Category Archives: Reflections

First Things First

“At eventide they will examine you in love.” – St John of the Cross, Spiritual Sentences and Maxims, n. 57.

The six of them arrived simultaneously at the Gate of Heaven. The angel Penuel, who was on duty at that time, received them in his usual, efficient manner. Apparently he had done his homework because, as he approached each one of them in turn for a warm embrace, he rattled off each one’s biodata.

“Ah,” he said, spotting a rather youngish man with a camera hanging from his neck, “Carlos de la Cruz. Chilean journalist. Atheist. Fought against political tyranny. Died in jail. Yes, very nice. Welcome to heaven. Oh, by the way, you will not have much use for your camera here. Too much light, you know, especially when you come in the vicinity of God.”

The man did not say anything, still under the shock of having discovered that there was a God, after all.

The angel went on to the next arrival.

“Ingrid Svenson.  Swedish.  Lutheran. Unmarried. Spent your life taking care of an invalid brother. Welcome, my dear, welcome!”

The girl obviously felt a bit lost, not having any more to push her brother’s wheelchair everywhere she went. She seemed shy and quiet, but very capable.

Penuel pass on to the figure next to her.

“Seseko M’Butu.  Congolese. Animist. Spent your life trying to preserve some endangered species of fauna in your country. Welcome, dear brother.”

The man quietly received his welcome with the natural dignity of a prince. Apparently, he was quite used to dealing with spirits.

“Raju Divarkar. Indian. Buddhist. As a bonze you confined your life within the austere walls and duties of a monastery. You are most welcome, brother.”

The monk bowed slightly, one hand held upright in front of his chest in the Buddhist sign of peace.

“Hideki Yamamoto. Japanese. No religion. Artist. Painted birds and flowers all your life. May you enjoy our own birds of paradise, dear brother.”

The man bowed deeply several times, overwhelmed by the angel’s gracious manner. Meanwhile Penuel had turned towards the last of the party.

“Luigi Cardinal Rampolla. Catholic. Spent most of your life in the Vatican Curia. Died as a Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature. Welcome, brother.”

The Cardinal was a bit surprised not to receive the red carpet treatment he had grown used to, but he kept his peace, being a born diplomat.

“Now,” the angel said, stepping back and overlooking the whole group, “the five of you may enter immediately. As for you”, he added, speaking to the Cardinal, “I am afraid there will be a slight delay. But, I assure you, your stay in Purgatory should not be too long.”

The Cardinal was astounded. Had he heard clearly?

“Are you saying,” he asked in his cultured voice, “that these – these – persons are to take precedence over me, a Cardinal, a prince of the Church?”

“Why, yes,” Penuel answered blandly.  “Is there any problem?”

The Cardinal swallowed hard, trying to keep his patience.

“Don’t you think,” he asked as suavely as he could, “that this is pushing ecumenism a bit too far?”

“Not at all, my dear brother,” the angel answered innocently. “You see, these – persons, as you call them, have amply deserved to inherit eternal bliss, whereas you have not.  At least, not yet.”

“And why not?” the Cardinal asked in an acid tone. He really felt affronted by the whole procedure.

“Because,” the angel replied patiently, “they have dedicated their whole lives to loving someone or something selflessly.  They are what we call here True Lovers.  And here love is the only thing that counts, you know. Whereas you dedicated most of your energies to furthering your career, using not-too-loving expedients to climb the ecclesiastical ladder – if you know what I mean.”

The Cardinal blushed. He knew what Penuel meant. And he had to admit that his ambition had often gotten the better of his Christian charity.  Nevertheless, he felt somewhat cheated.

“But does it count for nothing that I belong to the Catholic religion, the only true faith?” He was mentally comparing himself to his companions – whose religious background seemed to him quite unsatisfactory.

“Not really,” Penuel answered kindly. “Up here orthodoxy does not have a very high priority. What impresses us here is rather the way a person lives. As for being a Catholic, well – that in itself is not a recommendation.”

“But Jesus Christ was a Catholic!” the Cardinal exploded. This conversation was getting him nowhere and his temper was getting short.

“Let us say,” the angel said with infinite tact, “that Jesus Christ was a reformed Jew. The term Catholic, as you probably know, is not even found in the Bible.”

