Thursday 6 December 2012

JOHN - A Destiny Scripted By The Lord

It's December 16, 2008 - almost five months since my mother died - and I'm getting ready to go on visitation to our community in Michigan. Grief inhabits me and I inhabit grief to such an extent that I'm simply not up to the demands of my job, the office of Provincial and I wonder if I can keep going. Is it fair on the Province community for me to continue holding a position of responsibility when I cannot fulfil its demands?

I'm plodding around all of this mire inside myself when I get a call from a member of the community who, in the course of our conversation, informs me that the "lads" are unhappy with the way I'm doing the job. 

But the "lads" have forgotten that my mother is dead and I'm facing my first Christmas without her - the first in 53 years. I'm sure I've also forgotten other people's grief and need to learn from this.

The complaint hurls me nosediving to a decision that was waiting to be made. I will resign. I will give up so that they can get on with their life and I can get on with grieving in private rather than under the public gaze of my community. 

I told my colleague that I would step down after I returned from the Michigan trip. He was shocked and told me not to do anything rash! He regrets saying anything but I sense that all of this is necessary and tell him not to worry.

The bus for the airport was leaving at 2.00 am and I waited in the icy cold of that night - shivering in the deepest recesses of my soul. Physically I feel sick and profoundly alone.

Wandering around the airport in a daze I want a word, a sign from the Lord, and I'm telling him I cannot go on. I would rather suffer infinite physical pain than go on in this job. Let me be a monk or a missionary! But not this!

A good deal of the hurt is that I am "told" that some of my strongest critics are those who would be considered my friends. I have sensed this but having it said to me was hard.

Asking God for a word, a sign as to what I should do. Would stepping down be flight? But it's what I badly needed to do and tell God I would do it unless He made it clear that I shouldn't.

In the airport bookshop my eye falls on a book called "John" by Niall Williams. It's about the Beloved Disciple in exile in Patmos. Because I love John and the writings of Niall Williams, I decide to buy it. It helps to ease my pain as I fly.

And I come on a decisive moment in the story - a young disciple of John is at the end of his tether and as he is climbing up a cliff-face, "...there crosses his mind the thought of letting go...falling head first...the perfect calm of a mind cleansed of all concern. Then he returned to the faith that there is something for him, that there is a destiny yet unknown that is his and that it has been scripted by the Lord himself." ("John" pp67-68)

This is exactly where I am - hanging on for dear life and the awful attraction of letting go, falling into nothingness. Not physically but emotionally, mentally.

And then the dawning realization that letting go, giving up is not an option because there is something, a destiny yet unknown that has been scripted by the Lord. And I'm a sucker for the Lord! He knows it.

Later I feel like the old John when he like me says, "I fail you, Lord. I am weak. I fail you. If the servant fail his Master, ought not that Master to find a better servant?" (p69)

Of course our Master doesn't give in to such thoughts, not wanting another servant - even a better one. He usually hangs on to the one who knows his own failure.

That was the word, the sign I sought. Not the answer I wanted but there it was.

There's a stop-over and a delay in Chicago, O'Hare Airport. It's snowing and minus 11c. On a day when the darkness within is at its fiercest and earth in the grip of bitterness, I see a Boeing 737 churning up the snow in a magnificent white cloud, losing itself in it while I lose sight of myself a while. I feel less sore and better able to continue.

These words arise in prayer: 

"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you." (Isaiah)

"I will hear...a voice that speaks of peace." (Ps 85)

I will fix my mind, the eye of my soul, on the Lord and I will pay heed to His voice. There is no other way of being able to continue.

We each live in our own place of loss and desolation; we have to be faithful to the truth of who and how we are at a given moment; faithful to the truth of what God is doing to us in this present reality. Trust is not cheaply gained and there is much pain even in the moment of greatest trust or surrender. 

But I'm in a nervous state and expect that every phone call will be negative, the bearer of bad news and above all a reminder of how useless I am at my job. I sleep very badly feeling that I am reliving the agony Mam went through in her final illness. 

