Message from Fr Sheil SJ | Clongowes Wood College

Posted: 24th March 2020

Fr Michael Sheil SJ

Rest – read – work/walk – show love – be at peace – pray!


I came across those ten words the other day – in a church notice in Normandy – in a parish on the WWII Landing Beaches. Lion s/mer was liberated by the Royal Ulster Rifles in June 1944 – which gives me a wonderful link to home. It is there that I spend my annual break [a sort of busman’s holiday – helping in the parish] – and I still hold out hope that I may be able to return there in July for my 50th summer!

The above words go right back to the early centuries of monastic life in the Church – and they continue to be the backbone of the lives of many men and women who still choose what is called a contemplative vocation in life. We may have something to learn from them – to help us at this time.

Perhaps – as we continue to live our unusual experience of the effects of covid-19 – these words may find an echo in each of us as we see how our living pattern has changed dramatically since St Patrick’s Day.

We may, I hope, have been getting plenty of rest …….  have found a good book to read (or perhaps have been plunged unwillingly into homework!) …… we have tried to get out for a socially-distant walk ……… have worked at a few odds and ends ……… have helped our neighbours (beginning with a positive contribution to Family life as best we can – isn’t that just love!) ….. and,  hopefully, have found unexpected peace …….. and, somewhere in it all, have prayed a bit as well. Each to his/her own, as they say.

As we begin this second week – and as I live this very different pattern of life in Clongowes – I have been struck by two aspects of this experience – each of them very different.

Firstly, it has been wonderful to hear media reports of people’s ingenuity in all sorts of imaginative ways to help us help each other at this time – e.g. small group celebrations of St Patrick’s Day – Ryan Tubridy’s sharing of people’s kindness every morning and on the Late-Late (he’s doing a great job!) Government figures and those in authority have been praised – and the HSE and its workers and volunteers have rightly been hailed as heroes. Deep down, we can feel rightly proud as a nation – and can come to recognize what we can achieve if we pull together and share the challenge.

On reflecting further – I find myself thinking of a not dissimilar experience of many many years ago [way back to the Old Testament] – to Moses and his people wandering in the desert towards the Promised Land – not knowing what lay ahead – unable to turn back. The Bible has a lovely image of the Faith of God’s Chosen People’s that He was with them in their struggle – going in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire in the night [Exodus 13:22]. Like them, might we not feel the need of something stronger to hold onto to help us in our anxious moments – to overcome our fears – to measure up to what is expected of us to face this challenge together?   It is here that the gift of Faith comes into my life.

In his many times of trial Moses was able to speak to God as friend to friend – and his Friend was faithful to His promise not to desert His People. Perhaps it is now a time for each of us summon up courage –  –  to place our trust in  the same Friend  – and, on our own – or (better still) in our Family group – to pray to our God who is can write straight with crooked lines ?

May I quote another of my favourite sayings – this time of Dag Hammarksjold [UN Sec.Gen. 1953-1961 – check him out on Google] We give thanks to God for bringing us this far in safety – and pledge to do our best in what is to come – in our looking after ourselves and in our care of others …… as we make our own a prayer found in his journal after his death: For the past, Thanks – for the future, Yes.               

As I wander round these lovely green spaces here in Clongowes – I am at peace – and give thanks for the beauty of it all. I ask the Lord to walk-with-us at this time – and I pray, each time we celebrate our Community Mass together, that He may hold each one of you in the hollow-of-His-hand.


Fr Michael Sheil SJ


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