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EVEN SO MY SOUL: Reflection on Humility – Fr. Eamonn Monson sac

The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Matthew 23:12)

20171015_173944.jpgExperiences of humiliation can lead us to become humble but they are not in themselves virtuous; feelings of inferiority can also lead us to humility but they are not in themselves virtuous. Jesus calls us to humility and not to humiliation or inferiority.

My mother had a very simple answer to my inferiority complex! She said you should neither look up to anyone nor look down on anyone and that Jesus is the only one who is perfect.

So in my search for humility I am called to focus on Jesus rather than on self and through Jesus to be taken into the perfect embrace of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – where we encounter love and mercy in its perfection. Humility is born when I have the grace to be still and know that God is God and in His presence I “bow and bend low” in worship.

In His presence I discover who I am and who you are. None of us is either greater or less than the other. As Jesus says when He warns us against self-promotion, “you have only One Father”, One Master, One Teacher and we are all brothers and sisters.

Psalm 131 introduces us to the deepest possible form of humility:

Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.

O Lord, my heart is not proud

nor haughty my eyes.

I have not gone after things too great

nor marvels beyond me.

Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.

Truly I have set my soul

in silence and peace.

A weaned child on its mother’s breast,

even so is my soul.

Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.

O Israel, hope in the Lord

both now and forever.

Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.

My heart is not proud! Truly I have set my soul in silence and in peace. A weaned child on its mother’s breast, a child at rest in its mother’s arms, even so my soul! The heart of humility is here and this is who we are called to become – a trustful child in the arms of God.

I have had the grace to hold my five nephews and three nieces in their infancy. It has always been an experience filled with love and emotion. At Mass this morning I was asking the children if they had ever held a baby and a number of girls and boys said yes. “And what did it feel like?” I asked. The boys shrugged their shoulders but the girls said immediately that they felt love and they felt emotional! I guess the boys did too but they didn’t know how to put it into words.

Babies can be trustful and sometimes cautious and restless in the embrace of an adult. I’m thinking of the two youngest because my experiences with them are the most recent and therefore my memories of them are clearer.

Laura was the most chilled baby ever. I often tell her that she was silent for the first six months – until she found her voice and when she found that then there was no stopping her. She would just lay there sleeping or in a dreamlike daze. I have memories of her sound asleep on her father’s shoulder. She represents the kind of trustful abandon that is at the heart of Christian spirituality.

Katie was more alert and less inclined to sleep but I had this experience with her when she was a few months old. I went to visit one Saturday and Elaine was doing the cleaning, so she put Katie into my arms, put me into the sitting room, asked me to look after her and closed the door.

So we sat there on a rocking chair, Katie and me, playing and chatting in the way one does with a baby. And after a while she rested her head on my chest. So I sang to her. Sang songs in Swahili, sang hymns and she fell asleep with her head resting on my chest and she remained like that for over an hour.

This became for me a most precious period of meditation. I simply held her, gazed on her, felt the warmth of her. I was deeply touched by the way she trusted me enough to fall asleep and it seemed in this that God was inviting me to be like her – a child resting trustfully in His arms.

I go back to this from time to time. Each one of us can enter into such an experience in prayer. Simply close your eyes and in the privacy of your soul where only you and God abide. And there you can surrender to Him, be held by him, loved by Him.

In our strength we resist going to such a place within ourselves but Alcoholics Anonymous have discovered that surrender to the Higher Power is essential for recovery. Addicts in recovery understand this too.  Our Higher Power is God, revealed to us in Jesus.

It is especially important for us to surrender to the Divine Embrace where we are not well. Another memory from my own childhood is in a time when I was very sick with shingles, my mother took me into bed with Dad and herself and, though she could not take away the pain, could not make me better immediately, I felt secure in her embrace. And it’s the same with God. Not that He cannot take away the pain but He holds us through the necessary experience of pain and sees us through to the other side of it.

