Friday, June 5, 2020

The Master of the Dominican Order, Gerard Timoner

A short clip from the new Master of the Dominican Order.

Gerard Timoner was elected in Vietnam to the job on July 13, 2019.

Setting not a great idea. A regal touch to it. Not good PR.

One could easily ask what exactly does the Master of the Dominican Order do?

Is it a cynical question? But if the man is a forward-looking, inspirational person, surely his vision will filter throughout the Order.

Two Irish men held the post, Michael Browne and Damian Byrne.

Right now, the world, the church, the Irish Dominicans need inspiration, and certainly the Irish Dominican Province is in urgent need of large doses of inspiration.

The Irish Dominicans are due to elect a new provincial in September.

Urgent prayers are needed. Prayers that will help elect a man of vision, not an apparatchik, and no pseudo piosity.

A man who will inspire, work hard and communicate with his fellow Dominicans in honesty and openness. 

General Mattis lashes out at Trump for dividing America

Below is the article written by James Mattis in the current issue of The Atlantic.

It is sensational that a retired Marine Corps general and a former secretary of defence would criticise in such forthright terms a sitting US president.

Mattis served as Trump's secretary of defence from January 2017 to January 2019.

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. 

This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. 

The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. 

Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” 

At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. 

It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. 

Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” 

We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ 

Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. 

We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. 

This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. 

The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community.

Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. 

We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. 

At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Obama - make people in power uncomfortable

In response to the current situation in the United States of America, former President Barack Obama said yesterday:

Make  people in power uncomfortable.

German unemployment figures

German unemployment figure for May stands at 2.813 million.

This works out at 6.1 per cent of the workforce.

Ireland's unemployment figure for May was over 25 per cent.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Werenfried Pesch OP, RIP

Werenfried Pesch OP
Dominican priest Werenfried Pesch died  in the Dominican Priory in Worms on Monday morning, June 1, it so happens, on the 35th anniversary of the death of Irish Dominican Paul Hynes. Werenfried suffered a severe stroke.

Werenfried was born in the German town of Kempen, close to Düsseldorf, on November 11, 1931.  

Kempen is the birthplace of Thomas à Kempis. 

He joined the North German Dominican Province in 1957 and was ordained a priest in 1962.

I write these few words about him because I had the great good fortune to get to know him.

In the summers of 1972 and 1973 I lived at the Dominican Priory in Lindenstraße in Cologne. It was there I got to know Werenfried.

I was 23/24 and he was 41/42. At the time I thought he was an elderly man.

He was a quiet, gentle person. He had that wonderful gift of accepting a person where they were. He was always willing to see the good in another person.

By nature he was a prayerful person and from what I can recall, he spent some time with a contemplative congregation.

Werenfried had that unique gift of making people feel important. In his presence one felt special.

There were many parts to him. Aren't there to all of us? While by nature he was more conservative than liberal, yet he embraced all that was good of the Vatican Council. He would shrug his shoulders and smile when conservative men in the community would criticise modern German theologians. He would never say a word at the time but later in his inimitable quiet way he would remind his fellow Dominicans of what they had said and point out to them how unwise their words had been.

At the time the Dominican students at nearby Walberberg were keenly listening to the latest world and church events, the Vietnam War, Baader Meinhof, the Willy Brandt government, the Munich Olympic Games and the treaty signed between East and West Germany, the Interflug air disaster at Königs Wusterhausen, killing all 156 passengers, Volkswagen launched the Passat.

Young Dominicans were seeing the world through different lenses. Homogeneous thinking was disappearing. 

The late Dominican, Dominik Germeshausen said that Christoph ‘changed sides’ close to priestly ordination.

It was a place full of energy, a great place to be. 

At the time Irish Dominican Gregory Kirstein, was a much loved member of the community, if considered slightly eccentric. The current archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn was a student in Walberberg in the late 1960s.

Werenfried had the wonderful gift of embracing with open arms the various 'disagreeing' factions. And they all in turn greatly respected him.

He was an honourable man. His word was his bond.

We belonged to different generations, different cultures. It was my first time in Germany. He had never been to Ireland. Werenfried helped make me feel at home in the summers of 1972 and '73 in Cologne.

