Sunless days in March seemed to multiply, and winter weather lingered even longer than usual this year in the Western Catskills. We waited longingly for spring. And it wasn’t just the weather that got us down. The imminent possibility of “fracking” also hung over our region, making the dark winter clouds seem even more ominous. (Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas using large amounts of water to do horizontal drilling.) There is clear evidence that “fracking” pollutes our water and poisons the air.
Even the simple pleasure of playing music and singing songs in a public place is under siege. Large corporate music licensing agencies demand fees from small “Mom and Pop” establishments who host live music, even if no one gets paid for playing. For those of us who play Irish traditional music passed down to us for generations, we can only think of the times in Ireland and Scotland when instruments were burned and even house dances forbidden.
So, we face the threat of becoming sick from breathing poisoned air or drinking polluted water while even our local cultures are suppressed. Daily Lenten psalms and liturgical prayers matched our moods.
My favorite scriptural Easter passage, however, is about the two companions of Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus. They could make no sense of the death of Jesus. As they walked and talked with a stranger about all these events, the stranger explained the scriptures to them. Then they invited the stranger to join them for a meal at a local inn. At the breaking of the bread, they recognized him. Fear and confusion turned to joy.
At a recent liturgy, I thought of the story of these companions of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. I thought of the new Jesuit Pope and his concern for the poor and problems of injustice. I also thought of many of our own companions and neighbors today who serve the community in many ways and resist injustice and greed. I also remembered a story about a glass of water.
When my parents were in the last stages of illness, their parish priest visited them to bring them communion bread. After their deaths, I spoke to this priest and he told me that on his visits to my parents, he was struck with the love and attention my father displayed in caring for my mother. He remembered my father, even when he could barely walk, carrying a glass of water to my mother. The priest told me that he often used this example in his pre Cana meetings with young couples as an example of marital love.
Spring has come. We celebrate Easter. We see snowdrops in front of our house and robins on our fields. We break bread with friends and neighbors. I remember the story of that glass of water. Injustice, greed, even death will not have the last word, and I feel hope.
Jim Haggerty and his wife live in Walton, a small N.Y. rural town in the foothills of the Catskills. They are both retired. Jim is a former Jesuit who spent several years in the Society in studies and active in various apostolic works. He taught in a Jesuit high school and in a higher achievement program for children from the inner city, worked in prison ministry, and at Nativity Mission Center in New York City. After leaving the Society, Jim worked for the thirty years with Catholic Migration and Refugee Services, United States Catholic Conference and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, CLINIC in various positions. During this time he obtained a law degree. Before retiring he was director of special projects working on a national effort to assist immigrants and asylum seekers in detention centers across the country. In this effort he helped develop a partnership with the Society of Jesus to create law fellowships in Jesuit and Catholic law schools. Jim and his wife were also “support people” for Jesuit volunteer communities in N.Y.C. for several years. After retirement Jim served on the Board of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and more recently he serves on the Board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. (IVC) Jim and his wife are active in their local town. Some of Jim’s favorite community efforts are playing traditional Irish music in a weekly session and helping run a monthly “coffee house.” The “session” raises money for a soup kitchen. The monthly coffee house brings free music to Walton.