The other five persons present, although not understanding the finer points of this exchange, were nevertheless aware that their poor companion in fine scarlet robes would be left behind if something was not done. And so, being genuinely loving people, they began to intercede for him. Carlos de la Crus, the atheist journalist, was the first to speak up.

“Senor Penuel,” he said with his charming Latin smile, “you know I never liked priests very much. But this one doesn’t seem a bad fellow.  Why don’t you give him a chance and let him in with us?”

All the others joined in, adding their fervent plea to that of the journalist. Even the quiet Ingrid interjected her soft appeal amid the chorus of her companions.

The angel was secretly pleased. This kind of thing happened all the time at the Gate of Heaven and it enabled a fair number of dubious characters to be admitted on the insistence of their companions. A routine case of the Communion of Saints. God always applauded this sort of thing. However, a minimum of justice still had to be preserved.

“Very well! Very well!” he shouted over the clamour of the group. “Just give me a chance to make the proper arrangements!”

They all calmed down, curious to see what would happen.

“All right, Luigi.” The Cardinal winced interiorly at being addressed with such familiarity. But he knew he might as well get used to it because in heaven people did not seem to be very impressed by titles. “Since you never deserved to be made a Cardinal in the first place, you just cannot enter heaven dressed like one. In fact, you will be allowed to go in with your companions only because their merits will cover your spiritual nakedness, as it were. And, in order to signify this, you will have to exchange your clothes with their.”

Naturally the Cardinal was aghast at this turn of events, but what could he do?  Besides, deep down in his heart of hearts, he knew he had a lot of things on his conscience he was not too proud of. So he complied meekly.

He gave his precious episcopal ring to Ingrid and took hers (it was her mother’s wedding ring, which she had inherited). He traded his purple cassock and cape for Raju’s saffron robe (this was done discreetly, behind a cloud). He gave his fine Italian leather shoes to Seseko and put on the latter’s old sandals. He exchanged his skullcap for Hideki’s straw hat, and his pectoral cross for Carlos’ camera, which hung at his neck by a leather strap.

And so, on that day, five True Lovers entered triumphantly in Heaven – followed by a shamefaced Cardinal in a rather strange attire. Nevertheless, once again love had had the last word.

By Fr Nil Guillemette

Risen Lord, bring your peace and joy to the lives of everyone dear to me.

They were talking about how late Easter is this year. ‘Couldn’t be much later’ said one. ‘At least the evenings are brighter’, said another. ‘We won’t have the Easter fire in the dark’, another added.

You’d wonder what it’s all about – empty tombs and weeping women and despairing friends. I wondered too.

It’s about hope that never fades, that the most lifeless thing in creation is not dead. that means that there’s life everywhere. In failures, in shame and guilt, in illness. The life may lead to good health or to peace of mind and heart. It’s about God in Jesus taking care of everyone I worry about: And worries about children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Something that keeps me praying for people whose lives are really troubled. It’s all about prayer that’s always answered and the God that forgives us all, and helps us forgive each other. And much more besides which will unify us in the weeks to come. Easter began with creation in a garden and the garden has been replanted as a place for refreshment and peace.

Yes, couldn’t be much later and when you think of it, isn’t it worth waiting for?

Donal Neary SJ (editor Sacred Heart Messenger) found in the Parish of Ballisodare 28th April

God-mates

Jane never came out of her coma after the accident.  Instead, she woke up at the Portals of Heaven, her guardian angel at her side fondly smiling at her.

The girl – for now she found herself as she was some forty years before, a girl in her early twenties, but so much more alive, so aglow with health and beauty – the girl was greatly startled by the sight of her guardian angel. How could one see a spirit? But of course she was forgetting that she had by now acquired a spiritualized body.

At any rate, her eyes could see with perfect clarity the spiritual being at her side. What did she see?  She spontaneously thought of it in terms of a Flaming Mind or a Conscious Fire – in other words a stupendous combination of passionate love and awesome intellectual power, of burning tenderness and piercing acumen.

“I am Adoniel,” he said graciously. “I have been your life-long companion on your earthly journey.  And now I have the great joy of bringing you safely to your destination into the house of God.  But first,” he added as he threw open the Portals, “you will meet a few of your God-mates.”

