John Moriarty’s Sacramental Journey from Sacred Sounds
The words of Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘Church Going’, frame John’s Moriarty’s own immersion into the sacraments of the Christian journey, “A hunger in himself to be more serious, And gravitating with it to this ground, Which he once heard was proper to grow wise in, If only that so many dead lie around” (Serious Sounds, 12). John Moriarty’s life was consumed by a spiritual hunger that quite literally engulfed him beginning with the initiating sacrament of Baptism to recount Saint Paul, “Know ye not, that so many of us were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death?” (Serious Sounds, 12). Such an encounter with the nothing (nihil) is an invitation to divine plenitude, and hence a renewal of the Trinitarian sacred mystery. The immersion of baptism synonymous the death of Christ marks the inception of our own incarnation in eternal life, “To be baptized into Christ therefore is to be baptized not into deadly death but into death as a nativity into newness of life” (Serious Sounds, 14). How are we to experience the divine mystery today if not through a spiritual hunger to venture along with Moriarty on his own sacramental journey? This thirst not only leads us to the river to drink, but ultimately to cross the raging torrent of the Kedron, “To cross the Torrent with Jesus is to cross into the vast adventure of our return to God” (Serious Sounds, 15). Just as the crossing of the river Lethe was an induction into the underworld, we must look to the stars symbolized by the Paschal Candle to guide us through the labyrinth of suffering and despair that await us, “And yet when it burns, its flame a fine thing, it splendidly represents, or maybe it enacts, Christ’s victory over sin and death” (Serious Sounds, 17). How often we forget that we have crossed the Kedron? This forgetting marks the second stage along the Christian journey in a time of adolescence, this time in Moriarty’s own permissive attitude to abortion at an earlier stage in his life.
His Confession to Father Norbert Cummins ODC was thus a turning point in which he came to value the profound silence of sacramental listening through the rite of Absolution, “Was it Blake I wondered who said that the difference between Jesus and Socrates was that Jesus could say, your sins are forgiven you?” (Serious Sounds, 20). In the enduring Trinitarian mystery, perhaps no other rite receives as much popular attention as the sacrament of the Eucharist. Upon arriving at Westminster Abbey in London, Moriarty was invited to celebrate the rite of the Eucharist in Saint George’s Chapel if only to be confronted with the conundrum of Saint George as the Christian dragon-slayer? How is one to hear the most sacred sounds in Christendom, “the drip drop of the water being poured into wine and the sound of the dry wafer-thin bread being broken” (Serious Sounds, 25) and not recall the sounds of the universe both dying and being redeemed in the figure of Christ? Is the violence of the West enacted in Saint George’s slaying of the dragon merely another symptom of the suffering of Gethsemane? In a psychic gesture of re-integration, Moriarty encourages us-rather-to ride the dragon through the evil and darkness that threaten to overwhelm us. Such an undergoing takes us straight to the heart of the Sacred Mystery in the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, “Setting up our Silver Sun on the altar and setting up the host in the shrine of the heart of it, that was as terrible and wonderful as if, right there, in front of us, the priest was handling lightening” (Serious Sounds, 29). If we are reminded of the fragment from the Presocratic philosopher, Heraclitus, that lightening steers all, the seasons steer us through the strange and wonderful calendar of the liturgical year straight to the sacrament of Confirmation. By receiving our salvation in the “outer sign of an invisible grace” (Serious Sounds, 40), Moriarty remarks upon the sights and smells of the great chrism, “Today I have been anointed. As these old trees had in them some still fragrant memories of the tree of Life, I had been chrismed with the chrism of salvation. Can I inherit that even now? I’ll try” (Serious Sounds, 40).
Moriarty’s confirmation into adulthood marks the transition to the sacrament of Marriage. Although he did not marry, Moriarty understood marriage to be a continuing sacrament inscribing the sacred union of man and woman in a divine mystery that plumbs the depths of the human soul, “In man is all whatsoever the sun shines upon or heaven contains, also hell and all the deeps” (Serious Sounds, 48). To marry is to avail oneself to an invisible grace in times of sorrow and joy. The sacrament of marriage is the transformation of eros into agape-departing from the anointment of adolescence into the hills of frankincense and the mountains of myrrh-a celebration of the human spirit to unite in communion with one another.
With this sacred union projecting the arc of adulthood into old age, we arrive at the final sacrament of Last Rites, where Moriarty reflects upon the death of his friend, Michéal McCahill, at Clifden Hospital in Connemara. Recalling the story of how his friend’s mother passed from the world with the assistance of Annie Coneely, the oldest woman in the neighborhood, the midwife subtly attends to the sacred rites of birth/Baptism, “the new genetics of Parable and Passion” (Serious Sounds, 15) and death/Extreme Unction thereby preparing us to “be carried off into a solitude and silence that was at once infinitely far from us yet unreachably near to us” (Serious Sounds, 51).
In closing, we might reflect upon John’s sacramental journey as a life-long practice of spiritual midwifery. Moriarty’s writings accompany his readers to the edge of that same precipice of birth and death affirming our faith in the grace of God through the bread and wine of the everyday. By sheltering us as the safest way to draw near to God, the sacred sounds of the sacraments re-enact our own incarnation into the cosmic Christ as we journey along the same road back to the ruined Romanesque Church on Inisfallen, “Through earth and men were gone, And suns and universes ceased to be. And Thou were left alone, Every existence would exist in Thee….” (Serious Sounds, 63).
Reflection by Josh Hayes