Dear Friends,


This is perhaps a quirky reflection, penned on a wet Ash Wednesday afternoon. Since I came to this ‘new ‘diocese almost two years ago, and as I relish the challenges and opportunities it offers, I have neither the time nor the inclination to look over my shoulder at my own past. But this damp afternoon I allowed myself to do so, and I identified one occasion in my former diocese that I realised I greatly missed. I now serve in a role in which I have no direct involvement at all, for all sorts of good contextual reasons, in second level education. And this fact makes me just a little wistful about the annual Ash Wednesday Eucharist in Kilkenny College, a place of course familiar to many from parts of TLK too. It was a vast occasion, providing the mighty challenge of preaching suitably to nearly a thousand young people, and at its conclusion hundreds of them would come forward – entirely voluntarily – to receive the ashes on their foreheads. They would have been reminded that doing so was not a sign of outward bravado or piety, and that they were quite free to wash them off immediately afterwards. The important thing was what receiving the ashes FELT like for the recipient – it was a telling reminder to those young people that they were not invincible, that we are all vulnerable and mortal, that each day is a precious gift to be used fruitfully while health and strength endure. ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ are powerful words when dealing with the heads of teenagers. I found the whole thing extraordinarily moving and this year I realised I did miss it.


By the time you read this, Lent will be well advanced. But, in the spirit of the day of ashes which commences it, the whole season reminds us to consider our vulnerability, that we are not of our nature vastly durable beings, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that we always dwell on the brink of eternity. Thus, Lent invites us to ask ourselves the hard questions about life and meaning, not to be tempted to leave aside such questions for another day, always to realise that time is limited and for the good stewardship of that time – whatever its length – we will be judged. The human predicament is the predicament of non – durable frail children of dust, brittle creatures who are yet so wonderfully made that we are capable of radiating the image and the creativity of God. And Lent is a time to look hard in the mirror, and at those foreheads which bear the mark of the cross, and to ask ourselves how in our bodies which are of their nature passing away we yet manage to glorify God authentically and imaginatively.


As it happens this Lent also brings a pair of referendums in our State, and it will be the duty of all Christian citizens to reflect and to vote conscientiously as we consider the constitutional definition of family, the level of connection between family life as we experience it today and the institution of marriage , whether the Constitution’s existing references to women remain at all appropriate, and how we might better support all carers practically as well as aspirationally. These are important questions, not least because they touch areas where in the past religious influence is perceived as having textured the basic law, and readers and voters are quite entitled to their own individual views. I suspect like many other citizens I am at present mulling over, ahead of voting, the meaning of the interesting word ‘durable ‘and what exactly it might imply. I find myself speculating, probably idly, on how it might be interpreted by the courts in a variety of scenarios. But given that I used the word ‘durable ‘ on several occasions earlier in this letter as being a word not easily associated with frail mortals who go to dust, I find it rather  interesting – even a trifle amusing – that the government has served us up this Lent with a timely opportunity to reflect individually and corporately on the interesting  concept of durability as an attribute of human experience and relationships. Be that as it may, each referendum boils down to a binary choice, and we can but reflect well and do our individual duty at the ballot box.


In mid – March St Patrick’s Day, this year falling on a Sunday, will give us a breather in the midst of the rigours of Lent and I look forward to celebrating it in Killala at a bilingual Eucharist in Irish and English … the cathedral there is one of relatively few in Ireland actually dedicated to St Patrick. Soon after that we will have the challenges and opportunities of the daily observance of Holy Week, the keeping of which is probably the best measure I know of the spiritual temperature of the life of any parish. Over the Palm Sunday weekend I am going to lead a retreat in the slightly exotic atmosphere of the island of Guernsey. This follows from an invitation I received ahead of the Covid interruption, and which itself was rooted in a casual conversation I once had in a church there while on holiday … I had wandered in because the door was obviously open. I constantly say …. Never underestimate the magnetism and the potential of the unlocked church!


I will be back in the diocese for the Maundy Thursday service of Renewal of Commitment to Ministry in St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick at noon:  this is a very special annual occasion for all our clergy but it is of course a public occasion, memorable in its character, and truly welcoming to all whose ministry is rooted in baptism. Then on Maundy Thursday evening and onwards through Good Friday to Easter Day, I will be immersing myself, while Archdeacon Lumby continues his sabbatical, in the liturgical life of Kilcolman and Killarney.


Every blessing to you all as, wherever you are, we keep these days of holiness and hope.


Michael Tuam Limerick and Killaloe