Thursday, January 19, 2012

And what's it all about, anyway, 9?

Moving On

Life is about moving on, if not physically, at least emotionally and spiritually.  Indeed, one of the central metaphors used for life is, of course, that of making a journey which is a central motif in all cultures and religions.  Our lives have many beginnings and endings before the final and ultimate one that marks our exit from the world.  We all know when we have out-stayed our time in a particular place or job.  Now, given that there are no over-riding circumstances like family commitments, unlikely hope of getting a job etc., we can all "call it a day"  with any particular job and move on to other gainful employment.  In January 1983 that was how I felt.  I was not at ease in O'Connell School, mainly because I still felt I was a mere boy and a mere pupil because most of the teachers who had taught me were still there.  Admittedly this was my problem, not theirs at all.  It was I who still felt "inferior," and no doubt I was lacking in confidence.  It was time to move on and I knew it.

The Call of Religious Life

Self bottom right on day of reception into OSA - days of innocence and Hair!
It does not surprise me that I felt drawn to the Religious Life as I was always a spiritual sort of person anyway.  As well as that I was highly idealistic and I loved working at shared tasks.  All of these things meant that it was the sense of shared ideals in a community setting that attracted me.  I had never ever been keen on being a diocesan priest.  In fact the things a priest did like saying Mass or administering the sacraments were not necessarily things that attracted me in themselves.  What attracted me was the spiritual journey towards God made together in a community setting.  If this involved doing all those priestly things, then so be it.  Anyway, I did a weekend with the Jesuits and another with the Augustinian Order, and I chose the latter because of its family emphasis.  Indeed the Augustinians spoke traditionally of the Familia Augustiniarum, or the Augustinian Family.  The Jesuits were more individual in orientation and emphasized study.

During my time in this order, some three years, I spent two in preparation for entry into that lifestyle - a period of time called the novitiate or noviceship.  These two years were spent mainly in prayer and reflection and study.  We also had to do community based work like cooking breakfast and tea, and only on rare occasions dinner.  We also had to look after the guest rooms, wash the dishes, do one's own laundry and so on.  As well as that we worked outdoors - collecting apples in the orchard, fixing fences, gathering up the fallen autumnal leaves and more besides.  All of this allowed me to read widely in Theology, Spirituality and English.  It was also then that I began to write my own poetry in English solely. (I have since given up penning poems in English, preferring to compose solely in Gaelic these days.)

Feeling Needed

Me at Christmas dinner, 1983.
There is something deep within us - a really deep personal need to be needed by others.  I was 25 years of age when I left teaching to join this new way of life and I was 28 when I left it.  While there I did many rewarding things and I learnt more in those three years about myself than I had done in the seven years previous years I had spent studying at third level.  There were eight or so other students in the house, mostly all in their late teens or early twenties.  However, one was older than me, a former solicitor who was trying out religious life like myself.  This gentleman was a wonderful man called James Scally, who left after three years also, joined The Red Cross for a number of years, did some service with them overseas and eventually became a District Court Judge.  Unfortunately Jim died all too young in May 2009 at just 66 years of age. (A tribute can be read here: Argus).  I ended up being the main driver for my fellow students going to college and for other sundry trips.  I also looked after one old Augustinian who was ill and I was often tasked with taking him to the Doctor's surgery or to the hospital.  All in all I enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow students, the spiritual direction of my Novice Master who was himself a trained psychologist.  We would have had to see this person once a month, and it was then, in a sense, that I got used to being, if you like, "in therapy."

After two years in the novitiate I went to the student house which was then in Ballyboden.  I decided that given that I had already got a degree in theology that I should go on and inscribe for the degree of S.T.L. (Sacrae Theologiae Licentiatus or Licentiate in Sacred Theology).  I met with the wonderful scholar Fr. Martin McNamara, D.S.S., Ph. D. the then Dean of theology.  Martin was/is a wonderful scholar, a linguist and exegete of international reputation especially with the Targums. [A targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) written or compiled from the Second Temple period until the early Middle Ages (late first millennium)].  Needless to say he would know all the Biblical languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek as well as being fluent in Gaeilge and German.  He was keen that I inscribe for the S.T.L. and he even remembered having taught me at Mater Dei some five years previously.  It was also through Martin that I got my first experience of lecturing.  He invited me to talk on The Book of Job and the Literature of the Absurd for his evening Gaelic lectures at Milltown Institute.  And so I prepared a long two-hour talk called in Irish, Leabhar Iób agus Litríocht na Díchéille, the Irish version of the English title given in  the previous sentence.

Being a man of humility who wore his learning very lightly Martin showed up at my lecture and listened quietly.  At the end he said to me that it was of such a good quality that it should be published in Irisleabhar Mhá Nuad, which indeed it was sometime in 1987.  This was my first major publication in the Irish language.  I will always be thankful to this learned and humble gentleman for encouraging me academically and for getting me into print in Irish.

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