A 5-hour climb to wash away my sins?

Mention Croagh Patrick to anyone Irish and they’ll immediately think of walking barefoot up a mountain on the west coast of Ireland in Co. Mayo. Okay – maybe that’s bordering on a generalisation, but it was the first thing I thought of when I saw it. I’ve been hearing about it for years and not alone had I never climbed it, I’d never seen it. At least now I can say that I’ve seen it.

IMG_9621 (800x597)Back as far as 3000 BC, this 764 metre high mountain (that’s about 2507 ft – is that high enough to be called a mountain?) has been a pilgrimage site. Back then, it was a favourite place for pagans celebrating the summer solstice. Today, it’s a Christian pilgrimage, and very much associated with St Patrick. It is said that in the fifth century, the man himself fasted on the summit for 40 days. Each year, about a million pilgrims go to pay their respects (or perhaps to notch up some bragging rights).

IMG_9502 (800x586)Known locally as the Reek, thousands of people descend on Murrisk on the last Sunday in July (Reek Sunday) to ascend the mountain. The practising Catholics amongst them might even be after a plenary indulgence. If you climb it on St Patrick’s Day, or during the summer (July-September) and pray for the Pope’s intentions in or even near the little stone chapel at the top and then go to confession and communion within a week, you’re in line for an indulgence.

IMG_9500 (600x800)This piqued my curiosity and I needed to know more. Apparently, an indulgence is  the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned. And there I was thinking that forgiveness equated to not being punished. How wrong was I.

Indulgences come in two kinds: partial and plenary. A partial indulgences removes part of the temporal punishment due for sins. A plenary indulgence removes all of it. I was now wondering whether I could specify the sin I want indulged? So I looked deeper and discovered that a plenary indulgence remove all the temporal punishment due for the sins committed up to that time. All of them.

IMG_9507 (600x800)So, climb Croagh Patrick, in my current, morosely unfit state and skip purgatory – were I, of course, never to sin again? How tempting was that? Not very. I made it part way up (okay, that’s definitely an exaggeration – and I’m only fessing up because there was a witness – I made it as far as the wire fence where the climb officially starts). My excuse? I wasn’t wearing the right shoes and it was wet. And I hadn’t really grasped the full meaning of plenary indulgence. Had I known then what I know now…

IMG_9505 (800x600)I’m also a little dubious about the words ‘may gain’… all that effort for a maybe? Mind you, that said, it seems as if every Irish person but me has been up Croagh Patrick, so now, climbing the Reek is officially on my bucket list. If nothing else, the view out over Clew Bay should be spectacular and the pint with my name on it in the pub afterwards might taste all the sweeter.

2014 Grateful 51

Were we ever to take the time to think about how interconnected our lives are, we could well be picking jaws up off the floor for weeks. There’s the whole six degrees of separation thing, but even if we were to remove the people and look at connectivity through places, it would be just as remarkable.

IMG_9563 (800x600)While walking Silver Strand in Mayo recently, we came across a dead baby seal. It was lying on the road by the car park; quite a distance from the sea. The displacement force of high tides coupled with stormy conditions were evidenced by the seaweed and rubbish trapped in the fences. Unbelievable. The seal had obviously been washed up and then never made it back to the water. Its death didn’t put in on me one way or another; it was simply another casualty of life. I didn’t even wonder at how inured I’ve become to such things – I’m sure there was once a time when I’d have felt something other than the passing ‘what a shame’ the carcass invoked in me. When did I stop feeling?IMG_9558 (800x600)

Some days later, we stopped by Old Head, yet another of Mayo’s gorgeous beaches. It was late afternoon and the sun was playing with the light. Everything was bathed in the pastel pinks and blues that belong in a baby’s nursery. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. Standing at the end of the water, looking out across the sea, we spotted a seal. It would pop its head out of the water and scour the beach before swimming on a short distance and popping up again. It seemed to be searching for something. We walked with it as it made its away around the pier and over to the other side, never changing its routine.

IMG_9806 (800x599) (800x599)And then the penny dropped – it must have been looking for its missing baby. When that thought was voiced, everything changed. Imaginations let loose. Empathy levels surged. Three days searching for a baby lost at sea. Three days of recriminations for losing them in the first place. Three days of angst and desperation as she combed the west coast looking for a sign of life. Now that I could feel.

We could connect the dots (however fancifully) because we’d been in both places. And we had the time to do so, too.

IMG_9829 (800x600)Nearly two weeks later and that mother seal still pops into my head. It might seem like a ridiculous fight of fancy to some, but for me, it taught me, once again, the value of being aware, of being present, of living the moment, of taking the time to see…. really see…. what’s going on around me. And for that lesson, I’m truly grateful.