By Barb Arland-Fye
A gentle rain fell, creating a rhythmic sound as it tapped the emerald green leaves of plants and trees in the lush woods of the Blarney Castle & Gardens in County Cork, Ireland. Lost in thought on one of the meandering trails of my new happy place, I also lost track of how to get back to Blarney Castle. As the team leader for The Catholic Messenger Pilgrimage to Ireland (Aug. 31-Sept. 9), I was responsible for keeping track of our 33 pilgrims but couldn’t even keep track of myself!
Flustered, I didn’t think about using the GPS on my smartphone. Indecisive about which fork in the road to take, I asked God for a little assistance. At that moment, three people emerged from the mist — a man in a bright yellow raincoat and two women — probably wearing rain gear, but the yellow raincoat stuck out. “Do you know the way back to Blarney Castle?” I asked the trio. “We’re trying to figure that out, too,” the man replied. I joined them, feeling more secure about the possibility of four of us figuring out the way “home.”
Soon, all of us spotted a small brown guidepost on the ground pointing toward Blarney Castle! “You are angels in disguise,” I told my new companions on the journey. They laughed, and the man said, “At least you didn’t call us devils in disguise!” I asked where they were from and the man said, “Boston.” “I should have guessed,” I said, based on his accent. We enjoyed a bit more bantering and then parted outside Blarney Castle.
Despite my wanderings, our group had time left to explore the grounds. I made my way to other natural wonders of the 60+ acres of parkland, determined to pay attention to my surroundings to avoid getting lost a second time. The unique plants, trees and flowers of the Fairy Glade delighted me. I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for this treasured experience and for the angels in disguise that God provided to calm my fears.
Last Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 15: 1-32) included the parable of the lost sheep. I had never thought of myself as a lost sheep until listening to and reading that Gospel passage the weekend I returned home from Ireland. Throughout life, I have remained in the fold of the Catholic Church, never missing Mass except for illness. Now I realize that many times God has left behind the 99 in the desert to search for me. I reflected on what causes me to get lost.
In this case, overseas pilgrimages take me out of my comfort zone, despite my desire to visit new places and to encounter new people and foster relationships. I have a fear of flying, but the yearning to visit the homeland of my father’s family superseded that fear.
In the enchanting land of 40 shades of green, the Irish of ancient and not so ancient times worked the soil and keenly felt God’s presence as they strove to harvest the fruits of the earth needed to survive and thrive. At times, they must have felt abandoned — during potato famines, centuries of oppression by the British and civil war. Yet, when they emigrated, they carried the gift of their faith with them. Their story is my story; I carry the gift of faith close to my heart but sometimes I get lost in fears and doubts and that’s when God comes searching for me.
We visited many historical and religious sites in Ireland and celebrated Mass in cathedrals, churches and a chapel. I felt God’s presence in all of these places but most especially in the cathedral of God’s Creation in the hills and valleys of Ireland and in the companions on the journey he provided for me.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)