Earlier today I shared these words at Mass in St Agnes’ Cathedral. I’d first written them a few years ago for our parish magazine and updated them recently for an article in The Messenger Magazine. After Mass a number of people told me they liked the lines so thought I’d include them here again. They’re intended as a reflection on the years since Ordination – thirty years ago now – in 1987.
There was, in poetry, a time
I thought things had to rhyme.
That was, in poetry, the only way
at least that’s what I used to say!
But of that today I’m not so sure
could it be I’m more mature?
As a student in St Nathy’s College, I never fully understood poems that didn’t rhyme. More than that, I disliked them and the “poets” who wrote them seemingly unaware that poems should have a rhyming pattern!
So is that I’m more mature?
Like you, of that, I’m not so sure
From whence then came the clue
Some don’t rhyme and some just do
The answer I suppose lies in life … as a boy, a student in Maynooth, a newly ordained priest I knew there were questions but I thought answers were easily found. Things had an order about them – a sort of pattern like the rhyming poem.
The rhyme continued. Most people went to Mass. Churches were relatively full most of the time. Prayers were said and it seemed so important to keep the Parish together. I enjoyed those early days.
“The Lord be with you”, I would say
“And also with you” as one they’d pray
Great to see you; and so it was
Together then we’d stand and pause
Sins confessed, Sacred Story shared
His Body and Blood for all, nothing spared.
First baptism, first wedding – such joyful occasions, shared easily with people oozing joy and happiness owned the day. I don’t remember the First Confession I heard and often think that tells its own reassuring story of the sacredness of that Sacrament. Lines drawn in the sand, and no need to re-live or re-visit – that’s the way it’s meant to be, people move on renewed and refreshed having been forgiven through the gentleness of the Sacrament. First Communion Days and Confirmation in the parish all combined to enrich the rhyme.
He died in a tragic accident. His wife and children were devastated and the community drew to a halt. I went to the hospital for the removal and an elderly woman told me afterwards how sorry she felt for me in my short-sleeved shirt. I could as easily have been a boy in short trousers. Words were scarce and the rhyme was gone … it’s hard to speak in rhyme or think in rhyme when people’s hearts are broken. There were others like that; sudden deaths, car accidents, cancer and sickness, loss of Faith, decline in practice, indifference, hostility, scandals, doubts, anger, negative press, decline of vocations …. and still, through it all, the whispered refrain “I the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry. I, who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright …… Whom shall I send?”
The rhyme was in decline but the poem was still needed. I looked for signs, listened for voices, sought direction – wondered! Somehow, thanks be to God, the heart of the poem remained intact, enriched even by some of life’s questions and held sacred in the lives of many good people who cradled the faith, caressed the verse and, in time, helped me realise:
poems don’t have to rhyme but
they should speak
to a soul in need of Grace
a wound in need of healing
a heart in need of mending
a darkness in need of light
a thought in need
And that’s what I want to say. Despite the difficulties and the sadness, the changes and the uncertainties, the Poem must go on. We must find time to share thoughts and place with one another, to bring people to that point where the Word is heard even if not fully grasped and prayers are prayed even in uncertainty.
Rhyming or not, what we are living is poetry.