Tuesday 31 July 2012

Brothers Of St. Patrick

It’s always
The Christian Brothers

The whole country marked
By their education and zeal
For the GAA

But not me!

I am a child
Of the Patricians
With green sashes
On black robes

Tough as hell
Six of the best
To make fainthearted
The hardest

With a flair for art

We were set free
To imagine ourselves

Writers and musicians
As honoured
In our achievement

As much as any

Future famous players
Might deny the start
The roads we were given
To travel

Driven beyond our means
And expectations

All over Ireland
Winning all Ireland’s

Without them it would not
Have been possible for us
To have traveled this far

Brother Claver

He emerged
From the austerity
Of the Monastery
Every loving day

Crew cut crossing
The Corrib
To third class

And he was fiery
And we loved him
Because he was fair

The Principal wanted
A choir

And we were all
Auditioned and I was


But Brother Claver said
Try him again

And I was so proud
That someone would stand
Up for me

Everyone wants
To get picked for something

I got picked

For the choir that day
And after that for the band

And as if he had come
Only for that
Brother Claver slammed
All the windows shut
One day

In a flaming row
With Brother Cuthbert

And we never saw him


She wakes up
At fifty

Slightly dressed
In shocking black

To mark the passing
Of chances for wellbeing

And if she weds again
It will be without
The pretence of white

She tosses her wild
Jet hair at convention
And gawking passers
Who see nothing

Beyond the black
And body flaunting

And if they are
She is glad
For having done
With pleasing

She maintains custody
Of eyes cast upwards
An ipod filling her ears
With sounds
Of her own choosing

No longer hearing
The negative wave
Of the radio

She shields her hidden
Soul from all invasion

Only the invited now
Are admitted

It is the man of the road
To whom she offers
Her lips

For a brief taste
Of the sweetness
Only he can recognise


The earth waited
For the Corporation

To lay down the rock
On which we are built
The concrete out of which
Are hewn the homes

Where some were born
And all were reared and trained
And others died

The proud dwellings
Of the humble unpretending
Lives that are written there

Every kind of love and hate
And every kind of silence
Lived out to public hearing

Quarrels penetrating  blocks
Surviving to the death
Tenacious generations

Country people may boast
Of their origins in the land
Suspicious of the city

But we are proud
Of the form and shape
The colour and the seasons

Of Mervue

We would gladly take off
The shoes of our success
In honour of this holy ground

The reference point
Of all our lives

Being Bitter

He is the faithful one
Who remained

Slaving all his life
For no return

Nothing to show
No joy and no love

Being bitter comes

Anger at the stray

For turning up

Having had all pleasure
And no labour

The Father being
So open
Mother so forgiving

Love not being able
To afford anything
But the joy of redemption

Waiting long and patient
To retrieve the child

From the labour
Of being lost

From the labour
Of mistaken fidelity

That does not know

That all is gift


A Saturday In Hospital

Radios of the early morning 
Tuned in to the still-dark day

And the haunting voice of Elvis
Ghosting down the corridor

Love me tender

The quieter atmosphere
Of a Saturday

And sickness almost takes
The day off being less
Urgent somehow

Voices on the corridor
Are a louder echo

Voices of women
In other rooms fantasizing
About handsome strange men
And roasted onions

Voices of men
Say nothing about women
Sticking to the safety
Of sport

Thank God
I’m on my own


The Bible says nothing
About a horse

It might have been
A camel

Or even his own feet
That brought him

To the place
Of his falling down

Into the dazzling belly
Of heaven’s Sonlight

That cast him forth
Three days later

Like Jonah from the whale
A baby from the womb
Like Jesus from the tomb

Thrust into the opposite
Of all he had ever been

New identity
New life

No longer Saul


The man whom Jesus loves
The one whom I love
Is not well
And Jesus takes his time

Mother, Father
Sister, Brother
Child and friend
is walled up
In the tomb
Of death

I am
Walled up
Inside myself

Something in me has died
There is decay within

Then Jesus wept
And loved
And prayed
And called.