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Utter Conviction: Mission Sunday

Two of our Pallottines – Fathers Phil McNamara and Jose Campion – died in the past couple of days and it strikes me that both their lives are very fine expressions of the Mission of the Church which wr are celebrating today.

As God called King Cyrus by name, so He called Phil and Joe and they responded with all of their lives to that boundless divine stirring, the soundless whisper of God’s voice in the depths of their soul. They left home and country as young men to serve in Christ’s Mission to His people.

The details of the Mission given to each of us are different but it always involves being called personally by name to represent Jesus in this world in whatever sphere of life we are involved in. Ours is a communal calling in the Church, lived out in a uniquely personal way and the most authentic expression of Mission is one that stems from our personal experience of Jesus, an experience that draws us into the mystery of the Trinity.

winters1.jpg                   Fr. Johnny McDonagh, Br. Jim McCartan and Bishop Winters in Galapo

Give to God what belongs to God, is what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. What belongs to God in the first place is the essence of Who He Is. Not that we can give that to Him, but it is an essential ingredient in Mission to acknowledge and honour who God is. “I am the Lord, unrivalled; there is no other God besides me…that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that, apart from me, all is nothing.’” (Isaiah 45:4-6)

Too often we regard God simply in relation to our own needs and, unconsciously, we try to manipulate God into being whatever suits us; we manipulate the “things of God” to suit our own purposes, often forgetting that it is we who are the servants of God rather than vice versa. And then in the mystery of His Love He becomes servant in Jesus and in doing so He shows what is the true quality of Christian service. It is the service of daughters and sons; it is the service of mutual self-giving of lovers.

What is accomplished in the Eucharist is that God gives the fullness of Himself to us in Jesus and we are invited to give all of ourselves in return. “All that I am, all that I do, all that I ever have I offer now to you”, an offertory hymn we sing at Mass. Giving to God means giving my whole self and everything that makes up my life and discovering in the process that by giving away everything I lose nothing and gain everything in return.

The giving of ourselves to God, and in turn to others, in the Mission is always in accordance with the gifts that God has given us – gifts of nature and of grace. God accomplishes His work in us according to who we are, the person He created us to be. I cannot do things as another does and God doesn’t seek to do anything in me that is out of tune with my nature.

When I went to Tanzania in the early 80’s at the age of 26, I was overawed by the work being done by generous and seasoned missionaries in the area of human as well as spiritual development, work that I knew I was incapable of doing. And I was a bit lost for a while.

Then Bishop Patrick Winters came on a visit to Tanzania. He was the retired Bishop of Mbulu, a Galwayman who lived near us at home. I was like a son to him and he clearly saw my limitations and my gifts. When I was appointed to Galapo he advised me to concentrate on preaching the gospel which is what I did.

To my delight I encountered in people a great hunger for the Word of God which was received not only as words but, like St. Paul says, “as power and the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.”

Utter conviction is a phrase that attracts and challenges me right now. An utter conviction that inspires rather than forces, that appeals rather than demands. An utter conviction first and foremost about the person of Jesus Christ and about the Gospel, the Good News which He himself has given us. He is himself the Gospel, He is the Word. I am utterly convinced of this even if I struggle to communicate that conviction.

I think of the conviction I had when I was a boy, the intense hunger I had for Jesus and, what may seem excessive, I used to go to the Augie in Galway on my way home from school and would pray an act of “spiritual communion” even though I might actually have received Communion at Mass that morning.

It’s a prayer that returned to me when I was with Radio Maria Ireland where it was prayed live on air when we celebrated Mass in the studio. Prayed for the benefit of those who would like to attend Mass but were unable to do so, it’s a prayer that can be used by the many who come to Mass but are unable to come to Communion.

“My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You have already come, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”

That was the strength of conviction I had as a child and, while I am still utterly convinced, something has been lost along the way. I’m not sure that I can ever recover what was lost but I am certain that it can be found in a new way in my present life. It is the beauty of life in Christ that all is never lost and there is always something new, maybe even something better to be gained as happened at the wedding at Cana.