I'm in a deep sleep at 6.15am when my mobile phone vibrates on the desk before hopping into the dustbin with a clatter. Too late. After much frustration the caller and I connect and it doesn't bring as much bad news as I fear and so I breathe again. But how long? 

December 24, 2008 Dundrum 

All my days in Wyandotte I felt sick with the restlessness of Job - at night I couldn't wait for morning and when morning came I wanted to hide in bed. This feeling continues.

It was an OK kind of day. The obvious pain of grief, absence of Mam who is hugely entwined in every Christmas that has ever been, giving it a particular flavour. 

We have held life this year, we have held it intimately in its ending with Mam and its beginning with the birth of Katie - not to speak of its middle. I don't know what more to say of this middle that we are living. 

Anyway I have chosen to attend tonight to life in its infancy - that of Jesus and that of Katie, the parallels, the mystery in both. The undeniable love of parents - Harry, Elaine, God. Mam! And it is powerful. And I feel OK for now.

As I have been reflecting on Katie Harry phones and speaks of his difficulty with this day. That unsettled feeling. Not knowing what to do, where to be. None of us know.

"when I was cut to the quick, 
I was stupid and did not understand, 
no better than a beast in your sight. 

yet I was always in your presence;
you were holding me..." 
(Psalm 73)

Tuesday 4 December 2012


August 10, 2008

It seems that every day now is like pushing an elephant up a stairs. I awake each morning to begin hauling myself up all over again. What was achieved yesterday seems to be of no use for today. I am somehow disconnected from life and fiercely connected to loss. It’s like a massive hangover, without having had the pleasure.

“You have veiled the Godhead in a cloud, in the clay of our humanity”
(St. Catherine Of Sienna)

The Lord veiled His divinity in the clay of Mam’s humanity, most especially in the ending of her time on earth - the final ten days. The Office Of Readings today has the lovely reading from Hosea 11 and I have experienced the tenderness of that love. The night before she died Mam drew me down to her, holding me to her cheek. I had asked her if she knew who I was and she opened her eyes, smiled and said, “you are Eamonn Monson, my lovely son”. She drifted into sleep still holding me, and in her I believe, I know, that God was holding me, speaking to me. 

There is something enormous about the experience of a maternal love that is spontaneous, unfiltered and pure. It can bring with it a certain breaking down of one's being and is followed – and even accompanied by - an extraordinary peace. It leaves no doubt in its wake and is beyond question. It is the greatest security one can have. When life attacks me with its threats I return to that moment on Friday evening, July 25th, and I am made strong.

Motherhood is the best expression of God that we have, especially when it is lived in faith. Next to God our Mother is the most important reality in our lives and when she goes from us we experience a profound shifting of the ground of our being. Profound is probably not an adequate word at all. It is a loss akin to the loss of God. 

We spoke one day of the Blessed Virgin. Years ago when Mam was a young married woman in Mervue her uncle Paddy Walsh arrived late at the door one night. Dad must have opened it because Paddy saw Mam coming down the stairs in her dressing gown and he said afterward, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, down the stairs she came looking just like the Blessed Virgin.” 

We were tucking Mam in bed in the hospital, smoothing the white sheet around her shoulders and I said, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph you look just like the Blessed Virgin.” So we laughed at that and every so often when we settled her she herself would say “the Blessed Virgin.”

That’s how we got talking about Our Lady. I told her of the Hopkins poem “The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe”. He calls her “wild air, world mothering air, nestling me everywhere.” Mam liked that.

People speak of Mam as being nice. Nice is much too tame. She was in her time and in her ways often the wild, even furious, air; she was the nestling air; and she was deep and strong as the ocean. 

She had at one time in her life an untamed fury but she experienced real transformation as her life progressed. Life itself transformed her, tragedy such as Maura's death brought her to a depth in which she recognised clearly what mattered most in life. The material became less significant and what mattered most was the human person.