He did that
A long time ago

And he’s doing it

Come out
He shouts

Unbind them
And let them go

My Lord And My God

Whispered on the lips
Of holy ordinary


Gift of Thomas
To the doubting

By it every church
Is painted

It is the shine
On every polished pew

Incense of the sacred
Air rising
Ancient prophecy fulfilled

Written on every open heart 
Each from our own agony
Reaching out to touch

The wounds of Christ
My Lord, and my God!

It is written on the altar


Brisk breeze billowing
Shirts and sheets
Hung out to dry

Bright white cotton
Brushing fair skin

Eyes brimmed with Summer
A season ripe with loving

Pulse perfect

Saturday 28 July 2012

CAMINO - This Is The Way

This Is The Way, Walk In It

‘Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." ‘ (Isaiah 30:21-22)


I have spent a lifetime living under the influence of the opinions of others - their wishes, desires, expectations. It’s part of normal living and loving that we seek to please and accommodate others, often giving way to their opinion about how we should live and behave.

Sometimes we get an opportunity to live completely under the influence of the Holy Spirit without surrendering to what others think. This has happened twice in my life. The first was when I met the Pallottines at the age of 17. I knew immediately that I had found my home with them and I was quietly determined that nothing was going to stop me going there.

The second came last year when I decided to do the Camino to Santiago. Many people expressed reservations and concerns as to why I shouldn’t go - it was not a good time of year, fear of isolation, why walk such a long distance. I heard all of these, I sensed the unspoken worries, and criticisms but I ignored them all.

This was a calling and the only voice I would heed was that of the Spirit.

During the month of November 2011 and for a couple of days in December I did the pilgrimage, walking 500 miles in 32 days, beginning at the foot of the Pyrenees in France, right across the north of Spain to the Cathedral where the bones of St. James are reserved.

In Santiago they ask you why you did the Camino. For me there are a few reasons - penance, reparation, conversion, simplicity. But ultimately it’s a calling, a mystery. Like the call of the sea, the pull of it. The call of the Camino has a connection for me with Abraham and I am pleased that the prayer in the pilgrim passport begins with God calling him to leave and go.

I came to St. Jean Pied de Port late on a Sunday night, having travelled most of 24 hours from Mervue - first by bus to Dublin, Ryanair to Paris Beauvais and a delightful 8 hours journey on the TGV from Parish to Bayonne, the fastest train I was ever on.

It was  11.15 p.m. when I got to the hostel which was all locked up and dark. After knocking and knocking and phoning, the woman of the house eventually came down to let me in. I was talking loud with nerves and excitement and she told me to be quiet because “people are asleep”. Hostel lights go out at 10.00 p.m.

Opening the door into the dormitory she pointed to the top bunk inside the door. “This is yours” she said and then withdrew, leaving me to the darkness and the sounds of others sleeping. It was not the time to go rooting in my bag for anything so I threw it onto the bunk, climbed up and went to bed fully clothed. There was a blanket.

On All Saints Day I woke at 6.00 a.m. to the sound of thunder and lightening. A look out the window revealed black skies and torrential rain. Daniela (the woman of the house) said it was too wet to go, that I could stay in another hostel up the road because she was closing.  But I was not for staying and so at 8.00 a.m. I walked out into the gloom of the morning rain, uncertain and with the intention of going to the church to pray for guidance but it was locked and  soon I  found myself walking the lower road to Valcarlos where I arrived two hours later soaked to the skin, despite my rain gear.

From there the rain eased off and most of the day took me through miles of beautiful forest, mountains and rivers - 18 miles, a lot of which was uphill. And utter solitude! Only two people crossed my path that day - one a hunter with his dog and the other a sprightly Italian pilgrim whose pace left me feeling somewhat inferior. But, unlike me,  he didn’t have to deal with the weight of a rucksack!

Watching the movie ‘The Way’ last summer I was put off by the three strangers who latched onto Martin Sheen’s character Tom and I said to God that I wanted none of that. I wanted no hassle - jus solitude, peace. And there was quite a bit of that, plenty of time for reflection and prayer.

However, I met the most wonderful, beautiful people along the way.  The journey and my life would not be the same without them. And when I look back now I can’t remember the names of most of the places I went through but I remember each person.

