Heights and depths, and heights again

This week threw a lot of unexpected things in the direction of the Teach Bhríde community. Monday I received a phone call from Fr. Denis, asking me if I could come to lunch in Enniscorthy with him and Sr. Mary for a meeting with Fr. Willie Howell of Gorey to talk about the possibility of establishing a second Teach Bhríde community at his parish there. It was a humbling meeting, filled with affirmation for the work that we’ve been doing at Clonard over the past year and a half, and a genuine desire to see that work expand into other horizons. There’s a very real sense of possibility and adventure as we take the next prudent steps in this process; Jessica and I hope to be traveling to Gorey in the near future for a sort of on-site fact-finding trip, and from there, everything is in God’s hands (with the help of St. Brigid, of course).

After such a great meeting on Monday afternoon, we were saddened to learn Monday night that the husband and father of two of our close friends in the parish had died of a prolonged illness. Over the next 24 hours, I kept thinking about St. Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” We’ve had so many opportunities to celebrate with the wonderful people of Clonard, but now we were being called to minister under different circumstances. By Tuesday afternoon, Clarisa and I had been asked by the family to sing the Pie Jesu from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem during the Communion Rite at the funeral Mass, Jessica was busily preparing food for the family in the Cluain Dara kitchen, and Patrick was on the phone rearranging Confirmation choir rehearsals and meetings so that we could all attend the funeral together. The Mass itself was extremely crowded, a testament to the close-knit community of Clonard and Wexford Town, and as the four of us sat in Bride Street Church, it occurred to me just how much the Teach Bhríde community has become a part of both Clonard and Wexford Town.

Yesterday reiterated this sense of groundedness and belonging for me as we returned to rejoicing with those who rejoice. Following the daily Mass, Jess and I joined the parishioners in the community centre for the celebration of a parishioner’s 90th birthday (Clarisa and Patrick had the day off). This particular parishioner (who doesn’t look a day over 70) has formed a delightfully feisty bond with the Teach Bhríde community; as one of the regulars, he often exchanges greetings and stories and the craic with us in the lobby of the church or the parish office. He’s a member of the colorful cast of characters that have made our ministry here so memorable, and so meaningful. It was a lively yet poignant celebration: as friends gathered around to offer congratulations to the birthday boy, they also offered condolences to the woman whose husband they had commended to God only the day before.

I suppose this is all part of parish life. In his exceptional book A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken speaks of the dichotomy we experienced this week as the “heights and depths.” I suppose, too, that for us here at Teach Bhríde, the only way to be effective parish ministers is to enter into the experience of one as fully as the other, to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep,” to let our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ unite us to them in times of great joy as well as times of great sadness. It sounds odd to say so, but I am grateful for this week in its heights and its depths, for it has shown all of us how much we have become part of the family of Clonard, and it has reminded us that our most important ministry here is one of presence as we journey toward God alongside these people who mean so much to us.