Every day has its mood and its music. Today, feast of the Holy Souls, it’s Faure’s Requiem. Every other sound seems to jar. Maura and I discovered this Requiem on cassette tape in Birkenhead not long after Dad died back in 1990 and we listened to it over and over as it brought tears and solace to our grief.
This morning in the throes of Storm Ciaran, in the interior half-light, I plug Faure into the church sound system, and it is magnificent as I go around putting down buckets and towels to catch the water that is dripping, sometimes flowing down from the church ceiling. There is no grief in me now, not much anyway and even the “not much” is softened. The music of course brings Maura close and all the many others who have gone. Mam and Dad. I sit to write their names in the November list – two foolscap pages – and they all seem to float about the sanctuary. Family, Pallottines, close friends, neighbours. We’re of an age now when more seem to have gone than remain. It’s sobering and slightly amusing to walk around the New Cemetery in Bohermore. More old neighbours there than there are at home in Mervue.
But we haven’t just lost, we have gained. New generations. New companions for the journey. I have gained so so much in this life that I am blessed to live.
Yesterday as I was pondering All Saints in the quiet of the morning, two memories of my Mother came to mind, two memories of about vision and seeing. We were on the Mervue bus going into town for Mass and I was a small boy looking at Mam who sat opposite me. She was wearing a beautiful white coat and a pillbox fur type hat with a square glittering brooch attached. She was magnificent and I was overwhelmed by her beauty, the glow that seemed to come off her. I was seeing her with the pure unfiltered eyes of a child who sees the truth in all its wonder.
Of course, we were all at our best in that moment, the whole family of us, wearing our Sunday best clothes, the best of intentions in us, the best of our nature on our way to the best possible place. Mass was for us the best. It is always the best in itself, but it was, is also the best of everything for us in a way that might not be understood in the modern world. We were pure, innocent with the purity and innocence of Jesus Himself.
And of course, things change, we all changed, the purity of my vision faded, there were many rough passages in our relationship, and it was many years before I had any such vision of her again. It was in the final years of her life that I began to glimpse something of her radiance, not with the innocent eyes of a child, not so enthralling, not so overwhelming. But it was there. Every now and then her face and her hair would become luminous, and I attribute some of it to the change that came over her after Maura died. I attribute more of it to the time she spent once a week gazing at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Mervue. Once a week, not every day. There was nothing excessive about Mam’s religious practise, but she was faithful, and I believe that what happened to Moses happened to her. He entered into the thick darkness where God was, spoke face to face with God as with a friend and the result was that he emerged from that encounter with his face shining. He didn’t know it himself, but his face shone, the people saw it. He was transformed as my Mother was transformed in the thick darkness of life where she came face to face with God who seems to have smoothed the edges of her, most of them, like the stones on Frenchman’s Beach that are smoothed by the sea. Even now on odd occasions the photo of her on my windowsill seems to come alive with that same luminous quality.
I’m not saying that she was a saint, nor am I saying that she wasn’t, but she took the path of sainthood. That path is revealed to us in the readings for All Saints. It is the path of vision, the way of seeing what is most real, most essential. “I saw…I saw…” wrote St. John in the Apocalypse and in His first Letter he shows us who we are and who we will become. We are children of God and in the future life of eternity we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He really is. It is the way of seeing that is given to us in our Christian spirituality, the seeking of the face of Jesus, seeing Him and even now becoming like Him without even realizing it.
The movement at the beginning of Matthew chapter five shows us the way. Jesus moves up the mountain. Our eyes are on Him. The mountain is the place of Divine Revelation and what’s happening here is at the heart of everything. He is at the heart of everything, the Divine Heart of God. This is what is real. He moves up the mountain and sits down. The sitting down too is a sacred action. This is God “ex cathedra”, infallible. Jesus sits to teach as the Son of God and the response is that his disciples move forward from the crowd and gather around Him. He is the centre. They are looking at Him, focused on Him and then they listen to His infallible Word. But before listening, before He opens His mouth to speak, they are looking at Him, gazing upon Him, seeing Him and without knowing it they are already becoming like Him. Moulded and fashioned into the image of Jesus. Imperfectly. In a constant state of becoming.
And this is the beauty of what we are offered, the utter beauty of Jesus, the overwhelming beauty of God is before us that we might see and become. Catch sight of God who is everywhere, in every person we meet, and I think that this is most true of marriage and family. God is often hidden there but there all the same to be seen, experienced, loved, admired.
In Joseph Mary Plunkett’s poem “The Presence of God” (I see His Blood upon the rose) there’s a lovely line – “I see His face in every flower…” – it occurs to me that this is what happens to a couple in love, when they come to the church to get married. They look at each other and not only see the other but they see the face of God; they reveal the face of God, the face of Love to each other.
The beautiful invitation of the Song of Songs, a poem of the love that exists between God and the soul, a love that is reflected in a very particular way in marriage – the invitation, “show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful!” And Love in this moment is at its most pure, most innocent, most intent.
I found the following in an old unpublished blog post:
What a sacred thing it is
to seek and find the face
of the one you love
in the intimacy
to become familiar with
Sound of the beloved’s
the other entering
the front door
God in all of this
On the altar
And God is present in all of this! A significant part of getting married in church is the Presence of God. We are always in His presence but in marriage a couple enter God’s presence in a new and different way. God promises to be present in their relationship all days, in all circumstances.
God present as Jesus was present at the marriage feast of Cana. Jesus danced at Cana. He drank wine and danced. As did Mary! Bringing joy…
The stone water jars are symbols of ourselves – the emptiness of us, that which is waiting to be filled. And the filling is abundant; we are filled by God to overflowing, not only with what is good but what is better. The new wine!
And there are depths in each other to be plumbed, the mystery that each one is, a mystery that is ever unfolding, ongoing self and mutual revelation and discovery so that there is always the surprise, the mystery of each other that is to be revered and held sacred all your days.
God present in this mystery in all of its expressions – in times of joy and challenging times. God ever present in you, with you. Dancing.
I see it in the children at the Mass we celebrated in school today. Two hundred of them singing so earnestly, clapping in Glory. Eyes closed, hands wide open in prayer to the Holy Spirit. It is wonderful.
These days twelve years ago I was at the early stages of the Camino to Santiago, an anniversary almost as sacred as ordination. I sought and saw the face of God in so many ways – in the forest, the hills, in my companions and in the celebration of Mass in all sorts of situations. I sought and saw and was transformed. Thanks be to God.