The people in front of you

We had a lovely gathering in Urlaur Church last night.  It was around the Vigil Mass and an Enrolment Ceremony for thirty-eight young people from the parish who are to be confirmed this year.  The gathering was timely, as it filled the church almost to capacity and went some small way towards easing the pain and grief felt by the absence of one of our regular and faithful parishioners, Nuala Hawkins, who died unexpectedly during the week.  To see the church almost full was as necessary as it was heart-warming.

Speaking to the boys and girls from our Confirmation Classes in Tavrane, Kilkelly and Kilmovee National Schools, I told them of a homily I’d heard a few months ago.  It was preached in Knock on the third Sunday of May, the traditional day for our Diocesan Pilgrimage to the National Shrine.  We share the day with the Archdiocese of Dublin and the homily was preached by one of the priests of Dublin, Monsignor Dan O’Connor. He shared three stories with us, all from his own ministry, where he encountered young people who experienced the Holy Spirit in their lives, long after they had celebrated their Confirmation Day or perhaps expected such an encounter.  I shared one of the stories with last night’s congregation.

He told us of a young boy in a secondary school where Dan worked – indeed all three stories came from that time of Dan’s ministry.  He was a typical and lively student, full of fun and always up for some excitement. Dan recalled one day when a class was out at the front of the school, taking P.E. instruction from its teacher. Dan was walking towards the school when he noticed a window open upstairs, a water hose come out and within seconds all on the ground were being soaked from the vantage point of an upstairs window.  Running up the stairs, Dan encountered the young lad, still spraying willfully at all and sundry below.  “What are you doing?” he roared.  The lad turned around, whilst continuing the spraying and said “A Safety Drill, Father”.

Years later Dan received a letter from a diocesan bishop in Canada, seeking a reference for this same young man who had volunteered to be a Lay Missionary in his diocese.  Contacting the lad’s mother, to enquire about this, the mother’s reaction was “I’ll kill him”.  Later, when speaking with the young man, Dan realised the request was indeed sincere.  When asked why he wanted to do this, the lad – now a man – replied “When we were confirmed, Bishop Dermot O’Mahony told us that one day the Holy Spirit would let us know what he wanted us to do with our lives.”  He continued, “I was at the Niagara Falls and it came to me that I should give some time to my faiith and sharing it and I thought I’d like to volunteer for this work for a few years”.  He did. During his time he met and fell in love with another Lay Missionary and they are now married and living in Scotland “Where”, Dan concluded “ironically he is now a Fire Fighter”. The point, well made, was that the truth of Bishop O’Mahony’s words came to fruition – “fruition” now there’s a word!  We speak about the “Fruits of the Holy Spirit”.

At this morning’s Mass in Kilmovee I briefly shared the second part of Dan’s homily.  A story again from that school and about a young girl that everybody loved.  She was full of life, bright eyed and cheerful.  She lived for fashion and her dream was to work in the Duty Free at Dublin Airport where she’d have access to discounted cosmetics.  I think, if I remember it correctly, that part of her dream was fulfilled.  Years later Dan was asked to go to visit her in hospital. He went but was not totally prepared for the shock that awaited him. The girl’s long and beautiful hair was all gone but her eyes were bright though her story was not good.  She reached under her pillow and handed Dan some folded sheets of paper saying “That’s my Funeral Mass and I want you to say it.  I did this all this because I know Mammy won’t be able to”.  Dan was shell-shocked.  He asked her how she was able to do this and she told him the day the diagnosis was confirmed she was devastated and found herself in the hospital’s chapel.  Again, she spoke of her Confirmation Day and of her being told one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is courage.  She prayed for that gift and believed she received it. So did Dan. So do I.  With the gift she faced what followed.  Dan told us he celebrated her Funeral Mass within two weeks of that conversation.

Last night I got a message from someone again saddened by revelations of the Church’s blotted and tear-stained history. The message was along the lines that some of the awful happenings of our past were done by people who were not catholic other than in name or position.  Acknowledging too that there were always good people in the church but that there were some too who acted in a way that was anything but Catholic of Christian. “The people who will be in front of you tomorrow”, the message read “are the real Catholics”. The message went on to say that maybe in the past people came to church and claimed the name Catholic more out of fear than choice. Nothing new was being said here but I knew what it meant and the truth of that statement “The people who will be in front of you tomorrow are the real Catholics” was not without merit.  The message concluded with a voice of hope “I think the church can now be what it is meant to be”.

Today, I thanked the Catholics who were in front of me at Mass.  Today I pray that we will all embrace our faith and nourished by it and dependent on those gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit mentioned earlier, we might seek to be better people – focused and faith-filled.

In fairness, I believe some of the Catholics were also at home – perhaps for different reasons, some having decided they don’t need to come to Church to be Catholics. There’s a truth in that too but it’s a very big and important part of our faith. Indeed, as I walked back to my house, I noticed a football team training on the Astro Turf.  It struck me that they only way they can effectively train as “team” is by being together. Training “at home” or in the gym has its merits but the only way the team can truly function as a team is by being at training together. I see a link here ….

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and en kindle in them (in us) the fire of your love.”