Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Through The Ministry of the Church....and I absolve....

Richard put down his pint. "I have one pint, then I have two, now I'm on my fifth." Sarah turned to look at him, her head still bopping in beat to the lively jazz music from the band near their table. "That's a common complaint among the Irish," she laughed. "It's not funny Sarah," Richard said solemnly. "Why can't we all just live in moderation. You know, moderate eating, moderate drinking, moderate living..." Now it was Sarah's turn to be serious. "I'm sorry Richard, I didn't mean to be insensitive. I know you want to give up the booze and maybe you do drink too much. Why don't you come to the Catholic conference next month? I just know you will love it. You should have been there last year. There are so many things to do there for the week. Interesting talks and discussions, question time, confessions throughout the week, Adoration, and best of all meeting so many lively Christians?" "Alright," Richard relented. "Why not!"

The queues of people waiting to register astonished Richard. They had arrived in camper vans, by taxis, trains, buses, landrovers, cars, on foot. You name it they arrived. A small square plastic badge was pinned on Richard's lapel. "Have a blessed week," the receptionist smiled. Richard picked up his zip-up bag and passing by the elevator, followed the staircase to the top floor. Young men & women, middle aged folks, senior citizens, priests, religious, seminarians, laity, all nationalities nodded with warm hellos as they passed each other on the corridors. Downstairs the music ministry was warming up. The familiar sound of worship hymns floating along up the stairs meeting the listening Spirit of each new arrival.

Richard slipped off his shoes and lay back on the single bed. Hands clasped behind his head he thought back to the year gone by. So many questions he wanted answered, so many whys and if onlys. He loved his girlfriend dearly and had lost her. It was only a matter of time before it happened again. He was doing fine until he started to drink. He promised himself it would only be one pint, maybe two. But it never ended that way. What was so awful is that he seemed to lose sight of how much he was consuming until it was too late. If I really do search, - he thought to himself - if I pray constantly asking God to help, why do I feel my prayers are in vain?

A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. "Come in." A tall thin man popped his head around the door. "Hi, I'm Stephen, heard from Sarah you were here." Richard invited the well spoken English man to sit down and they soon were chatting away about the Lord and the excitement of this annual event. Stephen had only recently joined the seminary and spoke of his amazement at how it all happened. "Step by step though, nothing dramatic for me, just knowing where I'm called to." "What about women?" Richard probed. "Had a girlfriend, couldn't have met anyone nicer, but that ironically is what showed me what's in my heart! First though, I needed to be free of other things that, without me knowing, were a block to my own call." "What do you mean?" Richard asked. "I thought I wasn't called to the priesthood because of my desire to be with a woman. Over time I found out that desiring to be with a woman and being in love with a woman are two very different things. It was like the physical thought that directed towards a need, but the call to live a life beyond that went much deeper. It was recognising that, in fact wanting that above all, that I found the stepping stones in my life to where I should be." After a time conversing, Stephen looked at his watch and jumped up. "I have to go, I'm in the music ministry for the Mass. See you there!"

The packed hall had Richard momentarily hesitate before going in a little late. Five feet ten inches in height with dark hair and deep brown eyes he didn't pass by unnoticed. As he continued to look down each row, one lady, obviously aware of his uncertainty, raised her hand indicating a free seat beside her. He sank into it uttering his thanks. "I know the feeling!" she whispered, "walked down the aisle myself two years back and seemed like an age before I found an empty seat." The music started and Richard stood up with everyone else as a long line of priests processed along the blue carpeted aisle. Two by two they arrived. Each bowing down to kiss the altar before moving around to the rows of seats behind. The unity of voices singing in harmony from the music ministry moved Richard deeply. He glanced at his hymn book hoping that his concentration on the words would distract him from a need to cry. He thought back in memory to his grandfather sitting on the armchair opposite him in his family living room singing in his deep tenor voice the beautiful 'How Great Thou Art'. Hours later his mom would ask him to go fetch his grandad from the pub and he would obey the regular request to assist his grandad home. What was it about alcohol and the Irish? Why was it such a curse, as they say? Did weaknesses go so deep to run over into present generations? Seated once again he looked to the altar. A priest walked over to the microphone and spoke in a soft French accent. His face one of joy as he spoke with obvious peace. First he welcomed everyone and then went on to explain the format of the Mass. ...."after the homily I invite each of you to write down on a slip of paper one sin, just one sin that you feel has the stronger hold on you. Then when you have it written down keep it in your hand and follow the queue going up to the altar." Richard sat up, interested to see what he was pointing to. "Place the slip of paper into one of the baskets here and then proceed around the hall to where the priests will be waiting along the side to hear confession." Richard looked around to see where the designated area for each priest would be. "When you see a priest free, go to that priest. Bring to him that one sin which you have left in the basket on the altar. Please do remember that confessions are available every day while you are here, when you can bring all of your sins to the confessional. For now we will do this particular exercise for all who wish to participate."

After the homily Richard watched each row of people moving towards the altar with their slip of paper. Sudden panic seized him. What should he do! The lady beside him noticed his fear. "Don't worry, just write down what you feel is the sin that chains you, the one that keeps tripping you up!" She smiled with such understanding, again he felt that welling up of tears hidden for so long. Then, as if inspired, he whispered "Dear Lord, you know everything, you know me, please help me." Suddenly it all became clear. But of course, why didn't he see it straight away. He thought of sexual sins, he thought of swearing, offending the Holy Spirit, he thought of endless things and then he knew. Getting drunk! The curse of the drink. Why didn't he think of it before. Wasn't it this very weakness that tripped him up leading him into the other sins? Of course it was. The seats started to empty beside him and he quickly wrote down "Drunkenness. Please Lord deliver me." Following the queue he dropped his note into a basket containing so many other white notes and he proceeded, as requested, around to the right and stood waiting as one by one each person moved to the next free priest. Beads of sweat broke out on Richard's forehead as he waited. Suddenly he wanted to turn around and walk away. His heart began to pound and he wondered was there something terribly wrong with him. Now it was Richard at the top of the queue. Wearing an anxious look, caught by the free priest, he walked over to him. Hands joined he whispered his sin to the lowered head of the confessor and waited what seemed to be an age. It was only a few seconds. The priest lifted his head, looked with gentleness at his penitent and then raised his hand over Richard's head. ..."Through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace... and I absolve you..." Richard whispered his thanks and walked down the aisle looking for his seat in a bit of a daze. Once again his guardian angel waved to him and he smiled in relief. Seated in his chair he relaxed his trembling legs and closed his eyes. Amazed at this awesome Mass he began to pray his short penance. Without warning Richard's chest began to heave and shake. Before he knew what was happening he began to weep quietly and then in deep, deep sobs. His face in his hands the tears continued, like a gushing river that ran over him and through him and he sat there bewildered and helpless. Lady Fair beside him discreetly handed him a packet of tissues which he gratefully accepted. "I always bring at least six packs," she whispered quietly, "usually for myself." Richard smiled, his face hidden behind the big white tissue. As the music ministry sang "You are beautiful beyond comprehension, ..too marvellous for words," the tears continued to spill. Years of anxiety and fear, regrets and sadness all fell over in the tears until finally the dark haired handsome Irish man sat back, exhausted and spent. He fell into a peaceful rest as the spirit filled hymns of praise and thanks to God passed by his way.

