We had a St Patrick’s night dance in the parish – well, in a local hotel, since we have as yet no hall chez nous, as they say in Ireland. It was a great success, with some spectacular dancing to songs which sang of exile and heartbreak and the leaving of home. I heeded the cautions of the Curé of Ars and forbore to dance. I told everyone that Canon Law forbade it. It seems to be the parish priest’s lot on these occasions to draw the raffle and make a little speech thanking people for their organisation and support. This otherwise pleasant task is fraught with danger, though. Firstly it is a foolish man who does not make and recheck a list of those whom he must thank. I hope I omitted no one. That danger I had foreseen. The other I had not. I made the cardinal error of drawing one of my own tickets in the raffle. I said to them that I thought the Irish were justly celebrated for two things; their hospitality and their faith. The former is becoming something of a byword. All over the world, even in the foothills of the Himalayas I am told, you will now find Irish bars. The latter – well, they say that there is a decline there, certainly the vocations seem to be fewer than ever before. Nonetheless, when I think of the people who are most supportive, and particularly when I look at the Mass intentions that come in, so many sign themselves with an Irish surname.
It was a great occasion. I bowed out at about 11pm but they were still plenty of people dancing and great good humour abounding. I can see it will have to be an annual event. Incidentally, it also made us some money for parish funds.
There is a slightly nail-biting quality to our preparations for the Triduum. The photocopier, sensing how much we need it, has again broken down, jeopardising all my plans to make service sheets. The paschal candle is ordered, but hasn’t yet arrived. I am also waiting delivery of a crucifix for the veneration of the cross on Good Friday. Most firms of ecclesiastical suppliers in fact stock nothing and despite the vast array of goods they advertise, delivery time is more than 12 weeks. Call me inefficient, but funnily enough, the last thing on my mind on Christmas Eve was what we needed for Good Friday and how big the paschal candle ought to be.
In searching for items ecclesiastical on the internet I stumbled across a website for St Hugh’s Parkminster, England’s only Carthusian monastery. The pictures of silent figures in long, empty cloisters and of the plain monastic choir suddenly made me long for some real space for prayer. George Basil Hume in his book Searching for God, says that inside every person in active ministry there should be a “frustrated contemplative” and the contemplative in me is feeling very frustrated at the moment.
On Palm Sunday, I scheduled two hour-and-a-quarter breaks to simply sit in church and pray. Of that two and a half hours, I achieved maybe 20 minutes before the Blessed Sacrament. The hospital bleeper went off a couple of times, someone wanted a Mass card signed, and then I remembered dozens of things to be done in church.
I try to bend with this, to offer what I am doing to God, to practise the presence of God. I know that he needs only my receptivity, but there is a constant feeling of running to keep up. The hard thing is letting go, coming to prayer empty of the worries and of the plans. At the heart of prayer is not what you say, but the extent to which you are prepared to be handed over, to be there for the Other. Perhaps I am to be more conscious that this is so even in the times when I am not still and silent but when I am disturbed and busy, that He is in those others who seem to take me from prayer. Yet for myself, for my own spiritual energy levels, I wish there were more time to be still and know that he is God.
All occasions invite his mercies, however, and after my frustrated morning I found myself drawn deeply into the reading of the Passion at Mass. This was not least because as the one reading Jesus’s words in Matthew’s Gospel I became conscious of his silence throughout the trial. I stood there hearing the story of betrayal and cruelty all about and just occasionally having to read something. For the most part Jesus has nothing to say. He is silent, handed over. In the pause after Jesus breathes his last there was a profound silence in church and outside the most beautiful song of a bird rose high and free. Suddenly I was aware that here was a gifted moment of prayer, and a reminder of what is really important about this week.