Frank Cullen -The Master Craftsman R.I.P.

Francis X. Cullen

Funeral Mass

Church of St. Brendan, Coolock

Tuesday the 25th of April 2017,

Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist

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As I read and listen to what is going on in the world today I am of the very strong opinion that more and more people will have the following three words emblazoned on their headstones … ‘I should have’. The near addictive compulsion to adrenaline like experiences that is a force for fulfilment today seems, at times, to be replacing a way of life when we savour the simple things that surround us. The good life that we have control over is substituted with a scenario where we many are chasing ‘life’ that is constructed by others who do not have their interests to heart.

We bid farewell today to a man who has no need of the words ‘I should have’ on his headstone.   In his last weeks on this earth Frank acknowledged his sheer and utter contentment with all that life has brought him. Like most of us there are many misfortunes that came his way; there were dark moments, times when the odds were stacked against him but these all dissolved in the face of all the good he knew. His life with Anne for fifty three years of marriage were exceptional years as they revealed their ability to work together with calm and with fortitude.   His children, John, Sondra and David were the apple of his eye. (At one stage on Tonlegee Road we thought Frank and Anne were opening a Divisional Station!) Frank delighted in what they achieved with their respective wives and husband (Emer, Sean, and Niamh) and he lived for his grandchildren, Eoin, Aileen, Oisin and Cliodhna. As regards his work he was exceptional.  He was the quintessential Master Craftsman. His shared his trade with openness, generosity, pride and deftness. He won the admiration of many and the scorn of very few. He loved his early life in Seville Place and indeed brought a lot of the values of neighbourliness and charity with him when he emigrated to the country to a small, rural, village called Coolock in 1965.

Frank was a wise and a deep man and as any craftsman knows when you work steadily over a particular piece of work it is not only time of patient persistence – it is also a time of contemplation. It is a time when you live between what is – and what is possible. If you loose sight of either – the project falls apart. Franks craft was a wonderful image of Frank the man and indeed, a wonderful image of life. To live between what is and what is possible. To be honest Frank’s realm of what is possible was deeply informed by his faith; his belief in the God who watched over him all his life.

It is only right to say at this stage that we know Frank had his fair share of suffering. His heart attack in 1991 nearly stole him from this world but he managed to outwit its effects. As a child he had polio and anyone of his vintage will know how polio was treated. It meant long, lonely, hours in hospitals when you became an observer of life rather than a person who was immersed in its activity. You were on the stands while others were on the pitch. I know a number of people who have polio and they nearly all have that self same ability to stand back from life, evaluate it, and make a comment that makes everything right.  Anyone who was a beneficiary of Frank’s wisdom knew he lived in the bigger picture and could, in one short sentence, make sense of the most complicated thing. People I know who contracted polio have an innate awareness of the value of kindness because they discovered the importance of kindness when they were all but imprisoned in a hospital ward – and they never forgot that kindness.

To go back to that instance where we talked through a project that we shared. I received a gift of a chalice from a carpenter who lived on the island of Lampedusa. It was simple wooden chalice made from a migrant boat. To use it at Mass it required an inset to prevent leakages and to make it worthy of the purpose for which a chalice is intended to be used. Frank was the man who came to my aid and he undertook the task a love and care which was inspirational. With his colleagues in The Calderwood School of Silversmiths they brought this chalice to life.

Apart from the joy of watching it take shape; the conversations about what a chalice represented were deeply profound. I’d explain something; he’d listen, repeat some of the words and respond with his own little wise addition. Frank Cullen; Silversmith and Doctor of Theology. One such instance went as follows.

There is one theologian who sees the Eucharistic in the context of sacrifice. The Old Testament is littered with occasions of sacrifices that aimed to appease the God the people believed in. Even among those who believed in Yahweh God, they often sacrificed someone even by stoning in the belief that this person was bringing bad luck, even pestilence on the community. By scapegoating them, by punishing them, they felt they restored peace in the community. They did for a while until the next problem occurred and the same cycle started again. There is even an account of the prophet Jonah being thrown out of the boat to calm the storm that was causing the boat to sink.