In the dining hall the next day Stephen arrived over with his plate. "Am I disturbing you? May I eat with you?" Richard was glad to see Stephen. Not a man for conversing easily, without a few pints, he was delighted to have this English gentleman sit with him once again. Sarah was meeting a new group just arriving and Stephen's timing was perfect. "I saw you crying at the Mass, you okay now?" "Absolutely!" Richard grinned. "Never even knew I needed to cry. I'm not quite sure what happened?" "It looks like you received the healing grace of the Holy Spirit. That happens." "I've been praying for a long time Stephen, so long!" "Yes, I know, I do know. We can all identify with that. But sometimes we have to be absolutely ready. Maybe now is the time you are ready and not really before?" Stephen asked gently. Richard thought for a moment. "Yes I guess that's it. Like Augustine, not today Lord, tomorrow!" They both laughed and commented happily on how delicious and good the most simple of meals tasted and the best of home cooking too.

It was Friday night as usual and Richard walked into Sam's Place, the familiar sound of live Jazz music bringing a happy grin to his face. Sarah waved to where she was sitting. "There you are, I wasn't sure if you'd turn up tonight. What's it to be?" she asked, as the waiter took down her order and looked at Richard. "Pint of Guinness," Richard answered and then stopped. He didn't actually feel like a Guinness, his throat was dry and he could do with a fresh orange drink. "Make that an orange juice please." Sarah didn't question it, she doubled the order. When the chilled drinks arrived they both spontaneously raised their glasses in toast. "To what Richard?" Sarah asked. "To the next step in God's wonderful plan."

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Light That Shines On The Darkness

Dawn stretched forth and yawned, opening out bright new colours along the sky on the morning of the 22nd December. The old grey house stood a few meters away from the small white country church on the two acre land. The sound of crunched gravel groaned beneath the tyres as the car moved into the grounds and stopped outside the side door entrance. "Well here we are, welcome to Woodland Corner," Maria said. Siobhan opened the car door, stepped out and walked around to the front of the house. "It's a bit creepy," she whispered, as if the neighbouring house could hear her. At the front of the premises three crows flew hurriedly from the chimney above, flapping their wings in haste away from their claimed territory. "Don't like crows," she added, stepping aside for Maria to put the key in the door. "It's just the country birds and bees, you'll get used to it," Maria chuckled trying to be braver than she actually felt.

Inside the house, on the left of the corridor an open doorway revealed a spacious room. "This must have been the priest's living room then?" "That's right," Maria answered. "I think some of the parishioners still come in here for monthly parish meetings." Siobhan walked across the floor, rubbing her arms as she looked around the room. "I don't like it, this is a strange house. It's hard to believe this is a priest's house." Maria feared everything Siobhan voiced and her heart sank at what she felt was ahead. "Father Peter said the house hasn't been occupied since Father Brendan died three years ago. Obviously it needs a bit of a clean up!"

Down the corridor in the kitchen more worries presented themselves. There was no cooker. What was there was already broken beyond repair and everything else had been removed from the kitchen. "I know we arrived a day earlier than planned but there could have been even a little show of welcome from the parishioners? This house hasn't been cleaned in ages and it will take months to get it back in shape. Also how are we supposed to cook?" Maria questioned. The two women remained silent for a moment and then looked at each other. "You're not thinking what I'm thinking?" Maria asked. "That's right," Siobhan answered. "There is no welcome because we are not welcome." "Oh boy," Maria whistled, "looks like our evangelization work is going to be of a different kind in this parish and one that we ourselves might be educated in."

Upstairs there were four bedrooms. The windows had not been cleaned in years. Siobhan reached up with a brush, sweeping it over the doorway ledges to see the extent of the gathered dirt and dust. She jumped back as dead butterflies and moths fell down. "Heavens above, this is not good." "Ok," Maria said, "Let's get the kettle on and have a cuppa, the rest we'll sort out later." Siobhan picked one of the bedrooms overlooking the front of the house, while Maria was happy with the bedroom on the side corridor overlooking the sacristy entrance to the church.

"The sacristan and her husband have arrived, let's go over to meet them." The cobbled path ran from the house to the side of the church and within seconds Siobhan found herself in the sacristy in front of Harriet and Ted. Remembering her manners she shook their hands in greeting but stood back feeling shaken and shocked by this couple. The open drawer beside them revealed the linen altar cloths, the corporals and purificators all thrown in carelessly on top of a mixed bunch of objects. The old antique dresser was stained and dull, the absence of polish demeaning the dark wood, the same dresser the priests vestments were laid out on. There was neither order nor cleanliness visible. Disturbed by what she felt Siobhan walked through the hallway into the main church. She looked around on all the walls then back again to the altar. "Where's the crucifix?" she whispered to Maria. "There's no crucifix in the church." They returned to the house. "I've never seen a sacristy like it! Every sacristy I've been in, and they were only a few, were so beautifully looked after. The altar cloths, the altar vessels, the priests vestments, they were all attended to with reverence and care," Maria said concerned. "Who are these people?" Siobhan asked. "Apparently Harriet was the priest's housekeeper and she worked her way into the sacristy, she's been working here for over twelve years." "Oh heavens above, I think we've got trouble," Siobhan said as she went to her room and began to unpack the waiting cases. She took a small crucifix out of her case and went downstairs, placing it on the wall directly inside the front door. Then they sprinkled the house with holy water, deciding to make an appointment with the priest for a proper house blessing.

The doorbell rang. It was Sophie. She called to introduce herself. A friend of Harriet's and Ted's, she was tall with long black hair brushed back from her face which sat like a dark veil over her head. Her eyes were disturbing, an expression she was unable to shield as she looked with disdain at Siobhan. Behind the actress smile her dislike for the new residents was obvious as the cold eyes assessed the two ladies. "So you are in the choir then?" Siobhan asked. "Yes, I'm involved in several projects here in the parish. One is the choir, the other is a committee meeting and then there's a youth group and children's playgroup." "A children's playgroup? Would that have been here in this house?" "Yes," she replied, shifting nervously and looking at her watch. "I have to go, you'll be seeing me around."

Sleep would not come. Siobhan tossed and turned and finally got out of bed. Pulling on her dressing gown she walked out onto the corridor. She let out a roar as she bumped into Maria. "Oh my God, don't tell me you couldn't sleep either." They went into Siobhan's room and over to the window. The curtains were opened back. It was pitch black outside, no lights to be seen. "What is it?" Maria asked. "Don't know, but I think we should make some tea and sit by the window. Something is terribly wrong." Sitting in the dark they waited. Half way through their tea the sound of a car engine droned through the stillness of the night. It was 3.30am. The white car crept along the front of the premises, its white spoilers sticking out the back, making it easy to recognise again. Slowly, so very slowly the driver kerb crawled by the house, his car lights off. Siobhan's heart pounded with each beat as her eyes remained fixed on the vehicle. The car stopped outside the front entrance and reversed back as the driver looked up at all of the windows. The women sat back, heads hidden behind the curtain edges. Finally the car moved on again and disappeared into the night. "Oh boy," Maria let out a sigh. "This means we have to start praying, right?"

One week later and sleep was still impossible. Despite the days spent washing windows, washing floors and cleaning bathrooms, no extent of exhaustion could make way for sleep. Once again Siobhan was up and watching the cars come and go. Now it was a red car, each seemed to take its turn and always between two and four in the morning. Their concern was growing. They were in the heart of the country. The only house beside them was the pub across the road. The owners had made it known they did not like new occupants in the presbytery house. In the event of danger, they would be of no assistance. The question arose, were they also connected to this strange group of people?

Morning Mass was becoming a half hour of tension rather than the joy of the celebration of Mass as it always is. Maria's offer to assist in the sacristy was abruptly dismissed, a further nervousness appearing on the couple's faces as Maria explained she was a Eucharistic Minister. Her feeling that something was terribly amiss was soon to be confirmed.

