Wednesday 30 November 2016

SHADOW: An Ascended Place of Rest

Back in the early 80’s while still a young priest and going through a bout of depression, a friend sent me an article that he found in The Furrow. It was written by a religious sister who had also experienced depression and she trying to find meaning for her experience in relation to God. She wrote something like, “perhaps my gloom is the shadow of His hand caressing me!”

That made sense to me. When we are in darkness on a spiritual, emotional or mental level it can seem that God is absent when, in fact, He is very near, so near that His presence creates shadow or a sense of darkness.

Henry Vaughan wrote in ‘The Night’, “there is in God, some say, a deep but dazzling darkness.” The dramatic experience of the light of Jesus on the road to Damascus left Paul in the dark of blindness for a few days. Moses, in Exodus, “entered into the thick darkness where God was” and in the darkness He met God face to face. Moses encountered the radiance of God in that cloud and emerged from the experience with brightness of God shining on his own face. At the Transfiguration of Jesus the three apostles heard the voice of God in the cloud that covered them with shadow.

 “The sages say that Moses wrote Psalm 91 as he dwelt in the secret place of the Most High God, in the midst of the dark cloud (Exodus 24:18), a place of sacred and holy concealment. The thick clouds are a hiding place for him (Job 22:14). Notice that the one who abides in the secret of the Most High dwells in an ascended place of rest…”

Covered with shadow! It’s a phrase in the Annunciation that I haven’t really paid much attention to. “The power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow”, Mary is told by the angel and this, together with the coming upon her of the Holy Spirit, is how Jesus is conceived.

So, the Annunciation is also an experience of shadow and divine darkness for Mary. She is sustained in the experience by the first words of the angel – “Rejoice you who enjoy God’s favour. The Lord is with you!” – words that foreshadow what the Father spoke to Jesus in His baptism and repeated in the Transfiguration. They are both the “favoured” of the Father, the apple of His eye, beloved. The knowledge of this, the reality of it sustains them through the mission given to them.

In the wisdom of the world, being so favoured, both Mary and Jesus would have lived happily ever after but in divine wisdom they are led as beloved to experience the shadow of the sword piercing the soul, the crucifixion, death before emerging again in resurrection, ascension, assumption into glory.
They are both held in the sacred and holy concealment of the Father, ascended place of rest through the darkness that enfolds their journey on earth. Knowing that in God darkness is not dark and night is as clear as the day (Psalm 139).

In Exodus, when Moses went to the people to tell them that God would deliver them from slavery, they were unable to hear, to accept the message "so crushed was their spirit" (Exodus 6). Some people's darkness is so deep, their hurt so great that they cannot actually believe in God. We know and believe that God is in their darkness and in some way we have to see and believe on their behalf, carry them in our faith. This is part of what it means for us to be the leaven, the light, the salt in the world.

I am into affirmation. I like building people up, helping them feel well about themselves but I discovered that affirmation can backfire. When Katie was born we were so excited that we saw her as the most beautiful creature and for the first two and a half years of her life she was told “you’re the most beautiful girl in the world!” And she knew it! When you’d ask her, “who’s the most beautiful girl in the world?” she would answer “I am!” It’s what she knew.

But when her beautiful sister Laura was born reality began to bite in the cruel way that it can. Laura was brought home and everyone gathered round her declaring to her “you’re the most beautiful girl in the world!” Nobody but me saw the look of shock on Katie’s face. And, being the sensitive soul she is, it hurt her deeply. Possibly still does! Unfettered and ill-considered affirmations need to be accompanied by reality. The Bible is the one place that will speak of favour and darkness in the one breath. In God they are the same reality.

MARANATHA - Hope For The Hopeless

First Sunday of Advent

In the early 1980's the famous Benedictine monk John Main came to Tanzania to give a retreat and teach his Maranatha method of meditation. It's a simple method of sitting still for 20 minutes morning and evening, repeating the Word 'Maranatha' over and over in silence. The word is referred to as a mantra. Maranatha is the great prayer of Advent and it means 'Come Lord Jesus', expressing the profound yearning for God that is in the heart of every person. It is the Advent prayer of the whole Church. 

The retreat was attended by the Medical Missionaries of Mary and some Pallottines and it's safe to say that the sisters were more enthusiastic about it than the priests.

One day some time after the retreat one of the sisters was on her way to Arusha and she stopped for a break in a Pallottine Mission house where she asked the priest, "how is your mantra going?" "Well sister" he replied, "it's like this! Every morning I get up and I sit down and I say to myself, 'hopeless, hopeless, hopeless!'"

Hopeless - this is something we often feel in relation to prayer and our spiritual lives; people feel hopeless about a lot of situations. Hopelessness affects the sick, the old, the addict, the sinner, the child at school, the student, the unemployed. It affects many people coming up to Christmas.

This year more than ever I've been affected by the early darkening of the evenings. It comes in so fast even on bright days and it will continue to get darker a bit earlier every day until near Christmas. It's like the darkness tugs at the darkness within myself, tugs at my depression, seeking to bring me down.