This theologian states that the reason Jesus came among us was that his sacrifice on the cross was a statement by God that there was no need to scapegoat or sacrifice anyone of His creatures ever again. There is no need for anyone to be a victim ever again. When the chalice is raised up we are reminded of that. But today we are reminded of something more wonderful. Frank didn’t make a victim of anyone; he never claimed the role of a victim and if did anything it was to reach out and alleviate the plight to those who were genuine victims of situations not of their own making. Any of us in the neighbourhood know that only too well. So it is right and fitting that these two chalices were made by his hands. Mine may not be worthy to lift them but his were certainly worthy to make them.

The conversation continued to reflect on the suffering of the world and the needless amount of victims there are daily in the name of all sorts of ends. During one of these conversations I shared with him the words of a nun I met in Rwanda who saw horrendous murders, violations and mutilations. Many acted (Hutus) in the belief that if they ridded the country of one group of people (Tutsis) that order and well-being would be restored on the land. The sister who had lived through it all when asked did you ever ask where God was in all this she simply said; ‘I would not put this on the shoulders of God’. Frank said these works over and over again ‘I would not put this on the shoulders of God’. He continued, ‘When my time comes and you lift my chalice we’ll remember those words’. I think this particular conversation helped him accept where things were at and helped him begin to look at not what he was leaving behind but what he had been blessed with.

In this life we can seek salvation in so many things but there is only one that is important. We can be distracted, addicted and busy but the truth of our Christian faith is that the answer to everything lies in the Eucharist we celebrate here today. Frank’s message to us all is what really matters in life is what we come to know as the ‘touch of the true Master’s hand’.

Fr. Alan Hilliard (alan.hilliard@dit.ie)

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Where Once There Was Love

Good Friday 2017

 

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Where Once There Was Love

 

This is a day like no other. For anyone who tries to make sense out of life and for those who are trying to grapple with meaning – this day has it all. It is the finest play, poem and pageant that has ever been conceived. For some the conception of this event remains only in the realm of myth for may others it occupies a space we call truth and as such is dissolves every other attempt for ultimate truth.

 

Today, many will try to emulate the path that the man Jesus took.  The re-living of this event takes many forms. There is liturgy, pilgrimage and pageant which strives to bring one into the events ultimate mystery. For some it is a matter of ignoring, for others it is a time for observing, for others again it is a necessary metaphysical plunging into the sinews of life.

 

Good Friday is for many a day that creates an opportunity to make sense of the gift or the burden that we call life. It is especially an opportunity to make sense of all those things that that the world as we know it can’t absorb. It often provides a space for the real self to be even more real so it can experience healing and life.

 

The world today invites everything to have an image. This is the language of the market but it has been absorbed by many as a way of existing. What was made for the transient and fickle market place has become a modus operandi for a lot of people. This is not the way life should be, but this is the way it has become be it consciously or unconsciously.

 

Today, in liturgy we find a figure who was beyond an image that anyone could create or project. Any self-induced sense of importance was stripped away. Properly articulated today is life in its rawest and most abject. In the strangest of ways it shows how life can only be lived in the context of love, real love, that steps over convention, narcissism and self-seeking. Anything can be undergone, anything can be endured in the name of love.

 

The antithesis of this is true also and it is very much part of today’s deepest reality which is how infinitely more difficult life is when love has been stolen or displaced by denial, anger, hurt and selfishness. The absence of love makes things futile. The absence of love take purpose away. The absence of love destroys joy. Life’s experience is all the most bitter when one can recall the fact that ‘Where once there was love’ there is now nothing or even something else. This was the most hazardous part of the journey for the man Jesus today. When this happens in our lives it is the most hazardous journey too.

 

The fact that one who claimed to be God stepped into this space makes that God all the more real, all the more necessary and all the more accessible.  To walk with him today means to step beyond image, to embrace what is raw, to wave good-bye to what is false so that our lives can be blessed with real and ever- lasting love.

 

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By the end of March 1963, forty-five families had purchased houses. – Casey

Some of you may know that I worked with emigrants. When I read the work of many selfless men and women I commissioned a book which was researched and written by Dr. Patricia Kennedy of UCD. What started out as an objective work on her part opened her heart and mind to these amazing folk one of whom was Eamonn Casey. If we had their kind around today we’d have the migrant crisis near sorted.