The last room to be cleaned was the living room. Siobhan went over to the fireplace and looked at the rubbish inside. Maria arrived in, walked over and opened a match box. Taking out a match, she struck it, ready to put it on the rubbish on the grate. "Wait, don't!" Siobhan exclaimed and blew out the match. She stood up and listened. "Do you hear those crows, they have been building nests up there. I have seen them flying over to the woodland, taking sticks and bringing them back to this chimney. I think the chimney is blocked. We have to get it cleaned. Until then, we need to remove all this rubbish and not set light to it." Putting on household gloves Siobhan stooped down again at the fireplace. She began to take out the rubbish, bit by bit, putting it into the bin beside her. Suddenly they both stopped in shock. At the bottom of the rubbish, sitting in a clear see-through bag appeared to be two Hosts. Both women made the sign of the cross. Maria carefully removed the cello bag from the fireplace. "God protect us and have mercy on us, it's the sacred Hosts!" She phoned Fr. Peter.

When Fr. Peter was told what had been discovered his shaken reaction only confirmed their worst fears. He assured his new residents he would attend to the matter immediately. Somehow both ladies knew that now more than ever they were in danger. They didn't have long to wonder.

Finally exhausted Siobhan fell asleep. A short time passed. Suddenly three men in balaclavas kicked in the front door, ran up the stairs and burst open the bedroom door. They dragged Siobhan out of her bed and told her they were bringing her over to the Church. She sat up in the bed crying out. Maria ran in. "You called out, are you okay?" Siobhan fell back against the pillows, relieved it was only a bad dream and told her friend about it. "What were the men like?" "One was tall and heavily built, the second was small and heavy, the third was tall and thin."

Ten days later the women were sitting at the table in the kitchen, having lunch by the front window when three cars pulled up in front of the house. First a white car arrived, its white spoilers familiar, next a black citroen and then the red car swerved in beside the other two. The three men got out and walked to each other to chat, lighting up their tobacco. They turned towards the house, studying it as they smoked their cigarettes. Siobhan put down her cup and stared at the men. Alarms bells rang loud. "They're the same men in the dream. Okay, that's our cue to get the packed bags into the hallway. We cannot stay any longer. Our prayers are being answered, this is a clear indication we must go. Now is the time."

That same evening at 9.30pm the side door of the house opened and cases one by one were slipped quietly into the boot of the car. Checking the door was locked Maria sat into the driver's seat, took a deep breath and looked at her companion. "Ready?" "Yes." Without any lights on, Maria eased the car onto the avenue leading out of the house and both started praying as the car moved quietly past the pub and along the deserted country road. Deep into the country they drove as each mile ticked on the meter. "Just another few miles now and we are leaving enemy territory," Maria assured Siobhan. Once on the main town route they let out a sigh of relief as they moved beyond the dark veil of Woodland Corner that fell behind them.

Over the weeks the prompting for prayers continued. As the prayers went up, the light began to shine down on the darkness in Woodland Corner. A month after their departure a local house break-in two miles from the old presbytery opened up an investigation that would lead to sinister findings. The investigation was the beginning of revelations of the secret network that had taken over a quiet country parish, eventually having control over the empty parochial house. The house where they gathered once a month for clandestine meetings.

It was also the beginning of the evangelisation work for Maria and Siobhan. Part of the preparation being an education in Woodland Corner. A preparation that would be of value to them for the years ahead. Equipped and ready, they were sent forth in the knowledge of what they had learnt. That not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" is necessarily of the Lord. But for those who go forth in His name... what marvels the Lord will do!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"I am the Bread of Life.."

Bridget tossed and turned. The night was cold. She pulled the sheet over her shoulder, shivering beneath the covers. She turned over on her side once again, restless in her sleep. It was 12.30am in the morning of the 2nd November. Her eyes opened suddenly. Still on her side, the child blinked several times before turning over onto her back. The woman at the end of the bed was looking at Bridget her hand outstretched, pleading. Bridget sat up on her elbow, rubbed her eyes and looked on at the figure in front of her. The woman was dressed in a long black dress. She wore a shawl around her shoulders which was also dark in colour and frayed at the edges. She was tall, with distinct features, dark brown hair combed back from her face and held in a clip. She had a strong face with blue eyes clouded with grief. Her outstretched hand was red, almost brown. She again pleaded with the young child, "please help us, we have no bread!" Bridget looked to the right of the woman where two men stood, back a little in the distance, almost silhouetted as they were not so visible. One man seemed much younger and thiner than the other. The young child looked down at their tweed trousers and saw that they had no shoes. They were in their bare feet with caps in their hands and heads bowed. Bridget watched the incredible scene at the end of her bed unable to move, as she continued to take in this extraordinary sight. Suddenly the three figures disappeared as quietly as they had presented themselves. The young girl turned her head to the bedroom door which remained closed. The window was closed, the night air sitting in a grey film over the glass pane.

She called over to her sister in the bed opposite. "Helen, Helen, wake up! Wake up!" Helen popped her head out from under the blanket. "Stop calling me, I was asleep." "Helen, there was a woman here, she was so sad." "I'm not listening, you're trying to scare me, I'm going to sleep." Bridget continued to look at the spot at the end of the bed where she had seen the woman and the two men. She wasn't afraid and she wasn't scared, she told herself, but who were they? She slipped down beneath the blankets, her wide eyes peeking out over the covers for one more check before falling into a deep sleep.

"I did see her, I know exactly what she looks like," Bridget insisted as her sister teased her. "Then just forget about it, okay?" Bridget's mom repeated. "How can I forget if she was asking for help?" Bridget persisted. "Tell me what she looked like?" Bridget's father put down his newspaper, speaking for the first time about the incident. Bridget described the woman exactly as she had seen her. Her father looked at his wife then looked back at his daughter. "Well maybe your mom did have a visitor and she just had to pop into your room to get a glimpse of you adorable girls sleeping!" Happy that at least someone believed her, Bridget grabbed her school satchel and waved goodbye to her parents. She didn't get any explanation for the woman dressed in old clothes but she couldn't forget the three figures. The weeks and months passed. Every now and then but most especially in early November Bridget remembered the sad lady and she became sad, feeling helpless and worried that she had not helped. She could not forget the scene of that night. From then on every late October/early November cast a shadow of gloom over her young heart that she could not shake off and which remained until Christmas week of each year.

The years passed and Bridget turned eighteen. Her desire to work with the elderly was about to be fulfilled. A letter in the post confirmed her application acceptance for Nurse's Aide in a home for the elderly. It was the other side of the country, a five hour journey but she was excited at the thought of going to work for a religious order who looked after the aged and infirm. The excitement remained with her as she waved goodbye to her parents from the train pulling out. "I'm only going on a six month work experience with the elderly" she thought to herself, "but why am I so deeply excited?" she questioned. She would look back on this moment in years to come and see why the almost prophetic-like sense of something ahead was speaking to her heart!

Sister Mary gave a warm welcome to Bridget. Taking her suitcase she led the way upstairs. "I'm giving you this room, it's near the main entrance, chapel, and seafront, so you are free to come and go as you wish. If you need to know anything don't hesitate to ask! Also, feel free to make coffee or tea in your room and to visit the chapel at anytime."

That night, when the sisters had finished prayer and the lights were dimmed, Bridget walked along the back corridor to the chapel and opened the door. She stepped inside and genuflected. She looked around in wonder at the beautiful stained glass windows. There was a reverence here, a sacred worship to the Lord that greeted one immediately on entering this house of prayer. It was the tabernacle that drew her. She walked up to the top of the aisle and slipped into the front seat. Kneeling there, she studied the cloth over the tabernacle. It was made of old Irish lace, so delicate and fine, like an exquisite veil especially made for a royal throne. The pure white lace, placed over the tabernacle, took her breath away and she sat back in her seat, unable to take her eyes off the sanctuary in front of her.

