“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.”
-Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Time has been flying by here in Wexford. In the last month we’ve returned from Easter holidays, coordinated 4 retreats for our Confirmation students, 2 First Confession services, 2 Confirmation liturgies, 3 First Communion liturgies, participated in a week-long parish pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, and sadly had to say goodbye to Megan as she returned to the US to begin her graduate studies in education. Around the corner is the celebration of Fr. Denis’ 50th Anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood as well as a live-to-TV nationally broadcast Mass with the Clonard Folk Choir on RTÉ.
It’s often hard for these moments not to blur together in my mind. There’s so much going on, you move from one event to the other wondering where the time has gone, and then the opportunity to dwell and reflect upon these experiences passes. But then a group of 50 eight-year-olds in tiny suit jackets and dresses sing-shouts a song about the Last Supper as they receive the Body of Christ for the first time:
“Before His death, Jesus surrendered Himself, pouring out His life for all, giving hope to a broken world.”
If this past month has shown me anything, it’s that God continues to provide the same hope to this broken world that He gave to it in the sacrifice of His Son. We live in both turbulent times – matters of social injustice, terrorism, and unrest – and divisive times – differing views on politics, religion, and social standards. As Christians who live in the promise of Christ’s return and the glorious peace of the Kingdom, it can be hard to hold onto the hope of Jesus’ death and resurrection in light of the darkness our world experiences today.
But take those 50 students from Kennedy Park at their First Communion, for example. Their sing-shouting was but one example of the wide-eyed curiosity and joy that these children showed Madeline and I all year-long in the classroom and in the church. They were SO excited to receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time. That’s hope in a broken world.
Rewind a few weeks from there to 4 days worth of Confirmation retreats by the seashore at Ballyvaloo. Prior to these days, we had only been with these students in a classroom setting. For the first time, we got to witness them share in small group discussions, and meditate in prayerful silence. And these boys and girls are twelve years old. That’s hope in a broken world.
Then on their Confirmation day, I sat at the piano as out of the corner of my eye I saw the bishop seal each of them with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. All the while, a choir of 50 students who in January didn’t want to open their mouths were singing “Send Us Your Spirit” and “Lead Me, Lord” with such strength you’d think they wanted to be in a church choir every day. That’s hope in a broken world.
And then there’s Lourdes. My God, Lourdes… I don’t even know where to start. For those who have been there, you know what I mean. For those who haven’t, there is just something about the place. In this little French town nestled in the foothills of the towering Pyrenees is a peace and presence that puts your heart and mind at rest. Sitting by the grotto, maybe with a rosary in hand, as the river Gave de Pau calmly rushes by with a beautiful teal water from the mountains: that’s hope in a broken world.
Waiting in line at the baths, the infirmed are brought by wheelchair and even by stretcher from great distances across the globe to be cleansed in the waters of the grotto spring. They come in hope of healing, but also with an understanding of what Our Lady said to St. Bernadette: “I cannot promise you happiness in this life; only in the next.” Yet they persevere. That’s hope in a broken world.
Then every night hundreds to thousands of people gather at the Sanctuary as the sun sets. Following a statue of a Mary, all carry lit candles and recite the rosary in procession around the grounds. Each “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” are said in a myriad of languages, representing the (small ‘c’) catholicity of the crowd that has assembled that night. Then in-between each decade, a hymn is sung. Often it is “Immaculate Mary” (known as “The Bells of the Angelus” in Ireland). Just like the rosary, the verses are sung in a diverse array of languages. But then comes the chorus. United in full heart and voice, a powerful “Ave! Ave! Ave Maria!” erupts throughout the Sanctuary as all elevate their candles into the sky. That’s hope in a broken world.
Days can slip by so quickly just like this past month has shown me. It took the innocent childlike joy of a group of eight-year-olds to snap me out of a daze and pay attention to the world around me. Yes, our world can be dark and troubling. And yes, our lives and experiences can get tiring. But I’ve learned that if I don’t “stop to smell the roses,” I will never be able to recognize the hope in our broken world – the hope and promise of Easter joy, peace, and glory.