Had I been asked to write this piece a number of years ago, when I was still a secondary school teacher in St Paul’s, Raheny, it would have been an altogether easier prospect. Community life was based around a series of times together; meals, recreation and prayer. We had days of recollection and other times of reflection, retreat and renewal together. The life of the community and the life of the school went hand in hand and, with few exceptions, without collision! My ministry was primarily in the school, just yards from the front door of the community house, and whatever other pastoral commitments I had, for example my involvement with Beginning Experience (for Separated, Divorced and Widowed People) took place when school was ‘out’. It was a regular and measured life; or, at least, as regular and measured as life has ever been for me – I have always been a little like Maria in The Sound of Music “…always late for everything, except for every meal”!
My time in St Paul’s was followed by my two years in Damascus House in London. Here the community lived in the house and we shared many of our times of prayer with the Daughters of Charity with whom we worked. Both St Paul’s and Damascus allowed for a very regular ‘Day in the Life of Eugene Curran’.
In the intervening years, both my ministry and my local community have changed. I work now in All Hallows College, Drumcondra, where I am Head of the School of Adult and Community Learning and Director of the Pathways Programme, a programme for adult faith development. College hours vary greatly and, in the world of adult education, much happens in the evening and at weekends. The Pathways programme has developed and spread over the years and we are now involved in outreaches in Cork, in Clogher diocese and in Drumalis, in the Diocese of Down and Conor. This year, we begin the programme in Naas. All of these venues have required travel and, as a consequence, absence from my local community.
I am also a member of the Ember Mission Team and, as such, I have travelled with the team throughout Ireland and even to England and Scotland. As the years go on, I have been asked to give retreats and be involved in some works for the Vincentians worldwide. Again, this has meant being away from the life of my local community, sometimes for quite long stretches. Somewhere in the midst of this, I try to edit our province journal, Colloque, and to be involved in other pastoral, ministerial and provincial commitments.
Besides all this, the community in which I live is some distance from the place in which I minister; though this is going to change in the coming months. I could no longer simply trot down the stairs or down the drive to work. The other members of the community also had different works, often with very varying timetables, and so we had to come to some agreed way of being community together. Fr Stan, who lived in Park View with me, also noted that, while he was a ‘Lark’ (up at dawn – indeed, often before dawn) I was an ‘Owl’ (late by nature and by demands of ministry). I might be returning from work, perhaps having driven back from a class in Cork, mere hours before he would be ready to greet a new day! The time of morning prayer, by which time he had been awake some three hours, often came as a rude awakening for me and, in truth, I did not always awaken.
No two days now are ever exactly the same and, while I pray and say Mass, even this is not always in the same location two days running! Nor is there really such a thing as a typical working day; if I am in College, I may go in about 10 am, in the hope that I will be home to Park View by 10 pm. If I am on a mission, or giving a retreat, I am more likely to rise early for prayer or Eucharist and be in bed earlier in the evening. On a mission, I may say a number of masses in the course of one day; if I am teaching, I might only celebrate one public mass in a week. On a mission or retreat, I might be called on to hear confessions or visit the sick daily, if not, I may spend whole days in my office seeing students, organising courses, preparing my classes or dealing with other aspects of administration.
And yet, it seems to me, this is the life of a priest nowadays. My daily life is not hugely different from that of many people in active ‘external’ ministry. Of course, it varies from person to person and situation to situation but all of us experience a wide variety of calls on our time and presence…and these are the moments of ministry. What it asks of us, what it asks of me, is to know ‘where my treasure lies’ and to make time for my commitments to God and to my community. It is from my time with God and my confreres that I get impetus and energy for the mission; it is with them that I seek to work out what God is asking of me in my life and of us as a community, of us as priests. Even as our numbers decline and even in this time of upheaval, when we must face the consequences of our collective past, even as we age, we are called to ministry. A certain form of practice may be passing but my experience is that many still seek the support of the scriptures, the sacraments, the sacred and a spirituality which has been tried and tested through the ages.
Doing this is not always an easy task and it takes time to get a balance (ask my community about the summer I neglected to cut the grass for three months or more!) and a recognition that the balance struck may be speedily unbalanced again. It is a busy life, a full life (sometimes, perhaps, a little too full), occasionally a frustrating life but always, thank God, a fulfilling life; I would not change it for the world.
Though the Scriptures are life-blood to me, there is always a place in my heart for poetry and these days I find myself returning often to a poet I do not normally admire, Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem Ulysses;
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.