Prayer brought about its own transformation – adoration, praying alone at home and especially the Mass. It brought her to a level of peace that was radiant, sometimes even visible.

The transformation we saw in her has become for us a source of hope. Transformation, change is possible.

Having been sick since the end of June Mam finally agreed to see a doctor and was admitted to Merlin Park hospital. The indications were that she had pneumonia and systemic infection for which she was receiving antibiotics.

I was at a meeting in Rome the week she went to hospital. For me that was an experience of letting go. Every part of me wanted to go home but reason – and others - persuaded me that there was no need.  I went through agony and prayed to get a grip on myself and arrived at peace. I got home on July 12 and on July 16 Mam was told she had widespread and advanced cancer.

Rose, Evelyn, Harry and I were told this by the doctor who then went to tell Mam privately. That morning before talking with the doctor I was alone with Mam who began talking about her illness, wondering why she had so much wrong with her and she asked me “are you preparing yourself for cancer?” I said yes, and asked if she was preparing for it. “Yes, but not fully” she replied.

The four of us (her children) went to see her when the doctor had left. “I’m 82 and I have to die of something.” To Rose she said “no more high heels for me!” 

With her death on the horizon I wanted to make sure that no dark traces would remain for me and that she would leave me knowing that I loved her. I apologized to her for all the hurt I had done to her. She said, “you more than made up for them.” 

There was no denying of the fact that I had hurt her and that bit of honesty has been good for me. Things weren’t fudged or nicified. I’m not sure if anyone else felt the need to make such an apology.  Mam did not feel the need to apologise for the hurts she had done. There was the sense that all such things were past and only love remained.

All the days that followed were spent in preparation for her death, though neither she nor any of us expected it to be immanent.  She spoke of all the things she needed to sort out – her will, the house, what she would be laid out in and where. To Harry she spoke of the hymns she would like sung at her funeral.

They were times of great tenderness, love and honesty. She allowed Rose and Evelyn to tend to her most intimate needs. Harry was good to massage her feet and arms. The love in this physical caring and touch was a real anointing. She turned to me for prayer.

The experience of praying with her was so inspiring. There was a pure childlike quality to her way of praying which was as profound as it was pure. It was good that all of us as a family could participate in prayer with her. Sometimes we sat still, in silent meditation, while she slept. And often we would simply hold her hand. 

We celebrated Mass with her most days and she considered that to be a great privilege. One day after communion at Mass in her hospital room she went into some kind of trance or ecstasy – he eyes lifted up and focused on some distant reality and she raised up her two hands in a kind of graceful flourish. We were sure that the end would come then but it didn’t. 

There were the moments when she would sit up suddenly out of sleep and sit on the side of the bed. The first time she sat in silence with her hands open, palms upward as in prayer and finished by saying “through Christ our Lord.”

The second time was when her sister Eileen was visiting. When Mam sat on the edge of the bed she said, “I want to see the stars.”  Another time, after sitting there in silence she opened out her hands and said with humour “ye can venerate me now!”

When asked if she were afraid, she said, “there is nothing to be afraid of. I know where I’m going.” And when I said she seemed so at peace she said that with me she was in the presence of peace.

On the weekend of July 19-20 many people came to see her. We limited the length of visits because it was so tiring for her but it was also vitally important that these visits took place. It was a pilgrimage of farewell. Most people cried on leaving her and I would say went away with a blessing from her. It was a powerful and draining experience.

Friday July 25, 2008 St. James

We brought Mam home on Wednesday and had a bed prepared for her in the sitting room. Yesterday was another day of pilgrimage, with many of the neighbours calling. She had asked to see Rob who had a bit of time alone with her. She was pleased and afterwards said, “it was my hearts desire.” 

Today was quieter and Mam slept a lot. We played Strauss. At breakfast I offered her water and she replied, “I’m tired of water. I’ll have a brandy.  Brandy and Strauss for breakfast! What better could you have!”