– Father Eamonn Monson SAC (

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Bonfire Night – Harvest Sunday

The contrast could not be greater! The bleakness of two nights ago has given way to a summer-like calm; the place where emptiness abounded now overflowing with hundreds of people, maybe thousands. Silence has surrendered to heart-pounding drums that seem to hit you right in the chest, bullet-like bangers explode by the minute. The restrictions of Ireland do not apply here.

It’s bonfire night, commemorating 1066 – the Battle of Hastings – and the the pre-bonfire parade passes beneath my first floor open window. Great view.

People march in period costumes carrying flaming torches to the beat of hundreds of drums, a noise that is both thrilling and frightening! All ages are there. An elderly woman with a walking stick has the resolute bearing of a general and a baby sleeps in her buggy, oblivious to it all. The power of sleep when it descends on an infant!

The air is full of fire and sulphur and good humour! The whole parade takes about 30 minutes to make its way through High Street, which I’m told is part of the route for all the big parades. The English don’t simply observe and remember – they dress up and participate in these historical anniversaries. Like the day during the summer when the whole population of the town dressed as pirates, some even arriving to Mass as pirates.

The bonfire was happening on the pebble beach. I saw the pallets piled up the previous day. High as a house it seemed to me! Being attracted to fire from early childhood I couldn’t resist the urge to go down and see. People are drawn to fire, fascinated! Thousands of people in this instance!

I find a place behind the barrier on the edge of the shore a good distance from the fire itself. Not close enough to feel the heat but still amazing to watch as the flaming torches are thrown at the wooden pile which is gradually set alight into a huge ball of flame.

Having watched it for a while I turned to go when I heard a loud whistling noise and turning back I saw the fireworks begin. This was unexpected and utterly thrilling beyond anything else that had happened this evening. And though I had seen fabulous fireworks in Dinsey Paris, this was up close and personal. They were exploding in beautiful colour right above me so that I had to hold my head back in looking up to see. I was like a child then, first smiling, then laughing and uttering wows with every breath.

The feeling when it was done was one of utter satisfaction. You could sense it in the crowds of those who wandered slowly homeward, the chattering delight of children reviewing, reliving what they had experienced. Thousands of others didn’t wander home at all, but gathered in front of overflowing pubs to extend their satisfaction there.

Back in home I savoured it all over a bar of chocolate and then flicked on the telly where I came face to face with Absolutely Fabulous, a programme I hadn’t seen for years. You should have heard me laughing out loud to myself! Fabulous indeed!

Next morning fire of a different order entered into our hearts, the fire of Divine Love in the Eucharist, not as externally dramatic but inwardly far more pervasive. Sunday morning is wonderful, a roller coaster in slow motion – the Mass itself and the interaction with the people afterwards.

Organised by Sacred Heart School, this week we celebrated harvest at the 10.00 family Mass and I had a lovely conversation with the children about Tanzania and food, our likes and dislikes, being thoughtful of those who don’t have the luxury of liking or not, being grateful for what we eat, even the food we prefer not to eat.

The offertory was a great procession of parents and children bringing food to the altar for those who are hungry in our town. What a sacred thing it is when a little child hands me a tin of beans or a banana. There is a tender generosity in it.

There were a lot of people! We’re doing a head count for the diocese but I prefer not to know numbers and in moments when I want to count and even boast about numbers, I’m reminded of the census of King David that displeased God so much. Greatness is not to be measured and our strength is not in numbers but in the Lord.

As if to emphasise the importance of the little, after the 11.30 Mass I was saying hello to a one year old boy who reached out to touch my beard, smiled withdrew his hand, then reached out again a rubbed my face. So tender so graceful filling me with such joy, the touch of a child’s hand, the touch of the hand of God.

As a calm sun set on the peaceful evening, I think of Ophelia and everyone at home, praying that they will be safe and well in the unfolding storm.

– Father Eamonn Monson SAC (


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Oh Winds of the Night

I find myself singing the Connemara Cradle Song. “Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow!” Out loud! Against the wind, head down in the dark, the wind with rain on it. So it doesn’t matter! No one can hear me.

