Holy Week already! This year, I found the prayerful preparation for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter that Ash Wednesday initiates a bit curtailed for me, my brothers and a friend. Some signs of the Ash Wednesday ritual were probably still lingering on our foreheads as we winged our way toward Dublin the next morning. The trip was a gift of St. Joseph’s parishioners and the Arrupe community to my brother, Jack, and myself on the occasion of 50 years since our ordinations as Jesuit priests. Perhaps, there was a spiritual intent. On Irish soil, in Cork or, perhaps, Kerry we might come to remember more profoundly “that we are dust and unto dust we shall return.”
In the absence of any personal family connections we set our sights on locating the ancestral roots of the O’Leary clan rumored to be in Inchigeelah midway between Cork City and Killarney. There in the graveyard of the quaint St Finbar church the first stone that caught my eye announced the departure in 1901 of Patrick O’Leary and his wife Mary in 1897. The first date was that of my mother’s birth, the latter, of my father’s. All about were the last resting places of other O’Learys, but also Murphys, Kellehers, Twohys—the family names of Arrupe Jesuits brothers. I felt graciously grounded personally, humanly and, in an amazing way, spiritually.
As the desert experience of Lent comes to a close, my list of disposing penitential practices seems meager indeed. But the richness of the liturgies of Lent, the persistent witness of John’s Gospel day after day, has summoned mind and heart to a more profound grounding of lived experience upon the rock of God's abiding love and faithfulness. Lent is largely a schooling in the Spirit, a reminder of what Ignatius of Loyola learned so painfully about his relationship with God. It is not what we do for God but what God does in us that leads to the fullness of life and of love. Even an Irish pilgrimage can become mediating sacrament of Lenten grace.
And it has been. The journey to the tomb stones clustered around St. Finbar bore testimony to the sacredness of personal relationships, invited the reluctant heart to the embrace of the vulnerability of the human, and summoned the human spirit to ground radical longings in faith, hope and love. These interior movements throughout these weeks of Lenten preparation for Easter have been for me the graces of this season of Lent. Each has been and invitation to a more intimate grasp of the way of Jesus, his truth and his life.
The Jesus of John’s Gospel, the Word of God, the Eternal self-expression of God, testifies to the bonding of all that is human with the divine in his person. In his embracing of our human vulnerability so powerfully expressed at his baptism he points the way. In his final total self-gift on the cross he reveals the truth at the heart of the divine and the human, the centrality of self-giving love. In the resurrection and sending of the Spirit he transforms that which is mortal with the gift of his own divine life. Christ is our radical grounding. And here we are at Easter!
Patrick O’Leary, S.J., is the university chaplain.