My first companion on the way was Alfred from Scotland who has no religious affiliation, is not baptised but feels his culture has been dominated by Christianity and not always positively. He’s very prophetic in his relationship with life and culture in that he steps outside what is commonly accepted and asks questions that we would rather not hear. He also had the capacity to break away from the established route of the pilgrimage, often sleeping out under the stars and there experiencing what most others did not.

In all my days walking I met about 5 people older than myself - one was a man of 80, another man of 75 and a woman aged 74 and a couple of others. Everyone else was a lot younger than me, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s. I was also the only Irish person on the route and the only priest.

There’s an unspoken rule of reverence & acceptance on the Camino, an openness to whoever crosses your path in a day and my being a priest was received in that way. It surprised me that there was no negative reaction to me at all and, though most walkers had no religious motivation or belief, they were still drawn to the priest for all sorts of reasons.

I experienced a level of happiness that I’ve not known before. There was a simplicity that brought me back to my days in Tanzania and a sense of community that had the freshness and innocence that we experienced when I joined the community in Thurles almost 40 years ago.

My companions in faith and heart and soul were Mark and Becky, an Anglican couple from Boston. We had lovely moments of spontaneous prayer along the way and when I injured my foot they would pray with me in the morning for strength to make the day’s journey. They are a very affectionate couple who always came with a hug in the morning and before going to bed at night.

The fourth member of our little group was Brend from Holland - well I was the fourth as Brend had been with Mark & Becky long before I came along. It was he who said, on a day when I was limping badly, that they would carry me if I couldn’t walk. He meant it!. That was the level of generosity and care that we experienced with each other.

Many others moved in and out of our days. Relationships were immediate, intense, intimate. We slept in dormitories in bunk beds, got to know each others ways, ate each others food, told the story of our lives, laughed and at times we cried. At least I did!

The fourth day out for me was one of grieving for my Mam and Dad and my sister Maura, for my own past, my time as Provincial, the mistakes and failures. It began with heavy rain and fog and I was totally alone stumbling and sliding in the mud as I made my way up Alto de Perdon (Mount of Pardon) praying the stations of the cross internally as I went.  When I came to the placing of Jesus in the tomb I put all these there with Him, feeling the emptiness and waiting for a resurrection at some future date. After that it seemed like the past melted away from me and the only burden I was left with was the bag on my back!

That day I walked alone for 25 miles, bringing myself a day ahead of schedule. And that was Providential because it was then that I met most of the people who would become my companions for the remainder of the journey - those I’ve already mentioned and  the six members of the Guzman family from Mallorca who rescued me when I was lost.

A frustration for me was the fact that churches were mostly locked and I felt like a beggar knocking on doors that would not open, especially at times when I really felt the need to be embraced by the Church, to feel the comfort and consolation of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In larger towns I was able to go to Mass in the evenings. At other times I celebrated Mass in a field or in a hostel.

But there were exceptions, moments when the doors were open and great blessings received.

One Sunday morning I left the hostel early in the hope of finding an open  church somewhere and I thought of Abraham saying “the Lord will provide”.  Along the way I met Bilal who told me he might not be able to finish the Camino because he was running out of money. I said to him “the Lord will provide” and left him as I moved on ahead.

At 11.30 I arrived at a small village as the people were coming out from Mass. And even though they lock the churches as soon as Mass is finished, I decided to go in and ask the priest if I could say Mass. He was very welcoming.  Bilal arrived and asked if he could join me. I asked if he was Catholic, Christian. “No” he said “I was born Muslim.” I told him he was welcome and asked him to go back up the road to tell the others I was going to celebrate Mass. I was anxious that Mark & Becky would have the opportunity to worship as they are so committed to their faith.

So Bilal went to call them. He told me later that while he was standing in front of the church a local woman walked up to him and gave him bread and he remembered the words “the Lord will provide”. This was the beginning of the Lord providing for him in this way. He received as he went and completed the journey.

The others arrived for Mass - an Israeli Jew, a Hungarian catholic, Jacquie from Scotland, Brend from Holland and Mark and Becky from Boston. And Bilal. Those who could not receive came for a blessing and there was great joy for all of us in that moment. “It was fortuitous” Jacquie said. Bilal, at the end of the pilgrimage said, “I will never forget the Mass!”

