Sunday, August 28, 2011

Go raibh maith agaibh.

Dear Ireland,

Thank you.

Thank you for taking me in in a moment when I had gotten lost in the immensity of all that has happened in the past year and helping me get back to basics. Thank you for that reminder in your devotion to the Sacred Heart, and the need in that novena to rename what I want most, namely, to be a priest. Thank you for that moment in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Cork when in the middle of the novena when I could listen to the deepest desire of my own heart in the most profound of ways and say simply that I wanted to be a priest and asking the Lord to make that the case, so well aware of how much of God's grace would have to make that possible.

Thank you for your soft days, for the rain so gentle that you often wouldn't think of using a hood or an umbrella against it and ending up drenched as a result. Thank you for giving me a reminder of what God's grace is often like.

Thank you for helping me to see beyond Rome, and the small devout and pious circles that I run in. Thank you for reminding me that there is so much work to do and the answers which seem so easy sometimes need more work in a world which wants to believe but finds it so hard to sometimes.

Thank you for showing me that I am not really meant to live outside of Jesuit community, and making me grateful for it by my absence from it. In those two months living in Cork, faithful to my vocation while living apart from a regular community, reminding me why I need to be among the blessing of brothers who both support me and challenge me to become the person that God created me to be.

Thank you for my family, for the O'Connors, Rynns, McCarthys, Rogers, and most of all Hanleys. Thank you for reminding me through them that my vocation is no accident, that our family has for years had men and women who have dedicated their lives to God and his people. Thank you for reminding me that I am blessed to embody some of the best qualities of those people, and that I also share in some of their struggles in my own path. Thank you for overwhelming me with the generosity of Mary, Kathleen, Francis, and P.J. Glennon, who welcomed me, a stranger in all but name, into their homes. Thank you for these cousins who showed me the home of my family, and allowed me to rediscover Kilteevan, county Roscommon, as home. Thank you for their helping me to experience the deep faith of our family at Knock and Clonmanoise. Thank you for helping me to remember, through their example, the truth of the old saying "Hospes Venit, Christus Venit" (and thank you for helping me to learn how to read that in Latin.)
Thank you for that insane tour, for seeing things I had only dreamed of seeing since I was a kid. The Giant's causeway that I once saw in picture books, or the Cliffs of Moher from the Princess Bride movie. Thank you for a few quiet moments along the coast of the Dingle peninsula, and the moments of prayer on the North Coast. Thanks for letting me randomly meet one of my favorite Rock Bands and allowing me to hang out with them and talk about the things that matter most with them, like openess to God, poverty, and the search for meaning. Ireland. Thank You.
Slán go fóill.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Five Pound Note and the Long Way Home

Many of us Americans wonder just exactly made our families come to the United States. For those of us who are just a couple of generations removed from the realities of immigration we might even be able to find out, and thanks to the immense generosity of my cousins in Ireland, I know now too. The answer is 5 pounds.

The Hanley Homestead
In Ireland in the 1800's the landlord, if they were going to evict you, might offer you 5 pounds to leave before they had to pay the sheriff to do it for them. It was a way for them to save money. This is what happened in the village of Kilteevan to my great great grandmother, Sara Hanley, and her family. Her dad took the 5 pounds, and they left for Providence, Rhode Island. Within a generation, that same family,who before would have had little more than a grade school education had college grads and doctors and college professors among them. They took the 5 pounds, went to Cobh, boarded a boat for the U.S, and never looked back. They didn't ever abandon their friends or family back in county Roscommon, they just kept moving forward. So often in our lives we look at desperate situations and think that there is no way out, but we are almost always wrong to think so. The truth is that forward through what seems to be a storm is often the way in which God's dreams for us are realized. Losing everything and having to move to another continent didn't seem like a joyful thing, but the truth was that my 4th great grandfather, John Hanley, accepted that 5 pound note and left, and in doing so accepted a new life that lead to mine. There was much to fear, I am sure, but the gift of courage that we receive from the Holy Spirit is the assurance that in God's love and providence, all will be well. So many of us sons and daughters of immigrant families are proof of that.

