IN THE BEGINNING . . .
Fr.Michael Maher, born and raised in Dublin, began his spiritual journey at the early age of 19 after the death of his grandfather Thomas Ashe. Our reaction to death can often differ in many ways but for Fr.Maher, it led him to contemplate the fragility of this present life leading him to consider what it all meant.
The growing love that Fr.Maher had for the Mother of God eventually blossomed into a vocation to find a priestly order dedicated to the Queen of Heaven. It wasn't such a difficult search as almost immediately Our Lady of Fatima led Fr.Maher by the hand into one of the most popular orders dedicated to her name, the ''Marist Fathers''.
Over the years, Fr.Maher had always emphasized devotion to ''Our Lady Of Fatima'' not to mention the importance of the Holy Rosary in one's life. He is heavily insistent that we pray the rosary every day and make it an essential part of our spiritual diet to nourish the soul.
I approached Fr.Maher with an interest to show people a side of him we don't normally get to see which is his life in the confines of a parish Church in Dundalk, Co.Louth. We spoke about his devotion to Fatima and he presents to us some of his favorite images, books and the history behind a pair of rosary beads he personally likes to pray on.
From a very young age in his teenage years Fr.Maher always had an interest in Fatima and since his ordination to the priesthood, made it his life's mission to spread devotion to Her.
His knowledge and expertise in this area was so valued that he became spiritual director and narrator of the very popular movie ''The Call To Fatima'' which depicts the story of the three children and their apparitions. The movie has since been circulated around the world in 12 different languages and millions of copies distributed.
I've known Fr.Maher now for quite sometime so this was a rather personal project for me. I've always enjoyed his impregnable spirit of joy, contagious to say the least and for all our theological and spiritual study, the only thing worthwhile. Fr.Maher is the type of priest that does not need to give advice at length about the spiritual life, using many words to illustrate his point.
I've always felt that the mark of a good priest is one whose sheer presence prompts a transformation within you. In a sense he has accepted he's just a canvass upon which Christ paints his own self portrait to show Himself to the world. Whenever anyone asks me why God doesn't show himself to everyone, I just point them in the direction of people like Fr.Maher.
I cannot stress enough this character of Fr.Maher. I've read nearly all the writings of the mystics both modern and old, from Eastern Buddhism, Hinduism, Orthodox Christianity not to mention western Catholic and Protestant mystics of Europe. From the writings of the Eastern cave dwellers and early monastics of centuries ago to the summa theologica of St.Thomas Aquinas and St.John of the Cross, there's no greater spiritual progress one can receive than to be in the presence of joy Himself as manifested through people like Fr.Maher.
It is now my joy to present to you one of the most ordinary and through those he ministers to most extraordinary priests residing in a simple parish Church in Ireland. Now I can bring to you a little piece of the joy I experienced with him through the art of photography.
As we spoke about the importance of the rosary and the days that lie ahead of us, Fr.Maher takes his usual seat by the window contemplating a world that's forgotten it's Christian roots.
Our Lady Of Fatima
Fr.Maher introduces us to his work on Our Lady Of Fatima and here he sits beside a well hand crafted statue from Portugal.
My Mothers Rosary
As we chatted about matters concerning the purification of souls and the importance rosary beads can have in one's life, I took a picture of a rosary he holds dear to his heart.
In 1937 His Mother was having a difficult birth at the time and the parish priest gave her his rosary beads. The baby boy was born and she called him ''Michael Maher''. It is thanks to the Prayers said upon this rosary that Fr.Maher came into the world and when his Mother fell asleep in the Lord, she left them for him.
They were prayed on so much that the wood on the Cross began to wear away over the years. In a bid to rescue it he took it to a carpenter in Dublin who fixed a new piece of wood to the back of the Cross in order to keep it all intact.
The Taking Of Christ
Fr.Maher wanted to fetch me some of his favorite memorabilia of Fatima that include his long time favorite books and pictures.
As I waited for him to find these I saw a copy of the famous Caravaggio painting hanging on his wall.