The summer passed quickly and only two weeks remained of her six month work experience. "Good morning Bridget!" Bridget turned to see Sr. Mary smiling at her. "I have a new resident this morning, I'd like you to attend to Canon Moran if you don't mind. He's an elderly priest who is recovering from surgery. Would you assist him on short walks?"

The priest closed his prayer book and looked up at Bridget with interest. "You are from the country?" "Yes Father," she replied as she took his black jacket and put it on a hanger. "Glendusk." "Glendusk! Good heavens, that's my homeland," the priest replied, liking everything about this nursing home! "What is your surname?" "Quinn." "Quinn! But your ancestors were my neighbours. That would be Marie and Martin Quinn. Did you know that?" Bridget shook her head. "Oh yes, your great grandmother was well known in the village. She worked hard in the fields. For hours a day she would be out there, late into the evening, her hands red almost brown in the long hours of tilling and planting. She lost a son from fever and she died herself while waiting for the return of her husband who had gone to America in search of work. All very sad. It was feared he died tragically shortly after arriving on Staten Island, no trace of him anywhere. My own family spoke often of Marie Quinn. You would be very like her I would think!" "Why would you say that?" Bridget asked curiously. "Well Marie was tall, her brown hair always held back in a clip, and her blue eyes that held laughter before difficult times." Bridget was folding towels and stopped suddenly. She walked over to the priest...."sorry father, what did you just say?" Canon Moran described again his neighbour of years gone by and Bridget knew without a doubt he had described the woman she had seen seven years previously in her room. "What's the matter?" Canon Moran asked as he saw her look of amazement.

Bridget related all that had happened on that November night in her room. The priest listened attentively, nodding occasionally. "When did this happen did you say?" "It was very late in the night, going into the 2nd of November," Bridget replied. "Do you know what day that is in the Church year?" He asked. "I know it's the month for the Holy Souls," Bridget answered. "I know that now, but at the time I wasn't aware of that." Canon Moran never took anything for granted that spelt out grace at work and once again here it was in an every day work situation. "We pray for the Holy Souls on the 2nd of November. It is important we do not forget them," he told her. "Our loved ones, gone before us benefit greatly from our prayers at that time. If they are in purgatory they need our prayers to assist them on their final steps home to heaven." The priest continued, "having listened to your account of what happened I think we should have a Mass said for the woman who asked for prayers, it may well be that you had a dream, it may be that you did actually see her, whatever it is, God's mercy works in wonderful ways!"

The following week Bridget attended a private Mass for her great grandmother, and the two men, mentioned also in the prayers for the deceased, her son and husband. At the consecration of the Mass, as the priest raised the host, Bridget burst into tears without any warning. Her hands covered her face as the tears of generations spilled through her fingers onto the polished floor of the prayerful chapel. Like a small river dam set free to flow, on and on the tears spilled, while the spirit filled eyes of Canon Moran took in those moments of grace and mercy. Gathering herself together to receive the Eucharist Bridget stood up and walked up the aisle, head bowed before the Lord as she received the sacred host for the pleading lady of many years earlier. Back in the pew, kneeling down, the words flowed up, sweet as honey, from the depths of her being into her heart and thoughts - "I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me shall never be hungry..." Suddenly, a dark invisible weight, like a heavy winter coat that had sat as a burden upon her young shoulders for seven years was now being removed. The heavy weight taken off and lifted up into the air disappeared. For some time after Mass Bridget remained there deep in thought, immersed in profound peace.

As she stepped outside the chapel, Canon Moran walked towards her, his hand outstretched. "Well, it's time to go! I have made a very good recovery and I continue to do the Lord's work for another while, if He wishes it to be so!" He smiled at Bridget, his head nodding in quiet understanding while his thoughts spoke inwardly of the work ahead that this young woman had. A call that would take her to places unknown. Bridget in her own private thoughts wondered was she actually putting her hand into the hand of a saintly man as she bid farewell to a close friend of the Lord's. As the taxi drove off, she remained standing there waving. She knew something had happened, she didn't need to question any more. She also knew that when it was time for Canon Moran to be taken to his heavenly home there would be many souls there waiting to welcome him, one in particular - her great grandmother Marie.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Good Turn Always Comes Round

The sound of thunder roared over the county with a fury that was heard across the borders. The small white thatched cottages separated by fields and stone walls became more illuminated as each strike of lightening lit up the evening sky. Margaret O'Reilly pulled her Aran cardigan closer around her shoulders and turned to the picture of the Sacred Heart over the fireplace. She reached up and took down the holy water bottle and handed it to her husband. Seán took it, opened the cap and gathered his family around him. Young Michael trembled as the next bolt flashed across the room. He ran to his father's side. Kathleen was swept up into her mother's arms not quite sure what was going on. The soft red light from the lantern on the Sacred Heart picture cast a calm and peace over the family room. The man of the house made the sign of the cross, the rest of the O'Reilly family following. Asking God's protection upon him and and his loved ones, Seán sprinkled himself and his family first with the blessed water before proceeding to the rooms in the cottage.

The drops of water continued to pour down through the roof above, sounding like touch typing hitting the galvanised buckets on the kitchen floor. The damaged slates rattled under the pushing winds. "I'll have to climb up there, if I don't we'll lose the entire roof." Margaret nodded, determined that the fear of what might happen will not overtake her trust in God. Seán pulled on his heavy tweed coat and called young Michael into his embrace. "Don't you be afraid now, your father won't be long up there and you'll be saying your prayers for me, won't you son?" Michael nodded and stood back to let his dad go. The door swept open with a heavy wind sweeping in. It was Patrick, their neighbour from across the fields. "In the name of God, what are you doing out in this storm Patrick Kelly?" "Well I'm hardly going to let you up there on your own. You'll need another man to pass the slates and nails. C'mon then, we only have a short time before the storm gathers strength."

Outside, Seán took the holy water container from his coat pocket. Going to the four corners of the cottage perimeter he prayed, asking God's protection and for the Lord to send His angels, appointing them to each corner of the field where his humble dwelling stood. Then, sprinkling the blessed water over the land Seán gave thanks to God for His mercy and protection on his loved ones and home.

Patrick placed the ladder against the side wall and leaned his back against it. "You go on up, nice and easy now. I'll follow with the slates." Seán ascended the steps one by one, stopping before taking the next step to be sure his footing was secure. The rain poured down in heavy streams to be quickly upsurged and scattered by the strong gusts. Seán averted his face each time the wind struck with the rain and waited before continuing on up. Next, it was Patrick's turn. Holding the small black slates in front of him, he steadied his hand on the ladder and moved up slowly, the ladder shaking at the push of the wind. Michael darted out of the cottage and rushed to the ladder, his mother calling after him. He sat on the second rung placing his arms on the sides of the ladder, watching Patrick continue to climb. Finally on top, the men kept their heads down. Removing the damaged and broken slates they quickly eased the new ones into place and pounded the nails into the marked holes. The lightening struck with a stronger force finding the figures of the men bent over on the roof. Returning to the ladder Patrick made his way down until he reached the second rung from the bottom and then called out for Séan to hurry. Safely down, the three figures ran back into the cottage removing their soaked coats. The young family, along with Patrick, gathered around the fire and warmed themselves, thanking their neighbour for his courageous trek across the fields in the gathering storm.

Dawn arrived and radio news bulletins informed the neighbouring villages of the immense damage done around the countryside. To many farmers grief, animals were struck by lightening and found dead lying in the fields. Fallen trees blocked roads leading into local towns. Flooding spanned a twenty mile radius with many villagers unable to travel to the towns for work. It was a week before things began to be normal again.