Yesterday I was at home in Mervue, standing in the kitchen, looking out the window into the back garden. It was so dreary and damp and cold. And it touched the dreariness within me, seeking to take hold of me.

Like my mother I like to go out into the garden first thing in the morning, just to look at it, but yesterday I thought 'I can't go out into that'. Still something persuaded me and as I walked I saw in the midst of all the dreariness a fuchsia in full bloom. It was one I planted there earlier in the year, one of my very few successful plantings. And it struck me that God was reminding me that it is always necessary to be on the lookout for signs of hope and beauty.

We are one with Jesus who is saying to us in the gospel - stay awake, be alert! Be aware that, as this fuchsia is the work of God's hand so are we, even more so. And God is our Father as He is the Father of Jesus. He is hid from us in the mess of our lives and He is there to be found, to be waited for and searched for.


When I was a little boy I had a beautiful shiny red sports car that I loved and played with until it got broken. It's what happens with toys but I was extremely saddened and my Mam said that maybe Santy would be able to fix it. So I left it on the windowsill when I was going to bed one night and in the morning it was gone. And it remained gone. Presumably Santy came and took it.

Christmas night came and I was in bed, unable to sleep with excitement but I kept my face my face turned to the wall in case Santy would disappear if I looked at him. I was also freezing cold because the blankets had fallen off the bed but I didn't dare move to get them.

The window opened. That's how he got in. I heard him in the room and was so pleased when he picked the bedclothes off the floor to cover me. That felt really special and comfortable. He was gone then. Silence. And Mam came in to tell us we could get  up.

Our presents were in brown paper bags and to my astonishment there was my shiny red sports car in perfect condition. The very same car! I was beside myself with pleasure. Santy was so amazing!

About ten years ago Mam presented me with a present. It might have been around Christmas time and when I opened it up there was a beautiful red shiny sports car. I was struggling at the time and it became for me a symbol of hope, one of my favourite symbols of Advent.

In my adult life I don't have Santa to fix my toys and anyway it's not toys that need mending now. But I have God who takes the broken, damaged aspects of my life. I give them to him so that He can restore them in some way and by restoring make it easier for me to make the journey that I have to make in this life. The restoration doesn't often fit in to a neat space like Advent but it does come eventually.

When I moved to Galway last year the red car came with me and it remained in tact on a sideboard until my lovely nieces took a shine to it. Now every time they come into my house the red car is one of the first things they make for. It gives them great pleasure and in turn gives me great pleasure watching them. 

In the process of play the car has become somewhat damaged - a door warped, a wheel fallen off - and I'm happy with the state it's in because love has somehow brought it to that state. It also strikes me that I'm not as bothered either with the damaged, scratched or broken aspects of myself. I can live with them and even be happy with them as long as there is love and as long as I'm able to continue the journey mapped out for me by God.

winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
so that God's people can walk in safety under the glory of God.

(Luke 3 & Baruch 5)

Tuesday 29 November 2016


Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope (Romans 15:4)

Hope is central to the season of Advent, one of the most important gifts brought to us by Jesus. In a negative, pessimistic age we need Hope. The above line from Romans is one that struck a chord with me when I first starting reading the Bible at the age of 17. It is a Word that has always stirred hope in me.

A couple of years ago the image of the wolf came into my prayer. The wolf scratching at the door. A hungry ravenous wolf! Wolf in sheep's clothing. And I came upon this poem by Charlotte Perkins Gildman - 'The Wolf At The Door'. It appeared in 'The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest' (1915) and the editor, Upton Sinclair,  describes her as America's most brilliant woman poet and critic.

THERE’S a haunting horror near us
  That nothing drives away;
Fierce lamping eyes at nightfall,
  A crouching shade by day;
There’s a whining at the threshold,
  There’s a scratching at the floor.
To work! To work! In Heaven’s name!
The wolf is at the door!

The day was long, the night was short,
  The bed was hard and cold;
Still weary are the little ones,
  Still weary are the old.
We are weary in our cradles
  From our mother’s toil untold;
We are born to hoarded weariness
  As some to hoarded gold.

We will not rise! We will not work!
  Nothing the day can give
Is half so sweet as an hour of sleep;
  Better to sleep than live!
What power can stir these heavy limbs?
  What hope these dull hearts swell?
What fear more cold, what pain more sharp
  Than the life we know so well?…

The slow, relentless, padding step
  That never goes astray—
The rustle in the underbrush—
  The shadow in the way—
The straining flight—the long pursuit—
  The steady gain behind—
Death-wearied man and tireless brute,
  And the struggle wild and blind!

There’s a hot breath at the keyhole
  And a tearing as of teeth!
Well do I know the bloodshot eyes
  And the dripping jaws beneath!
There’s a whining at the threshold—
  There’s a scratching at the floor—
To work! To work! In Heaven’s name!
  The wolf is at the door!

Initially I saw the wolf, the haunting horror, as external to myself and that I was its target; the wolf being the dangerous forces in society that attack and seek to destroy, or at least subdue, the innocent. The wolf was the destructive person who attacks and seeks to destroy, to subdue me mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

And then one day it dawned on me that I am myself the wolf or that the wolf is inside me, a destructive, dangerous force within me.