Here is an extract from her book entitled ‘Welcoming the Stranger’:KENNEDY

© 2015 Patricia Kennedy
Fr Casey soon recognized that Slough had a housing problem as acute as anywhere in the country. He found that a few young couples had, on the arrival of their first baby, been evicted from the singleroom flat they had rented for £5 per week. A close examination of their problems, their pattern of employment, savings and future savings potential, disclosed that with a little financial assistance they could secure a mortgage and a house of their own. He spoke of the thousands of families in caravans who had given up hope and had ‘staked out pathetic little gardens’.7

He recognized that many had lost any hope of homes, families, having children, and reunificationwi th their families. He also realized, however, that a house could be bought with a £200 deposit: ‘This amount was the difference between
appalling conditions and a “normal” life.’ He discovered that people had a difficulty, not with repayment, but with getting money for a deposit. Explaining the origins of the scheme, he laughed at his own enthusiasm and innocence: he had walked into a bank in Slough,and in forty minutes, standing at the counter, he convinced the bank manager to back his scheme. ‘I went into the bank where the church
had its account and I asked to see the bank manager. I explained what many Irish parishioners were facing when trying to buy a house.’ He asked, if he were to lodge £1,000 (which he had received from his own father) as security and wanted no interest, would the bank loan amounts of up to £400 to individuals who had already saved £400
for their deposit, up to a total of £5,000—which would help twelve couples.11 He went on: ‘When the first £1,000 was committed, I lodged another £1,000.’12 He encouraged people to save systematically. He set up his own Parish Savings Scheme, a facility with a dedicated volunteer
which stayed open late on Friday evenings to accommodate the return of men working outside Slough on the motorways and other building projects. They gave Eamonn Casey money, which he put in the bank. Once they had saved £50, eighty percent of it was put into a building society. This helped the individual to save with both bank and building society and establish a reputation as a saver with both. Fr
Casey explained: ‘All these guys would not get home until about nine on a Friday night. They were out working on the roads. I opened myow n savings scheme and a volunteer attended it for fifteen years from 8 pm-12 am on a Friday night.’ In the first year of Fr Casey’s scheme, the bank advanced a total of £4,865 on the strength of the original £1,000 deposit.14 Nineteen families were enabled to purchase their houses. Encouraged by these results, in July 1962, he made another £1,000 deposit provided by local
fundraising efforts and another £1,000 given by a donor, in January 1963.

By the end of March 1963, forty-five families had purchased
houses.

 

 

 

 

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Saint Patrick’s Day in Bondi

 

A few thoughts on St. Patrick’s Day for 2017…memories from Bondi and published in this month’s Messenger…

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Saint Patrick’s Day Bondi

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NOAH’S ARK —-2017

NOAH’S ARK – 2017

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(I came across this piece a number of years ago and have made some modifications to the text. If any one knows the original author could they please let me know. I published it once in The Irish catholic and it got some very interesting reactions. )

And the Lord spoke to Noah and said, “In one year, I am going to make it rain and cover the whole earth with water until all flesh is destroyed. But I want you to save the righteous people and two of every kind of living thing on the earth. Therefore, I am commanding you to build an Ark.”
In a flash of lightning, God delivered the specifications for the Ark. In fear and trembling, Noah took the plans and agreed to set to work. “Remember” said the Lord, “You must complete the Ark and bring everything  on board within one calendar year.”
Exactly one year later, fierce storm clouds covered the earth and all the seas of the earth went into a tumult. The Lord saw that Noah was sitting in his front yard. He was weeping. “Noah,” He shouted. “Where is the Ark?” “Lord, please forgive me!” cried Noah. “I did my best, but there were big problems. First, I had to get a permit for construction and your plans did not comply with building regulations. Consequently I had to hire an engineering firm and redraw the plans. Then I got into a fight with Health and Safety over whether or not the Ark needed a fire sprinkler system and flotation devices.  Then my neighbour objected, claiming I was violating planning ordinances by building the Ark in my front yard, so I had to lodge a Rezoning Application for a transfer of my property from ‘residential use’ to ‘industrial use’ with the Council. This has been referred onto An Bord Pleanála. I await an outcome of their decision’’.

”As if that was not enough I had problems getting enough wood for the Ark. You won’t believe it but there was a ban on cutting trees to protect a rare beetle that lived beneath its bark. I tried to convince the Department of Environment that I needed the wood to save the beetles in the face of the impending flood. I can tell you that I was not amused that all the office staff was trying tried to hold back their sniggers while trying to pretend that they were treating me seriously. Eventually they informed me that the beetle cannot be removed from its local habitat’’.

