Pandemic Awakenings Week 13
Our Lady’s Island, Co. Wexford
Fr Cogley, who has been a friend to Luisne for several years now, ministers in the above parish. Last weekend he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination. We wish him warm congratulations and prayerful blessings on this happy occasion.
Forty years ago, just weeks before Ordination, my class concluded our seminary days with a retreat. The retreat master asked what seemed a very strange question at the time. He said: The important thing to ask yourself at this stage is not are you ready and capable of making this huge step in your life; not even if you are strong enough for the task, but rather are you weak enough? This was really an invitation to a profound level of trust that was both humbling and reassuring. It was like being offered a lantern for the journey ahead that has lit my path for forty years and continues to shine as bright as ever. It meant never to despise my inadequacy, my littleness or my brokenness, but to use them as essential tools in the service of the Gospel. Closely allied to that piece of advice came another, from somewhere I can’t remember: Neversee yourself as a pillar in Gods temple, but as a drainpipe instead. This too was very humbling leaving no room for self-importance or hiding behind clerical collars. It was just to be open to the Spirit at work and not to think everything depended on me.
Befriending our Shadow
While visiting the home of a retired police dog handler, who still had his dog, I ignored warning signs and walked across his yard to the front door. Suddenly this outsized beast came charging towards me with a vicious look and his teeth stripped. There was nowhere to go. To run back, I would not have been able to sit down for the rest of my life and to go forward would have eliminated all future challenges posed by celibacy. Thinking fast I knelt down to his level, held out my arm and said ‘here boy.’ He suddenly slowed down, gently nuzzled my hand and continued to lick it as we went to the door. The wife couldn’t believe what she was seeing, that this dog, trained to arrest, was so friendly towards me. I reflected on it as a powerful illustration of our relationship to the less acceptable parts of ourselves, and our negative emotions, that we call our shadow side. If we run from them they will continue to pursue us. If we confront them they overpower us. However if we could only allow them to humble us and invite them to be our friend we would discover that they too have a wonderful side. In the words of Carl Jung, ‘The shadow is pure gold’.
Accepting the Unacceptable
As humans we are often accused of living too much in our heads rather than in our hearts and it can be a long journey for us to reach the level of our emotions. Even if we were very much aware of our feelings the real question is how do we feel about our feelings, especially the less acceptable ones? We are fine when we feel the likes of love, gratitude and affection but what about anger, envy, jealousy, sadness or loneliness? We just don’t like feeling those feelings so we try to outlaw them. Whenever they raise their ugly heads we want to shoot them off as if they were enemies to be destroyed. The result is that they go underground where they deeply affect our health and well-being and wait for an opportune moment to resurface again. Learning to accept our shadow side is to accept the seemingly unacceptable emotions as much as the positive ones. It is only when we treat them with respect, without judgments, as sacred parts of ourselves, that they too will reveal their bright side. So our sadness gifts us with compassion, loneliness becomes solitude and anger changes to creativity.
Welcoming the Stranger
Many readers will be familiar with a well known book called Anam Chara by the late John O Donohue with whom I shared my seminary days. In that he has a piece that captures the essence of what it means to welcome the stranger. We generally think of the stranger as being the person out there that we don’t know. However, an equally valid way would be to think of the stranger within ourselves; the parts of ourselves we are estranged from and still need to get to know. This was what John had to say: Our lives would be immeasurably enriched if we could but bring the same hospitality to meet the negative as we bring to the joyful and the pleasurable. In avoiding the negative we only encourage it to recur. We need a new way of understanding and integrating the negative. The negative is one of the closest friends of our destiny. It contains essential energies which we need, and cannot find elsewhere.
Today we continue to draw from John O’Donohue’s writing in Anam Chara where he addresses the age-old tendency to want to get rid of that which we deem to be unpleasant or unacceptable in our lives. He writes: When we notice something immoral we normally tend to be harsh with ourselves and employ moral surgery to remove it. In doing so what we are actually doing is ensuring that it remains trapped within. We merely confirm our negative view of ourselves and ignore our potential for growth. There is a strange paradox in the soul that if we try to avoid or remove the awkward quality it will pursue us. The only way to still its unease, is to transfigure it, let it become something creative or positive that contributes to who you are.
The Cross and Acceptance
It is only in the acceptance of what is that we can take the next step and whenever we can’t, it’s then that we remain stuck. The reality is that life can throw us in at the deep end with seemingly unacceptable situations being put in our path. What can we do then? The answer must still lie in that little word acceptance but this time in the acceptance of the seemingly unacceptable, what we often refer to as a cross in our lives. It involves letting go with an attitude of surrender, and that’s what opens the door for the grace of acceptance to flow into our lives. Where our will power can’t succeed grace will always give us the victory. And we know of Christ’s victory over the Cross, which can give us strength in our struggles.
Both crosses pictured above can be seen in the church
in Our Lady’s Island in Wexford and each has local historical significance. That on the left was taken for safekeeping from the church by a young boy during the Cromwellian invasion and found 200 years later by another young boy in a local river bed. The one on the right dates to at least 1798. It was carved from quartz by Rev John Corrin who during his ministry used it to successfully quell the anger and violence of a lynch mob.
Loving Myself Enough
In her little book of reflections on The Importance of Loving Ourselves by Kim McMillan, called When I Loved myself Enough, she has an inspiring and challenging piece that is well worth reflecting on: When I loved myself enough, the rejected, neglected and dejected parts of myself, the orphans of my soul, began to come together in seamless unity and that was the beginning of finding inner peace. These few lines capture the essence, not just of self-love but of the entire inner journey. At its deepest level Christianity, with its roots in the Incarnation of God becoming human, could be defined as: A journey into the acceptance of the seemingly unacceptable, while made in the knowledge that we are already accepted.