Monthly Archives: November 2014

Those Ordinary Moments with Extraordinary Meaning

In our lives, we all experience seemingly ordinary moments that take on deeper meaning. They cause us to pause and reflect, and grace our lives with brief flashes of insight and wonder. Small Wonders: Stories of Love, Loss and Letting Go is a collection of these moments from noted theologian and writer Anne Thurston. Arising from contributions written for the ‘Living Word’ series on RTÉ Radio 1, they reflect life’s patterns of chaos and calm, and invite the reader to find solace and meaning in the muddle and mystery of daily living.


Seeing the Geese

It was December – one of those bright crisp days. We were doing that annual duty of Christmas shopping. I remember that I had bags in both hands, because I wanted to point to the sky and I had to put them down.

We were on our way home, exhausted, as you are when you’ve made the twenty-sixth purchase of hat or gloves or book or CD or tasteful bauble or bangle that you think your third cousin twice removed would really like for Christmas.

We were heading for home.

None of this really matters because it was then I heard them first. I looked up, and flying above the city streets were hundreds of geese. They were probably on their way from one feeding ground to another – it was lunchtime after all. I called out in surprise and delight. We stood still almost in the middle of the road, oblivious now to everything but the geese brushing dark wings against the blue sky. We watched as flock after flock passed by in their distinctive V formation with that characteristic cry, which now we could make out clearly, even above the noise of the traffic. Like a street evangelist I wanted to tell everyone the good news of what I had seen, but all around me heads remained lowered and people rushed on, unaware of the wonder above them.

Exhaustion forgotten, we boarded the tram.

Now, one year later, I cannot remember one single thing we bought that day. But I remember the geese. I remember the joy, the utterly unexpected joy of seeing them there high above the streets, stringing out across the winter-pale sky.

Small Wonders is available from and in all Veritas stores.


First Irish Shrine to Our Lady Un-doer of Knots Unveiled

Our Lady Untier of Knots

Fr Tony O’Riordan, parish priest of Moyross, with Archbishop Charles Brown

Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, celebrated Mass in Corpus Christi Church, Moyross, yesterday with Bishop Brendan Leahy and Bishop Donal Murray in honour of a new sculpture and painting dedicated to Our Lady Un-doer of Knots.

Limerick artist, Des Langford, painted the image of Our Lady on to an old piece of Irish Chestnut wood. The iron work that accompanies it was sculpted by local blacksmith, Eric O’Neill.

Speaking yesterday, Archbishop Brown talked about the great affection that Pope Francis has for Ireland, where he spent time studying English in the 1970s. ‘I know he has a great love for the Irish people and a special appreciation for the Irish people’s love for the mother of God, Mary, which is very, very close to his heart.’

He also expressed his hope that a visit to Ireland by Pope Francis would one day take place. ‘It would be the biggest joy I would ever have as Apostolic Nuncio in Ireland to have the Pope visit Ireland. With God all things are possible, so we just have to see.’

Our Lady Untier of Knots complete

Prayercard to Our Lady Untier of Knots available at

Devotion to Our Lady Un-doer of Knots, who is said to help solve complicated problems, has grown in popularity since the beginning of Pope Francis’s papacy. His own devotion goes back to when he was a student in Germany in the 1980s, when he viewed the famous painting by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner which hangs in the church of St Peter am Barlach in Bavaria. He brought a postcard of the painting back to Argentina and later had the image engraved on a chalice that was presented to Pope Benedict XVI.

This is the first Irish shrine to honour Our Lady Un-doer of Knots and framed copies of the image can be ordered from the parish office.

The Man in the Middle – St Laurence O’Toole

The Man in the MiddleThe feast day of St Laurence O’Toole, Patron Saint of Dublin, is 14 November.

Born in 1128, St Laurence O’Toole is widely regarded as being one of the most colourful saints in Ireland. As a boy, he spent two years as hostage of King Dermot McMurrough, the man who brought the Normans to Ireland. Upon his release, he entered the monastery at Glendalough, becoming abbot at the age of twenty-five. 

He was appointed Archbishop of Dublin in 1162 and played a key role during the Norman invasion. The title of ‘the man in the middle’ comes from his position of mediator – as archbishop, he was called on by both sides.

He died in France in 1180, and much of what we now know about his life comes from accounts recorded by the French monks at Eu. They questioned the Irish pilgrims that arrived in France to visit his tomb, and wrote to Ireland for details of his life, virtues and the miracles attributed to him. This information was compiled and sent to Rome, leading to his canonisation in 1225. Accounts of his life commissioned by the monks were also widely circulated throughout Europe.

