Hospitable, Unconditional, Resilient Tess


Homily for Funeral Mass


Tess Hilliard

in the

Church of the Assumption, Walkinstown,

23rd of July 2016

tess cb

(Aunt Tess in Cathal Brugha Barracks on the occasion of her 82nd  birthday. She was born in the barracks in 1928 )

Hospitable, Unconditional, Resilient Tess

There is a saying in Gaelic which goes as follows Ní beidh a leithéid ann arís. Translated this means we’ll not see their likes again. This phrase is often bandied around but in the case of Tess Hilliard it rings true. There’ll not be her likes again. She was nurtured, conditioned and influenced by a culture that we only catch sight of in books or in TV documentaries. Passing through Tallaght Hospital the other day I noted an extract from an exhibition about inner city Dublin which highlighted that in 1921 one house in Henrietta St had over one hundred residents. I cycle or walk through this street once or twice a day and I think that there are far less than one hundred on the entire street now. These were difficult times and it is not for me to infiltrate them with a rosy glow but it still formed people. The Dublin of 1928 that Tess was born into is very different to the Dublin of today. The things that formed you were based on survival, kinship and community. There was little choice and one had to make do. Everything was shared. I don’t know if it was my father or Johnny that wore a new suit to the cinema which they were attending with the latest girlfriend. The only problem was that one wore it and the other had bought it. The one that bought it had to impress their girlfriend in their working clothes while looking at the girlfriend of the brother staring starry eyed into her new catch that was resplendent in the latest and newest fashion statement. Great personal resources were employed to make life liveable. There was a lot of struggle but the days seem to have been lifted with constant laughter, good hearted slagging and a few jokes thrown in.

On a recent visit to Rwanda to study how those who were caught up in the horrible genocide survived and overcame the social and psychological impact of the murder of over one million people by neighbours and friends I learnt a lot about life. For those who don’t remember this awful event occurred when one group of people slaughtered another group of people because of their tribal and racial origins. I remember one person saying to me that governments or those in power develop strategies and we (the people) develop tactics to deal with their strategies. Tess was a master tactician. Whatever government, family, neighbourhood or life threw at her she always had a tactic to deal with it. Maybe some of the younger generation find it hard to grasp exactly what I am saying so I’ll put it another way. Recent reports on China show that one of the reason for the slowdown is the lack of management skills. When this matter was investigated further they noted that the younger Chinese had very little initiative and very little spontaneity. The researchers said this was due to the fact that they were from one child families and they were more used to doing what they were told that using any initiative; the type of initiative that many like Tess in the past used to survive in a large family that interfaced with neighbours and community in a very open way.

Tess was on the other side of the scale to Chinese management. Influenced greatly by the family she grew up with and the family that was later to  surround her she became a master tactician ensuring at every stage that there was not just enough but plenty for everyone; that included food, time and care. I was in Rome a few weeks ago and I brought back little replicas of the cross that Pope Francis wears around his neck. His cross his engraved with an image of the Good Shepherd carrying the weakest lamb over his shoulders. I gave one of these replicas to each of Tess’s children on Wednesday night when she died. I could think of no greater image for this wonderful lady as that of the Good Shepherd carrying the weakest lamb on her shoulder. Tess’s shoulders were broad and God knows at times they had to be.

There are three things in Tess’s life that I would consider to be indelible marks of God on her. You see we are told in scripture that everyone has a uniqueness that we can recognise. It is part of the deeper self-created by God that marks us out as His unique creation.  When I think of Tess I think of these three qualities that merge into one and make her who she is. These qualities are alive in the readings we just heard and resonate in her spirit. To remember them I ask you to think of Ben Hur and focus on the last word of the two H for Hospitality, U for Unconditional love and R for Resilience.

The first reading talks about hospitality. Abraham welcomes visitors that he could have turned away. He insisted that they bathe their feet and sit at his table to eat of the best. Unbeknownst to Abraham the strangers were angels of God who bestowed a blessing on them leading to both himself and his wife becoming leaders of a great nation. Not unlike Tess who has created her own great nation with twenty five grand-children and twenty five great grand-children. Tess’s hospitality was way beyond the provision of food, drink and rest which I will now expalin. I read a definition of Christian hospitality recently which said it was ‘entering into the chaos of another’s life’. Tess had the ability to step into the chaos of many of our lives. She could calm it and reassure us when we were spun out from being in the midst of that same chaos. Remember though that the hospitality of Tess brought her blessings. Today when things have become increasingly privatised and antiseptic and gated we are setting up for an explosion of depressive states, hospitality brings blessings for each of us; choosing the other way brings only smugness and isolation.

Secondly Tess’s unconditional love has to be stated. Love today comes in many forms. There is an awful lot of conditional love and it is at the heart of dysfunctionality and manipulation. I will love you if you are this that or the other. Or I will love you if you do as I command or want or need. This form of love is not really love; it’s a form of game playing and it is both inconsiderate and destructive of others. Tess’s love was unconditional; totally and utterly. Why so many you, her grandchildren and great grandchildren, found her refreshing was that she gave you a break from the game playing of conditional love that goes on in the world. She just looked at you and loved you. This is a love that it not of this world and it is modelled on God’s great love for us which is totally unconditional. The energy for this love is revealed to us in today’s second reading which tells us that if we want to love like Tess we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. Computers, i pads and PlayStation, even the best of cars are replaced and are replaceable but unconditional love of someone is irreplaceable; that is why we are so broken hearted. Unconditional love gives you the freedom to be yourself regardless of how that self is at any point in time: broken; confused; angry; broke; upset or depressed. Conditional love will make us worse leaving you with blame and guilt. Unconditional love weaves way forward for your life and fills you with hope. Conditional love builds prison, unconditional love gives us open space where we feel warmth on our back and a spring in our step. That is the ‘U’.


The ‘R’ stands for resilience. I work in a third level institute, a university that tries to prepare people for the challenge of the work place. There is always a buzz word around to describe what the ultimate educational outcome is and the buzz word at the moment is resilience. People who can take a hit and then get on with it.  People who if they hit a water main or a cable don’t wait for the boss to come but can get on with what needs to be done. People who if a contract is lost can put it to one side and work harder on the next one. People who if there is difficulty don’t end up in a heap but can integrate the trials and tribulations of life into their person and become wiser and more mature. People who don’t spend their time back-biting or blaming to give themselves an elevated sense of importance but people can define themselves by their own vision and not the faults of others. When I listen to all the academics wondering what it the latest publication on resilience I often think they’d be better off getting people like Tess in to talk to the students. Tess and others like her are resilience on legs. Like Martha in the Gospel and like Tess too we have to choose what it the better part and not be victims of circumstances. Thankfully we are surrounded by great examples of this.


What we do today is put mortal remains to rest. A mortal remains that carried a great treasure; this treasure lives on however as it is the uniqueness of Tess that we pray dwells in God’s eyes and heart for eternity. Her Hospitality, Unconditional love and her Resilience are born of her spirit which was deeply nurtured by her belief in things unseen but of which we are given glimpses in the person of Jesus whom she loved. May our deep sense of loss not lead us to despair but lead us to contemplate the well of richness from which Tess drew all her life and may we aspire to bring her values and those of the Gospel to our world. Amen

Hi there, If you would like a notification when a new post appears then please subscribe. Alan

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: