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Returning with a Poem

February 18, 2010

My dear friend PT sent me this poem a few weeks ago and it moved me deeply. I thought I would post it here for your delight, dear reader. Perhaps as you search for your own place of effortless prayer this poem might shine a bright light on the way.

I told my friend that I paused at the ‘as if the Consecration were the ‘now’ in the now of the Hail Mary Prayer’ – and didn’t read on. Hastily reciting the Hail Mary (internally of course – it was East Belfast after all) I laughed when I stumbled over the line, which had been buried deep in my memory.

The 12 O’Clock Mass, Roundstone, County Galway, 28 July 2002
On Sunday 28th of July 2002 –
The summer it rained almost every day –
In rain we strolled down the road
To the church on the hill overlooking the sea.
I had been told to expect “a fast Mass”.
Twenty minutes. A piece of information
Which disconcerted me.

Out onto the altar hurried
A short, plump priest in late middle age
With a horn of silver hair,
In green chasuble billowing
Like a poncho or a caftan over
White surplice and a pair
Of Reeboks – mammoth trainers.

He whizzed along,
Saying the readings himself as well as the Gospel;
Yet he spoke with conviction and with clarity;
His every action an action
Of what looked like effortless concentration;
Like Tiger Woods on top of his form.
His brief homily concluded with a solemn request.

To the congregation he gravely announced:
“I want each of you to pray for a special intention,
A very special intention.
I want each of you – in the sanctity of your souls –
To pray that, in the All-Ireland
Championship hurling quarter-final this afternoon in Croke Park,
Clare will beat Galway.”

The congregation splashed into laughter
And the church became a place of effortless prayer.
He whizzed through the Consecration
As if the Consecration was something
That occurs at every moment of the day and night;
As if betrayal and the overcoming of betrayal
Were an every-minute occurrence.

As if the Consecration were the “now”
In the “now” of the Hail Mary prayer:
“Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”
At the Sign of the Peace he again went sombre
As he instructed the congregation:
“I want each of you to turn around and say to each other:
‘You are beautiful.’”

The congregation was flabbergasted, but everyone fluttered
And swung around and uttered that extraordinary phrase:
“You are beautiful.”
I shook hands with at least five strangers,
Two men and three women, to each of them saying:
“You are beautiful.” And they to me:
“You are beautiful.”

At the end of Mass, exactly twenty-one minutes,
The priest advised: “Go now and enjoy yourselves
For that is what God made you to do –
To go out there and enjoy yourselves
And to pray that, in the All-Ireland
Championship hurling quarter-final between Clare and Galway
In Croke Park, Clare will win.”

After Mass, the rain had drained away
Into a tide of sunlight on which we sailed out
To St Macdara’s Island and dipped our sails –
Both of us smiling, radiant sinners.
In a game of pure delight, Clare beat Galway by one point:
Clare 1 goal and 17 points, Galway 19 points.
“Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”

Paul Durcan
(From The Art of Life)

From → Poetry

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