”While I was dealing with all that, the carpenters on the Ark formed a union and went out on strike. I had to negotiate a settlement with them before anyone would pick up a saw or a hammer. Now, I have 16 carpenters on the Ark, but still no beetles let alone any of the creatures on your list.  When I started rounding up the other animals, I got served a summons by the ISPCA. They claimed that the Ark was unfit for habitation by animals.   Just when I got the summons overturned, the Environmental Protection Agency notified me that I could not complete the Ark without filing an environmental impact statement on the ‘proposed flood.’  They didn’t take very kindly to the idea that they had no jurisdiction over the conduct of the Creator of the universe. Then the Department of the Marine demanded that I provide a map of the proposed new flood plain before I could launch the Ark. I did the best I could saying that I hadn’t that level of insight into the mind of the Almighty.  Right now I ‘m trying to resolve a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that I am practicing discrimination by not taking godless, unbelieving people aboard!’’

”Only last week I received notification that Revenue were about to seize my assets. They claimed that I’m building the Ark in preparation to flee the country in order to avoid paying taxes. I also have to wait for the registration of my company for VAT.  Furthermore, I just got a notice from the Inland Waterways that I owe them some kind of user tax and I’m in arrears because I failed to register the Ark as a “recreational water craft.”
”I’ve also need a Boat Drivers Licence but they are debating about how to classify my licence as they have no ‘template’ for the Ark. I am getting continual visits from Green Peace, RSPCA, Archaeological Action Groups, An Gardaí and numerous other officials from various government departments. Finally, the Council for Civil Liberties got the courts to issue an injunction against further construction of the Ark, saying that since God is flooding the earth, it is a religious event and is therefore unconstitutional. I really don’t think I can finish the Ark for another 5 or 6 years!” Noah wailed. ‘’To be honest I was going to let the whole project go as a going concern but my bank informed me that the Ark is only worth fifty percent of its original value so I’m stuck in negative equity. The wife is giving me a hard time because there are no more ‘three- holidays abroad’ and she is parking her BMW two streets away from the house as she fears it is going to be repossessed’’.

The sky began to clear, the sun began to shine and the seas began to calm. A rainbow arched across the sky. Noah looked up hopefully. “You mean you are not going to destroy the earth Lord?”  “No,” said the Lord sadly. “I don’t have to; you people seem to be doing a good job of it without my help.”

Source unknown.

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98,400 : 1

 

boat-reduced

 

The cold at night was as intense as the heat during the day. They travelled when they could, hoping they were headed in the right direction. Eventually another group of traffickers arrived and began to negotiate with them. Abraham was taken to one side and a gun was put to his head. The traffickers planned to use him as an example and were ready to kill him. If the other people in the group did not pay money to the traffickers, he would die. His friend volunteered to pay so they took his money and then shot him,

This article was published in January’s Messenger            98,400:1 Part 1

and this one is a follow up article in February’s edition   98,400:1 Part 2

 

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RTE’s A Living Word, Friday, the 20th January, 2017. ‘The Ultimate Migration’

 ‘The Ultimate Migration’

To listen to Alan’s reflection click here.

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St Catherine of Sienna was known for her bluntness. Once she said,

We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues. I see that this world is rotten because of silence.

The power-brokers of our world want us to be silent about migration and migrants. They don’t want any more photographs of children dying on beaches; they don’t want newsreel of people dead in trucks or containers. The slick operations now sinks migrant boats and takes people to camps where the local community remains unaware of the conditions of those who live there. And from those camps the complexity of the situation grows as the odour of illegality surrounds the surreptitious placing of people in country towns and villages.

In this year’s letter for World Day for Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis refuses to be silent and he consistently refers to the plight of all migrants and in particular this year to the plight of those who are young and unaccompanied;

 The condition of child migrants is worsened when their status is not regularized or when they are recruited by criminal organizations. In such cases they are usually sent to detention centres. It is not unusual for them to be arrested, and because they have no money to pay the fine or for the return journey, they can be incarcerated for long periods, exposed to various kinds of abuse and violence.