Many years passed and once again Michael jumped the stone walls and raced across the fields to Patrick's cottage. By road it would be a mile driving, by running across the fields he was there as quick. He lifted the latch on the cottage door and walked in. The fire crackled softly, its red embers heating Patrick's stew cooking slowly over the grills. "I've come to tell you my news Patrick." "Well now, let me guess, you'll be leaving us soon eh?" Michael nodded as he sat in the old rocking chair beside the fire. "You'll be heading in the direction of Dublin?" Michael nodded again. "You'll be going beyond the love of the land to serve a greater cause?" Michael chuckled. "So you know I'm off to Maynooth then?" "Well you better sit down lad and tell me all about it," Patrick said, as he handed him a mug of tea and pulled up the other armchair closer to the fire.
"I'm going to be a priest." The dark brown eyes full of depth looked at his old friend. Patrick tried not to show any emotion. "It's a fine priest you'll be and with the Sacred Heart watching over you, you'll be returning to give me your blessing." Some time later Michael waved goodbye and jumped the first stone wall with a leap that left Patrick deep in thought as he walked back into his living room. Thoughts of the spiritual and emotional hurdles that lay ahead for this young man. Hurdles jumped that would lead him down into valleys and up into mountain heights, paving an interior pathway marked out by God. He sat down at his fireplace and closed his eyes in prayer before the six bells rang.

The following week the family and neighbours all gathered for dinner in the cottage. Bridie O'Callaghan, Michael's Godmother, presented the young man with an old Latin Missal handed down by her Grand Uncle who had been Bishop of the Diocese. Michael expressed his heartfelt thanks to each neighbour who presented their farewell gifts and prayers. Finally his father, unable to hold back his emotion, handed his son a new Bible. Tears spilled down Seán's cheeks as the parents embraced their son, confirming their support and blessing for his priestly call. The next morning Michael waved goodbye from the train as it pulled out. They would see their son again soon. In the letting go, God's peace filled Seán and Margaret's hearts as they walked together down the country road.

Seven years passed very quickly. Every summer Michael had returned to work on the land. The months of study in Maynooth seemed shorter as each year went by. He knew he was blessed with parents who prayed for him every day. He was united in Spirit through their prayers and he settled easily into study with a peaceful disposition of heart. Now his Ordination had come to pass and he wouldn't forget the deep emotion he experienced as he was ordained priest. One neighbour couldn't make the celebration. Patrick's letter to him on his Ordination morning was deeply moving, wishing him ever blessing and joy in his priesthood. His illness wasn't anything too serious, he had said in his note, but after a long time with a chest infection, he didn't think he'd be able for the day. Michael understood as he knew these flus and viruses could leave you quite weak. But he wondered was his old neighbour really alright? Divine intervention was to lead Michael in a way that he wasn't to expect as his old neighbour remained on his mind,but soon he was to know why.

At the evening celebration of his Ordination, an invited guest had an unusual request. "I'd be grateful if you would help me out with a favour?" "Sure, what is it?" Michael asked. Mr. O' Leary explained. "I bought a second hand car in Dublin, a Humber Hawk, 1952, she's a beauty. But it won't be ready for travelling across country until tomorrow and I have to return home tonight. Do you think if the car was sent here, you would drive it down for me and I can collect it from your home the next day?" Michael was delighted to be able to help. He wasn't due to travel home until the following week but could change that easily. He was looking forward to going home a newly ordained priest.

The rain poured down as Michael left Maynooth. He had no idea it was to get worse, that a storm was moving in from the Atlantic across the western coast. Settling back into the soft leather seat of the Humber Hawk he moved her out slowly onto the Maynooth road. Familiar now with the gears he began his four hour journey.
Five miles from his country village the storm hit with a vengeance and Michael slowed down to a snail's pace. It was impossible to make out the road in front of him. Only memory of the well known route he had walked since childhood led him along. He turned left at the village crossing and drove very slowly. Suddenly he braked. A big tree lay across the narrow road. He got out and saw that the entire road was blocked. Back in the car he reversed with extreme caution and sighed with relief when he arrived onto the main road. His only hope now was to drive on to the next left turning and go around by Patrick's cottage. Torrential rain flooded the windscreen. He leaned over the steering wheel watching the landmarks of the familiar countryside, taking each sharp corner with skilled driving. Michael pulled up at Patrick's cottage deciding to call in, now that he was passing, rather than leaving it until the morning. Lifting the latch on the cottage door he walked into the old living room. The low light over the Sacred Heart sent its warmth across to the visitor who had arrived. The room was empty. "Patrick, Patrick are you there?" Michael called out. The bedroom door to the left of the fireplace was slightly ajar. A bedside lamp shed its light across the floor. Michael stood there in the silence, the only sound the ticking of the clock on the wall. "Patrick, are you in there? It's Michael, I'm home." Michael pushed open the bedroom door, its hinges creaking a little as the door moved back. He stepped inside and looked towards the bed. An eldery man lay there, an ashen face, rosary beads entwined in his hands, his breathing shallow. Michael rushed out to the car, took his black bag out of the seat and ran back in. Putting on his stole and bringing his prayer book and holy oil with him he returned to the bedroom. He pulled up a chair beside the bed and made the sign of the cross. Patrick opened his eyes. "Michael! You've arrived! The Lord sent you!" Reaching across he took Michael's hand. "Patrick," Michael whispered, "if you like, and if you are able, I can hear your confession. Then I will give you the anointing of the sick." Patrick nodded, a smile appearing on his face. After giving absolution to his old friend, Patrick's hand fell gently to the side of the bed as the priest uttered the words "Go forth, Christian soul, from this world in the name of God the almighty Father, who created you....."

The lightening struck the green fields around the countryside, hitting all corners of the quiet village area. But a different kind of light filled the bedroom of a small white-washed cottage in the same fields. A light that was unseen to the human eye, a light that illuminated the heart of Fr. Michael as he remained on his knees in prayer beside the body of Patrick Joseph Kelly.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Wrong Kind of Power

The apartment block sat at the end of a narrow side street leading into a cul de sac. Catherine took her bag from the back seat of the taxi and looked up at the two storey townhouse before walking down the three steps into the ground floor apartment. "Who has cultivated such beautiful roses?" she asked, stopping at the small square lawn. "Oh I like to have a few flowers every year," Maria replied. "Yes, and not everyone can produce beauties like that," Catherine said, looking at the deep red of the roses. "A royal family you've got there!" Maria laughed away her compliment and welcomed her friend to her apartment.

"Let's just fill you in on the neighbours," Maria remarked. "Upstairs to the right of us, there are three Chinese students studying medicine. They have just arrived and their English is not the best. The eldest of the three may call in to you. He was here yesterday to ask for assistance with some forms they had to fill out again for the Immigration Office. In the ground apartment beneath them are a young couple recently married. In the townhouse over us there are no tenants, they have just vacated the premises and the curtains have been taken down. It should be a pretty quiet time for you. I won't be home any evening until about eight so I do hope you enjoy the rest and prayer. Across from the apartment block you'll see a big old house on private grounds. That's a centre for religious studies and the residents here in Cobbler's Court are free to walk around those beautiful gardens anytime. It really is lovely over there in the evenings if you'd like to have a walk around.

The next morning, after Maria left for work, Catherine made some breakfast and walked outside. She was delighted at Maria's invitation to have a week over at her apartment, the other side of the city. It couldn't have come at a better time. The house on Mary's Road, beside the parish church, was busier than usual with the doorbell ringing non stop, the phones ringing and several guests staying. One lively character who repeatedly sang "New York, New York," into the late evening hours added a lot of laughter and humour to the already busy house. It seemed just the right time to get away for a quiet week. Her hopes of such a week wasn't going to work out quite like that.

