We have had quite a celebration of our 25th, minimalist yet intense, beginning the Sunday prior launched by our inspired chaplain, Fr. Robert Bulbrook. Our good friend and artist Clare Lynch and I plastered the walls with photographs and cartoons, serious and funny, that try to tell the story of Holy Hill. Sr. Ceil put together a slide show and –still to be released—a little booklet with yet more photos and stories. We had hoped to celebrate Mass on Friday night at the Holy Well, but inclement weather drew us into the Elijah chapel well-spaced within its ancient stone walls, unused for so many months due to Covid. We enjoyed making the connection between the early Irish monks, the Holy Well, and ourselves who upon our arrival in 1995 stopped at the ruins in Boyle on Sunday evening to sing Compline announcing our desire to renew eremitical monasticism in Ireland.
Both Ceil and Fr. Rob reminded us what Bishop Finnigan proclaimed very clearly in the opening sentence of his welcome homily in 1995. “The charisma of the new hermitage will be rooted in two kindred spiritualities: that of the primitive Carmelite rule and that of the early Irish Church, which, within a century of St. Patrick, has taken on a monastic shape which survived for millennium after Patrick”.
How shall I count some of the blessings of this Holy Hill 25th anniversary? Let me try.
- Working creatively with Clare Lynch on the Display—bouncing off one another’s inspirations and always being surprised.
- Welcoming our good friends after the lockdown, friends who would help us prepare food and gardens, wash windows, arrange flowers, hang display items, bake scones and muffins for the workers, set up 2mm table settings at the snap of a finger and all in a spirit of fun and anticipation. Just as our energy began to lag Ewald Schorn a muscular 6’+ 23 yr old arrives from Prague with boundless energy. Aiden offered the theme for the week:” It is love only that gives worth to all things.”
- Fr. Robert’s masses and homilies all week related to the celebration connecting it with all our Carmelite saints and their call to give everything, with a spirit of forgiveness that is what Christ is all about, with the welcome offered each person of any status who comes.
- Being though properly distanced, with friends again at liturgy and visiting, at celebratory meals
- a letter of gratitude from a retreatant who had been with us to prepare who seemed to grasp the deepest meaning of Holy Hill when he said:
“Holy Hill is Sacred Ground,
You are the ground keepers.
Holy Hill is a beacon,
You are the lighthouse keepers.
It is the fire within all of you which keeps the light lit. The fire you carry is an infectious one. I have caught it.”
- And finally, the oh so encouraging words of our dear bishop and friend of 18 years, John Fleming:
“A presence can change everything. Two friends out for a walk in the days just after the funeral, with nothing to do, no one to talk to and full of sadness. The anguish of the hours surrounding his death has passed. The support of friends in the hours leading up to his burial has gone. They are alone, with that awful loneliness that come to all of us on the morning after the funeral. There simply is nothing to say.
And a presence comes into their lives; unexpected, unidentified, unknown to them, apparently not knowing how they are feeling or anything of the event that has them shattered. And gradually, through talking their sorrow through, they come to realise that the presence is bringing them some comfort. They invite him to have supper with them and their hearts begin to tingle; as he talked to them, opened the scriptures for them and celebrated the eucharist by breaking bread with them. His presence transformed them.
The presence of this community in Holy Hill over the past twenty- five years has changed many lives and transformed many people. The very definition of catholic has expressed itself here…
Presence is most effective when it is silent, when words are not needed to communicate it. And it is in the silence of this place, in the atmosphere which pervades here, that the flicker of faith is allowed to grow, that religious conviction, in whatever faith tradition you belong to or in none, develops and people are transformed…
The blessing of the presence will never be lost; not only as long as those who experienced it are alive but also in memory recorded on the souls of those who heard about it. ‘Didn’t our hearts burn within us’ has had a long run throughout history.
Today we celebrate the past, we rejoice in the present and we place the future in God’s hands. We mark twenty- five years of what has been created here and what has been achieved here; most of it recorded only in the hearts of those who have come here. And we realise that, as on the road to Emmaus, the presence that is Holy Hill can still silently transform.”