Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Faith of our Olympians

Despite having her Olympic hopes dashed, Irish boxer Katie Taylor proved this week that her faith in God is unshakable. One of Ireland’s most prominent hopefuls – she was a surprise casualty after her defeat to Finland’s Mira Potkonen.

But, even obvious heartbreak in Rio di Janeiro couldn’t dampen Katie’s devout Christian faith. "Sometimes the plans you have in your heart aren’t God’s plans” an emotional Katie said in the aftermath of the bout, trying to come to terms of her shock defeat.

God is so great, it’s still a privilege and an honour to be here,” she said, going on to say: I just have to thank everyone for their support and prayers – I’m so humbled by that.”

Reflecting on the outcome she was in a philosophical mood. It’s been a very tough year. I’ve suffered a lot of losses this year, and it’s very, very hard to take – the Olympics is a dream for me.
I came in here prepared very well. I gave it my best shot; it just didn’t happen,” she said. Katie is one of a growing number of Olympians who have been vocal about their strong religious faith during the Rio Olympics.

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, a practising Catholic who wears his faith on his sleeve, became the first athlete to win three Olympic 100m titles by picking up gold at the games. Usain embraced the Miraculous Medal he wears around his neck as he powered to victory.

U.S. athlete Simone Biles, who keeps her Rosary beads in her bag at all competitions has won the women’s all-round Olympic gold medal for Gymnastics.The 19-year-old gymnast revealed that she carried a white rosary in her gym bag. “My mum, Nellie, got me a rosary at church...I don’t use it to pray before a competition. I’ll pray normally to myself, but it’s there just in case.”

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Life after the Leaving!

The Leaving Cert results were issued during the week. The newspapers were full of the tremendous achievements of those who received a string of A1s. Congratulations on such wonderful achievements! But let’s keep a perspective on things and not forget those who just did OK and are in the majority.

The results came out during the Olympic Games in Rio and I think the games in a way reflect the consolation and desolation felt by some students – the Usain Bolts, Michael Phelps, Annalise Murphys, the O’Donovan brothers and others but what about the many who crashed out in the first round or limped home mid-field?

The focus this week should really be on the students who felt the sting of disappointment when they received their results – and I imagine they were many.

I want to say to you, things will be better and brighter; that life is more than the Leaving Cert. Flashes of brilliance will come but not in the places you expect them. Life is far more various than we can ever imagine.

Jesus said that there are two roads we can follow. The first is wide and easy to travel. It is downhill most of the way. It is the way of comfort and ease, pleasure and self-seeking. Many are fooled and travel down this road. But in the long run it leads them nowhere. They die in the desert. The second road is narrow and difficult. It s uphill a lot of the way. It is the way of struggle and sacrifice. Few take this road, but they are the lucky ones. This road leads to the Promised Land.

I hope and pray that you will all find joy, hope and fulfilment in whatever road God shows you in your life.    

Friday, August 5, 2016


There is a lot of pressure these days to upgrade. Phone companies offer special incentives if we upgrade to the latest smart phone, while car-dealers are constantly trying to convince us to trade in our older car for a brand new model!

And it wasn’t long ago that all the talk was about buying a starter home or getting on the property ladder. The idea is that we can always go bigger and do better for ourselves. If we think about it, most of us will admit we have more than we need to get by but there is still a drive to acquire more “stuff”.

The rich young man in Lk18:18-23 was busying himself with upgrading. Faced with a lack of sufficient space to store all his crops and goods, he decided to build bigger barns. Satisfied, he then sat back to enjoy the finer things of life, to “eat, drink and have a good time”.

But Jesus offers a gentle reminder that, really, these are not the things that matter. After all, we can’t take any of these treasures with us. Our farmer friend had forgotten to focus on the more important things in life – he had stored up riches on earth instead of focusing on making himself “rich in the sight of God!.

What treasures are important to me in my life?


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

That All may be One : Living in Radical Amazement.

There is no shortage of wonderful books on the marvels of God’s creation, but Judy Cannato blends the story of the universe into a very informative, reflective, refreshing and challenging read. I quote briefly below from chapter 12 of her book Radical Amazement.