I saw the real thing in the National Gallery of Ireland a number of years ago and as I've been visiting Fr.Maher for quite some time it always catches my eye.
I often wondered why it was Fr.Maher liked it and that perhaps it serves as a reminder to him and every Christian and religious person in the world of our own weakness in the face of sin. That unless we remain vigilant we too may succumb to a betrayal, corruption being always around the corner.
Indeed when I see this picture I'm reminded that the kiss of Judas is one that has echoed for centuries until the end of time.
In Lucia's Own Words
Published in 1976 '' Fatima in Lucia's Own Words'' is a collection of memoirs and letters written by Sister Lúcia of Fátima, the last surviving seer of Virgin Mary apparitions in Cova da Iria, Fátima, Portugal. She fell asleep in the Lord on February 13th, 2005.
The 13th date is significant to Catholics here as it was on the 13th of May the first apparition took place.
A Holy Accident
Opening the book I serendipitously happened to fall upon one of the many religious bookmarks placed within it. Was it Our Lady Fatima herself reaching out to us all?
On our way to Mass we stopped at the oratory where Father Maher showed us an Icon and relic of St.Peter Chanel.
Born in France, St.Chanel became a Marist Father who was martyred on the island of Futuna in the Pacific. You've heard of the perfume Chanel but this saints relic gave a more potent and fragrant odor that's difficult to beat, namely because of its origins in Grace.
A Closer Look
I take a closer look at the relic which is a piece of bone from the Saint.
Confess Yer Aul Sin's
Before Mass is celebrated, Fr.Maher hears the confessions of his parishioners. This is the first time I’ve seen the inside of a confessional.
Time For Prayer
After hearing all those confessions, Fr.Maher prays a rosary for his parishioners before Mass.
Fr.Maher prepares for Mass. I notice a book near his left hand and pose a question as to what it might be.
Dressed To Praise
Robed with vestments of Our Lady Of Fatima that he got 10 years ago in Portugal, Fr.Maher turns and shows me the book, a biography of Lucia. It's the latest most popular book doing the rounds and so it stays with him at all times.
Fr.Maher preaches an interesting homily. The focus of his homilies are always a certain type of prayer. Can you take a guess at what prayer that might be?
Lifting Up Jesus
Raising the Body of Christ, Fr.Maher sees nothing else. Neither death nor life stand in the way of this awesome moment.
Raising The Chalice
Fr.Maher raises the Chalice along with a solemnity of heart, soul and mind that is always directed towards Christ.
Fr.Maher sits in his chair to reflect on the most incredible moment the earth will ever experience where God descends to us in the mystery of the Mass. His eyes were closed and he surprised me by opening them so I captured that moment.
It Is Finished
After Mass Fr.Maher takes the long way home and walks from the Church back to his cell but he's not finished yet and is about to embark on another adventure.
The Priests' Beach
We drove from the Parochial house 5 minutes to the seaside village of Blackrock. You can only imagine the laughter and humor that ensued when we happened to come across ''The Priests' Beach''. It was all meant to be and I am probably the only one who can say I walked that beach with an actual priest by my side.
Save Our Souls
Walking down to the beach I hear Fr.Maher calling me to turn around. He has spotted something that I missed. With great humor and joy he exclaimed ''Hey Stephen! look...save...our..souls.
Indeed Fr.Maher is the life saver thrown by Christ into the turbulent and troubled waters of the world, to save us from drowning in our sorrows and sins.
Portrait Of Wisdom
Walking along the beach it was hard for us not to discuss and ponder the stories where Jesus himself preached from the shores of Galilee. The wonderful thing about the parables is that they are timeless and you can't really put a date to them. No matter where you go the earth always reminds you of a parable.
It was here that I took my final photo to finish our day together. As he stood on ''The Priests' Beach'' pondering eternity, a sudden Divine sorrow mingled with joy came over me that today of all days was (as Fr.Maher always puts it) ''A Divine Appointment''.