In the afternoon we celebrated Mass and the sacrament of anointing. Katie asleep on Elaine’s lap, Mam asleep in her bed and their breathing rhyming, like they were answering, echoing each other – the new and the old; the beginning and the end; Alpha and Omega.

In the evening Margaret Dowling, Noreen Henry and May Fergus sat quietly with her. 

Saturday July 26, 2008 Saints Joachim & Anne

They took into their own a hand unseen
(From the Liturgy)

Harry and I sat up with Mam until 2.30 a.m. when Rose and Bernard took over. Evelyn was on the couch in the hall, ready to be called if Mam needed to be changed.

It was the first sign of pain and it began with restlessness and a continuous groaning. She resolutely resisted oral morphine and even the sleeping tablet she herself had requested on leaving the hospital. When Evelyn tried to get her to take it she asked in a suspicious tone, “what do you want me to take that for?”

Carmel spent some time alone with Mam and ministered to her very naturally when no one else was looking.

In the early morning she got frustrated and said, “why don’t ye leave me alone” and when Evelyn and I tried to lift her up in the bed she said with agony “you’re hurting me”. 

Yet there was that morning one of the most tender moments, an experience of touch. Mam needed to be changed and there were only Evelyn and myself. I said I would hold her and not look. So she lay on her left side at the edge of the bed and I held her very tenderly and lovingly. She allowed herself to be held in that way, without any resistance. I had previously said that I would change her if necessary and she said, “sure I know you would but it would not be right.”

We knew at that stage that the pain was severe enough. Evelyn called the hospice nurse who came in the early afternoon. With great patience and tenderness Breda administered a sedative and morphine. It took it a long time to have any effect.

It had not yet taken effect, and the nurse was still working, when I went to Kilgannons for a chat with Julia. Shortly before 5.30 David came over to say the others wanted me. When I got in it was a very different Mam. The effect of morphine was dramatic. Her whole being was stilled, eyes glazed and only a slight murmur when I spoke to her.

There were others in the house but I suggested that the five of us would celebrate Mass around Mam’s bed. Between the Sanctus and Eucharistic prayer Mam passed quietly away. Roisin had just arrived in from work.  It was almost imperceptible – a little gurgling, the slightest change in her appearance, a single tear falling from her eye.

A life of eighty-two years, the reference point of all our lives, gone in a breath. The Gospel of Mass was appropriate, Feast of the parents of the Blessed Virgin, “Happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13).  After reading the gospel I said to her that soon she would be seeing and hearing what every human being desires, that it was our prayer for her. They were the last words I spoke directly to her.

We cried and continued with Mass. I think I cried all the way through and Rose held me. It was very difficult but also the right thing.

Mam died, resting on her left side. When Mass was over we turned her on her back and the last groan of breath went up through her, so that some thought she was not dead at all. Evelyn closed her eyes; we joined her hands and placed her St. Benedict’s cross & beads between her fingers. She looked lucent and at peace.

Word went out and people started to flow in. And so a new kind of gathering took place around her.

August 23, 2008

It’s now exactly four weeks since Mam died and it’s still raining. After the month’s mind tomorrow I’ll go back to Dublin and seek meaning in what offers little. At a time like this I realize how disconnected and irrelevant the celibate life appears to be. From a selfish point of view there is no one like a mother or a spouse to gather you in during a time of grief. When you don’t have children – well, when you don’t have children…. How I miss the children, those last days at home when we were all living at home together. The life, the energy of it – Roisin, Brian, Peter and Katie.

I’ll put my head down against the weather and keep going a while further up the road.

“Words have no meaning now,
Silence is master,
Laughter and songs bow”
(Brendan Behan)

The words of Brendan Behan spoken at the funeral of Ronnie Drew. It’s the kind of event Mam would be tuned into and now I think of picking up the phone to talk to her about it. This is part of the absence that hits us every day - the need to tell her something and she’s not there.