Outside, the sun spilled in golden strips onto the rose bush, prompting Catherine to make a quick return into the apartment and bring out a chair with her Bible. "I really must settle down and get in some scripture reading," she thought. She fixed the chair neatly in by the window. The red roses were in full bloom. The morning was warm with a soft breeze that swept over the petals like a heavenly duster, displaying the beauty of God's creation in the most hidden corners of Ireland. With the scriptures on her lap she closed her eyes for a few moments enjoying the sun's warm light on her face. Lost in her own thoughts she was unaware of the long silver car that pulled silently into the kerb.

The door of the car opened. A song on the radio stopped in mid chorus and a travel bag dropped onto the path in front of her, shaking her out of her private thoughts. Catherine wanted to look up but somehow she couldn't. She opened the scriptures still sitting on her lap pretending to read. Next, a pair of black slip on shoes appeared in front of her. The driver continued to sit there for a few seconds before getting out. He locked his car door and then walked around to the boot. Catherine remained as she was looking at the page in front of her. Tins of paint were carried to the stairs of the townhouse. The man stood on the bottom step and waited there, the view of his neighbour down the steps a lot clearer. His silent presence commanded her attention and she found herself looking up into a face that both surprised and startled her. "Hello," he spoke to her. "Hello" she replied in turn. He was dark haired, a neat hair cut that heightened his deep set blue eyes. They were not kind or warm eyes but they held your attention. His grey shirt, tucked inside casual grey trousers displayed a fit and healthy body that moved with agility and confidence as he picked up the tins of paint, threw his luggage bag over his shoulder and checked his key ring as he ascended the steps. Halfway up he stopped, looked down over the railings at the Bible on her lap, and then walked up into his house and locked the door behind him. "Wow," Catherine thought. "Wonder why a look like that would make a heartbeat stop for a second. He was a mystery man, that's what he was. A mystery man with a cold authority that made one feel one had to stand to attention in the presence of this stranger."

That evening, deciding to have a short stroll, Catherine went up the three steps and walked towards the private grounds of the Religious House in front of her. As she turned into the garden her shoelace became loose and she stopped at a corner seat lifting up her foot to retie it. As she was fixing her shoe she noticed the man from the townhouse standing out on the steps, his thumbs in his trouser pockets, watching her walking. Catherine returned to the apartment a short while later. She descended the steps only to see him looking out at her from where he now sat in his front room upstairs. Rows of books were stacked on the table beside him. He looked up from where he was reading and nodded at her.

The next day the sun beckoned her out and she sat in her chair. Hardly three minutes passed when the man appeared and startled her with an unexpected "Good morning!" She opened her eyes. "I didn't hear you. Are you there long?" He took a newspaper from under his arm. "Nope, I'm just returning from the shop." Once again his eyes fell on her Bible "You a nun?" "Do I look like one?" He laughed. "It's hard to tell these days." He walked down the steps. "May I join you for a few moments? I should have introduced myself yesterday. My name is Gary, I own the apartment upstairs. I have new tenants arriving soon so I'm here to do a bit of painting." Catherine brought out another chair. "If you're not a nun why are you reading the Bible?" "I work for the Lord," she replied. He looked at Catherine for a long time. "So you have a vocation? My mother is very Catholic. She prays all the time. She says everyone has a vocation, would you agree?" This was not what the young woman expected and she in turn looked at the mystery man. "May I ask," she said, "what are you studying?" "Oh just a bit of study." "What did you study?" he asked her without answering the question. "I didn't," she replied. "You didn't go to college?" he asked, astonished. "No." She laughed at his disbelief. "Why did you think I did?" He became disturbed and then suddenly jumped up, mumbling quietly to himself. "Excuse me, I've just remembered I have to make a call." He walked off with a quiet goodbye that contradicted the icy aloofness which greeted her the previous day.
The following morning Gary arrived down. "Sorry about yesterday. I have to leave again. I've business abroad so I have to go tomorrow." "Where do you travel to?" she asked. "I go to Spain, Holland and Italy mostly." Again, he gave her that look that made her feel a little uneasy. Somehow she didn't want to know about his work abroad. "Anyway, I'd like to ask you something before I go?" Catherine waited. He sat down on the empty chair beside her. "I was chatting to a guy in the pub the other night and he was talking about people involved in certain organisations." He looked at Catherine before continuing. "This guy said that there are people who take oaths, you know, like promises and they make them within secret societies, or secret political groups? This guy said that the people involved, who take these oaths have power." He stretched out his legs and folded his arms across his chest. He looked intently at her and said "Now, my question to you is, do you think that could be right?" Catherine thought of the man the evening before who commanded her attention and she looked back again at his expression. "You speak of the wrong kind of power." "And what do you mean by that?" he asked abruptly, his arms still folded across his chest. "You speak of a power that harms, that works in secret, a power that works in opposition to God and to the Light. Therefore, a power that inevitably leads to the destruction of all that God has created good. In answer to your question? - it's the wrong kind of power." As Catherine finished speaking a police car swerved into the kerb beside them and two policemen got out, checking the small notebook in their hands. Gary jumped up and looked at Catherine in disbelief, his facial expression almost accusing her of something she couldn't comprehend. She looked at the policemen and then back at Gary. He rushed off and took the steps two at a time before locking his front door. The policemen continued to check the notebook with the house numbers on the doors overhead. Eventually one of the policemen pointed to the house where the Chinese students were staying and they walked up and rang the bell.

The following morning Gary arrived down to where Catherine sat, carrying his luggage bag. "I'd like to apologise about yesterday. I was in a hurry to make a phonecall." "Well, let's just say my plan for a quiet few days didn't exactly go that way, but when we walk God's road we can expect the unexpected!" "Will you pray for me?" he asked suddenly. "Yes." "Then there's one thing you need to know" his voice softened. "I'm not studying. Those books you saw me reading? It was an act. I left school very young. Yesterday evening I wanted to make an impression. The truth is I suffer from dyslexia." Catherine knew it to be an important moment. "When we follow God, Gary, we don't need to impress, we find our own call and we become who we are intended to be." He nodded, his deep set blue eyes almost changing colour as the sun's rays fell over onto his face. "Maybe we'll talk again, if you're still following the Lord that is," he added humourously. She walked with him to the car. "Where to this time?" "I have a meeting in Spain tomorrow morning, I'm flying out tonight." Catherine suddenly remembered she was only on a short holiday. "I won't be here when you return," she called out as the engine started. "I'll know where to find you," he said from the open window, saluting her before the car moved off as silently as it had arrived.
The next evening, after dinner, Catherine took the plates to the sink while Maria turned on the TV for the evening news. The headlines flashed across the screen. "Concerns are growing over possible paramilitary activity in Spain following a report this morning of three Irish men seen in a hotel in Spain in the company of a known terrorist......." Suddenly the man sitting in the chair, his arms folded across his chest, flashed through her mind. That night, as she lit the blessed candle, Catherine joined her prayers with the mother who sought the repentance and conversion of her son, the son who was bound by the dark power of a secret oath. With the prayers rising to the Almighty, she recalled the words from the Mass - 'All powerful and ever living God......'

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

'You need not fear the terrors of night nor the arrow that flies in the daytime...'

The names and places in the short stories on this posting are changed for privacy or anonymity of any person therein. The stories themselves are real life events.