The following is taken from The Man in the Middle by Desmond Forristal, originally published in 1988 and re-issued in 2013 to celebrate the Year of Faith. Drawing on much of the information recorded by the monks at Eu, this extract describes the time Laurence spent as a hostage of Dermot McMurrough:

Laurence was just ten years old when he found himself caught up in the brutal world of Irish politics. Hy Murray [the district ruled by his father] was regarded as part of the province of Leinster, which at that time was ruled by King Dermot McMurrough, the man who will be remembered forever for having brought the English into Ireland. Dermot was still a comparatively young man, about twenty-eight years of age, but he had ruled Leinster since the age of sixteen and had already earned a reputation throughout Ireland for violence and treachery.

Dermot was an intensely ambitious man, who was determined sooner or later to make himself High King of Ireland. He was quite prepared to fight every king in the country if that was the only way to reach the crown. But before he could attack the high king and the other provincial kings, he had to make sure of the support of the chieftains of his own province of Leinster. In keeping with his character, he treated them as enemies to be terrorised rather than as friends to be won.

So it came about that Maurice O’Toole received a demand from Dermot to send one of his sons to him as a hostage. If he failed to do this, Dermot threatened to attack and lay waste the territory of Hy Murray. Maurice had little choice but to obey. He decided to send Laurence, the youngest of his four sons.

A hostage was a pledge for the good behaviour of whoever he represented. If Maurice acted in any way against Dermot’s interest, he knew that his son would be made to suffer by being killed or mutilated. A very frequent way of taking revenge on hostages was by putting out their eyes, a barbarous practice that was widespread not only in Ireland but throughout Europe.

It must have been with a heavy heart that Maurice saw his young son leaving Castledermot for the court of the King of Leinster. The boy himself must have been even more downcast at leaving his home for such an uncertain future. Though he did not know it, he would never live in Castledermot again. There were, however, a few grains of comfort in the situation. One was that Maurice had no intention of doing anything hostile to Dermot and so there was no reason why any harm should come to his son. The other was that Laurence, as the son of a king, was entitled to live in the royal residence and to be treated with the same respect as one of Dermot’s own sons.

However, Dermot had other plans for him. In defiance of all laws and customs, he ordered Laurence to be sent in chains to a remote and rocky area and to be kept there under strict surveillance. Here he found himself living in conditions worse than those of the poorest peasants, ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill-fed. One of the old writers describes him in these words:

The noble youth had the spirit of a man in the body of a boy. But after spending some time there and suffering the scarcity of food, the biting cold of the strong north wind, and various forms of ill-treatment, this pleasing and good-looking boy was reduced to a sad bodily condition, starving, emaciated, his skin covered with sores.

Presumably there were some men assigned to the duty of guarding him and making sure that he did not escape. The local stories also mentioned a woman, who was among those looking after him and who was gradually won over by his gentleness and innocence. She was the only one among those around him who showed any compassion or affection for the boy.

Maurice O’Toole soon became aware of the fact that his son was not living in the royal residence or receiving the treatment that was his due. He may not have known exactly where he was or what was happening to him, but he must have had a good idea that things were not going well. There was little he could do to help. If he attempted any kind of rescue operation, he knew the boy would probably be killed or blinded before the rescuers could reach him. But he never gave up hope that some turn of events would enable him to get the upper hand over Dermot and bring his son home again.

Two years passed before an opportunity presented itself. By great good fortune, he managed to take a group of Dermot’s soldiers by surprise and to capture twelve of them. He sent word to Dermot that he had twelve of his men in his power and that he would put all of them to death unless Laurence was set free at once and allowed to return home.

Dermot finally yielded and agreed to the exchange, and Laurence’s two-year ordeal came to an end. According to local tradition, Laurence’s joy at leaving the Glen of Imaal was not shared by the woman who had been looking after him. It is said that she was so heartbroken that she used to climb the trees and watch the paths across the mountains, in the hope that she would see him coming back again. Some of the old people could even remember a few lines of the lament she is supposed to have sung as she mourned for her lost little saint.

Pope Francis pays tribute to the role of John Paul II in the fall of the Berlin Wall

Fall of Berlin WallYesterday marked twenty-five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Speaking about the anniversary, Pope Francis paid tribute to those who worked for the Berlin Wall’s end, and made special mention of the role played by John Paul II.

‘The fall happened suddenly, but it was made possible by the long and arduous efforts of many people who had fought for this, prayed and suffered, some even sacrificing their lives. These include a leading role played by Saint Pope John Paul II.’

John Paul II is widely hailed as having played a major part in the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, with Mikhail Gorbachev once proclaiming that ‘the collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II.’

In his speech, Pope Francis also warned that there are still many walls that divide us today. ‘Where there is a wall, there is closure of the heart. We need bridges, not walls!’

He appealed to all of good will to continue spreading a ‘culture of encounter,’ with the aim of bringing down the walls that still divide the world, and prayed that no more people would be killed or persecuted because of their religious beliefs.