Stansted airport 8.10am. Been here since 7 and up since 5. “Relax” is the word next to the scheduled flight to Cork. I do what the word says, relaxing with a coffee and croissant, not realizing that the word is ominous on this morning of heavy snow. Relax means that we’re going nowhere for a long time. The 9.20 departure becomes 11.20 and then 12.20. By then we’ve been waiting at the gate for over an hour. The place is very overcrowded and hot but in a typically English manner everyone is quiet, bearing it patiently. The Italians are different. A waiting planeload of them cheer and chant loudly when they are told to move to yet another gate.
I’m on my way to Father Vincent Kelly’s funeral and I’m already late. Mass starts in thirty minutes and the flight that still hasn’t taken off will take an hour and a half. Maybe I should just go back and not travel at all. But something keeps me moving forward and I decide that I will get a taxi directly to the cemetery. Vincent had left instructions about who was to lead the Mass, who would preach, who would lead the various prayers and he had named me in the mix, so I want to honour his wishes in some way, to honour the man who inspired and brought me into the Pallottines fifty years ago.
The Pallottines were unknown to me in the Easter holidays of 1972 when I attended a vocations workshop in the Redemptorist Cluan Mhuire down the road from us in Mervue. I had always wanted to be a priest from as far back as I can remember and was leaning towards the SMA’s or the Holy Ghost’s. The Redemptorists never expressed any interest in me as a candidate, nor did the Augustinians with whom I served Mass and, while part of me might say that I didn’t measure up to their standards, the other part believes that it was God who didn’t want me joining either congregation. He had other plans.
And I have to credit my mother for persuading me to attend the workshop when I was getting cold feet. My parents never ever suggested that I become a priest but during those Easter holidays she had an instinct that said, “maybe you should go all the same.”
The first evening I bumped into this unfamiliar priest on the stairs, and he introduced himself as Father Vincent Kelly. We met twice again in the exact same spot and concluded together that we must have been meant to meet. He had exceptional charm and a winning way.
A few weeks later he brought me and Michael Martin from Kilconly for a weekend at the Pallottine College in Thurles. I was swept off my feet by the experience of the community there, fell in love with its friendly embrace. Another visit followed in June before my Leaving Certificate, and I came home to excitedly tell my parents that I wanted to join the Pallottines.
My mother was not easily won over. We’ve never heard of them she argued. They could be a sect! And then Divine Providence stepped in when she was telling a neighbour about my plans and her fears. Amazingly the neighbour knew the Pallottines well because two of her neighbours from Kilconly were Pallottines. A lovely order, she assured Mam.
That set me free to follow my heart’s desire and into the Pallottines I went in September. There a whole new world opened up for me, a world of friendship which had been lacking in my life, a world of music, fun and most importantly a world that immersed me more deeply into the spiritual life of Christ.
At Stansted I am urged on by loyalty and gratitude to the man who opened up this world to me, so I continue to wait and not turn back. The waiting and not turning back have their symbolic meaning, being two essential aspects of the path marked out for us in our life in Christ. And so, I remain relaxed, even if physically weary in the heat of the congested crowds gathered in and around Gate 44 which eventually became gate 46.
As we lift off up into the sky at 12.35pm I wonder what about Mass now and I remember Teilhard de Chardin in a place and time when he was unable to celebrate Mass. He celebrated what I think he called Mass on the Universe. It’s not the Mass, not the Eucharist but the absence of it pushes one to consider communion.
So, my Mass in the air is an acknowledgement of the communion that has taken place between all of us in the hours of waiting at the airport, in brief moments of conversation, little acts of kindness, the shared resignation of a waiting that has no power or control in it.
As one we are lifted up in this craft, our lives entrusted to our pilot, and I pray a prayer of blessing for every single person on board.
And then my fantasy begins, a meditation:
The whiteness of snow all around the world below
Cloak of cloud enfolding the earth
Like an altar cloth
The sun an elevated Host above us all
Brightness of Christ transfigured
The upward forward movement
Prophecy of Eternity
Blue of sky
Mantle of Mary
With all the priests of the world
No longer able to offer
The most precious mystery of our Lord Jesus
The multitude of Faithful
Deprived of the food of Angels
Manna from Heaven
Ours is a spiritual Communion
Vast yet finite yearning
For the Infinite
May this longing please the Lord
This and every deprivation find a response
In God’s most Loving Heart.
Only God knows the point of this journey. God alone knows and that is enough.
In the taxi from Cork airport, I was able to watch the final part of the Mass online and I was in the cemetery at least half an hour before the funeral arrived. A hard crisp foggy day. The keeper of the graves put chat on me, a very interesting man with a strong, deep, and simple faith that brought joy to my heart.
It was given to me by Derry to say the prayers at the grave and sing the Salve Regina and so it seemed appropriate that I laid to rest the man who opened up the road of life to me – endings and beginnings shared.
Without Vincent I would not be where I am now, without him the past half century would have been very different. He is central to the extraordinary mystery of God’s action in my life. Thanks be to God for him. Thanks be to God.
Lovely conversations followed with fellow Pallottines and people from Cork I have known over the years and not seen for many a long day. And a couple of hours later I was back again in a taxi to the airport. The shortest trip to Ireland I have ever made, a trip well worth it. Meant to be.