A minibus from Tyrone, full of passengers wearing jerseys sets out for Drumcondra (Dublin) on a summer’s morning. Nothing unusual about this scene. Except that on Saturday 27th June the jerseys weren’t the Red & White of Tyrone (they were pink!) and we weren’t headed for Croke Park! No, this group of merry souls were headed for St Alphonsus Road instead of Jones Road, to meet Red Nuns instead of Red & white County footballers!!
I’ve had many happy journeys to Croke Park since I was a child. There’s no place in this world like Croke Park on All-Ireland day - my soul has been stirred and my heart has soared as I’ve watched my beloved Tyrone play on the hallowed turf. Today, however my soul would stir in a different manner and my heart would be filled with graces of another kind.
As our minibus entered the gates of St Alphonsus Monastery for Day 3 of the Rise of the Roses Summer Tour we were greeted by jubilant Sisters from no fewer than SIX Religious Communities in all, full of excitement and joy! The day had finally arrived when the Redemptoristine Sisters would open their doors to a team of girls wanting to share the beauty and joy of Consecrated Religious Life in Ireland.
A day on the Rise of the Roses Summer Tour comprises of tea, chat, song and prayer, but whilst each day has the same ingredients, the recipe that God has served up has been brilliantly different every time. In Dublin the ‘Red Nuns’ had the insight to invite along Sisters from other Contemplative Communities in the City. It made for a unique gathering and a wide spread of testimonies and witness, both to the ‘gathered audience’, and in the more informal setting of lunch and ‘chat-time’.
We heard from Sr Fionnuala, a science graduate who reflected on the ‘slow-burning’ nature of a vocation to Religious Life. I loved the analogy she used describing her journey : “When you throw a log on the fire it will ‘spit’ and resist the flame at first, not giving off much heat, but then, over time, it will settle until it gives off a red-hot glow of intense heat”. Whilst my vocation is motherhood, and not Religious Life, this reflection resonated deeply with me in my own spiritual journey. What Sr Fionnuala didn’t realise was that her reflection also tied in with theme of the Rise of the Roses Cross this week (See the Journey of our Cross- Week 3).
We also heard from Sister Maria, a young sister with the Redemptoristine Community. Her testimony was powerful in its sincere honesty. Sister Maria acknowledged that when God called her first it scared her, and she resisted! She shared that in the early days of her journey to becoming a Religious Sister she had to ‘forgive’ God for calling her. She elaborated by telling us that saying ‘Yes’ to God means saying ‘No’ to everything else, and that she had a period of grief over this. However she now sees how God has fulfilled her in ways that nothing nor anyone ever could’!
Following testimonies from the Sisters we moved to the Chapel at the heart of the Monastery where we joined the Sisters for Mid-Day Prayer, more specifically the Divine Office prayers.
It is difficult to explain this prayer time with the Sisters …. there was a sense of the ancient intertwined with the present. There was a sense of the divine intertwined with humble humanity. There was a sense of rhythm, of order, of being deeply personal whilst at the same time being wholly communal.
An opportunity to participate in and witness such powerful prayer in a Religious Community is one that we hope many people will come to experience as the Rise of the Roses Tour continues throughout the country.
As we moved on to lunch, and had time to chat and spend time with the Sisters, my mind couldn’t help going back to the significance of where (geographically) we were. As I mentioned earlier I have been in this part of Dublin many times but I never knew this Monastery existed. How could such a vibrant, beautiful Community be ‘so hidden’ , WHY is it that it intentionally remains hidden and ‘enclosed’ and what do these Communities DO for those of us who live outside of them?
Of course we could spend a lifetime reflecting on the importance of Contemplative Religious Life to the world, but on this occasion several of the Sisters answered my question in different ways, each with striking power:
“We are a hidden source of grace for those on the front line of battle” – Sr Patrice (Poor Clares)
“We aim to be a fire of faith and of love …. So that the people of the world will feel like they can come to us, to warm themselves by that fire and be rejuvenated to go out to face the challenges of this world” – Sr Maura (Reds)
“We accompany people in their joys and in their sorrows” – Sr Miriam (Carmelites, Malahide)
“We offer a ‘listening ear’” – Sr Ann (Carmelites, Firhouse)
“We live united in heart and soul, in a way the earliest Christian Communities did. Carmelite Communities live like ‘little families’ who love one another, care for one another and particularly cherish the most vulnerable in our midst. We hope that people recognise this love and know that it comes from Christ”. – Sr Bridgeen (Carmelites Kilmacud)
Finally, a dimension of life with the Red Nuns that came to the fore on our visit was the integral part that ‘recreation’ plays in the life of this community. Sr Gabrielle described the word ‘Recreation’ as meaning ‘to re-create the human person’. I thought to myself – Mickey Harte would love that one!
Sr Lucy went further explaining the three ‘I’s that the sisters strive for in Community Life - ‘Identity’ ‘Integrity’ and ‘Intimacy’, all rooted in Christ. “It’s a wonderful life”, she explained, “You get to know who you really are here”.
Mickey Harte is renowned for his rallying call: “No ifs. No buts. No Maybes. Total Faith”. St Alphonsus Monastery, set in the shadow of Croke Park, is certainly a place of TOTAL FAITH. The new Monastery was built in faith (at a time when there were no new vocations to the Order for 37 years) and now the Community is reaping the benefits of such faith with a surge of ‘new blood’ in the last ten years. It is now a community brimming with life and love, faith and joy.
I left the Redemptoristine Sisters with so much to think about and so much to fire me up to go back into my own ‘field of battle’ - busy family life! Thank you Sisters – I will be eternally grateful!