As the Portals swung open, Jane caught sight of a glorious crowd of gleaming humans. They were thousands upon tens of thousands, all greeting her with shouts of joy.

“My – my God-mates?” she asked in astonishment.

“Yes, beloved Jane,” Adoniel answered. “These are a few of those you have helped or who helped you during your lifetime.  You could call them your spiritual next-of-kins, your life-sharers, your grace-donors, your co-souls, your other selves, your – well, perhaps the term God-mates best expresses what they are to you.  Shall I introduce some of them?”

He hesitated, as if unsure about whom to choose. Then he hit on an idea.

“Name a date at random within the past fifty years.  The first that comes to your mind.”

Automatically, almost without thinking, Jane blurted out “August 24th, 1956”.

“Very well,” Adoniel said, “this will serve as a small sample of all that you will discover concerning your God-mates.  We will not cover the whole day, for that would take too much time for now. We will only cover the first hour of that day.”

Jane was at a loss about the meaning of these words but Adoniel reassured her.

“Do not worry, you will soon understand.”

Then he signalled to a young man of surpassing beauty – but in truth, all the people in the crowd were young and astonishingly beautiful. The man approached and embraced Jane with great affection.

“This is Masayuki, a Japanese stone-cutter of the Fifth Century. You helped him find the strength to tell the truth at great cost to himself on a crucial occasion.”

“I did?” Jane asked, bewildered, “How?”

“Well,” Adoniel answered, “when you woke up on August 24th, 1956, you were very much tempted to stay in bed for a few more minutes. Your second pregnancy was making you feel somewhat languid. But then you heard your young son call to you from his bedroom and you decided to tend immediately to his needs, despite your natural reluctance.  Thus your courageous move earned Masayuki that extra grace which enabled him to do what he did.”

Adoniel then called a young woman. She in turn approached Jane and embraced her warmly.

“This is Conchita, a Peruvian fruit-vendor of the 17th century.  She helped you find the strength to smile to your young son, when you went to dress him up for the day. Remember, he had been very naughty the day before, and you felt little inclination to be kind to him. But somehow you found that extra ounce of courage to do so. That was because of Conchita’s offering for you”.

“What was that?” Jane asked.

“On one occasion Conchita caught an old beggar stealing from her small stock of fruit.  However, instead of flying in a rage, she decided to turn a blind eye and let the matter pass, since the man was poorer than she was. Conchita merely offered to God her act of patience ‘for whoever might need it,’ she prayed.”

Jane was deeply touched by Conchita’s generosity on her behalf. She would have wanted to thank her, but Conchita had already drawn away and melted into the crowd. Then Jane had a troubling thought.

“Excuse me, Adoniel,” she asked, “but how could Conchita have helped me, if she lived three centuries before I did?”

Adoniel smiled.

“There is no time with God,” he explained.  “For God we all exist in an everlasting present. And so he can decide to have Conchita influence your life even before you exist in created time.”

Now it made sense. But then, another thought came to her.

“Does it mean that I have helped people yet to be born, Adoniel?”

The angel laughed delightedly.

“Precisely. That is why this present crowd, which is only a small fraction of your God-mates from the past, will be immensely increased when all your God-mates from the future will have joined us.”

Jane was almost staggered by the angel’s revelation. But she had no time to dwell further on the matter, for Adoniel was resuming his introductions.

The third God-mate called forth was Edward, a 20th century stock broker from Wall Street who had helped her by refusing a bribe. The next God-mate was Jalna,  a Hindu bonze of the 4th century, B.C., whom Jane had helped overcome a temptation against his vow of chastity.  She had helped him by cheerfully cooking her husband’s breakfast, always on the morning of August 24th, 1956, despite an incipient nausea due to her pregnancy. Then there was Aiko, a Camerousnese whom Jane had helped ignore a sharp remark from an in-law.  Jane had done this by letting her husband retell an old story during breakfast without interrupting him.

The introductions went on in this manner for a long time. People of all nationalities, religions, periods of history and walks of life came forth to embrace Jane. By now the latter was feeling a wave of great love welling inside her for all these God-mates of hers.

At one point of the presentations she confided to her companion.

