The ‘Novena of Grace and Mercy’ took place in Gardiner Street Church from 4-12 March. This year’s preacher was Fr. Philip Chircop SJ, an internationally-known retreat master and public speaker. Gardiner Street Parish also hosted the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, one of the main events of the Jubilee Year of Mercy on March 4-5. The parish promoted these days as a way to discover a path back to the Lord; live a moment of intense prayer; and find deeper meaning in life. Here Parish Priest Fr. Gerry Clarke SJ offers his reflections…
“How to be miserable”, a homily title that took me by surprise and made me smile. I smiled because I could think of my own special formula for making myself miserable. And the packed church gathered for the Novena smiled as well. What is Fr Philip going to preach about under the title “How to be Miserable”? His message emerged from the the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector who go up to the Temple to pray. How one declares the good he does and how righteous he feels; particularly when compared to the other, a thieving Tax Collector who just stood at the back and asked forgiveness for his sins. And yet, according to Jesus, it was the thieving Tax Collector who went home at rights with God. Misery begins when you separate yourself from the rest , being proud and standing aloof, labelling, criticising and judging others. Or worst of all, comparing yourself with someone else and, in your own estimation, being judged the better person. That’s how to be miserable; without even knowing it.
Fr Philip used many images and stories during the Novena: the 800 “Pacos”; “let go of the branch” and “the Aspirin God”: they touched our experience and you wanted to hear it again and again. It was a reminder of some very human truths; truths about human life and about God. We are not what we have; we are not what we do; we are not our sin or our mistakes: we are more than these. Pausing with such thoughts and letting them sink in, something clicks and you remember what is true for you and for all of us.
But the Novena wasn’t just about grace. It was also about mercy. And in response to Pope Francis’s call the first two days (4-5 March) opened with “24 Hours for the Lord”. What a special time that was! The Pope Francis Corridor thrown open to people who came for confession or for spiritual direction. And in candlelight people moving to and fro between the welcoming rooms and the team on the corridor. It reminded me of a place of retreat: Lough Derg, Knock, Taizé. For 24 hours Gardiner Street became a centre of reconciliation and prayerful conversation. The Manresa-trained team of spiritual directors and Jesuit priests from all over Ireland welcomed all-comers for a chat: whatever that might mean. And in the evening a small team of volunteers invited passers-by to come into the candlelit church for a prayer. One of the team, with some apprehension approached three tall Asian men outside: “Would you like to light a candle in the Church?” “Yes”, they said, entered and knelt quietly before the altar in prayer.
We have to be a Church that goes forth, a church that is actively apostolic. Just like St Francis Xavier in the Far East or Ignatius and the first Companions at home.