The seafront on this night feels like a scene from Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes!‘ It is the scene of mostly solitary men, mostly jogging. One woman! Jogging! The bravest is the man who sits on a bench staring out to sea. Stillness mid the elements! Waves like a thousand white horses galloping to the shore.

All the amusements stand deserted. Kiosks closed and shuttered! Palm trees wave frantically and the automated pirate’s voice in the crazy golf place shouts insults at nobody.

I was tempted to sit in front of the TV for the evening. I had just witnessed a teenage boy’s grief over the death of his dad; heard the poem of the man’s godson spoken through tears. Observed the dignified sorrow in the faces of all those who loved him. I soak it all in until I’m filled with a helpless pain.

St. Mary Star of the Sea offers a space of solace, comfort and a bit of warmth when one’s very core turns cold with grief.

John was only 50 and I met him once, the day before he died in a tragic fall. He was at Mass and came up to me at the door afterwards to welcome me to Hastings. A bright smile, vibrant and warm! His beautiful three year old daughter was with him.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me! When I was a stranger you made me welcome” – the words of Jesus keep turning in my mind. This is what John did for me and therefore to Christ Himself. It’s as if an unnameable interior pull drew him to Mass that day to be near to Jesus in preparation for what he did not know was going to happen. God does that when someone is about to die. He visits them in a hidden mysterious way to prepare their soul for the pilgrimage beyond death.

And maybe John’s welcoming of me was part of that preparation. I’m already well welcomed here but there was something about the way it happened with John. It’s one of the things specified by Jesus in the last Judgement that awaits us all in the end. I was a stranger and you made me welcome. Whatever you did to one of the least of these you did it to me.

That’s the kind of thing that determines whether we get to heaven or not – what we do to the least of people or neglect to do.

The wind has a way of reaching into the loss that I have absorbed, stirs up all kinds of stuff and now the fury inside me. It’s a kind of helpless fury over the unspeakable violence that is visited by men and women on the least of all God’s people. The anonymous women, men and children who are violated day in and day out!

I have a fury over the selective outrage that is trotted out in public, on the airwaves, spoken by the sophisticated, glamorous, and powerful of this world.  Every violation is an outrage but it frustrates me to hear one outrage spoken by people who promote other outrages. But they are not seen as outrageous because they are so slick and posh and rich.

It appalls me that people claim to have rights over the lives of others, rights that belong to God alone but maybe He has been turned into an irrelevance by minds that do not wish to know the truth.

And I wonder too is there another storm on the way? A storm of a different order. Is the turmoil taking place in nature prophetic of something spiritual to come?

So that’s the kind of prayer going on in me as I push resolutely against the wind and rain. I think of Jesus in the storm on the sea of Galilee, His own fury in the cleansing of the Temple. Mine is an unholy fury. If unleashed it would just be destructive. And I take no pleasure in it at all. His fury is pure and redeeming. So I give mine to Him for what it’s worth and maybe He will turn it into something redemptive.

“Oh winds of the night may your fury be crossed. May no one that’s dear to our island be lost!”

With the wind to my back now my mind turns to something beautiful, the consolation of another grief, one of the most awful griefs that I have witnessed. A mother who has seen three of her children die, two of daughters in the space of two months. She has a very special place in my heart and it was such a joy to get the news that she has given birth again to a beautiful daughter. The thought of them softens my entire being.

So I pray for them with gladness and gratitude. And I sing the lullaby for them in a sporadic kind of way – not as it is meant to be sung, but I am singing:

“Angels are coming to watch o’er thy sheep
Angels are coming to watch over thee

Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow
Lean your head over and hear the wind blow

Blow the winds gently, calm be the foam
Shine the light brightly and guide them back home”

I turn in home to my quiet house. Earlier in the day a visiting priest asked if I mind living alone and the answer that emerged in me was, “I am not alone!”

– Father Eamonn Monson SAC (