“I am amazed at the intricate way in which my life and the lives of all these people have been interconnected.”

“Yes indeed,” he agreed. “You are all like the living cells of a human body, those millions of small units joined in a constant exchange of nutritious elements. So it is with the body of Christ”.

After several more dozens of introductions had been made, Aloniel suddenly marked a pause.

“We are far from having gone through that first hour of your day on 24th August, 1956,” he said, “and so, you can imagine how many centuries will be needed for you just to meet your God-mates briefly – let alone to befriend them, as you will eventually have the joy of doing. However, for now we must interrupt this happy occasion and prepare ourselves. For indeed, God himself will shortly pass by and –“

But he broke off in mid-sentence. For at that very moment all present were abruptly engulfed in a blaze of unbearable Beauty.

From Running Waters – God tales for young and old – Fr. Nil Guillemette

Lord of the Rings

Extract from The Lord of the Rings

Minas Tirith

Pippin did not answer. He looked at the great walls, and the towers and brave banners, and the sun in the high sky, and then at the gathering gloom in the East; and he thought of the long fingers of that Shadow; of the orcs in the woods and the mountains, the treason of Isengard, the birds of evil eye, and the Black Riders even in the lanes of the Shire – and of the winged terror, the Nazgul. He shuddered, and hope seemed to wither. And even at that moment the sun for a second faltered and was obscured, as though a dark wing had passed across it. Almost beyond hearing he thought he caught, high and far up in the heavens, a cry: faint, but heart-quelling, cruel and cold. He blanched and cowered against the wall.

“What was that”, asked Beregond. “You also felt something?”

“Yes”, muttered Pippin.  “It is the sign of our fall, and the shadow of doom, a Fell Rider of the air.”

“Yes, the shadow of doom”, said Beregond.  “I fear that Minas Tirith shall fall.  Night comes. The very warmth of my blood seems stolen away.”

For a time they sat together with bowed heads and did not speak.  Then suddenly Pippin looked up and saw that the sun was still shining and the banners still streaming in the breeze.  He shook himself.  “It is passed,” he said. “No, my heart will not yet despair.  Gandalf fell and has returned and is with us.  We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees”.

“Rightly said!” cried Beregond, rising and striding to and fro. “Nay, though all things must come utterly to an end in time, Gondor shall not perish yet. Not though the walls be taken by a reckless foe that will build a hill of carrion before them. There are still other fastnesses, and secret ways of escape into the mountains. Hope and memory shall live still in some hidden valley where the grass is green”.

(We are living in difficult times: in the world, in the Church, inside our very selves.  Darkness and gloom, gloom and darkness all around us.

And yet our Saviour Jesus Christ fell and has returned and is with us.  We too may stand, if only on one leg.  There are still other fastnesses for us and secret ways of escape into a new joy and a new peace where hope and memory shall live in the hearts of those who come after us for whom we kept our hope and joy alive.)

Threshold of the soul

If we are to hear the silent music beneath the noisy traffic of our thinking, we need to lern how to leave the mind and focus on the senses. The distractions of modern life prevent us picking up the rhythm of grace.

Joshua Bell

At a Metro station in Washington DC a man started to play the violin.  It was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that rush hour it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station.

After three minutes, a middle-aged man stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip – tossed in the box by a woman without slowing her stride. A few minutes later somone leaned against the wall to listen, but after looking at his watch began to walk quickly on his way.

The one who paid most attention was a three-year-old boy. His mother hurried him along but the child stopped in front of the violinist. Reluctantly the boy was dragged away, looking back all the time.

During the 45 minutes that the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. He collected 32 dollars. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one applauded him or showed any sign of recognition.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s finest musicians. He had played some of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

The event was organised by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and the priorities of people. The inherent questions were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?  Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognise talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions to be drawn from this bit of research might be put in another question. If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we mission in the courses of our normal day?  Do we forget that our senses are “the threshold of our soul”?  “Listen, my child” St Benedict wrote at the beginning of his Rule, “with the ear of your heart.”

Another railway station; another musician; another busy mother and small son.  This time in Leeds where a wintry wind was wailing down the empty platform. Linda suddenly realised that Iain had let go of her arm. In panic she retraced her steps. And there he was, hunkered down in rapt attention, listening to a scruffy, broken-down old man playing a lonely mouth organ in the cold rain.

