The title of my homily for this feast of St. Patrick is, “Gee Geography!”
And I’m not stuttering. And I’m not spelling G, “G”, but “GEE!” as in calm or exited amazement.
Haven’t we all said, “Gee!” when we look around at our surroundings - as in a mountain meadow or we’re in a small boat on a luscious lake or bay or standing midtown in a big city or we’re a visitor at the bottom of Main Street - Annapolis, Maryland and looking up the street on a Sunny Crowded Saturday afternoon, we say, “Gee. Look at all those Red Bricks! Did some mayor own a red brick factory? Gee, look at all the people. Gee, look at the T-shirt and Trinket Shops, Ice Cream Places, restaurants, O’Brien’s and McGarvey’s. Am I in the middle of Ireland? Gee, and I thought there was also a place named Riordan’s around here.”
Turning around 180 degrees, “Gee, look at the water - the yachts, the sails." Looking to our left, “Gee, the Naval Academy for the whole United States.” Turning to our right, “Gee that’s an old, tall, church spire up there: St. Mary’s Annapolis.”
AM I MY GEOGRAPHY?
Geography - we’re in it up to our shoe laces - if we’re standing. Geography we’re in it up to the seat of our pants - if we’re sitting. Wherever we are - we’re in geography.
"Geo" - the Greek word for earth, soil, ground….
Gee Geography - having a sense of space and place - sights and sounds - being grounded where we are and where we are from.
How good were you in Geography when you were a kid?
When your brought your report card home to be signed by a parent when you were a kid, did you get an A, B, C, D, E, F or a G - G for Good?
Are we our geography - where we’re from - where our parents are from? Are we nature or nurture or both? Do we have the geography of our parents in our body - in our looks. De we have our dad’s ears, our mom’s nose, our grandparents smile? Do we have the accent or our neighborhood - from our family and from the kids and teachers of our schools? Are we our geography?
Would we be any different if our roots were Switzerland compared to Sligo or Syracuse in Sicily or upstate, New York State?
Would we be different if we were brought up along the waters of Galway Bay - where my mom and dad were brought up in Ireland - and where their brother and sister - who also married each other - raised their children - while their brother and sister went to America and married over here and brought up their children a few blocks from the waters of the Narrows in New York Harbor - in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn New York - at 326-62 Street?
How much are we our geography?
MARK DORLEY - SHEEP AND SHEPHERDS
Mark Dorley - a big broad shouldered - Holy Name Society Man - in Lima, Ohio, my last parish before coming to Annapolis, heard I was going to Israel for 13 days in January 2001. He asked, “Every night when I watch the Evening News and they show pictures of Israel, I always see dust and desert, brown and tan earth - and no grass. Well, when you get over there, find out what the sheep eat?”
The plane landed in Tel Aviv in early evening - but I had an aisle seat, so the only geography I saw was the inside of our big plane. By the time we got in the bus, it was dark and so I saw very little geography of Israel on the way to our first hotel - in the north - in the town of Tiberius - on the Lake of Galilee.
The next three days we toured the north - and there was green grass in lots of places - but especially - I could see great green fields and stuff growing as I looked down on the valleys and the plains from up top - on the Mount of the Transfiguration. So when I got back home to Lima, Ohio two weeks later, I was able to tell Mark Dorley, “The sheep are well taken care of, mind you.”
Gee Geography. As I stood there at the Lake of Galilee - as I looked there from bus windows - as I walked there in Nazareth - I kept thinking, “I’m seeing what Jesus saw. I’m seeing what Jesus saw: the birds of the air, the flowers of the fields, the fish of the lake of Galilee and the mountains and hills around and surrounding him.
How much did geography become Jesus? When he got down south to Jerusalem, they noticed the accents of Peter and the disciples and the hint is they looked down on these hillbillies from the north. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” [Cf. John 1:46]
Gee Geography. How much does geography form and mold and sculpt us?
In America, as they say, the first question is, “Where are you from?” or “I noticed your accent. Where are you from?” When asked that I love to answer, “62nd Street, between Toid and Foooorth Avenue, Brooklyn New York. Why do you ask?”
