Following are some notes sent by Father Bob during his stay in Ireland...
By the time you read this I will have landed in Ireland, settled in at Holy Hill Hermitage, and will be seventy years and one day old. Pray that I may use this time to hear the Lord more clearly. I will be praying for you as you too ask the Lord to speak to your hearts.
I am very grateful to Father Al for his work for our two parishes and the love I hear in his voice when he speaks of you. He is certainly a blessing for all of us. A sabbatical, from the word sabbath (rest), is a time for active resting. It is not a time for stopping but for resting from one's usual activities. It is a time for exploring other avenues of thought and activity. Its purpose is to renew and refresh the ordinary by doing something a little bit different.
So, you too will be on a sabbatical of sorts. Father Al's unique style, wealth of knowledge, and prayerful reflection will be a gift that refreshes and renews. My absence will give you the opportunity to reflect on the life of the parish and your own spiritual life in a new way.
Hopefully, trusting in God's mercy, the Holy Spirit will touch each of our hearts during these final months of the Year of Mercy. I pray that when we get together again in 2017 we will find the courage and grace to discern the direction God wants us to take. I pray that we become all that we are called to be for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
The temporal distance between Ireland and Burford is about seven hours. The spiritual distance is so close it cannot be measured in physical terms. Let us continue to be united in that one Heart, that one Love, which surpasses time and space, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
God bless you.
I arrived safe and sound. I pray that all is well with you. My first adventure was after landing in Dublin. Had breakfast and then went in search of the bus to Sligo. It took me awhile to figure out the bus stops and then I ended up explaining it to others.
A young nursing student from India was making her way back to her school and was catching the bus to Limerick (where my grandfather was born). She stayed close as she was nervous about her bus. After I assured her everything was okay, another young lady from the bus company came and told us the company announced that morning all the bus stops were changed. Eventually, under her direction, we all managed to catch our proper busses.
Then I met Mr. Rudeness, my bus driver. I did not feel singled out. He was very fair. He was rude to everyone.Pray for this unhappy lad.
Got to Sligo and the cab driver had no idea where I wanted to go. However the kind young lady at the ticket booth knew exactly where I was going, sold me the ticket and then phoned the Hermitage to tell them I was coming. Had time to buy a very delicious sandwich. I think I was hungry.
I was dropped off in what seemed the middle of nowhere, very tired and wondering if the hermits got the message. Then there was Sister Cecelia coming to fetch me. A short while later I was shown to my little stone cottage. I had arrived.
Now begins a greater journey. It is a journey similar to the above but with major differences. This journey ends not in a quaint stone cottage but begins and ends in the heart of God.
St. Patrick sends his blessings.
In Christ, your pilgrim pastor,
September 3, 2016
I was out walked no today by the ocean when I came across some ruins. Oddly similar to my own little cottage which is named for Saint Patrick. B
September 3, 2016
Behind my wee house there be a field of sheep.
September 12, 2016
Sometimes you really have to get out of your own environment to see what is around you.
In Brant County there are certainly sheep. Not, perhaps, as many as here in Sligo, but they are there. The main difference between here and there, for me, is that here I do not have a car and I am a bit reticent to drive in the left hand side of the road. So, I have to walk.
In walking the pace is slowed down and, magically, I can see more. The scenery no longer whizzes by. It is easier to stop and look at something up close.
A few days ago I was walking toward the mountain behind my cottage. On the way I passed many fields of sheep but as I turned into a side road to examine an old bridge and the river one of the sheep had escaped the field and was on the bridge. I know sheep can be frightened easily. She went to one side, I went to the other. She was crippled. Even sitting down looked terribly painful. I felt helpless.
I looked over the river. Prayed a wee bit. And on the way back I simply stopped and prayed for the healing of this nameless sheep and gave her a blessing.
If I could have compassion for this one sheep how much more does God have compassion on God's human flock. How much God loves us, especially in our brokenness. May we have the grace to slow down and look at each other with God's eyes and and bless each other in our physical, mental and spiritual brokenness. In those moments we will find grace and healing within ourselves.
The Lord truly is our Shepherd. Psalm 23.
Ps. My pet sheep is on the website.
September 18, 2016
This morning when I got up I heard a noise that rather startled me. I realized it was coming from the woodstove in the middle of the cabin. (Actually, it is built to burn turf and fortunately, I am not using it yet.) Between the rattle of falling creosote and the occasional banging on the inner wall of the pipe, Ifigured it was an animal. Eventually, from some of the noises, I guessed a bird.
What a struggle was going on in that pipe. I wandered how afraid and trapped the creature must be. I felt helpless at that point to be of any help. It took a while but eventually it found itself in the stove proper. I guessed it might have followed the light to the burning chamber. Then it found itself trapped with nowhere to go. It sure made a big noise for such a little bird.
I opened the door of the cabin wide and then opened the oven door. I had a towel to capture the wee thing but it did not need to be carried out. It hopped onto the floor and then flew out the door.
