I once heard a novelist describing the creative writing process as staring at a blank piece of paper until your forehead bleeds and then committing words to the page. That’s how it feels sometimes when I sit down on a Thursday to try and write this log, although sometimes the words can flow quite readily. I sometimes wonder what it was like for the sacred writers of the scriptures to compose under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I also reflect on the example of St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists. Paul received the Passionist habit in a vision of Our Lady. After he was clothed in that habit, he began a forty-day retreat, during which he fasted and prayed continuously, and prepared himself to write the first rule of the new religious order he hoped to found. He spent long hours in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and had a vision of different founders of religious orders before him, instructing him, and praying for him. In the light of all this, it took only five days for Paul to complete his rule because he said, "When I was writing, I wrote as quickly as if someone were dictating to me; I felt the words coming from my heart!" All of this preamble is just to say that I’m struggling to think what to write about this week, and the Holy Spirit and the saints seem to be on holiday, because I am not experiencing any great inspiration. It was Thomas Edison who famously said that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. Not that, even for a single moment, I would describe these logs as the work of a genius, more likely they are the work of a fool, but hopefully a fool for Christ. But, whether genius or foolishness, it seems neither inspiration, nor perspiration, seems to be working this week.
It can be the same, of course, when trying to write a homily, a retreat talk, or even a mission sermon. When I was first ordained, I was appointed Vocations Director for the Passionsts in Scotland, but I was also installed as part of a mission and retreat team, along with Father Paul Francis and Father John Mary. Being newly ordained, every homily, talk, or sermon, had to be written from scratch as I had no back catalogue to draw on. In those days I wrote out every word in longhand. It would be a long time before I would change that, despite the emergence of word processors and computers that would simplify the task significantly. I always tried to root my thoughts, as our founder did in writing the rule, in a process of prayer and, it felt to me, there was a greater connection between my mind, my heart, my soul, and my words on the page, when I held a pen over paper, even if there were many forehead bleeding moments before the words tumbled on to the page. Experienced missioners would always say that a sermon needs to be preached, and then reworked, at least seven times, before it would reach fruition, and I came to know the wisdom of that in the passing of the years.
After a time, I gave way to more mechanical means, and I imagine that if I wrote anything in longhand these days, I wouldn’t be able to read it, so much of a scrawl has my handwriting become. Also, as well as a process of prayer, I have adapted a new method of preparation. Nowadays, it’s mainly homilies I am preparing, as It’s a long time since I last preached a mission. I think the last parish mission I preached was in Buncrana, in County Donegal, about 20 years ago, with Father Augustine and Father Charlie Cross. I also preached a number of Triduums of Hope around Ireland, after the Canonization of Saint Charles of Mount Argus, and a few Novenas, both in Ireland and Scotland, but nothing of that nature for some years. In preparing homilies now, I have found myself being drawn to one of my favourite psalms, Psalm 62, and to the words in that psalm, “on my bed I remember you, on you I muse through the night”. After reading the texts, and gathering initial thoughts, I now ponder on my pillow, and fall asleep, hoping that in the course of the night, the Holy Spirit will inspire, and I will awaken in the morning with the homily having taken shape. Usually, it takes shape in a very different way to what I imagined when going to bed, so, hopefully, the Holy Spirit gets more of a say in it than I do. Anyway, I’m sorry I’ve nothing to write about this week. However, as always, protect yourselves, protect your loved ones, and protect Christ in your lives.