Fr Tom Cahill SVD (1946 - 2013)
This morning at breakfast I was reading the February 2013 issue of Intercom, the monthly 'Pastoral and Liturgical Resource' of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference. It had an article, Year of Faith, Year of Thanks, by Fr Tom Cahill SVD, whom I've known since our schooldays and with whom I kept in touch over the years, from his time in Flores, Indonesia, to his many years back in Ireland. Father Tom died on 15 January, a few days after getting a massive stroke. The photo above was taken in 2011 at a gathering in St Patrick's, Maynooth, of the ordination class of 1971.
In his article, Father Tom emphasized the importance of thanking God each day. He wrote, Someone wryly remarked that the most difficult arithmetic to learn is the one that teaches us how to count our blessings. We can't be joyful without being thankful. He goes on to say, We didn't ask to be born yet don't regret that we were. Thanking God daily for this most precious gift helps us start each day with joy in our heart and not gripe in our belly. Happily acknowledging that our intelligence and abilities are gifts freely given, ensures that they are spurs to service and not prods to pride.
Further on Father Tom says, There are still more: gifts of faith in God and hope in his promises. Not only is our present life a gift but also our future eternal life is an even greater one. What would life be like without anything to hope for after death?
He came across what he describes as 'a quirky kind of prayer' and followed the advice of the late Irish comedian Hal Roach who, when he got a gale of laughter from his audience would say, Write it down; it's a good one! This is what Father Tom wrote down:
Dear God, we rejoice and give thanks for earthworms, bees, ladybirds and broody hens; for humans tending their gardens, talking to animals, cleaning their homes and singing to themselves; for the rising of the sap, the fragrance of growth, the invention of the wheelbarrow and the existence of the teapot, we give thanks. We celebrate and give thanks. Amen.
The other day I came across an article in the December 2012 issue of Catholic Mountain Star, the newspaper of the Diocese of Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, by Fr Harry Clarke, an Irish friend of mine who is a parish priest there. He was sharing Impressions of the Eucharistic Congress, held in Dublin last June. Father Harry wrote:
The Abbot of Glenstal, drew our attention to an insight of Dublin writer, James Joyce. Joyce observed that the Church must deal with Irish people as they really are and know what they are like - an ordinary man, on an ordinary day, with ordinary thoughts and temptations, surrounded by ordinary people.
It seems to me that he is right in this. Ireland was invaded by “devotional religion” from Europe after 1860. From then on preaching was so often not connecting with the ordinary person’s daily life. As the story goes one farmer, after Sunday Mass, put it like this: “a more ignorant priest would have suited us better”. The 10,000 or so who attended each day, mostly salt of the earth Irish, were not honored or valued in this way by the homilies I heard at daily Mass.
As I wasn't present at the Congress I can't say whether or not I agree with Father Harry's final sentence in the quotation. But I fully agree with the importance of the Irish people as they really are and know what they are like - an ordinary man, on an ordinary day, with ordinary thoughts and temptations, surrounded by ordinary people.
I remember Fr Ronan McGrath in my first year in the seminary, back in 1961-62, drawing to our attention that when we went home at the end of the year we would find the same people doing the same things, the milkman, the bread man and others doing their daily rounds, part of the fabric of life. He spoke about St Joseph in his carpenter's shop, probably getting complaints from some customers.
A basic black teapot (essential to every Irish home!)
And when we did go home, we found what Fr McGrath said to be true. And we found ourselves invited to the inevitable 'cuppa' whenever we visited relatives and friends and the teapot came out.
My friend Fr Tom Cahill wrote for many Catholic publications and often did the 'God spot' on radio on RTÉ, Ireland's national broadcasting service. He had the gift of seeing God's presence in incidents that to most would seem insignificant. I don't know if he was familiar with what our fellow Dubliner James Joyce wrote, as mentioned by the Abbot of Glenstal. But he certainly followed his advice.
And Father Tom would have been familiar with this delightful song by American folk musician and singer-songwriter Bill Staines, sung here by Irish singers Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, both of whom died in recent years.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at thy altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God (Psalm 84:3, RSV Catholic Edition).
May Father Tom find his 'Place in the Choir' and experience in the fulness of gratitude and joy the truth of his own words, Not only is our present life a gift but also our future eternal life is an even greater one.