Archive for June, 2015

A Reflection on the Berkeley Tragedy … ‘Who do we belong to?’

A Gathering in the wake of the Berkeley Tragedy.

cross bran

(Photo taken on Mount Brandon looking out over the Atlantic Ocean towards the United States)

DIT Aungier St.

Thursday the 18th of June 2015

Remembering Eoghan Culligan and all who are affected by this tragic event.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy Service.

Last Tuesday was a day in DIT that I’ll not forget for a long time to come. My Facebook page saw many students delight in the fact that they were now graduates, qualified to pursue their dreams. Another stream of information that was opening up saw an awful vista where dreams were falling apart.  My own week was punctuated with extremes. On Saturday we marked my own father’s ninetieth birthday. Today I stand with you trying to mark the passing of Eoghan who is a student of this institute, Nicollai, who was a student here for one year, Ashley, Olivia, Eimear and Lorcan. There is not a lot of difference between the  sum of their ages and my father’s age.

We spend our lives trying to live at one extreme; that of laughter, fun, achievement and flourishing. And so we should. These extremes are what we might call the default setting of our age and for this we are very fortunate. However, sometimes the energy required to live at these extremes is stolen from us. Events occur that turn everything upside-down and we can sometimes wonder if darkness is the place where we shall dwell minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day and even week after week. The default setting collapses and we don’t know how or where to reboot.

The events his week are particularly extenuating caused by what Australians used to refer to as  ‘the tyranny of distance’. Families, friends and support are separated by airports, miles and untold emotional barriers which cannot be solved by multimedia mediums. I spent many years working with Irish emigrants many of whom were successful and happy but many of whom experienced loss and tragedy. Some were unable to relate their difficulties to those at home. As a result I watched as people artfully and creatively put other systems of support, care and love in place. Where friends became family and tragedy became a foundation for a new way of living and a new default setting. I do not wish to promote tragedy as away of redefining life; in truth I would love that each and every person’s default position was the one of laughter, fun, achievement and flourishing and I am quite convinced that the God I believe in would want that too.

As we gather today we know that as much as we’d wish for this default position we cannot promise or guarantee it to one another. However we can assist one another as we try to find a comfortable place from which we can begin to view or even glimpse a road towards contentment again. Experience tells me that times like this beg one question; this one question is at the heart of a lot of our struggle in the face of this tragedy today. Those who are directly and indirectly affected by this event ask ‘who do we or I belong to?’ The nature of this tragedy and the tyranny of distance make this question ring with even louder decibles in our hearts and minds. This may be particularly the case for those of you viewing on-line.

The answer, like the question, is not necessarily verbalised but it is being asked and it is being answered. The desire to be with someone or with many tells us that first and foremost we don’t belong on our own. The work of officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Pastoral Care Centre in San Francisco are actively involved in answering this question by connecting those who were affected in varying degrees by this tragedy. They may not be using words but they are answering this precise question; ‘who do I or we belong to?’.  These organisations were and are working diligently to bring together those who belong to one another.

Today’s refection is a small and simple outreach from DIT to those of you who belong here. We remember Eoghan and all who have died. We struggle to articulate how those have died ‘belong’ to us now. We reach out to you physically present, those watching on our live stream and we want to let you know that we can help if the default position has slipped. The services are here for you and even if is only to drop in for a cuppa to the Students Union or the Chaplaincy or if you need to avail of the counselling or medical service please feel you are welcome. For those of you who knew Eoghan and Niccolai you are especially welcome because your belonging here was shared with them in a special way.

As you are aware I am the chaplain here and am privileged to share this post with a wonderful team of Chaplains and colleagues in Campus Life and Student Services. As a Chaplain who happens to be a Catholic Priest I’d like to share something with you. One thing I notice in my faith tradition is that the stories after the event referred to as The Resurrection are stories about belonging. They tell stories of people who felt emotionally, physically and spiritually isolated who were gathered together so that they could feel that they could live again. That couldn’t happen until they felt that they belonged. Whether we view these stories through eyes of faith or with eyes that are not of faith they have a very important message for us. This message is that the journey back begins with belonging. They beg of us to create places and spaces of belonging in this world that are safe, secure , enriching and life-giving for our fellow human beings with whom we belong.  Those associated with a third level institute have special responsibilities to inform the world how each and every sector can place human belonging at the pinnacle of its discipline.

The line at the back of the booklet is one that is often used to refer to those who have died; it reads ‘Life is changed not ended’. If we are honest a tragedy such as this changes us all. This change may even be that we name and cherish those to whom we belong. When we go home this evening or when we return from abroad we may find that there is a difference in the way we engage with those to with whom we belong. A hug or kiss may be a little longer, a visit to a parent may not be as rushed, the coffee with that friend who always listens may develop into a second cup , the person who has been struggling and who we’ve been meaning to visit for a while may open the door and find standing there smiling. In a particular way we hope that through our actions that those who have experienced life changing injuries may feel comfortable enough to come home in the knowledge that they sill belong to us and that we can find ways to nurture and accommodate their sense of belonging. And to those who have lost a loved one let us be inspired by those stories I referred to earlier and let us walk with them at a pace of their choosing.

