MOVE ON FROM HERE TO THE HIGHLANDS: Provincial Assembly and other thoughts

For some, this was the first experience of Zoom; others have had their fill of the platform and we wondered how it would all work. A virtual Provincial Assembly spread over six different time zones, six countries, four continents and twenty two men – ever conscious that we represent thousands of women, men and children whose lives we share in ministry.

We were surprised by how well it went. Liam our Provincial led the proceedings with clarity, efficiency, perception, listening well and sensitively to what was being said. There were very honest and sometimes painful expressions of opinions but always with respect and often with humour, brotherly banter, poking fun. Serious matters thrashed out and brought some way to resolution.

Zoom gave us windows into each other’s places – living rooms, offices, libraries. We witnessed the affection of dogs for their masters, watched each other eating hurried lunches after funerals. Parish life had to continue, meaning some of us turned up late or had to leave early from time to time.

Though I have always known Greenford to be a very busy parish I was astonished by just how busy it is and it was great to be able to give a helping hand, celebrating the midday Mass on the days I was there.

On the second day I transferred from Hastings to Greenford to be with Joe and Liam who were participating in the Assembly from there. Tony stepped into Hastings to make that possible. It made sense that we should be together as a team. So, I took the train at 6.30pm armed with Colm Keane and Una O’Hagan’s book on St. Brigid. They tell us how she was ordained a bishop by St. Mel, though it seems she didn’t celebrate Mass as a priest but brought a chaplain with her for that purpose on her extensive travels. A very crowded and busy life for a contemplative who seems to have found the best solitude in looking after the sheep on the silent grasslands of the Curragh.

The train is a great place for pondering and listening to what life has been saying, what God might be saying in the unfolding events, how He urges me to seek the path of humility and not become despondent when life takes me on such a path.

In our parish we have had a number of sessions in preparation for Synod 2023 through which Pope Francis wants to give voice to the entire Church and I believe in this, allowing people to be heard but the results can be disheartening. When your own people mark the Church 2 out of 5 in certain areas, as Parish Priest it feels like a reflection on me personally, even though people say it’s not but I feel it like that anyway. I genuinely feel like St. Paul that “I am the least!” Only by the grace of God do good things happen.

There are many things people want to happen in the parish and I would gladly make happen but I no longer have the capacity to provide. What is needed requires a younger man who does not exist so people will have to take responsibility for initiating what is needed. In some ways that has already begun with the group who spearheaded the Synod meetings in our parish.

I turned 67 at the end of January and have joked that I should be retired but in reality I don’t want to. What else would I do? From my waking moment that day I tried my best to thank God for the wonder of my being, was challenged by my confessor to do just that. It’s a wrestling match between head and heart, reason and feeling. I know the wonder of my being in my head but for every rational knowing of this truth, I must make five journeys into my heart to remind it of that very truth. It’s a primal thing. One is conceived and born into that battle and it is the path to holiness offered to me.

The morning of my birthday Darcee and Theresa arrived at the church door at 8.15 on their way to school with gifts and a card made by Darcee herself. She is six years old.

“I want to light a candle” she said. Theresa waited outside with the dog while Darcee and I made our way to the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes where I helped her light a candle.

“We should say a Hail Mary” I said. And with that, the little one went over to the Lady Chapel, knelt down and joined her hands for prayer. I went to kneel beside her, joined my hands and we prayed out loud. In that moment I knew that I was at my very best as man and priest.

A while later four year old Luca walked up the aisle to me, stood silently looking up at my face. His Mum called for the door, “have you something to say to Father Eamonn.” “Happy birthday” he said with a look of awe on his beautiful face. It was told to me later that Luca went into the school playground excitedly telling everyone, “it’s Father Eamonn’s birthday!” A major occasion for the children. A Godly reminder of the love that I am the recipient of. A young married couple had me to their home for my birthday dinner and reminded me again how much I am loved.

We heard God say to the young Jeremiah, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you came to birth I consecrated you!” And later St. Paul reminds of this staggering mystery – God has chosen us, you, and me before the foundation of the world.

So, I find myself pondering what this means for me. Who is it that God chose before the world came into existence, who is the Eamonn that He knew, set apart before I was conceived in my Mother’s womb. It’s the Eamonn that God knows and chose that I want to be, that I intend to become. Kneeling in prayer with Darcee I know I am that man, with the children I am my very best self and that is something I treasure. And it’s not just with the children – I am my best self when I celebrate Mass with the parish community, greeting them before and afterwards.

It’s Sunday morning in Barking and I’m listening to the laughter of the people coming out of Mass. It tells its own story. In the evening John, Paul and I sat at table for a couple of hours chatting, sharing memories. As the Psalm says, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers live in unity! And for one who spends his evenings alone, it’s a treat to have such company. Even in Greenford I watched an entire football match with Liam, even getting animated at times by what was happening on the screen. It’s a form of brotherhood.

Now it’s time to move on – as God said to Moses at the beginning of Deuteronomy. “You have stayed long enough at this mountain, move on from here to the highlands.” The moving on is necessary on personal and community levels and I pray in the spirit of the Camino:

Lord, give us grace to move on from where we are now to the highlands that You have prepared for us. Watch over us as we go forward as companions in love of Your Name

Be for us our strength in weariness

Our light in darkness

Shade in the heat, warmth from the cold

Consolation in discouragement

The enduring Love of our hearts

Abiding peace of our souls.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.