10am Mass at Clonard, while normally in our intimate Day Chapel with its stunning stained glass depiction of the Annunciation and (semi-)internationally renowned St. Brigid tapestry, has moved to the Main Church. During Lent early Mass attendance increases and we therefore switch locations. While accommodating, this inevitably separates us; with all that extra space, we can spread out, leaving empty pews, and sometimes whole sections between us. This might mean a more personal or individual experience of Mass which, during the time of reflection and penance that is Lent, might not be a bad thing for us. It might also mean less peace at the Sign of Peace. Now, for someone who avoided eye contact with strangers until the age of 15 (me), you might think this a small blessing. But since I have come to Ireland, I have grown to love looking into the eyes of these people who were once strangers, but have become the faces I see every day. I love to see the small smiles when I shake their hands, and I try to let my fingers and palms convey the sincerity of my ‘peace be with you’ to each of them. So in the Main Church, while there are more attendees, there are less people with whom we can share the Sign of Peace. But I think each one means a little bit more. I know that I am a little bit more grateful for each hand and smile.
At the end of Mass yesterday I met Liam. He took my hand in his and called me by name without being reminded. Somehow, he knew I had studied Irish, and offered me a long list of the different groups in town that provide speakers with an opportunity to use the language. Liam asked about my studies, my understanding of the language, and if anyone had spoken in Irish to me yet. “It would be a shame,” he said, “to live here and leave here without speaking the language.” So perhaps in a few weeks time, after the busyness of March, I will have a story or two about an attempt to dive back into the Irish language.
This morning I met one of our neighbors. I don’t know his name, but I have often seen his children playing in the estate. Once, after a hard frost, they were out in the early morning and using hurleys to play ice hockey between a few cereal boxes. And just the other day, I stopped to chat with his son who had accidentally kicked his football over the wall and into the neighbor’s yard. Well, this morning, Neighbor was obviously in a rush, but still offered to give me a lift down to the Church on his way to work. “Any time you are walking by, or it is raining, we will give you a lift! Seriously, it is no bother.” I was very grateful for him and each of the parishioners (the ones I know well and the ones I don’t) this morning.
And today, after 10am Mass, I met Donal. Well, I had met Donal before, but it had been awhile since I saw him. “I get busy,” he said, laughing. Donal is very interested in youth participation and growth in the Catholic Church. He is involved in another parish working with their youth, and if hoping to be a part of Clonard’s ventures into the same area. I was struck by how easily his smiles broke into laughter – at himself, at the weather, and at the little things in life that trip us all up sometimes.
The three men I met this week have given me the opportunity to be a little surprised each day. And for that I am grateful.
Please pray for all of Clonard, as our Parish Mission begins this Sunday!
Thank you! ~Brigid