There are many emotions running around in my head today. They include memories of my mother and father, R.I.P. and how lucky I was to have them as parents. I think a bit about home and family and remain grateful to my brothers for their support through the years. I think of people who have died, my parents obviously enough, and my God Parents too (John Shannon and May Callaghan, R.I.P.) and I think of the friends I’ve had through the years. For all of these I am so grateful and through them so blessed.
My thoughts too are with all those caught up in the stories of horror from places like Tuam where children were less fortunate, their mothers, it seems, labelled and wrong decisions were clearly made. I’ve no doubt that in these places there were women of immense kindness who saw in these children and their mothers people not statistics, lives to be cherished and nurtured not ignored and shunned. Yet too, it’s almost certain, there were people dressed in the clothing of religious life, who saw themselves above and removed from the twists and turns that weave themselves into the human condition.
I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like. There’s a line in the Old Testament that speaks of “Rachel weeping for her children” and that sound of weeping can surely be heard today. Countless stories of harsh treatment, finger pointing and tongue wagging that has to be among the worst of all human traits. There are stories shared too of kindnesses received but these are overshadowed by the pain so real to far too many. It’s heartbreaking.
I’ve been a priest since 1987 and hope that I have been kind to people, not least those who have become pregnant at a time in life and in circumstances they might not have wished for or imagined. I am not aware of ever saying or doing anything nasty or hurtful to anyone in this regard and neither am I aware of any priest friend of mine doing or saying anything to add to confusion and hurt. I have never heard a priest condemn in public or private a girl who finds herself pregnant. I have never encouraged anyone to speak ill of another and would hope – sincerely hope – that I’d only do what might be helpful and not hindering of another at a vulnerable and uncertain stage on the journey of life. I have baptized many babies through the years and, among them, babies where no father was present on the day or maybe there but not part of the mother’s life anymore or again, there and hoping to put the pieces together for the future of the baby and mother. There can be no room, on days like this, for anything but compassion. In the majority of these days, the mother and baby, the father too, received nothing but support from their own families and circle of friends. That’s as it should be and needs to be for the good of all – for the good of society.
I don’t fully know what to say to people about all this. I don’t fully know what to think myself but somewhere I hear the call to recognise the kind face and tender word that brought peace rather than hurt, reassurance rather than confusion, tenderness rather than harshness – if we cannot somewhere find that face, those faces in the midst of a darkened and sullied past, there’s little hope or little to hope for. I believe in hope. I saw the list of names the other night, accompanied by a haunting piece of music, and thought someone at the very least (and very is the key word) recorded names and dates and, in so doing, recorded existence and life, however brief. “I have called you by name” says The Lord.
I am deeply aware of friends who have lost babies during pregnancy, at birth or in the very early days of life. I am too, remembering those who lost sons and daughters in their childhood years or young adult lives and saddened they experienced this grief and would give anything to turn back their clocks and help them avoid that awful heartbreak. Likewise for all involved in the Tuam story and stories like it.
Maybe we share our birthdays with all these children, with their mothers and all who carry a burden not of their own making this day. Certainly we pray for forgiveness and the heart of Christ who was at pains not to condemn but to heal.