines the programme was set out on Pentecost Sunday in 2017 and I have read of it many times since. The mental image it conjures up is of the Gospel on a leash, held in check, and straining to be free. And, of course, at the centre of it all is Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary.
Christ at the centre of all of life, and of my life in particular is an on-going challenge. There are many things clamouring for attention in our world and in daily life, important things, essential things and others of lesser importance. Christmas time and all that goes with the preparation and the celebration of this holy season is an invitation to focus our attention on Jesus Christ, on Jesus at the centre of all of creation. In these days we will celebrate the birth of Jesus in time and in space, so that we might “attend to the birth of Christ within us” each day, a phrase I heard prayed this Advent which has stayed with me. Christmas is a time to savour that life of Jesus Christ within us, which is born, and reborn, and which can be unleashed or held in check. To savour this life of Jesus Christ with us, with family, with friends, with community, and with the community of faith, again and again until we are eternally in God.
This has been an eventful year in the life of the Church in Ireland and the visit of Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families was a highpoint. His presence, his care and concern, his words spoken formally and informally, all pointed to his faith in Jesus Christ, present and active in the Church and in society. The visit gave me new hope, and as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salvi 31 “we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day.” Perhaps the visit of Pope Francis was one of the ‘greater or lesser hopes’ for us, “but these are not enough without the great hope … this great hope can only be God …God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.” (Spe salvi 31).
Jesus, the ‘God with us’ has a human face, born of Mary, shared our human existence, and is born within each of us, we welcome him anew this Christmas and pray that his presence be “unleashed”.
A very happy and holy Christmas season to all who log in to our Province website.
Derry Murphy, SAC.
“We are dismayed that, for the most part, the voices of those who voted against abortion in May’s referendum have been ignored. Even what many people would have deemed to have be very reasonable legislative amendments seeking to provide women with information and to prohibit abortion on the grounds of sex, race or disability, have been rejected.
“As we stated after our Autumn Meeting, Irish society must have respect for the right of conscientious objection for all healthcare professionals and pharmacists. They cannot be forced either to participate in abortion or to refer patients to others for abortion.
“Every one of us has a right to life. It is not given to us by the Constitution of Ireland or by any law. We have it ‘as of right’, whether we are wealthy or poor, healthy or sick. All human beings have it. The direct and intentional taking of human life at any stage is gravely wrong and can never be justified.
“Women’s lives, and the lives of their unborn children, are precious, valued and always deserving of protection. Any law which suggests otherwise would have no moral force. In good conscience it cannot be supported and would have to be resisted.
“We offer our prayerful solidarity with everyone dedicated to the sanctity and protection of human life at all stages. We ask everyone of goodwill – whether at home, in parish, in school or at work – to continue to choose and to celebrate the preciousness of life.”
During their meeting a delegation of bishops met with individuals representing various pro-life groups from across Ireland, north and south. The aim of the gathering was to acknowledge their on-going commitment to upholding the dignity of unborn human life and to consult on the setting up of a new Council for Life under the aegis of the Bishops’ Conference which will operate from March 2019.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm +353 (0) 87 310 4444