Laughter is almost out of the question and silence is a hard taskmaster. It holds such heaviness and pain. But there are songs that fit the time and they rise spontaneously, expressing something of the sorrow and the desire - Go Rest high On That Mountain; Softly And Tenderly; You’re My Best Friend.

Mam’s death is not tragic. There was a plane crash in Madrid, horrific deaths. Ours is not that kind of tragedy but it is still life changing because it is our mother who has died. The reference point.

Rose and I are in Aran. The last time I was here with Derry in June, Mam came up with Rose. There’s a lot of “the last time”. There will be many more. Being here, getting out on the sea has peacefulness and a sense of getting far away from everything - especially my work. It’s my work as Provincial, my life as a Pallottine, which is the hardest thing. I hate it with a vengeance and yet engaging in it brings life. It’s the thought of it...

People have spoken about Mam’s funeral being the best ever experienced, saying it was so dignified and prayerful.  We avoided excess. The singing - provided by the senior choir, Pat Naughton and Harry - was uplifting and in tune with the mood of the day. Over thirty priests - mostly Pallottine - concelebrated. Mam had a great love for priests - especially the Pallottines - and their presence in such numbers would have pleased her. For me the funeral was emotionally demanding but the strength to hold it together was also there and it is a privilege to be able to celebrate Mass for Mam.

We have just been up to see Agnes Powell Faherty. She was someone Mam loved and I missed her the day of the funeral. Her son drowned four years ago when his trawler sank off the Connemara coast. He had no fear of the sea, she said, no respect for it - and everything has to be respected. Her son Oliver brought us up in his mini bus before his day’s work began. We had met him near the old pier yesterday and when I said I had missed seeing his mother, he was on the phone to her and had the visit arranged.

The dead made up a lot of our conversation and each time the name of the deceased was mentioned her husband Tommy raised his cap. They are of that generation that had great respect. Tommy used to be a jarvey, carrying tourists around the island with his pony and trap.

Our talk was not just about the dead. I asked about Maura Dirrane who used to work in Powells house the time I stayed there as a child. She is someone I have always wanted to meet ever since, but never had the opportunity. Now I hear she is back on the island and working in the restaurant in Kilmurvey.

September 2, 208

“You have seduced me Lord and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.” (Jeremiah 20,7)

I’m reading Paul Auster's “The Invention Of Solitude”. His father has died suddenly and is portrayed as an empty man.

Mam was anything but empty. Strong, powerfully present, alive and finding meaning in the ordinary, fiddling with the objects of her solitude of eighteen years. 

I'm a long way from home, from the house that is now my own. It speaks of her in its way, speaks an emptiness and absence. The objects associated with her, things she used, picked up and put down again – are somehow disconnected with her now.

But the clothes she wore are different, more intimate, retaining a touch of her. I've taken one of her scarves; maybe one of those I bought her. It's got her scent. From time to time I hold it to my face, put it under my pillow. It is gentle and kind.

Since she died I am thinking again about the meaning of my existence and go back to the catechism – God made man to know, love and serve him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. I know, love and serve Him. But something in me wants more, to know the meaning more deeply in every fibre of my being.

There is a veil to be stepped through, unexplored ground to be walked upon. And confidence – more confidence in who I am. Queen Catherine challenged Henry VIII to “be the king that you are.”

Be the man that I am – the priest and the provincial.

When Mam died Rose said no one will ever know her like Mam did. One is only truly known by one's mother.

I dislike being known because something in me has learned that to be known is to be known to be wrong; knowing gives the other power – too much negative power over me. It has proved dangerous, an entrapment. The only knowing I really trust is God's. I only feel truly safe with him.

What I sense in the past seven weeks since Mam died is that I have to stand on my own two feet now and live in fidelity to the man God made me to be. While Mam was alive she was always there as a reference point, a point of approval or approbation. This is natural between child and mother.

In the days before she died she gave me unreserved approval. And she did what I always wanted love to do. She set me free.