The new universe story invites us to expand our hearts to include all creation. Indeed, connectedness is fundamental to our reality. No matter what sphere of life we observe, from the physical to the spiritual, we are connected to others. We cannot separate from this truth, no matter how hard we may want to try. Albert Einstein called the notion of separation an “optical delusion”, yet for several centuries we have lived deluded, and at a great price. So Many of the social and ecological problems that confront us today stem from our delusion that we are separate from, better or more significant than, other members of creation – from other groups of people we encounter to the air we breathe. Our lack of openness to all may very well mean our demise.

If we are to expand our hearts to include all creation, we need to embrace our capacity for communion. Relationship is something that all life requires, even organic life. Our vitality depends upon the connections we establish and the communion we share. Of course we are made for agency, of course we are asked to develop our gifts and use then well. But our gifts, as life-giving as their expression can be for us, are foremost for others. This means we must reject a perception of separateness and exclusivity that keep others at bay. And it means we reject any temptation that keeps us from self-communion, from tending to the Holy that dwells within. What nourishes any of us, more that bread itself, is a relationship in which we discover simultaneously who we are as we discover who the other is. Communion that honours the other, that reverences the Holy One in the other and in the self-this is what we embrace. Connectedness is primary. Communion is essential.

(Judy Cannato)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Youth 2000 Summer Festival Retreat

Following on from my visit to Youth 2000 retreat in Killarney in April, I looked forward to the Summer Festival at Cistercian College, Roscrea which took place last week end. I joined the Presentation Brothers’ Youth Ministry Team: Silvia and John together with Brothers Stan, Douglas, Theiva and Barry.

In excess of 1,000 young adults gathered to celebrate and deepen their faith in a safe and supportive environment. One youthful adult attending for the first time said to me he thought it would be all old people in attendance but he was shocked to see so many young people and that was very reassuring. It was he said like being part of one big family, the family of God where he felt a sense of belonging, united around Christ through adoration and the Eucharist.

The theme of the festival was, “Receive my mercy...inherit my kingdom”. Thursday was Gathering Day, Friday was Mercy Day, Saturday was Mary’s Day and Sunday was Mission Day. It was great to catch up again with friends and make more new friends in Roscrea.

It was a festival full of variety. It included adoration, inspiring talks, music, prayer, drama, share groups, testimonies, workshops, reconciliation and healing service and Mass. It was a packed programme but there was also time for chatting, relaxing, field games and generally chilling out. I experienced a lovely sense of joy and camaraderie throughout the four days. It was a gathering of friends that cut across, age, ethnicity, background, culture and personality.

A number of excellent workshops were offered on Friday and Saturday afternoon. I would have loved to sample all the workshops but four was as many as one could attend over the two afternoons. There was a workshop on ‘Dodgy Stuff’ (New Age Movements) and the cost of discipleship. Other workshops included exploring love and relationships, faith in media (spirit radio), pro-life, lectio divina, discovering your vocation, pure in heart, a tour of the Monastery and others.

There were faith groups with display stands in the assembly hall offering information to interested seekers. Personnel were present at display stands to distribute literature or answer questions was Vocations Ireland, Shalom T.V. Legion of Mary, NET Ministries, Pro Life, Newman College (Derry), Cana, Mary’s Meals and many others.         

For many people to whom I spoke, the healing service was a lovely experience for them followed by reconciliation. Bishop Phonsie Cullinane, Waterford and Lismore Diocese led the Mass on Friday while Archbishop Charles Brown, Papal Nuncio was the main celebrant at the Saturday Mass. Both encouraged the youth to be strong in standing up for their faith and to use the festival to overcome any fear they may encounter beyond the festival. A number of those who attended will represent Youth 2000 at World Youth Day in Poland at the of the month.

I acknowledge the weeks of preparation and hard work by Lana Wilson, National Director and her team of dedicated volunteers at national level. Well done to all concerned! Youth 2000 continues to grow in strength throughout Ireland. In the words of Lana, it is about, ‘Youth leading youth to the heart of the Church’and I know many are looking forward to the next Youth 2000 event.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Movies with Meaning: “The Bucket List”

Recently, I saw a good film, “The Bucket List” in the company of young adults. Two old codgers Edward (Jack Nicholson) and Carter (Morgan Freeman) end up in hospital because of a terminal illness. They share the same hospital room together and they become good friends. After making a “bucket list” (list of things to do before they ‘kick the bucket’), they set out together on a worldwide adventure, completing the items on the list—and adding more—as they go along.

