Catholics have gathered at Ballintubber Abbey for daily Mass since 1216. Walking along the path that leads to the doorway, you sense the hallowed ground underfoot. Each summer while in Ireland, I make sure to attend a week day Mass at Ballintubber. This summer my husband and I set out for Ballintubber on a Monday morning with some friends, arriving in good time for the nine o’clock Mass.
Just before Mass was to start, Father Fahy, Ballintubber’s Pastor, appeared and eyed the gathering of his regular weekday attendees. When his eye came upon the four of us, he approached, shaking our hands and welcoming us, asking where we were from, all of which is Father Fahy’s usually procedure. Then he retreated to a back room to put on his robes. While he was gone, the door opened in the back of the church and many footsteps were heard padding down the aisle as a woman, seven months pregnant, with her four children ranging from an older boy of six, twin four-year-old boys and the youngest, about two or three, made their way to a pew on the left side of the alter. Over the years I have noticed that this is where the locals sit.
When Father Fahy ends Mass at Ballintubber, he sings a hymn I have never heard. When he starts this hymn from the altar, the locals, who sing along with him, stand, file out of their pews, and walk past the altar, and on the to the other side of the church, and down the aisle and through a door in the corner which leads somewhere. Father Fahy is the last to go through this door, with all of them still singing this hymn as this door is closed. This part of Mass at Ballintubber is a mystery to me, the hymn itself and what happens in that room after Mass, but it is a mystery I am quite happy to keep that way.
On this Monday morning at the close of Mass, he began the hymn,, and the parade of locals walking past him on the altar began. This woman with her four children was the last in the parade. Her three-year-old son was the final member of the parade, as his mother and siblings were far ahead of him. He was carrying his blanket and holding it high in one hand so as not to drag it on the floor. As he was passing the altar, he looked to his left and saw Father Fahy standing there, looking down at him. This sight caused the little boy to stop and stare.
Father Fahy saw this and also knew the song being sung had but one chorus left. He looked at the little boy staring up at him, and then gently motioned with his lowered hand at the boy, from one side to the other, to suggest to the little boy to move along. At this, the little boy stopped staring and quickened his pace, and Father Fahy left the altar to follow the route of the others before him, as was his routine. However, the little boy slowed again, tending to his blanket, and Father Fahy was soon at his side. Father had his hands clasped in prayer, but his left hand came down and the little boy’s right hand, seeming to sense Father’s there, instinctively went up, and the two of them exited hand in hand.
Since that day, I have only to close my eyes and those two images will appear. One is Father Fahy’s first gesture to the little boy to move along in this direction, just as the Holy Spirit nudges me in the right direction when I need such guidance. But often I need more than a nudge for a multitude of reasons. And then may my hand be instinctively raised only to find my Creator’s hand there, waiting to take mine in His, helping me along in life as we walk together, and eventually through that door that leads to what, for now, remains a mystery.