In preparation for our upcoming winter retreat, everyone in both houses of Teach Bhríde received the book On Living, by Kerry Egan. Even though we weren’t instructed to read it yet, I got a little excited and finished it in an afternoon last week. The book is framed by stories about Mrs. Egan’s work as a hospice chaplain and the people she encountered. As I read, I found myself identifying with her experience of finding it difficult to explain her job to others. Although there is a set list that I can give people in terms of tasks I do each day, the more nebulous and profound job I have is in a ministry of presence.
The act of being a devout and practicing Catholic in Ireland as a young person is unusual, and one of my most important jobs here is to offer a concrete example of a life formed around my Catholic faith and my relationship with Christ and his Church. Going to daily Mass, being seen at the Newman Center events, and interacting with the people who come to Newman Church all play into this ministry of presence.
In fact, one of the most significant and meaningful moments in my time here was simply a conversation with a woman I met after a Taizé service. Our conversation turned serious very quickly, and she shared very personal aspects of her life with me. She described the betrayal she felt from Catholic leaders, and the distance she put between herself and the church over the years as a result. She told me that the Taizé event was one of the first she had gone to in years where she felt comfortable in a physical church and could feel peaceful during worship. She expressed relief at being heard and understood, at having the chance to speak aloud her true feelings and opinions.
I was struck by the potential of Teach Bhríde’s ministry of presence and the importance of listening to a story that needed to be heard. As we spoke, it became clear that she wanted to have a reason to come back, to believe that she could feel confident being a part of the church community again, and I did my best to encourage her. I invited her to continue attending Taizé services, which she did.
In her book, Mrs. Egan describes herself as a “story-holder” for the people she met. After the conversation described above, I also felt like a story-holder, and the responsibility of that feeling made me all the more intent to continue working in and for an increasingly loving and welcoming Catholic Church.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from House of Brigid, Dublin!