The Pilgrim was walking along a road when one day he passed what seemed to be a monk sitting in a field. Nearby, men were working on a stone building. “You look like a monk” the pilgrim said. “I am that” said the monk. “Who is that working on the Abbey?” “My monks”, said the man. “I’m the Abbot”. “It’s good to see the monastery going up”, said the pilgrim. “They’re tearing it down”, said the Abbot. “Whatever for?” asked the pilgrim. “So that we can see the sun rise at dawn”, said the Abbot.
In some ways, the metaphorical walls of not just our Church, but our society, our world, our personal lives have had the walls torn down over the past four months of lockdown. For many this tearing down has indeed been immense, be it; change of routine, confinement, inconvenience, illness, the sadness of bereavment, unemployment, financial loss, domestic abuse, the struggle to make sense of it all.
In the early days of the Virus the quotation from Seamus Heaney “If we Winter this we can Summer anywhere”, was mentioned often. Some people expect this is a line from one of Heaney’s poems, but it is actually a line from an interview given by him in 1972 during the troubles in the North. Having come this far, out of this unexpected Winter that invaded our otherwise glorious Spring, like the Abbot we long to let in the light of a fresh dawn. We do this by identifying new rays of light and maybe in recognising the treasure of old rays, taken for granted.
The simple routine pleasures of life, gathering with family and friends, a visit to the local café, pub or restaurant, going to the barber or hairdresser, cheering on your local team, traveling, visiting your local Church, attending Mass, hugging your grandchildren, just being free to do things. Being creatures of habit, routine and ritual – any disturbance of that normality can destabilize an established equilibrium.
However, being deprived of those, what my grandmother used to call “small mercies of life” we all the more now rejoice, appreciate and savour the joy and pleasure these simple things bring us. In the words of Keats, in this poem A Draft of Sunshine “We will drink our fill/Of Golden sunshine” as we recognise these treasured rays of sunshine on this July day.
During lockdown, in the glorious sunny days we had, I got into a routine of taking a spin on my bicycle to visit some of the many historical sites of interest in the vicinity of Ennis and recording some of the treasures of what I saw on some social media platforms. This gave the opportunity to look at these vestiges of times past, where the nobility and ruling classes of the Munster province resided, the influence of the Celtic saints, the great edifices, remnants of the medieval religious orders. This gave a great sense of perspective on the way that centuries literally roll on with great speed, how things change and evolve so rapidly and how we adapt from the walls falling down on one structure and in that demise some new sunshine emerges.
And during that time new rays did perhaps shine through during that time to ponder, to reflect, to see things anew in the fresh dawn light. The appreciation of the precious gift of time. The centrality of people. The importance of family. The lifegiving delight that friends are. The realisation of the importance of community.
As Church, we may not have been able to gather to pray, apart from the spiritual communion afforded the virtual media but in many charitable and prayerful ways we became Church to each other, outside the hallowed walls of the “Abbey”. In the heroic community gestures of caring for the needy and vulnerable we became genuinely the Church of Jesus Christ allowing the words from the Sermon on the mount to sparkle even more as they do in the original King James version: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”.
One of the joys of real faith is that when times get tough, there is always hope, the light of the sun is always ready to break through to a new dawn, despite how dark it might be. The gift of our faith gives us that resilience to pick up the pieces and start afresh. The prophet Isaiah put words on this hopefulness many years before the birth of Christ: “Then your light will break out like the dawn. Your recovery will speedily Spring forth. Your righteousness will go before you and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (Is 58:8)
This was the 6th of a series articles for the Clare Champion, published on July 10th, 2020
✠ Fintan Monahan
Bishop of Killaloe