Pope Francis has chosen to keep the plight of migrants to the fore despite the inertia of many of his followers. Why? Well one reason I suppose is that his life is a celebration of the greatest migrations of all time which is that of the Son of God who entered directly into our human condition so that he can bring us all to the Father of love…about this wonderful mystery which is the ultimate and most cherished migration… there is little room for silence.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 20th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s A Living Word, Thursday, the 19th January, 2017. ‘Kindness’

‘Kindness’

To listen, click here  -Thursday Alan Hilliard

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/a-living-word/programmes/2017/0119/846247-a-living-word-thursday-19-january-2017/?clipid=2377866#2377866

red-facesWe were standing at the edge of St. Peter’s Square in Rome just beside one of the homeless shelters run by the Missionaries of Charity. It was that time of the evening when those who were to spend the night in the shelter were gathering prior to its opening. Many of the accents were not Italian. They were mostly migrants. Their accents betraying origins in places such as Eastern Europe, Africa even parts of former Russia.

Unbeknownst to her one of the straps of a friends hand bag had slipped off her shoulder revealing her purse, passport and a few other items of value. One of those queuing to get into the shelter noticed what I also had noticed and he moved towards my friend. And yes you guessed right – he tapped her on the shoulder and said in his broken eastern European accent, ‘miss your bag is open and some-one could take something please close it’. He refused any reward and re-joined the queue.

On the 19th of April last year Pope Francis tweeted that ‘Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such’.

Where some have suggested that we find only evil and terror I fortunately, have mostly found goodness, humanity and forgiveness. The Christian vision for our world today rests not in labels or categories or even in theories or great homilies but in our mutual respect for one another as brothers and sisters who share a common home, a mutual respect that I saw so beautifully expressed  in the kindness of a homeless migrant in St. Peters Square in Rome. His simple actions opened my eyes to the true heart of the Church in the midst of its great columns and piazzas.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 19th Jan 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s A Living Word, Wednesday, 18th January, 2017. ‘Tying the Knot’

‘Tying the Knot’

To listen click here – Wednesday, Alan Hilliard

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/a-living-word/programmes/2017/0118/846248-a-living-word-wednesday-18-january-2017/?clipid=2377868#2377868

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‘Ah sure they’ve tied the knot’.  This is a phrase often associated with marriage in Ireland. However it has other origins. In parts of rural Ireland in the midst of a conversation someone might say…’I haven’t seen Micheál or Nora for a while’. The reply might be, ‘ah sure, they’ve tied the knot’. The expression referred to the silent emigration of the poorer members of the community from their home. To ‘tie the knot’ referred to the last act a person carried out before they left their dwelling. A person in the better off part of town might have had a suitcase into which they packed their belongings. In a poorer home a few pieces of clothing and a few small items of memorabilia were wound round one another and tied together with a piece of string. The knot was then tied on the all that the migrants owned and possessed.

The photographs and film clips of those arriving on the shores of the Southern Mediterranean show that even if they had a piece of string there’d be little to wrap up. I know one man who was returned from the UK to Rome under the Dublin Convention (Ironically enough) with nothing only the pyjamas that he wore.

I’ve been fortunate to meet many migrants whose wealth cannot be tied into tidy parcels because their wealth lies within them. Having lost everything, they see their world differently and they live with a profound sense of God’s providence. Like Abraham, Moses and many, many, others in scripture, their uncluttered lives reveal a passion for life that possesses every limb and sinew of their being.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 18th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s, A Living Word, Tuesday, 17th January, 2017 ‘Ships of Hope’

‘Ships of Hope’

To listen, click here – Tuesday Alan Hilliard

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/a-living-word/programmes/2017/0117/846249-a-living-word-tuesday-17-january-2017/?clipid=2377871#2377871

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In his book Self-Portrait, John B. Keane talks about emigration. He tells of his journey across the Irish Sea and he puts into words what he observed happening all about him on the boat:

Underneath it all was the heart-breaking frightful anguish of separation. It would be a waste of time for me to launch into a description of what went on. A person had to be part of it to feel it.

A person had to be part of it to feel it. It is so easy to separate ourselves from the plight of those who are people before they are refugees, asylum seekers or migrants. Today many travel in boats that are laden with their fellow human beings, clinging to one another in sometimes silent and more times chaotic desperation.

Is there much difference, other than time, between the words of our own John B. Keane that we have just heard and those of the Somali poet Warsan Shire:

 

you have to understand

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

I think that those who make a migratory journey, whether that journey is from West Kerry to Camden or from Aleppo to Ballaghadreen, that they hope for one thing. They live with the hope that what they gain in moving to a new place will outweigh what they lose in leaving the place formerly known as home. This may be difficult for us to grasp, especially if we’ve never wanted for anything but as John B. says, ‘a person had to be part of it to feel it’.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 21st January, 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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