With lots of time on my hands to think about it, I realized that I too get myself trapped in my fears, my habits, my attitudes. (And I brought a lot of them with me!) Sometimes I pause to take stock. Sometimes I just pause. Sometimes I just try to scramble my way out of them. But if I am not trying to move toward the light of freedom, Jesus, I simply stay in the trap.
When I manage to get to the threshold of freedom I need Someone and something to let me out. That Someone is our kind and merciful God. That something is the blessing and grace of His kindness and mercy.
Blessings, In Christ,
October 9, 2016
We are now a whole week into October. Of course every child knows the month ends with Halloween. We adults honour it as the vigil of All Souls Day. The ancient Irish called it Samhain.
One of my adventures took me to the Carrowmore Magalithic Cemetery with a group of others. I am sure you can google the place. The actual grave area is about a square kilometre. However, there are graves in the surrounding mountains that also face this site. Some of the graves on site are at least 5800 years old. They are older than the pyramids. Unfortunately, most of them are in ruins and a lot of the damage was done by human beings in the past looking for treasure. They are now government protected. This place was an active gathering centre for four thousand years.
The graves were made in the stone age, but the sophistication of their placement and the fact that many of the stones were quarried in the mountains and brought to this central place is amazing. The tools may have been primitive, but the people were quite sophisticated. Further, everything was created to be part of the environment.
The graves form a great oval and nearly all point to a central gravesite which was covered with a great mound of stones. Here is the wonder: During the days before and after October 31 and again in February, the Sun rises between a gap in the far mountains. The light slowly forms a V of light inside the central tomb. Great Light pours out of the sides of the structure. Then a V of darkness starts to cover the underside of the roof and the light show is almost over except for the final explosion of light. What a preparation for the good news of the Resurrection!
It is said that Christianity spread in Ireland faster than almost anywhere and there is no history of martyrdoms. I suspect it is because their ancient beliefs and practices prepared them. Their sense of the invisible world was incredibly sensitive. Their symbols were powerful, if only in the collective memory. When Christ appeared, suddenly their whole reality became incarnate in the Creator who became one of us. Their sense of nature became more real, if that is possible. Their new Faith opened up all that came before and focused it into the eternity of God.
I have come to believe, over the years, that if any culture is to become fully itself, it must be elevated by the awesome reality we call Jesus, the Christ. Could you imagine if the technological world we live in was made subject to all it means to be God made man? What an incredible world it could be. If the ancient search for the divine could harness the sun and light up a structure of rocks, what could we, who have found the Divine, do with the newly discovered wonders of our world?
As one of my seminary professors used to say, "Think Big, folks, Think Big!"
In Christ, Fr. Bob
October 9, 2016
This weekend, being Hallowe'en, might be a good time to mention that I walked up a 1 km. "mountain" through bogs, rain and heather to nother megalithic tomb. There was not much of a path. This one you could actually get inside. 5,000 years old, an open entrance, and it as dry as dry could be inside. The lintel above the entrance allows the sun to fill the inside with light at the summer solstice. The more I explore the works of our Stone Age ancestors the more my respect grows for them.
Of course their spirituality was pre Christian and pagan but the remnants of their culture indicate community, faith, and respect for the dead, and the ability to use heir primitive technology to the utmost. Of course, I prayed for all who were ever interred there in those very ancient times.
All of this brings me to the present. How much more should we who follow Christ Jesus celebrate community, faith, and respect for the living and the dead in the Communion of Saints? How much more could we use the power of modern technology to build a world of care and concern? How much more should we celebrate the holiness of our brothers and sisters on the Feast of All Saints? How much more should we reverence and pray for the deceased on the Feast of All Souls?
The ancients had but a hint of the Light that was to come. We have that Light given to us in Jesus. We know that the summer solstice is but a hint of the Lord Who comes in glory!
Blessings as we enter the Month of the Holy Souls,
November 13, 2016
I had a bit of an adventure last weekend. We went to an old country manor house to walk the grounds and then decided to walk further up the road to a holy well (another named for St. Patrick). We left the car at the estate. Found the well. Said our prayers. Then left. We took the wrong turn.
I have no idea how many kilometres we had already walked but we marched on quite a few more when we realized we should have reached the car. We turned around and from our height we could see the ocean which we should not have been seeing. Then I noticed one of the mountains that should have been in front of us was behind us. We were merrily lost and it was now about half hour before sundown.
We had passed a house earlier and had seen people inside so back we went for directions. Two strange men and a woman. Hmm. Brother Mark and I decided Sister Patricia should go to the door. She would be the least threatening. The lady of the house told us where we had made our wrong turn but was concerned we would never even get that far before dark. We thanked her and soldiered on.
Five minutes later a car pulls up beside us. It is the husband. Very concerned for us he had left the dinner table to drive us to our car. And it was quite a distance. We would definitely be lost in the dark. Grateful is not the word for it. We told him we were from the hermitage and he said he knew it from his parish bulletin.
Such practical kindness is quite typical in Ireland, especially the west. Thanks be to God for this family who live their faith in a readiness to help strangers at the door. This time I was one of the strangers and I feel a very blessed one at that.
May the blessings of the Lord be upon them and each one of you.
In Christ, Fr. Bob