Iain was offering the last 10p of his pocket money to his new hero, oblivious to the man’s appearance. “How lucky he is”, he said to his Mum, his eyes shining, “to be able to play such beautiful music.” Unlike people in Washington, Iain was listening with the ear of his heart.

Awareness is always about presence. But how often are we present to ourselves and to our environment in a distracted world where electronic multi-tasking rules, even while we’re having a meal with a friend? From both within and without, that inner sacred place is continually invaded. Without this grace of space there will be no stillness for catching the cadences of the unfinished symphony beneath the surface of what happens.

One Celtic evening, the mythical Fionn MacChumhail and his warriors were having a discussion about the finest sound in the world. His son Oisin extolled the ring of spear on shield in the din of battle. Another went on about the fearful cries of the stags and the haying of the hounds in the rising blood lust just before the kill.

Yet another spoke of the song of his beloved as she played the harp to soothe her hero after a day of blood and gore. The wise warriors nodded their approval. “And you, Fionn”, they then asked, “what do you say is the finest sound in the world?”  The mighty hero paused.  “The music of what happens,” he said.

We need to learn how to leave the mind and come to the senses so as to hear the silent music beneath the noisy traffic of our thinking, to catch the divine harmony in everything human. Close to our soul, we are called to become like human tuning forks catching the rhythm of grace.

The funeral memorial card of John Moriarty, the Kerry mystic, carried one of his reflections. “Clear mornings bring the mountains to my doorstep.  Calm nights give the rivers their say. Some evenings the wind puts its hand on my shoulders. I stop thinking. I leave what I’m doing and I go the soul’s way.”

Along the soul’s way we find the only places of encounter between our spirit and the Spirit of all life, between our emptiness and the universal flow of energy. It is along the soul’s way that we hear and create the unique music that only we can hear and create. It is here that we come home to the God of harmony already within our hearts. “God is always at home,” Meister Eckhart insisted, “it is we who take a walk.”

If the present moment is the only place we can meet the incarnate God, will we be at home when God comes in disguise to find us? Are we always too distracted, seduced by other transitory attractions, to gaze at and recognise the mother of all beauty – and to hear the music she is always making for us?  There is something both funny and lovely about a verse in John Ashbery’s “At North Farm”:

Somewhere someone is travelling furiously towards you,

At incredible speed, travelling day and night,

Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents,

Through narrow passes,

But will he know where to find you

Recognise you when he sees you,

Give you the thing he has for you?

It is as though a secret smile, a whispered assurance, a small melody lies hidden, like an impatient epiphany, in everything we encounter in the course of each day. Everything wants to draw us into the harmony of life.  Everything is waiting to encourage and support us as we struggle, mostly out of tune, to get the timing right. Our monkey-minds miss the magic and the music of the moment.

There’s a Joshua Bell playing somewhere always, in the most unlikely places. But we need to be aware. To stop running. To be here. In “Now I Become Myself”, May Sarton writes of the time it takes to be present to one’s true harmony after years of distraction, of panic, of waring “other people’s faces”.

O, in this single hour I live

All of myself and do not move.

I, the pursued, who madly ran,

Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

Daniel O’Leary, a priest of the Leeds Diocese, passed away on the 21st January 2019

Facing Life

Some say:

“Face Life with a smile”.

A brave and beautiful idea!

I offer you:

Face Life with a Faith

in Someone great and good

who is the Source of Life

who cares and understands

and awaits us in the Great Beyond.

I also offer you:

Face Life with Jesus

the Man from Galilee

whose life is an open way

for those who long for more.

He does not have to be the One

But if he can become your Way

you will ‘know’ Amazing Grace

the One who sets us free!

Taken from OUR HOLY GROUND by Sr Christa Murphy

An Invitation

Bring all your desires, longings, fears, struggles

to the Listening Ear,

the Loving Heart of God within you…

who loves you, desires for you,

longs for you, struggles with you

more than you will ever know or dream of.

In time,

you will recognise the trust

this Wondrous Presence Within

more than anything else

or anyone else

in your life.

Taken from OUR HOLY GROUND by Sr Christa Murphy SSpS