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.