For nearly six years now since my mother died, I've been travelling down the distance from Dublin to Galway first of all to visit my family and secondly to keep the gardens of home in check. It sounds posh to say "gardens" as if I own an estate.
The housing estate of Mervue that was built by the corporation in the 1950's was well planned, thoughtfully providing a lot of public and private space. Our family home is one of six terraced houses in Ceannt Avenue where we were given three gardens. One small one at the front, another small one at the back and then the big back garden that was used in our youth for growing vegetables.
It was my mother's garden. It was she who cultivated it when she was young and strong enough to do so. In later years she turned it into a lawn edged on one side with lovely shrubs and small trees. And she left all of this to me before she died, wanting me to have a place of my own to come home to.
I'm no Diarmuid Gavin but I keep the front garden in fairly good shape for the sake of the neighbours so that they're not looking at an eyesore.
It's the big back garden that challenges me most - internally. I don't mind the physical part of it at all. Tending it I always ask "who am I doing this for?" since very few people ever get to see it. Of course God sees it all the time and I've no doubt but that He would be happy with it even if it were an out of control jungle.
Sometimes someone has looked in on it with regret, saying something like "it's not the same as when Maureen was here." Indeed it has spoken to me of her absence and it has certainly grown wild in spots with a wildness that I find attractive and convenient.
Mam's lilac tree fell in the storm of a recent winter and I left it there, though I cut away some of the dead branches. When people suggested that I remove it I said no because it's a memorial of her. Then to my great pleasure the fallen tree sprouted new shoots in the spring and has blossomed for two summers now.
So it rests there as a parable for me of the hope that abides in the fallen states of life. A reminder of the line from the Book of Job , "there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail." (Job 14:7)
A parable for me! Even though I am solitary by nature, there is something innate in me, part of my vocation as a priest that lives and works for the benefit of the "other" rather than for myself. I live for God first and then other people. So it doesn't make sense to me to be tending a garden that is of benefit to no one but me.
But now on this day in May I know that this garden is mine and for me. I tend it largely for my own benefit. For the first time in years I have sat here alone for a couple of hours - reading, gazing up at the blue sky, watching seagulls, pigeons, magpies, blackbirds and the multitude of minute insects that hum in the grass. I listen to the robins and I am visited by them.
All of this is happening to me on Ascension Thursday, an appropriate feast for homecoming and the place of one's belonging. Jesus is returning home to the Father, to the place where He belongs from all eternity. I haven't quite ascended but I have arrived home in a new way to the place where I belong. A place of my own.