Catherine heard the sound of the car turning into the driveway. She ran out, dishcloth still in her hand. Her heart sank at Teresa’s solemn face looking out the car window. "It didn’t pass?" she asked as Teresa closed the car door. Suddenly there were shouts of joy "Of course it did. Thanks be to God." "Oh don’t do that," Catherine replied but couldn’t resist the whoopee shout as the two friends walked indoors. Not sure if it was all the excitement, but as she closed the door she noticed a tall thin man across the street standing there, chatting on his mobile as he looked over at the two women walking into the house.
"I just can’t believe we have the car for another two years. What a good ol’ buddy! She should run pretty well through the country roads," Teresa said as she put down her handbag and took out the certificate of the National Car Test. It only seemed like yesterday when Fr. John was over to bless the car. They recalled how he stood at the car doors. "Do you have a blessed medal in here" he asked. Noting their obvious answer he said "Okay, here is a miraculous medal, now I will bless it" and with his hand he blessed the medal and placed it inside on the dashboard. Five years had passed since then and it was hard to believe how quickly the time had gone. The following week they would be driving West and it couldn’t arrive soon enough. To walk in the green fields again, count the many different hues hidden in the landscape, watch the swallows build their nests, and perhaps hear a few of their sweeter songs to the Creator in early morning or late evening. "A time for everything," Catherine thought, a time to move West!

Catherine went out into the garden and sat beneath the big old apple tree that was older than the house itself. Their mission time in Dublin was drawing to a close. Mary was well settled now in the cloister and while at first she was very much missed, their prayers for each other united them more closely in Spirit than perhaps when they all shared accommodation together. She smiled as she remembered Mary’s last words to them both "Want to come with me?" Catherine knew her place was in the world, as it had been since she devoted her life to the Lord at the age of twenty five. Twenty two years later she marvelled at the way in which she had been led by His Spirit. In many ways she felt her work was only beginning, perhaps the longest part had been the life of quiet prayer. She delighted in the walled garden, a shield from neighbouring houses, giving privacy to enjoy the blossoms around her. Once again she looked at the white and lilac flowers hanging over the old wooden gate leading into the back garden. The pastel colours, splashed across the walls, were an attractive contrast against the deep green of the trees and lawns. The different fragrances, especially in the late evening, mingled in the fresh air that skirted around her face and hands as she wrote.

Teresa waved as she drove off suggesting her flat mate should stay indoors this time until she returned. She had a small grocery list for shopping and wouldn’t be away too long. Catherine went back into the living room and sat down to some work at the computer. Suddenly she became uneasy and restless. She got up and went into the kitchen to make a tea. Waiting for the kettle to boil she walked over to the window and looked out at the front lawn. More flowers were budding. She went upstairs. "I’ll get full view here," she thought. As she looked down into the flower beds that unease suddenly moved over Catherine again and she stood still. Standing to one side of the bedroom window she looked out and across the road. All along the tree lined avenue it was quiet. No one was in sight. Hardly a car passed by. The avenue was empty of traffic and pedestrians. She turned to move away dismissing the unease but paused one more time to scan the tree lined avenue and then her heart seemed to stop. A pair of grey blue tennis shoes were visible underneath the blossom trees across from her front door. Slowly her eyes moved up to see a patch of worn denim jeans. The rest of the man was hidden by the wide green bush all around the wall. Catherine picked up her mobile and began texting "Pls return, we seem to have trouble." She then went down the stairs to check all doors and windows and said a short prayer.

The sound of the car in the driveway was music to her ears as Catherine walked out and looked up and down the street. Teresa looked around. "He’s gone," "I know that" Teresa replied. "But why is he hanging around and who is he? I don't like it."
"I would really like to pray Psalm 91, if that's okay with you," Catherine said as they began evening prayer. "Sure, but we always ask God's protection every morning so is there any reason for this?" "Don't know, just have a need to say it every day in these days" was the reply.
The weather forecast warned of heavy rain on the way and all doors and windows were checked before dark set it. A headache continued to niggle at Catherine who was now also feeling the beginnings of a fevery flu. She decided to call it a night. "I’m going to stay up a while and catch up on some online english teaching." Teresa called from the kitchen.

Catherine pulled the duvet over her, glad to have rest in her cosy bedroom.. The evening prayer time was so peaceful but sleep wouldn’t come. She sat up, propped another pillow behind her head and sat back. "It’s too humid," she thought. "Need to let the night air at this headache." She jumped out of bed and eased the window open enough for the cool night air to move in and not too much that the raindrops would follow! Settling back against the pillows she sat in silence, listening to the pounding drops hit the deserted streets and roof of the car in the driveway. The rain continued to pour down, the sky darker than its night colour. Suddenly her eyes shot open at the loud thumping sound. She sat up. "What is that?" she thought. It was so difficult to figure it out with the noise of the raindrops falling in heavy sheets of grey. Again she listened. There it was. A thumping sound, like a thud, a continuing thud. Her heart began to race. She ran out into the corridor calling down to Teresa. "What’s going on?" "S-h-h-h," Catherine whispered, with her finger to her lips. "Come upstairs and look out the window." Teresa rushed to the window. "Oh no" she cried. "There are two guys, with hoods over them and they are kicking in the door of my car." "Quick, turn on all lights in the house, every room, except this one quickly." As Catherine looked out the window in disbelief one of the "hoodies" looked up and spotted her white face in the dark room. "Let’s get out of here," he cried to his mate. To her astonishment, a low whistle sounded through the dark night air. A car out of nowhere screeched up to the outside of the house. A door shot open with the driver shouting aggressively to the two men to hurry. Catherine watched on speechless. As the second guy jumped into the car she got a glimpse of a grey blue tennis shoe hanging out of the doorway as the driver sped off turning the corner on two wheels and heading towards the dual carriageway into the city.

Catherine reached over for the arm of the chair beside her bed and lowered herself down into the cushions. "Did I just see a getaway car speeding off like in the movies, or has this flu got the better of me and I'm delirious?"

The police officer jotted down the last note and closed his book. "Well ladies, your car is the only one this criminal gang didn’t get. They have been doing the neighbourhood and many more besides." "But why would they want an old banger like ours" Teresa asked. "To do a job, they have a robbery planned, they get an old car first, hit the place and then dump or burn the car." replied the Garda. "Do you mean these are a professional gang?" "That’s right."

The next morning the car was brought to the garage. To their delight it could be fixed. "The gang kicked in the door, that’s the way they can open it, but one of you guys saw them before they got very far in their efforts and so there is little damage done after all." The garage man told Teresa. The old reliable was returned two days later as good as new and the following day the car was packed up with everything ready for the journey West. As Catherine and Teresa opened the Psalms of thanksgiving, a lilac petal fell from the Bible where Catherine had put it on the night they had prayed Psalm 91 - '..you need not fear the terrors of night nor the arrow that flies in the daytime...'

Monday, May 11, 2009

"I am with you always...."