That moment when she drew me – her “lovely son” - to herself and held me. Right then she set me free and launched me into my own rightful orbit. The outer space of my being in God.

Sometimes I think that the confinement of marriage didn't suit her and when dad died it was as if her solitary soul were allowed to breathe. That is not to say she should not have married. The confinement of it produced greatness in her. I am not made for confinement either – the intimate confinement of son – but it too has produced something in me.

I am no longer a son in the flesh. No longer bound. My mother has given me away, given me back.

The phone at home has been disconnected – a chord snapped, umbilical cut. A very symbolic statement of what has happened in our lives and it hurts.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Separate Realities


The dawn
Of youth’s confusion
And strange awakenings

Astride the heedless tide

Drifting out
And down and out

I am betrayed
By wicked fate

To open not my eyes
In the light of day

To hide
With kindred souls
In shaded spaces

Apeing the ordinary

And in the quiet
Through my sleep
I dream of home


In these last ascending
To the middle of my life

I dream of change
In other worlds
In other words
It might have been different

There might have been children

To quell the aching
In my womb

This tomb
Devoid of life

Its only growth
A damned deceitful tumour

And in the quiet
Through my dreams
I dream of home
Of strolling pregnant couples


Some times of stress
I turn to the empty space
And its not there

A single bed
A single man
A man outside
In womanlessness

And in the quiet
Through my sleep
I dream of home
Of strolling pregnant couples
And children children children 

To The Quiet Come (Nairobi Prayer)

In the evening 

The barking dogs 
And screaming children, 

Drowning out 
The roar of traffic. 

And all that roars
And screams
And barks inside me

The traffic of my soul
The dogs inside my mind
The children of my heart

Are to the quiet come

In the steady fall 
Of heavy rain 

It’s easier to pray.

Saturday 10 November 2012


Love cries
Because it loves

Its tears selfish
And not selfish at all

It cannot bear absence

Not loving the one
For whom it would
Give its whole life

If it could be measured
It would have
The length and depth
Of tears

Floods and Oceans

For Love is water
In all its shapes
And temperament

And when I die
Do not put sweet words
On my lips

I will not say
That I am only gone
To the next room

I will not ask you
Not to cry

I should not tell you
Anything about how
You should grieve

But if I would
I should ask you to cry
And cry as you must
Until the time for letting go

And I would ask for the flowers
Of your garden

Cascading their fragrance
Like incense all around
About us as testament
To our loneliness and loving

The loving that is perfected
In all its expressions

Friday 9 November 2012


Mind opening out
In the wide and safer space
Of the deserted road

Soul slowing like a river
To the estuary come

Beyond the hill unseen
I can feel the sea
Numinous air rising

Let me plunge into
Its peacefulness and be
Ravished by its ocean
Ravaged by its waves

Wind whipped white horses
Softly trampling down
The darkness that besets the soul

Spirit soaring
From the baptised depths
The gasp for breath
That knows how much
I desperately need

To live and move
To be held by You
Who are my atmosphere

Thursday 1 November 2012


I'm told that priests don't have to queue for the Baths in Lourdes but something in me resists such privilege  and I go down as a civilian, taking my place with all the other men and wait. It's easier for men than women because there are not as many of us.

It's a very hot day but my time standing under the burning sun lasts only half an hour and then I'm into the shaded, seated area. There's a blessedness in waiting in common with others. Waiting and silent. Present.

Some men chatter with each other from time to time and over the distorted loud-speaker people are praying and singing to help us focus. It's an assault rather than a help, so I block it out and pray within myself. Sometimes my eyes are closed, sometimes I simply observe. This reminds me of the pool of Bethesda in John 5 - the paralysed waiting for the moment of healing.

As well as priests and religious the old and infirm get priority over the rest of us and it is truly beautiful to see the tender relationship between a sick man and his helper. Tender and happy.

A few young Dominicans, radiant in white habits, arrive and - without a glimmer of bashfulness - take their place ahead of the rest of us. Perhaps I'm slightly resentful? But mostly I think how good it would be for them to wait among the rest of us, to experience the holiness of it.

