Survivals and New Arrivals

Gorse is a spiny shrub common across Western Europe, but particularly prevalent in Ireland and England. I knew of it from almost as far back as I can remember, listening to my mother read to us from Winnie the Pooh, by. A.A. Milne, and it seemed an unpleasant thing to fall into.  It was, however, only when I came to Ireland that I experienced it for myself. On first encounter, it seems surely to be one of those reminders that this is not heaven yet.  It is almost entirely thorns, which when green, rip and tear at passers-by, and when dry, lodge in clothing and skin alike.

But what has this to do with anything?

Let me explain. Summer is now approaching, and for us it is always a time of goings and comings, of meeting old friends and making new ones, of farewells and welcomes, departures and arrivals. It is an exciting time, but can also be difficult. The places to which we arrive are often unfamiliar, perhaps the language is different, or we don’t really know anyone. Perhaps we are faced with a daunting apostolate. We can run on the excitement of novelty for a while, but it usually wears off sooner rather than later, and we are left with the difficulties that daily life always presents us. In other words, it can be rather like the gorse. The romanticism of encountering what was until now a thing of stories quickly fades next to the reality of the thorn in your shoe.

But wait, that’s not all. There is more than just thorns to gorse. When spring comes, the Gorse begins to bloom. Its blossoms are a deep and abundant shade of yellow that set whole mountains ablaze, almost overnight. Ragged looking hills and bogs are suddenly transformed, as if inlaid and plated in gold.

This so perfectly sums up how things always turn out, no matter where God sends us. It sums up for me my experience here in Ireland, as it draws to a close. There was the romantic beginning, quickly followed by the humdrum and difficult struggle of everyday life and work. But then, just when you are focused on surviving, spring comes, the gorse blossoms, and suddenly you realize how beautiful it all is – as you prepare to leave it again for another adventure, another beginning, another gorse patch.

But for me the blossoms are not even the most beautiful thing about the gorse. As the memories of all that I have been through here sweep over me, I am overwhelmed, almost as I am by the scent of the gorse. Unfortunately it is impossible to describe. It is at once light, clean and cool, mistily, even dreamily sweet, yet with a certain richness about it, an almost golden quality.  If you are enveloped suddenly by a waft of this scent, it is breathtakingly beautiful, a wistful and piercing beauty. Yes, every vocation and every place in this valley of tears is always something like the gorse. It seems romantic and harmless at a distance, then a bit harsh and grating on contact, when you get to know it better. But if we persevere, at times the veil will be lifted just a little and we will catch our breath at the beauty that it is.  Unexpected, and unforgettable.

About Br. Dominic Sternhagen

Br. Dominic grew up on the West Coast near Portland, Oregon, and attended the Seminary of Christ the King run by Benedictines in Mission, British Columbia. He joined the Candidacy in 2004, and did his Novitiate and year of Humanities in Cheshire, and Philosophy in Thornwood. He spent three years in Ireland as Prefect of Studies at the Dublin Novitiate before completing his Master's degree in Philosophy in Rome. He is currently doing youth work in the greater Philadelphia area.
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