When I arrived in Roscommon, and to the town of Oran where some of the Glennons, my cousins in Ireland, live now they said "welcome home!" and that is, in the end, the truth of it. It we can just rely on God enough for courage we can know that even when we take that 5 pound note and leave the past behind, it doesn't mean the end of the things that matter most. The Hanley home is still there, as are the Hanleys, as is the promise. We would do well to mind the most common admonition in the Gospels, and not to be afraid.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Our Home is the Road....

One of the original companions of St. Ignatius once said that the home of the Jesuit is properly not the houses we live in, not the high gates of a benedictine monastery, or the secluded fields of a trappist abbey, but in the streets, mobile, and ready to go serve the Church and Gospel wherever we're needed.

While I will confess that most of my upcoming travel, of which there will be a great deal over the next month and a half or so, is focused around attending to myself and those closest to me, there is something soothing about getting back on the road for me. Cork, Roscommon, Dublin, Belfast, Galway, Dingle, Kerry, Dublin, Rome, Barcelona, Manresa, Pamplona, Javier, Loyola, Bilbao, Boston, Worcester, Rome... all of this between now and October 10. One of the people who knows me best once told me that I am so content never really settling down for good that I must have Gypsy soul, and this was before the recent Zac Brown Band song which uses that line.

The truth is, though, that I do have roots, and a home. It's not a place though, its the people in my life.  I am blessed to have those people, both Jesuits and non-Jesuits, all over the world.  More and more though, I think its just time to admit that I find that I am undeniably become more and more a Jesuit, more and more a man who is at home on the road.

I leave Cork tomorrow for a crazy amount of traveling, and I will be posting through the marvels of an iPad and free WiFi, but its time to get back on the Road. I am more than a little excited. Tomorrow, onto Roscommon...

Until then... Take it away Allman Brothers:

Monday, August 15, 2011

This Our Exile.

Our Lady of Coomatloukane, in Co. Kerry, Ireland. 
Today in the Church we celebrate Mary going home. The Assumption is something which I think we all understand deep down, particularly in this day and age, because it is about that longing for home. No matter who you are or what your beliefs are, I think we all understand that longing for home. 
So much of my decision to come to Ireland this summer, beyond the course in Latin that I am taking, was a decision to come home. To trace my family’s roots and hope to understand not just history, but who I am a little bit better. I have had a year in Italy to understand that part of my history and I think I understand myself more in light of that wonderful whirring existence. Here in Ireland too, the more time I spend the more I get why I react to different things in different ways. I have stood in the graveyard where generations of my mom’s family are buried, and I walked the streets that other O’Connors have before me in Abbeyfeale. This weekend I will go to Roscommon and there meet my cousins on my Dad’s side. There was something in this journey about a longing for home, and Ireland, and my family here, have been so incredibly gracious in providing that for me. 
There is a strange feeling though, being in these places which have defined my family, I still feel oddly not at home. This is not to say that I am ungrateful for these experiences, or that I am not content with my life. I very much am content, there have been so many blessings, so many new friends, so much life. Still though, I feel that exile. It definitely has something to do with not being in the United States in 1 year, 1 month, and 2 weeks. Truth be told, though, there was an itchiness to leave the US there to find something more that set me on this path in the first place. If I didn’t already feel the desire to learn something more in this way, I may have never asked to move to Europe. 
Which brings me to my point. In our world today, regardless of how much the internet, the media, and all of that other stuff connects us there are still so many of us that feel disconnected, so many of us looking for home. Today is our feast day. 
Today is our feast day because we can have a belief that there is a home to which we are headed, and that Christ has already opened it to us, because another human being like us is already there. 
Today is our feast because, for as much as the thought of home or talking to someone there is nice we know that it is never replaced by physically being there, as Mary is. 
Today is our feast because we know one of us who went before us, and still advocates for us. 
St. Augustine of Hippo once famously said in his confessions that “Our Hearts are restless until they rest in you oh God.” That’s home, the place where our hearts find rest and our exile is at an end. It would be wrong to make the Assumption a day where we make Mary seem kind-of-almost-like Jesus, but not quite. The fact that Mary is a human being like any of us gives us all hope. The fact that she is assumed to heaven body and soul affirms the goodness of our earthly body, and illustrates what we already know about going home and being physically present. That Mary is conceived without sin and plays such an pivotal  role in the history of salvation is why she goes before us, but in going before us, she is a sign of hope, that someday this exile will end for us too, because it already has for her. 
In 45 days, 22 hours, and 30 minutes I will touch down on an AirIberia flight from Madrid and be home in the US for the first time in well over a year. That exile will end, if only for 10 days. The truth is though that for those ten nights, like every night, I will pray “and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus,” because even in the city I once waxed romantic over, as the video I am reposting below displays, I still felt enough of that same exile there to keep searching. 
Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, pray for those of us who here in exile hope to follow you home someday. 

