Oliver McDonagh, was a neighbour of mine and later a classmate in Maynooth. We were ordained one week apart though for two different dioceses – Oliver for Elphin and me for Achonry. Sadly Oliver died, before his time and after a brave battle with illness, in January 2010. May he rest in peace. Oliver’s last appointment was to the parish of Ballintubber, Co. Roscommon where he was Parish Priest. He asked me to supply for him one Saturday evening as he had to attend a wedding. I was happy to do so and headed for Ballintubber. To the best of my knowledge it was my first ever visit to that County Roscommon town and absolutely my first visit to the local church.
Just before Mass a man walked into the sacristy. He had the look of an American and when he spoke there was no doubt. In a thundering voice he said “I wanna book a Mass”. I apologised and told him I wasn’t from the parish but that the resident priest could do that for him at a later date. “And you can’t book a Mass”, he said. Again, I told him that I couldn’t as I was just filling in for the regular priest, that I had no access to the Parish Diary and was not familiar with the day to day life of the parish. “But SURELY you CAN book a MASS”!! Another attempted explanation fell on deaf ears. “My God, you CAN’T book a MASS”, he said as he turned away from me, quite likely marking me as “absent” in the roll book of his mind 🙂
He took a small bottle from his pocket and said to a man in the sacristy “Put some Holy Water in that”. The search began. Drawers and presses, shelves and window sills … alas no Holy Water was sourced. I could breathe the air of his disappointment and frustration so I took the bottle, walked to the tap and began to fill it. No sooner had the water begun to flow than he roared “WHAT are you doing?” “I’m getting you some Holy Water”, I replied. “THAT’S not Holy Water – that’s TAP water”, he blurted out. At this stage, I’d say he had me totally written off as a mistake!! “I know”, I said, “but I’m going to bless it for you – I have the technology”!!! I know I shouldn’t have added the last bit but it seemed right at the time 🙂 I blessed the water, prayed blessing on him who would use it and on all for whom it would be used. He took it, put it in his pocket but I’m convinced he wasn’t convinced!! I wondered afterwards where he thought Holy Water came from ? Did he think there was some sort of Heavenly Supply Truck that delivered once a month?
Holy Water comes from taps! It’s the everyday water, used for everyday things that is presented to God for blessing. I think it’s a lovely message of the ordinary being made Holy through Faith, offering and receiving. Water is such a rich symbol of our faith – from the trickle down an infant’s head at baptism to the sprinkling of the grave. Constantly present, God is with us in so many ways.
“Come to the water” … is a Scriptural invitation. Come to that which flows, gives life, growth, freshness, colour, flavour …. Water is total movement and is an apt symbol of God and of Faith – a symbol of Church. Static water achieves little. A pothole, a bucket left untouched and filled with water soon stagnates, smells, becomes dangerous to drink and ultimately should be thrown out. Water that becomes too cold freezes and makes roads dangerous for travel, pipes vulnerable and life uncomfortable. Drought, as can so clearly be seen these very days, brings untold hardship. Water is meant to flow and to refresh. So too, God. So too, Faith. So too, Church.
The man in Ballintubber was so right to want to have Holy Water. He knew what he wanted and needed.
Come to the water …..