The elderly lady closed the front door with a loud thud, the bang causing me to lift my head. Buttoning her coat she walked slowly down the pathway and crossed over the narrow street. I stopped the lawn mower and walked towards her as she waved. "I'm Olive" she said shyly. "Welcome to the neighbourhood." She looked past my shoulder into the open porch way. I answered her silent question "my friend Therese is out, she'll be back in an hour." She nodded "I just wondered would you like to come over and have a cup of tea with me?"
I walked into the bright neat living room and sat down where Olive pointed. She moved slowly and graciously towards the table. Placing the small flowered china cup on to the saucer she then lifted the heavy tea pot and poured the golden liquid slowly into the cup. My first thought was to jump up and offer to do it but a sudden glance from Olive assured me she was used to this and was well able, thank you, which she certainly was!
I sank into the comfortable couch and sipped my tea as Olive chatted about the neighbourhood. "Do the neighbours call in?" She looked at me for a moment and answered candidly. "I don't encourage them to call in. I don't like gossip, I too may be a victim of that!" As a final gesture on the matter her hand firmly brushed away the few biscuit crumbs that fell on to her soft wool skirt.
In the peaceful atmosphere of the room I felt I was in the presence of a beautiful soul, a heart only known to God. A pleasant hour passed before we knew it and it was time to go. The caution to tread easily and respectfully stayed with me as I waved goodbye, leaving our front door open for our guest to pop in at anytime.
The weeks moved on and Olive continued to make the occasional stroll down her pathway and across the road, her frail hand waving in the air as she passed by. Now on return from her short stroll she would call in, first giving the door bell a quick two beeps before walking in through the open porch way. We loved to see her and she began to believe it! On leaving, there would appear that quiet smile and then the direct look that seemed to speak of private pain.
It was a month or so later, when Andrew called to the house to introduce himself. He stepped into the living room where he told us of his cousin's illness and his concern. "She won't go into a home for the elderly. She dearly desires to stay in her own home." The following question was put to us. "Would you assist Olive for a few hours a day and see how it goes?" How could we refuse. If this was Olive's request we were happy to do so. Andrew was delighted and said he must thank Mrs Gorman for telling him. "Telling you what?" I asked curiously. "Well, that you had worked with the elderly and you might..." At my raised eyebrow, a light pink colour flooded the gentleman's face and words stuck in his throat. We had yet to meet Mrs Gorman ...but she seemed to have already made her enquiries!
We went over to the house. At first I thought I should just go ahead and do a few minor chores but on second thoughts from my experience of working with the elderly it was always better to ask rather than assume. "I don't mind you dusting the shelves downstairs, but there are quite a few books and ornaments so it may be a lot to get through!" Once Olive knew our intentions she relaxed more and I set to dusting while Therese assisted Olive with washing and dressing. It was while dusting a book shelf that I saw the beautiful soft white leather-bound book hidden behind some encyclopaedias. A book that spoke of something private and intimate. I went upstairs to Olive. She looked at what was in my hands and invited me to sit down. She opened the book, looked at it quietly for a moment and then closing it again lay her head back gently against the pillows. "It is my keepsake of my act of consecration to the Sacred Heart. When I was young I made this act of consecration. Some years later I got married. However, six months into the marriage, I ran away from my husband and fled home to my parents to this very house where I remain to this day." Her eyes looked up at me and I remained silent as she continued. "My mother welcomed me with 'I told you so,' my father welcomed me with a warm embrace." Then she gave a sad smile. "I haven't been to Church in a while, neither have I been to confession. This old heart is tired. Life moves on."
I couldn't sleep much that night and I prayed that God might enlighten me as to how I could help Olive. I kept thinking of the beautiful leather-bound book containing the inscribed writing of her act of consecration at the age of sixteen, and I fell asleep.
The next evening, sitting with my elderly friend, perhaps the answer came. "Olive, you gave your heart to the Sacred Heart, and asked that He might be your guide?" "Yes," she nodded. "Then", I went on, "if this is so, and if you will forgive me for speaking on a personal note, would it be right to say that the Sacred Heart always really was your first love, the love that leads love?" "Okay" she nodded. "Well," I continued, holding my breath, "I can't help but feel the Sacred Heart wants to be with you again in a very special way. He knows your pain of so many years and He knocks on the door of your heart asking if you might let Him in again?" She closed her eyes signalling a need for a little sleep. I closed the door quietly after me and felt my little part was done, but not sure if I had done it right! It was just Olive and the Lord now.
The next day Olive phoned across to say that she did not need any help anymore as she felt she was now recovering. I resigned myself to the fact that I had spoken out of turn. It was to be a while before our friend rang again but not too long!
"I called the priest and he will be here in a few hours, I would like some help to get ready, if you are free, and have a tea tray set up for my guest." Olive was back in form! I had just put the tea tray on the table when the door bell rang. It was Fr. Bradley. His interest in her beautiful garden was a wonderful introduction to Olive and I left them chatting as I raced across the road to check the roast chicken in the oven. Later on, I popped in to see our neighbour who had settled down for the evening. As I walked into the room I couldn't miss the new light in her eyes and the peace in her resting. "Everything's fine" she smiled.
The door across the road gave a loud bang and I rushed out to meet Olive as she was passing by. She followed into the kitchen to hear our news. "We're leaving the neighbourhood, moving to the country. It's just been confirmed today!" Olive didn't seem surprised and nodded in understanding. Our tea time together that evening was without any trace of sadness - real friendships are built on trust.
To our joy, Olive visited us in our new place in the early summer. Unknown to us then, it was to be the last time we'd meet. On 6th November, Andrew phoned. He had sad news. His cousin had passed away peacefully in her sleep, in her own home at the age of eighty two. I put down the phone and picked up the beads. I was on the second decade of the Rosary when I stopped and thought of the soft white leather-bound book. Peace filled my heart as I inwardly said farewell to a soul who was always destined to be with the Sacred Heart. Rest in Peace Olive.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A pilgrimage - not what I thought!

"I think you should go on this pilgrimage?" I looked at Tricia and knew she was right. Everything in me was resisting and looking for excuses. I was now in England two months and had settled into the hectic secretarial day of nine to five in busy central London. My next plan of action was perhaps a long weekend over in France. I was surprised at how quickly my friend and I had adapted to London life. From a rural West of Ireland town, to Dublin, to a multi-cultural city of many faiths and religions. It was all so interesting.
Travelling on the bus with a group of friends from the prayer group, I thought back on the scrapped plans for France and wondered what this Catholic Conference would be like. I knew in the quiet moments of the day, the Spirit of God was gently prompting me towards prayer, and I, thirsty for pure water, from early days in Ireland, drank deep from the celebration of daily Mass.
I was taken aback by the buzz of activity as I stepped down from the bus, stretching my legs and finding myself on solid ground. We were in the heart of beautiful countryside. Crops of golden wheat dotted the folding fields and narrow winding pathways marked the convenient shortcuts to the village one mile away. We had arrived in the North East of England at Our Lady's Shrine in Walsingham.
Groups of happy folk queued at the registration tent and as I joined the queue my eyes fell on the big notice pinned to the bill board outside. A long list of events were written up. Times of Mass, Confessions, talks, workshops, adoration, Divine Office, etc. Reading my face, one of the prayer group, Paul, laughed light heartedly and said "You don't have to attend them all. It's your choice!"
On the second day, now familiar with the routine and warmth of the entire event, I sat in the main tent to listen to the speakers and the workshops they would be presenting. The next priest introduced himself as Fr. Kevin. He invited us to join him for his session that afternoon. I knew he was the priest I was to listen to.
About thirty of us arrived at the quiet little chapel and sat before a humble gentle priest, whose love of God and every soul was in his smile and words. His 'talk' for his session was to be something that would have a lasting effect on me for the rest of my life, the seed that would grow, so gradually and carefully over time.
"What I want you to do is go out into the fields. Look for a spot where you can sit and enjoy God's creation around you. Find a place where you are completely alone and not near your friend or other member of the group. Then, stay there an hour, just listening. Don't bring anything with you, no writing pad, Bible, beads. Just sit in the quiet and listen to every sound around you - that's it."
As I sat there, beneath the tall trees, and only metres from rows of golden wheat, everything was quiet. Far in the distance the drone of a tractor faded gradually into the meandering roads. The softest swaying of flowers met with the mood, fanning away all fret and concerns. The birds chirped happily and then ceased as if they too rested in the Creator's silent presence. I didn't know it then, but as I completed the hour, I had given to God time that was to be the beginning of the gentle drawing into contemplative prayer. Prayer that would happen gradually and certainly, carved and etched by trials and tears, by joy and peace. But always with His grace at work. It was the little seed of quiet that found its way into my heart and silently rested there until it was to awake, under the watchful eye of the Spirit in the coming years.
The following morning Fr. Kevin slipped into the seat beside us for breakfast. "So, how did you find the pilgrimage?" I looked into the eyes that carried beauty and truth, and no doubt hidden concerns and personal crosses, and I thanked God for the gift of priesthood.