A daunting, even frightening realization but God, as ever kind and merciful, reminded me of the prophecy in Isaiah - "the wolf lives with the lamb" (11:1-10) - which is an expression of the return to the peace of Paradise, the harmony of Eden which comes with Jesus the Messiah.

So, as well as the wolf there is a lamb within and the two forces come together in peace. Jesus is the Lamb of God whose gentleness, stronger than all strength, tames the wolf. It is in the surrender of the wolf to the Lamb that true peace is arrived at, the surrender of the self to God.

The harmony, reconciliation and peace that is being shaped within me is what I pray for in society and in every person; praying that Jesus will heal the wound within us that is often the source of the erupting anger that lashes out or lashes myself from within.

"They do no hurt, no harm on all my holy mountain, for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."


Go back to the child
That understood the truth

Folded into the shape
Of its mother’s arms

Draped across
Its father’s shoulder

Before the rigidity
Of independence
Set in

The weaned child
Whose hand explores
The empty space

Touching the face
As yet unseen
That comes to meet
Its need

Monday 28 November 2016

Finding Refuge In God

"For, over all, the glory of the Lord will be a canopy and a tent to give shade from the heat, refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain." (Isaiah 4:6)

A canopy and a tent. In the summer times my mother would wash the bed sheets and spread them out over the long grass in the big back garden. And we would crawl under the sheets, thinking of them as tents, white tents of the desert lit up by the summer sun.

I was always looking out for shelters, secret places of refuge and, in my adult spiritual life I have been drawn to the tents of the Old Testament. The Tent of Meeting where Moses met with God; the tent of Abraham where God appeared in the guise of three angelic strangers.

We used to go to the grotto in Castlegar at home during the month of May across the rocky fields that might have been a quarry and there we imagined and lived all sorts of adventures in palaces and boats. And we found there places to shelter.

I found one that I was particularly pleased with in a different field. A large rock overhung by a white thorn bush that I saw saw as a perfect shelter from the rain.

A day came when we were coming home for the grotto as a family. Usually we went as children together with our friends but this time we were just ourselves together with Mam & Dad. It started to rain so I led my whole family to my special shelter but, as we stood beneath the bush, the rain got heavier and we got saturated because the bush was not capable of giving that kind of shelter.

In life we sometimes go in search of shelter and refuge in places that cannot in fact shelter us at all. They only have the appearance of giving shelter and we end up totally exposed to the storms that we seek to escape.

Jesus offers Himself as a sure and certain refuge from all that assails us. The journey of Advent leads us to that place, though we think nothing of it because it is so poor and shabby compared to what is offered by the world. Yet, the stable where Life is born is filled with all the spiritual warmth and love that outlasts all the other refuges that we turn to.

"Preserve me O God, I take refuge in You" (Psalm 16)

Monday 21 November 2016


Down to the edge
Of the island

The end of power

Where Elements
Alone remain

Salt sea water
Washing my face

My sinners soul
Transformed by grace

Mother of  Mercy
Is present here

Speaking of surrender
To the Spirit

Here is the wind
The waves
The crashing

And the upward surge
Of everything

Sunday 13 November 2016


In him
There is no
Sound of weeping

The widower's
Voice is silent
His eyes dry

His mind is

The restrained

It is to his

That Love has no more
Claim on him

The pretense of it

Infidelity now
Is neutralized

Saturday 5 November 2016

I AM INCLINED (Psalm 110)

A seat in the back row
A stream by the wayside

This is Your gift to me

A place at Your right side
In the sanctuary
In a season of grief

The hidden priesthood
Eternal womb

Begotten before the dawn

Out of the sight
Of the interested and curious

Shielded from the burning
November sun
Dazzling light

Through the chapel
Window blazing

I am inclined
Towards You

Head bowed

Drinking deeply
With delight
The waters of Life

You lift up my head
Your face smiling
Upon my unworthiness

Friday 4 November 2016


Jesus Divine Mercy, from the depths of our hearts we ask you please to heal us and our loved ones of our addiction.

Transform craving into
a desire for the fullness of life;
despair into hope; 
shame into honour and self-respect; guilt into mercy and self-forgiveness.

Heal our memory of hurt,
help us to let go of the past and
look forward with confidence one step at a time.

Lift us up and hold us close to your Heart in Peace and tender Love,
that Love that overcomes all.

May the light of our candle be

warmth in the cold,
light in the darkness and
the sign of a new dawn.

We make this prayer in faith, for nothing is impossible for You. Amen.

St. Maximilian Kolbe pray for us

St. Padre Alberto Hurtado pray for us

Venerable Matt Talbot pray for us

(Eamonn Monson SAC)

Jesus I Trust In You

Thursday 3 November 2016


I am keeper of the field
The wholesome wheat
And weed

Strange bedfellows
That must await
The harvest

And its consequence
In its own time
And not before

However intent
I may be 
On perfection

I hope not
For a mansion
In heaven

Enough for me
A humble hut
Inside the gate

Where Justice Divine
With Mercy meets
My misery

Magnificat be the song
That's borne

And sung into