I live in Dublin, Ireland. Sometimes. Most times I live in my head, quite unaware of my surroundings – if you know what I mean… If you succeed in tracking Sean Walsh, please let me know, ok? I've been searching for him for years…
Collegio Sant Isidoro,
Via degli Artisti, 41,
An assurance has settled upon me since last I wrote – the assurance that I have arrived, made it, got there. Realising that I am a priest is not at all as easy as I had imagined: for days on end after ordination I found myself coming up with a start, ever so often, as the voice of conscience reminded me – ”Hey, Brother. Don’t forget. You are a priest now.”
Not that there was any dearth of reminders. Far from it. The letters and cable grams from friends and relations in Ireland remained to be answered; ordination cards, stacked on my desk, awaited posting; and then, of course, there is the morning ministry…
Michael, I shall never quite forget these mornings of late April and May: awakening in a light-filled cell, rising to the sound of a hundred swallows on the wing, the sight of a sky awash in a limpid dawn.
I found myself living in an unreal – should I say very real? – world: going to choir meant hurrying to the Tomb of an Easter morning; meditation rapidly became a time of preparation – for Mass; and how better prepare for such continuation of the sacrifice of Calvary than by reliving the events of Good Friday?
So I have come to spend the first hour of each day, Michael, mentally dwelling on the sufferings of the Man-who-is-God. There in the quiet of the choir, while without the city sleeps, I re-enact episode after episode of the Passion, . . .
And it is oh, so real. No, believe me – I have never been so earnest! I close my eyes and see Blood, spittle, dust… the red of a Roman toga… purple of mockery. I shut my ears to all about me and hear echoes from the past – the jeers and jibes of a mob, the shallow words of sentence from a man who had more fear of men than of God…
Imagination? Yes, I suppose so. But if it helps me to pray? And it does, it does, believe me it does! So many times I have struggled through the crowd, tried desperately to pass the mercenaries – to reach Him, help Him to His feet, ward off the blows…
And when the time comes to go to the sacristy and vest for Mass, it is no great wonder to me that each of the vestments is symbolic of the Passion; that I celebrate, inevitably, in the chapel of the Holy Cross; that when I raise the chalice to my lips and consume the Precious Blood an awareness comes upon me – “I have been here before.”
I wanted to climb to the very roof of St. isidore’s and cry out for all Rome to hear: “Don’t you understand at all? God is Love! He loves you, personally, far more than any human being possibly could love you! Calvary is now! The pain of the Passion is the measure of his love for you. . .“
Well, some day… some day. In the pulpit and the confessional, from the altar and on the street corner, I shall enunciate, reiterate, as best I know how, seeking to share my vision with men.
Already I am nervous, apprehensive at the thought. What if men laugh at me? Then I shall be hurt – but not silenced. What if my efforts kill me? Then I shall die in the assurance that over a short span of years I have really lived. Better to have lived a while, Michael, than not to have lived at all.
Nor will I stop even there. For an idea has begun to stir within me; an idea that will surely feed and grow on the rhetoric that flows in my blood; the idea that the Drama of the Passion may best be projected through the vehicle of all drama – the theatre!
Yes, indeed, the play’s the thing – the thing that will rivet men and women in their seats, make them think afresh upon the scenes and circumstances of the Passion, have them realise that they were present on Calvary in their representative sin, representative sinner.
So come autumn, I shalt borrow a theatre, form a group, write a play, rehearse a company, and thus give a sense of realism, hitherto unknown, to the central truth of our religion.
Who was Veronica? What happened to Nicodemus? Whatever became of Barabbas? Why, even now, a dozen themes are seething and bubbling in my brain!
Themes that must needs be presented in modern, with-it dialogue. Strong, anglo-saxon words spitting across the footlights. The ear-catching music of assonance and alliteration coming from the lips of men and women with whom those in the audience can readily identify – because they are men and women not only of Yesterday, but Today.
But can, it be done? Have I got what it takes to bring it off? Or am I a mere boy about to embark on a man’s errand? Well, I can only try. But believe you me, I am bent on trying; and if I fail it will be through no lack of effort on my part.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Michael. For the past eight years I have been a pent-up dam: now I am about to burst upon the Irish!
Then be prepared!
Fr. Peter, O.F.M.
(Published in the May, 1966, edition of Assisi, the Irish Franciscan monthly)