Celebrating in changed times

Celebrating in changed times

Recently I visited the three schools of our parish to celebrate first penance with the boys and girls preparing for First Holy Communion. It is noteworthy that the number of children involved between the three schools is fourteen. I say this, as a slight aside, because when we hear of numbers, restrictions and NPHET advice, I sometimes think the reality of life in rural parishes is not factored in. I do not say this as a criticism but rather an observation. We had planned to have First Holy Communion in June but felt it necessary, rather than better, to postpone it due to media coverage around gatherings for First Holy Communion etc. Again, I think when numbers are discussed, the determining factor is located in large city parishes with hundreds of children, rather than a parish like this. I digress!


Back to first penance. There was something very special about it to be honest. It was lovely to meet the children in the school classroom and to talk with them in the presence of their friends and to chat with them about the certainty that is the Lord’s forgiveness. I asked one child in third class what was his favourite possession and he told me it was most likely his bicycle. I took a pencil case from his desk and asked him to imagine it was his bicycle. I distracted him and took the pencil case and hid it. I asked him how he felt, and he said he felt sad and annoyed that his “bicycle” had been taken. I chatted with him about this and then told him that if I decided to bring it back and say sorry, would he forgive me and be happy again. He said that he would so the return was made, and the apology given. He smiled!


“Now”, I said “isn’t that better? It is good to say sorry, to seek forgiveness and to know that you did the right thing.” A boy in the first penance group – a real character, looked at me and said “He could just have dialled 911” – I said he could but that by the time the Police would have crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, I’d be long gone out of Magheraboy! Everyone laughed and I said to him “911 is the number for the American Police – here you dial 999 or 112” – “Oh”, he said “I did not know about 112”. It struck me how much the children are influenced by television. It was all good humoured.

Later, when my young friend and I had celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation and as he was about to leave the room, I said “911” and he looked back at me and with a perfect American accent, replied “What is your emergency?” We both laughed and I could not help but think that was the appropriate response to forgiveness – a sense of wellbeing and happiness, no room for fear and always being yourself. He was himself to the end.

What is your emergency? Maybe we don’t need one – we just need to be open, encouraging and willing to share a moment. We need to return the pencil case – the bicycle, say sorry and know in the depths of our hearts that it is never, ever too late to do the right thing.


All the king’s horses

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and, we are told, putting him together again – even with the help of the king’s horses and men – would not be possible. There is a sadness in the old nursery rhyme and a reality too. I sometimes think there is a bit of the Humpty Dumpty at work in our church, not least in the lingering shadow of Covid and the even more lingering shadows of the worst of our past. It strikes me mending and rebuilding needs to take place but maybe we are looking in the wrong place – perhaps it is not the king’s horses or the king’s men we need but the everyday man and woman of every parish, every church area, every townland to carefully gather, stitch together and rebuild what all too easily could fall shattered to the floor.