Another lovely moment for me was in the dormitory one night Katrin from Germany was in the bed opposite me and she said across to me “Eamonn, say a prayer for us” and I said I will, intending to do so quietly, to myself. She shouted over again saying “I want it now, out loud!” So I closed my eyes and prayed spontaneously for all of us there, for our night’s rest, for the day to come and for the remainder of our Camino. Everyone paused to listen, to pray in their own interior way, and Katrin spoke often of how beautiful an experience this was for her.

An experience that brought us all great joy was to witness Daniela & Andreu falling in love, listening to them laugh together in the distance, seeing them hold hands for the first time, to witness the radiance that emerged from within them. And they were aged 44 & 55. Beautiful!

On and on we journeyed until the final day arrived. Mark, Becky, and I wanted to arrive in the Cathedral together for midday Mass. It was a 20 km walk and because of my injured foot I started out two hours earlier than the others, leaving the hostel at 5.00 am. It was raining again after a couple of weeks of beautiful weather. The first couple of hours were in woodland in the dark but I had Mark’s headlight to help me see the way.  I looked like a miner!

We got to the Cathedral together with Lorna from England at 11.55 am, gave each other a hug and then I took off to the sacristy to see if I could con-celebrate. The others didn’t know where I had gone. The priest again received me warmly and the sacristan brought me to get an alb and chasuble. I looked down and pointed to my dirty pilgrim boots. He smiled and said “you are a pilgrim”. So I went on to the sanctuary wearing my pilgrim boots! Though exhausted and in pain I felt utterly complete.

When my companions saw me arrive at the altar some of them cried because I was one of them up there. The priest was not a stranger. At holy communion time they all filed up to me with radiant smiles, some to receive, others to be blessed. For some of them this was the climax of the Camino. It certainly was for me. The Mass was talked about for the whole weekend and those who who were not there heard that they had missed something very special.

And most of them do not share my Catholic or Christian faith but we were all on the one road searching for something, some new direction. Each one of us touched in a profound and unique way.

Part of me did not come back from the Camino, part of me is still out there on a parallel journey and the part of me that did come home is very happy with what is - living mostly in the present, unencumbered by what is not necessary.

When I got home Bilal invited me to be his friend on facebook and had this to say “You are already a friend in my heart, so facebook is nothing but a formaility.” Amen!

Wednesday 25 July 2012

I WANT TO SEE THE STARS (On The Death of My Mother)

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.

The rantings and moods and complaints of a religious community are simply ridiculous. So 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)

September 14, 2008

It's an odd thing to arrive into the end of the Argentine winter, to be approaching spring without having had a summer. The leaves are beginning to appear on the trees, the air is dry and cool. They haven't had rain here for 7 months.

John O'Connor and I came here a week ago. He's in Belgrano – about two hours away – and I'm in Mercedes. It's been good to be stationery, to have the Pallottines come to me rather than me going from house to house.

There are difficult moments, difficult personal problems of some of the men to resolve. I have experienced some of their anger – a father figure, target for the un-nameable. But I am at peace, a lovely peace.

I've had three dreams of Mam this week. They're a bit distant. In the first Mam is telling to get my will sorted. The second takes place at a session with my counsellor. Mam and Rose are present and I explain to Mam that I've been seeing Olive for over two years. We talk of my healing, the healing of stuff from childhood. I make an appointment for later in the year. As we are leaving Olive said that it was important for us to have our priests as well as possible, or something like that. In the third dream Mam, Maura and I are in my bedroom and I am giving it a thorough cleaning. I'm polishing a bronze pot that has the Pallottine crest on it.

We will go home on Sunday, the first day of Spring here, and we will re-enter the Autumn at home that is already in the grip of winter. So be it. It could be worse.

September 21, 2008 Flight home.

The sky over Brazil is the most turbulent I've ever experienced. The food trolley and stewardess almost capsized beside us. John caught her and I the trolley. She ran to make an announcement – that we should put our cups of coffee on the floor.

Something in me enjoys this even when it gets to the point when it seems the plane might fall out of the sky. Maybe I want it to. I pray for us all.

I think it's 9.30 pm local time and we've been flying for over four hours. My watch has gone on to Paris and the middle of the night. We are approaching the Atlantic coast of Brazil.

My playlist has gone from Elvis to Bruce Springsteen and 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.