Lough Derg Mass
Clogher Diocesan One-day Pilgrimage
Monday, 19 May, 2014
My dear friends,
Brian Moore, a writer, was born and grew up in Northern Ireland even though he spent most of his later life in America. One of his novels was called “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.” Judith was a woman approaching menopause, bright, talented, educated, artistic and gifted with a pleasant personality and good looks. She desperately wants to be married. She is deeply frustrated with being single and does not consider herself a complete person. Her whole life is geared towards finding a husband.
Early in the story she meets a man who interests her, and who she senses is interested in her. He is a pleasant man but alas, like many men, flawed and the reader can see that Judith would be used if she married him. However, because she is desperate she falls in love in a vague sort of way. He sees her as a possible business partner, someone whose money he could use. Judith takes the risk of proposing to him. She is rejected and the disappointment, coupled with the hurt of rejection, triggers within her a deep depression which takes her on an alcoholic binge and eventually leads to a nervous breakdown and a mental hospital.
Most of us find life a bit of a struggle, at least at times. We live with inferiorities, dashed dreams and deep frustrations. We often grow jealous which merely adds to our pain and disappointment and we develop an attitude which tends to kill what is good, happy and creative in our own lives. When we get lost in waiting for something indefinable to come along and fulfil our lives a deep restlessness can set in.
Things were not going so well for the two lads on the road to Emmaus. “Their faces were downcast”, we are told. Their dream had been shattered, their future bleak. They were finding it difficult to see the coming of Jesus Christ in any way other than as a false dawn. After the resurrection, the disciples could not pick up, without help, the spirit of the new presence of Jesus. They wanted back the earthly Jesus to which they were accustomed. Eventually, they were reduced to huddling in fear in a locked room. When we live in restless unhappiness, not satisfied with our situation in life, whatever the source of our dissatisfaction, we live like the apostles at that time, huddled in fear and paralysed by it.
The story of Judith Hearne climaxes with her ex-boyfriend coming to visit her in the hospital and announcing that he has changed his mind and wants to marry her after all. She refuses and says to him, “When you are a little girl you dream of the perfect man, that person who will make you whole. He will be handsome and good and kind and generous. He will be near perfect. Then, as you get older, you revise your expectations downwards. He doesn’t have to be so handsome or perfect or good. Finally, when you get to my age, he doesn’t have to be handsome or loving or good at all. Anyone will do, if they resemble the real thing. But I’ve learned something here. I have grown to know and understand that even alone, single, just myself, I am something.”
She throws his address card away as she leaves the hospital and we see in her face that she is now a woman of inner strength and joy. She has a new calmness, attractiveness and energy; the restlessness is gone. You sense that, if she wants to, she will easily find someone to marry, now that she is no longer desperate in her need.
The two disciples were struggling to make sense of the death of Jesus. They feel hopeless and helpless. But this stranger is something else. He gives a totally different interpretation of the same happening. He explains that the death of Christ was something that had to happen before he entered into his glory. In fact, he shows them that the death of Christ expressed the success of his mission and not its collapse. The stranger was helping them to make sense of the past in a new light. They invited him to come in and stay as it was getting late. When he came in and when they all sat at table and broke bread together, they recognised him. Not only does he help them to reinterpret the past in the light of their new experience of him as risen Lord; he gives them a new future.
In their new experience of Jesus as risen Lord, the disciple’s past is changed. They can now revisit the past in the light of what they have since experienced. They can take the light of Easter to scatter the darkness of Good Friday. Everything looks different now. The risen Christ has made sense of everything that went before. In his word and in the breaking of bread, the past is brought up to date. The past can now be seen in the light of the great truth that Jesus is risen and is Lord.
When we gather, as we are doing this afternoon, to celebrate the Eucharist, we too listen to the word of God and break bread together. Jesus comes among us not as a stranger but he comes to us in word and sacrament to give us new hope to face the future with faith in him. Our own stories may not be all that very different from those of Judith Hearne and the two disciples. We may have experienced great disappointment too and we may have a past that we do not fully understand. We are invited to tell our stories to the Lord, to listen to him as he speaks his word and to recognise him in the breaking of bread. Then we may be able to look at the past with understanding and to the future with hope – “with him at my right hand, nothing can shake me,” St. Peter said.
+Liam S. MacDaid