There are many engaging twists and relevant messages in the film. At one point Edward arranges a prostitute for Carter, who refuses and in the process finds a renewed love for his wife. Edward also shares personal experiences from his own life: He’s been married three times, and has a daughter, from whom he’s estranged. Carter understands that Edward longs for his family, and arranges a meeting at his daughter’s home. Edward was furious, and responded by saying that he doesn’t need anybody. When Carter passes away, a letter he left moves Edward to reconcile with his daughter, giving him an opportunity to be with the cutest girl in the world—his granddaughter.

During one of their journeys, Carter asks Edward some questions about life. Have you found joy in your life?” “Has your life brought joy to others?” Edward says he envies people who have faith but he never could get his head around it. Faith doesn’t make sense to him. Does it make sense for you? In the end of their lives, they realise what is really important. Why do we never know what we have got until it’s gone? This film reminds us to cherish our lives at every moment and treasure our families and friends. I often wondered if I had six months to live, what would be my response?

I recall a line from the film: Upon death, God asks a question: “Were you ever happy?” The answer determines whether or not you’ll be allowed into heaven. This makes an important point: The purpose of life is happiness, even to the last moments. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; what matters is whether or not you’re happy in the process of making it. At the end of the day, the goal of making money should be to increase your own happiness, not accumulating wealth just for the sake of becoming wealthy.

Having watched the film a lively discussion ensued. It is a film that raised many questions for me. It is well worth watching especially for anyone discerning their future direction in life. We can also call the ‘bucket list’ a ‘list of dreams’. ‘Bucket list’ emphasizes passing away, while ‘list of dreams’ sounds more life-centered. We should make a list of dreams—at the very least this will give us goals to strive towards in our youth, giving us fuller and happier lives. So, what’s first on your list?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Rise From Your Knees

Following the pilgrimage to Lough Derg last year with Andrew O ‘Connell, John Quinn, evangelisation officer extended the invitation again this year to the Presentation Family. I was apprehensive doing the journey again twelve months to the day since my previous visit to this sacred place. I remembered sleep deprivation and hunger, not to mention sore feet and sore knees! But I blocked all that from my mind as our Presentation Family of nineteen souls made the short journey from the mainland north of the town of Pettigo across to Station Island.

It was a privilege to be part of a lovely, supportive group of people; we became companions on a journey to one another, looking out for each other, ready to offer a word of encouragement and show a smile when needed. A great camaraderie developed between everyone in our group. I suppose we all realised we were in the same boat. While I found it very challenging at times, other pilgrims pulled me through. Everyone was so friendly and it was nice to hear their stories, where they came from and why they came.

Doing something with others brings us closer together and creates a bond of support. Pope Francis in a text said that the Christian Life is never falling down but always getting up again. Thanks to the hand of God which catches us again. Maybe this has been the experience of this group of pilgrims who over the three days bonded with each other supporting one another when the time of need arose...helping each other as we journeyed together.

We live in an age where ultimate challenges are becoming more a way of life for many, we see people accomplishing amazing, daring and physically challenging things. Pushing the boundaries of our physical and mental strength and rising to the challenge is part of an inner search to take ourselves to a deeper place

The three day challenge this group of passionate pilgrims set themselves was not too dissimilar and it was, as one pilgrim put it, “harder to put into words why I am doing it than it was to have done it!” Another said, “It was just something I wanted to do” and another again said, “I keep hearing the call to return.”

While I was one of a group, I was also one of 120 other pilgrims that came on to the island for the week end. There was a great variety of ages too from young adults to those in their eighties. As a participant on the pilgrimage, I found there is an equality about it–there are no three-star or five-star pilgrims; just barefoot people on a journey together.

I made a brief visit to the island’s small museum. There was a medieval map of Europe and it displayed Lough Derg as the only Irish site identified. It was a place of retreat for those from across the known world through the centuries. Writers such as Heaney, Kavanagh and Alice Taylor among others tried to capture the magic of the island.

On our return back to the mainland, tired and hungry, I forgot the hardships and enjoyed a sense of fulfilment and achievement on completing a challenging pilgrimage. There was one last rendition of Hail Glorious Saint Patrick led by Fr. Owen Mc Eneaney, Prior, before we left the island. We were reluctant to break up such was the friendship that brought us together during the three days. There was an opportunity for some last minute photos and say our ‘good-byes’. A question asked, would this be an annual event? The response was a unanimous ‘yes’ and...invite a friend.

It is an experience of real humility where the material world takes a back seat. It is an opportunity to reflect more deeply on life and come close to God.