June 2019: The Deep End

The Deep End

Tríona Doherty
Athlone, Co Roscommon
Email trionad@gmail.com

The Ascension of the Lord

2 June 2019 • World Communications Day

O Captain! My Captain!

The final scene of the movie, Dead Poets Society, is one of the most moving in modern cinema. Beloved teacher, Mr Keating (played by the late Robin Williams), is saying a final farewell to his students, who have been inspired by his unorthodox teaching methods and his encouragement to make your lives extraordinary.’ As he leaves the classroom, the students, in defiance of their strict headmaster, stand on their desks and salute him with the words, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ – referring to a poem he taught them.

Goodbyes are often emotional, particularly if we know we might not see the other person again for a long time, if ever. In films and TV programmes, a farewell scene can be a pivotal moment, or even the climax of the drama. Sometimes, when characters say goodbye to each other, we see a shot of one of them left behind, bereft, gazing into the distance after their loved one. In this context, one line in today’s first reading always grabs my attention: ‘They were still staring into the sky.’ The apostles had just witnessed Jesus being ‘lifted up’ and taken from their sight. They had lost him once with his death, and now they are losing him a second time, after precious time spent with him following his resurrection.

But the scene in today’s first reading for the Ascension is no ordinary goodbye. It is not a dramatic scene written for a film script. In fact, Jesus does not seem to say goodbye at all. His last words are a promise to the disciples: the Holy Spirit will be with them as they set out on their mission. They have not been left alone.


Pentecost Sunday

9 June 2019

Gifted communicators

Have you ever watched a TED Talk? There are thousands available to view online. The powerful talks are generally less than 18 minutes long and cover a huge range of topics, from science to business to social and global issues. There are talks in more than 110 languages, and they are used in schools, businesses and many other settings, to educate, motivate, and open minds. While the speakers come from a variety of backgrounds, the one thing they have in common is their ability to communicate. For every talk I’ve listened to, the speaker has the audience in the palm of their hand. They are gifted communicators, with a passion for a particular subject, and the ability to draw their listeners in.

We often hear that in order to be a good communicator, we have to learn how to speak another person’s language. On the day of Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, each of the people gathered heard them speaking in his or her own language. The ability to communicate and to be understood was the first gift they received from the Holy Spirit. Today, we need the gift of communication more than ever. There are times when we have the opportunity to share our faith, or to witness to others in the way we live our faith. We might feel that we struggle to share our faith in a way that others can understand. In order to meet people where they are, we first need to ‘speak their language’ – to know them, listen to them, and recognise God’s presence in them. The Spirit that came upon the early believers is the same Spirit that guides us today.


The Most Holy Trinity

16 June 2019

A mystery to me

‘It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.’

This expression, originally used in 1939 by Winston Churchill, is typically used to describe something that is immensely puzzling or too complex to understand. The word ‘mystery’ is often used in everyday speech. When we can’t wrap our heads around something, we shrug and say: ‘It’s a mystery to me,’ or: ‘It’s another of life’s great mysteries.’

As a child, I used to wonder about the religious meaning of ‘mystery.’ I remember someone telling me that if something is a mystery, it can never be fully understood, though that does not mean we should stop trying – like Jesus being fully human and fully divine (the incarnation), Jesus’ death and resurrection (the Paschal mystery), and three persons in one God (the Trinity). It is this last mystery that we celebrate today.

One of the most poignant attempts to explain the Trinity came from C.S. Lewis, who reasoned that if God is love, then God must contain more than one person: ‘God is not a static thing – not even a person – but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.’ The idea of the Trinity as a sort of divine dance is a good place to begin reflecting on this great mystery of God as a communion of love. In today’s Gospel, we see that Jesus is comfortable with an element of mystery. He does not reveal everything to his disciples at once, as it ‘would be too much for you now.’ The full truth will be revealed later, when the Spirit comes. The more we reflect, the more we pray, the more we are open to the Spirit, the more we will understand about the great mystery of God as love.


The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

23 June 2019

Feast of Love

Pope Benedict XVI once described today’s feast as ‘a day on which heaven and earth work together.’ He said: ‘Corpus Christi is an expression of faith in God, in love, in the fact that God is love. Love does not consume: it gives and, in giving, receives.’

This is a wonderful way to approach Communion. When we receive the body and blood of Jesus, it is a gift of love. But if we keep this gift for ourselves, and do not give in return, that is not love. The disciples in today’s Gospel have a small amount of food, five loaves and two fish – maybe enough to feed themselves, at a stretch. But Jesus had a very different idea. Notice that Jesus hands this gift over to them to distribute among the hungry crowd. It is the disciples’ responsibility to feed the hungry, to give to those in need, and to love the very crowds that they had earlier suggested sending away.

The Feast of Corpus Christi reminds us of our need to be in communion with the whole body of Christ. There is room for everyone at the banquet, especially the poor and the hungry, and it is up to us to help those in need. Having received this gift of love, we are expected to pass it on. There is more than enough bread for everyone.

‘If there is hunger anywhere in the world, then our celebration of the Eucharist is somehow incomplete everywhere in the world… We cannot properly receive the Bread of Life unless at the same time we give the bread of life to those in need, wherever and whoever they may be.’

Pedro Arrupe SJ


Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

30 June 2019

I’ll do it tomorrow!

Those of us who are procrastinators will identify with today’s Gospel. We have the best of intentions, but somehow our ‘to do’ list for today keeps getting pushed out until tomorrow, and the next day, and the next week. There is always an excuse, or something more urgent that needs to be done. The things that we do not prioritise get relegated to the bottom of the list, and sometimes drop off altogether, so that they never get done.

In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus invites people to follow him, he gets some similar responses – I’ll be right with you, I’ll add it to my ‘to do’ list. ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me…’ The excuses these people give are far from feeble: one wants to go and bury his or her father first, another simply wants to say goodbye to their family. But Jesus has what sound like very harsh words for these predicaments. There is no time, there can be no excuses, this is more important.

Discipleship is a path that requires sacrifice. It is a path that means living in a new and different way. Rather than focusing on the past, we need to move forward and get on with the task. Jesus tells us: ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ There is work to be done, and it cannot wait. People who are hungry, homeless, marginalised or suffering cannot wait. The earth cannot wait. Our ‘to do’ lists need to be shaken up. If we are to live as disciples, the time is not tomorrow, it is now.

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