(A true story about this video. I had intended to make something like this anyway, but I definitely made it when I was at my most homesick last summer. I repost it here because I think, despite its overt cheesiness, that it gets at the sense of longing that I am talking about in the post above.) 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Relearning one of the beatitudes...

Why am I doing this? Why am I spending my summer struggling over Latin? Why do I need to learn another language? 
       There are just certain things that you need to do. You don’t particularly want to, they may not seem incredibly useful, but you just need to do them. Every academic subject has its thing. For pre-med i remember my Holy Cross friends fretting over organic chem.  In philosophy it was logic, we philosophers have never had much use for logic anyway. In theology studies a good number point to Canon Law as the beast to get past, and I may well discover that to be true in the coming year in Rome. Right now, however, it is Latin. 
University College, Cork. Where I am plugging away at
It is not that I don’t have a facility for languages, I speak or read 6 at least in part, and have some conversational ability in 3 of those,  but Latin just seems so peripheral to everything that I want to do or accomplish. Especially now, reading the Satyricon, which makes trashy reality TV like the Jersey Shore look like Sesame Street, I feel so far removed from anything useful. Even still, when I think about it I realize that the ways in which I will use Latin, even if I go onto study more in Theology after ordination, will not require excessive knowledge of the obscure 1st century idioms I am learning right now. 
Somewhere on the Ring of Kerry, in one of my thankfully
less studious moments. 
At this point, the study seems useless, except for one thing. The truth is that all too often it is easy today to see something that looks too difficult, too intense, and turn away. Sometimes the discipline of getting through it is unto itself its own reward, however. Sometimes when we can force ourselves pass the peripheral, less important, desires that we have it helps us to focus on what we really want. Many saints have called it the practice of mortification, and they had many sundry and often medieval ways of doing this.  (Many of which I don’t recommend.) The truth is though, that sometimes sticking with something which is unpleasant is precisely the sort of thing that makes us better able to understand just what we desire most. 
Case in point. I am here, in Ireland, for the summer. I would much rather go find a pub and listen to good traditional music just about every night rather than study Latin. I would much rather go out hurling (the traditional Irish sport that I have taken up in the past couple of months, not the gastronomic feat) every afternoon than translate from Petronious. Truth is, I would much rather do just about anything, including writing on this blog, than study Latin. It has  been a struggle not to write, or hurl, or go to the pub as often as I would like. Latin is sometimes, as it was tonight, a sheer endurance test. The truth is, though, that sometimes having to suppress those momentary desires for a much more profound one helps us to remember who we are. I find myself here in Ireland much more focused on the reality of what will happen in my life over the course of the next two years, and realizing just how deep that desire flows in me. With the peripherals stripped away, or forced to the background, the most true thing comes to the fore, which for me is the desire to be  priest. I am doing this because I wan to fulfill the University’s requirements, which will help me to become a priest. So I can’t go to the pub when I have class the next day, which is 6 days a week here. I can’t go hurling every afternoon. I have to do this and stick it out, even if it is a struggle to. Being forced to sit and struggle, or endure something unpleasant, for the sake of a greater desire can often make it clear to us just how much we want something. For St. Ignatius, when we can get in touch with that deepest desire we can also be sure we have been in touch with what God wants for us, who else would have placed such a desire on our hearts?
So sure, I am convinced that God smiles at my feeble attempts a picking up a new sport at 30, and he likely delights in the songs at the pub and a pint shared among friends. More importantly, putting these legitimate little joys aside, having to say no to them more often than I would like, and realizing the struggle that can be, has helped me, and I think can help all of us, get closer to what we want most, and understand how much we want it.  In rediscovering it we find a kind of joy that the pure of heart have always known for so long, they can put aside the other desires in their heart for the most profound of all, and that is likely why they see God.