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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