I grew up hearing my mom and dad speaking Gaelic to each other at times - and English to us. And the only Gaelic they said to us - especially my mom - were sayings with a smile when she called me an “Amadan” or a “Gom” - or when she’d describe a short, clumsy person, as a “Crabadan”.
How much did their Geography form them?
My mother often said in English to us, “Ireland has nothing!” Then she sometimes added, “When I got back to America after my first visit home to Ireland, I got down and kissed the earth of Boston.” She loved Boston, but she came down to Brooklyn to marry my dad - after working 10 years as a maid and servant in Boston to make money to bring her brothers to America.
I also loved to hear stories about Ireland from my mom and dad - especially on a day like today - St. Patty’s Day - when we’d go over by subway to the big parade - and then visit some relatives in Manhattan - who were also from Ireland. They lived in an apartment that had the smallest kitchen in the United States.
These memories and their comments - plus the photographs - I looked forward to the day I’d get to see where they were from in Ireland.
In 1996 - I finally got the chance to go to Ireland. My mom and dad were both dead many years by then. I went with my two sisters and one brother-in-law. My brother Patrick had also died - from Melanoma - the fair skinned cancer killer - back in 1986.
We get smarter as we get older. This time I had a window seat. Getting closer to Ireland - after coming across the waters from America - the pilot announced - early in the morning, “There she is, down below - the great green fields and hills or Ireland.”
Tears and cheers - but no beers in the morning. I don’t drink - but the beers would come later at my Aunt Nora’s place in Ballynahown, County Galway, a half hour from Galway City - past Salt Hill and Barna on the road along the Sea. On the ground, green, green, hills and earth were everywhere.
When I saw where my mom and dad were from, I realized from the geography what my mother meant when she said, “Ireland has nothing.” I could see poverty and possibility - but the possibility would be elsewhere. My grandmother - on my mother’s side - raised her children with the message, “America!” She had been here, but her father tricked her back home with the words and letters, “I’m sick and I’m going to die soon, so come back.” Guilt, Irish guilt brought her back home to Ireland where she got married off to my grandfather.
That trick by her father got my grandmother to send my mother, her oldest to Boston, to make money, to bring her 3 brothers over. The rest is history - but oops, I’m talking geography here.
In that first trip and my other trip to Ireland in 2008 with Dave and Hilda Alland and some of you, I saw that my mother was wrong. Ireland has riches - wonderful people - beautiful green mountains and hills - and the Celtic Tiger was let loose and was roaring. Right now Ireland has to start rattling in her cage again and get out and get loose again. And of course, if Ireland saved Western Civilization - she can save herself. Her people have plenty of Irish brains and slippery thinking to do just that. I love the story - I never found out if it was told by a graduate of the Blarney Stone or not - that when Irish farmers and shepherds found out that the European Union gave subsidies in Euro’s based on the number of sheep you have, and they counted them by plane, the Irishman painted lots of rocks down below white!
The title of my homily is, “Gee Geography!”
On a day like St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrate our roots, our heritage, our stories, and how we got to be where we got to be where we are today.
On a day like St. Patrick’s Day, we who are Catholic, American Catholic, Irish Catholic, we come to a sacred place and space like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City or St. Mary’s Annapolis, and we sit and stand and kneel in prayer - prayers of Thanksgiving.
On a day like St. Patrick’s Day, we who are Catholic, Irish Catholic, American Catholic, we worry that some of our children, some of our brothers and sisters, have strayed like lost sheep, looking for green grass, and they are not finding it in the geography of church - for various reasons - bad, mediocre, bored, lazy or sinful priests and bishops - whatever or whoever - or what have you - so we hope and pray, the geography and the people in our church - will roar again - with a renewed faith and hope and charity - and the tiger of Celtic Spirituality will roar again in the geography of our souls. Amen.
Picture on Top - by Jim Malloy - from our Irish Trip in 2008
Picture of Galway Bay by Mary Connolly - Pittsburgh - what my mother saw when she looked out her back door.
Picture of the lake of Galilee in the distance - by someone.