Dads with their little sons also get priority. They too are a beautiful sight. A young father holds his paralysed son in his arms. The boy spends his time looking up into the face of his father. Their eyes meet, their faces touch and the child utters incomprehensible sounds  as his Dad whispers words that are soft and gentle. Maybe funny words because they both laugh.

Though I carry everyone I love in my heart, it strikes me that I have left everything outside - priesthood, all my fatherhood - that I come here with nothing, with no claim of any sort.

We are every race and age and shape in this place. This is evident everywhere in Lourdes and it is inspiring to see so many ordinary, modern young people as pilgrims and volunteers.

A gay couple up ahead of me look somewhat vulnerable and I admire their courage. They are not in any way arrogant, not strutting their stuff. On first seeing them I wonder what two women are doing in the men's section. Their hair is very feminine but their feature are male & bearded. Everyone in the place looks at them at one time or another. The looks are puzzled, not judgemental.

What should I pray for on entering the bath? Words that come to mind are courage, fortitude, boldness of spirit. A parishioner said to me one day - "it's time for you to come out of the trenches. I know what you're capable of." Sometimes I wonder if I am an apostolic coward.

After two hours waiting my time arrives to go into the building and I'm taken in behind a curtain where three men are sitting on brown plastic chairs wearing only jocks. I strip down to the same vulnerable state. That's what I feel - that we are in a vulnerable state as we wait.

Richard Rohr talks a lot about the need for rites of passage or initiation for Western men; the need to be confronted by our own vulnerability in order to mature. This bath experience offers something like that - for me at least. Though I know I have confronted my vulnerability many times, nakedness is somehow more threatening than any crisis I've endured.

One of the attendants asks me what language I speak. He is a tall, young, heavy Italian who speaks very good English. It is he who takes me respectfully - as though I am a child or an old man - through the final curtain into the bath area, instructing me to face the wall naked while from behind he wraps a large, white, wet towel around my waist. He warns me that "this will feel cold" and it does. I have a brief, sharp intake of breath and shiver a little.

The bath looks like grey marble and has a couple of steps leading down into the water. I stand in cold water up to my ankles - like Ezekiel in the Temple stream - and the Italian tells me to take my time and make my intention. With eyes closed, nothing of what I had prepared comes to mind. The only prayer in me is "Your will be done!" Something is pent up within me - is it love, the unbreathed Holy Spirit?

Making the sign of the Cross I say "I'm ready" while the two bath attendants take me by each arm and lead me down into the water, first sitting and then back until all but my face is submerged for the briefest moment. They surge me back onto my feet. That which was pent up is exhaled and I feel like a dolphin or a whale breaking the surface. Suddenly my face is only inches from the statue of the Blessed Virgin which I kiss. "Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. St. Bernadette, pray for us."

Then I'm out of the bath, facing the wall again. He undoes the towel, still shielding me with it as I pull on my jocks. The body dries of its own accord. I shake hands with each of them and say "God bless!" Once more back through the curtain, I get fully dressed and  walk out into the beautiful warm sunshine.

Needing to celebrate I go off and get myself an ice cream! Walking on air.

Next morning I con-celebrate Mass in the Grotto, a truly beautiful thing to be in that space, and in the silence after Holy Communion the words of Jesus come clearly to me, "there is one thing more you need to do." (Mark 10). The one thing more is that I need to go to confession, to the inner bathing of my soul. "Your will be done!"
In the evening I go to the Reconciliation Chapel which is pleasantly quiet. A few priests are hearing in the English section. The one I choose is from the USA. It's face to face. No screen. No hiding. Confrontation of my vulnerability once more and feeling that I was met, heard, responded to and reconciled.

The fingers of the fallen Christ have found their place in the dust of my humanity and He who rises lifts me up with Him to journey on again. Free a while and filled with hope

Eamonn Monson sac