We remember especially Eoghan and all those who have died. Though we’d prefer to have them among us we live in the hope that their life has not just ended but has changed in a manner beyond our wildest imaginings; where the default position is one of love and joy without blemish and  for ever. May they rest in peace.

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Irish Times Article – Return Migration


Returning to Ireland? Don’t expect things to be as they were

While emigrating is difficult, moving back home can be surprisingly harder. Feeling like a stranger in a place you once felt totally at home can be very unsettling and shocking…




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My Father’s 90th Birthday Mass

mam and dadMass of Thanksgiving for Bill Hilliard’s 90th Birthday

Saint Brendan’s’ Church Coolock

6.30 pm 13th June, Vigil Mass of the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A lady in a parish in Dublin was overheard asking a friend on a Holy Thursday night last ‘is this the night that Jesus was in the garden trying to say his prayers and his mates fell asleep?’ The friend replied in the affirmative. ‘Know how he felt’, continued the lady, ‘I do be trying to say my prayers and himself at home does be snoring his head off on the chair and I can’t concentrate on my prayers…it’d wreck your head…I feel sorry for poor Jesus!’

From all my travels I notice one thing about what you would call the real Dub…they ‘get’ the humanity of Jesus and they relate to that humanity deeply. They find in the human Jesus a fellow pilgrim who inspires, understands and supports. There is a mutual empathy that sees one through crisis after crisis whether that crisis is in the church, the state, in family, in friend or in self. Every so often and more to the point, when necessary, that humanity of Jesus falls aside and the divine aspect of Jesus’ nature is glimpsed.

This divine is not something remote and aloof from our real needs and concerns but it lies in a moment when things make sense, the realisation that there is a plan and there is a life that is considerably richer and more worthwhile than that which the daily drudge deals out. In this moment there is great consolation and strength. If the truth be told these insights don’t spare you any relief from the tough hand that can often be dealt to you but it does give you a way of playing that hand better.

This common sense approach to life can be seen in the images that Jesus uses in this evening’s Gospel. They are all images that are accessible; images that an industrial farmer or a humble gardener on Tonelgee Road can perceive and see beyond. This ability to see beyond and to be informed by what is beyond the ordinary is there for all to engage without price. Some choose not to, some through no fault of their own are unable, some choose to say nothing but just live out of what they find there, and others do it in such an exceptional way that they are called poets.

One such poet is Seamus Heaney, a great poet only because he sees deeply into things. This is one of my favourite poems and maybe it captures what I am trying to say better than I am saying it myself. If describes a trip to the West of Ireland and how we live in that thin veil between the ordinary and the extraordinary; where humanity and divinity are interwoven. One often eludes the other but sometimes both work in tandem to reveal beauty and goodness. The poem is called Transcript

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open .

Today is the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. After the multiple feasts of Easter, Pentecost, Ascension, Corpus Christi, we are asked to settle down and find the joy of the ordinary. In a sense the liturgy shifts to where we are most comfortable…especially for ‘the Dub’. We hopefully move from a heightened sense of the divine to more a comfortable contemplation of humanity; our humanity and that of Jesus. Those who have moved on from life with the church miss these well-crafted reminders of life and well-being. If there is any theme for Bill’s 90th birthday it is simply ‘the ordinary’. If you want to live till ninety without getting yourself up to ninety well leave the bling aside and in the words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux ‘do the ordinary things extraordinarily well’. Simply put, in doing the ordinary things well the extraordinary makes itself know. One informs the other making life deeply worthwhile.

I think what is being said this evening and what we need to hear is that a long life can have its own pressures and crosses but it doesn’t have to be unbearable. Through grace and good fortune, (especially with regard to our health) life can be immensely interesting and full of fun. As with any age one has to draw on ones God given resources of physical health, mental attitude, spiritual depth and create a dance between emotional detachment and engagement to celebrate the ordinary. That is why I think this 90th is being marked at the ‘ordinary mass’, where the ‘ordinary’ chores are carried out (taking up the collection), and an ‘ordinary’ cup of tea is being served afterwards in the parish hall. It is another day but any day in which there is nothing to celebrate is a sad day; and if we are to learn anything this evening it is that every ‘ordinary’ day in ‘ordinary’ time has something to celebrate.

Whatever views and opinions abound about life and its values I know that there is an underlying belief in ‘the dub’ who gets to ninety that you are morally bound to serve those who may be of a similar age but may not enjoy the same sense of well-being. The greatest fear at this age is not one of health alone but that you fall prey to a growing trend in our world today, a trend which is a prison of sorts. That prison one has to aim to protect oneself from is that of disappearing into a prison of narcissism, of self-doubt, of self-loathing, of self-pity or just plain ‘self’. It was the Ballylongford poet Brendan Kennelly who wrote ‘self knows that self is not enough’.

To conclude. Living the ordinary life is not something passive as I said earlier. One of my favourite contemporary writers is Colum McCann and in one of his books he said ‘it takes great courage to live an ordinary life’ and so it does…but there are many fine examples of that courage…we don’t have to look to far. May the big soft buffetings of the ‘ordinary’ that Seamus Heaney talks about catch our hearts off-guard and blow them open so we can find our dignity, our depth and our strength as we aspire to follow that example of  Saint Thérèse of Lisieux do the ‘ordinary things extraordinarily well’.

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