Such a gentle and gracious person and born just two short years before Adolf Hitler became German chancellor.

Werenfried, rest in peace and thank you.

Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich is outraged that the price of a black life is a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill

Below is a powerful statement of Cardinal Blase  Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, on the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath.

The past nights I have watched in great personal pain as the pent-up anger of our people caught fire across our country. I saw the city where I was born, the cities where I have lived, the city I pastor now, catch embers from the city where I was educated and burn. Was I horrified at the violence? Yes. But was I surprised? No.

As the saying goes, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. What did we expect when we learned that in Minneapolis, a city often hailed as a model of inclusivity, the price of a black life is a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill? 

When we added another name to the list of those murdered for being black or for caring about the marginalised?

I will not pretend to speak with any authority about the challenges people of color experience in our society.  I do not share the fear they put on when they and their children leave their homes every day. 

I do not know what it means to be “other.” But I know there is a way to fix it.  And the fix begins when we stop talking about the proportionality of “their” response and start talking about the proportionality of “ours.” 

Surely a nation that could put a man in space, his safety assured by the brilliance of black women, can create a fair legal system, equitable education and employment opportunities and ready access to health care. 

Laws do not solve problems, but they create a system where racism in all its forms is punished and playing fields are levelled.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been called a great equalizer. It has been even more a great revealer of societal cancers as deadly as the virus. As others have pointed out, health insecurity kills, and poverty is poison.  

We can and must make a society that views the soaring of a child’s potential with more joy than the soaring of a rocket.

I stand ready to join religious, civic, labor and business leaders in coming together to launch a new effort to bring about recovery and reconciliation in our city.  

We do not need a study of the causes and effects. Those answers can be found on the shelves of government offices and academic institutions across our burning nation. 

No, we need to take up the hard work of healing the deep wound that has afflicted our people since the first slave ships docked on this continent. And we need to start today.

The man in the White House is a 'gangster and dictator'

Film directory, Spike Lee talking about President Donald Trump:

"He's a gangster, he's a dictator."

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Do Johnson and Cummings link words with truth?

This week's Independent News & Media Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief political adviser, Dominic Cummings has been in the news of late. The controversy has brought home the importance of words.

There’s that great expression ‘my word is my bond’. Yet it would be an unwise person who would make an agreement without a contract and written signature.

There are some words and phrases that go in and out of fashion.

I’m going to leave strict instructions in my will that when I die, no one dare say: ‘Michael Commane has passed away’, But must say: ‘Michael Commane has died’.

As with so many aspects of our lives, people have different tastes, and the words we use are linked to our personalities, fashions and styles.

There is no end to what one could write about the meaning, etymology and use of words.

For example, did you know that the word inflammable and flammable have the same meaning. Only in recent days an engineer told me that those two words have been replaced with combustible and non-combustible.

Keeping a keen eye on the Cummings controversy I was amused with British politicians and their use of words in the affair.

It’s important to note that we come to situations with our own particular bias. I am no supporter of Johnson or his chief adviser Cummings. Before the last UK general election, a member of the Conservative Party and a former senior cabinet minister publicly stated that he believed that Boris Johnson had issues with the truth.

I carefully listened to Boris Johnson’s press conference on Sunday, May 24, and to the interview with the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps on the Andrew Marr BBC programme earlier that day.

It may have appeared that they were floundering, at sixes and sevens. But might that have been their strategy, to confuse people?

They avoided and dodged the questions. But what was most striking was, how careful they were in the words they used. They were real masters with their words. I was left in a haze of confusion having watched both men.

We can use words to tell the truth, to tell lies, to say nothing, and to befuddle. Clever people have the ability to confuse and befuddle when it suits their purpose.

I came away from both the Johnson and Shapps interviews in the belief that both men were being economical with the truth. 

The following day Cummings gave an hour-long interview in the garden of Downing Street. Some of what he said was absurd. He told journalists that he drove his car on an hour-long journey to see if his eyesight was okay so that he could drive back from Durham to London the following day. 

That must go down as an infamous quote.

Cummings has a way with words. He’s clever and in his press conference he managed to garner a certain sympathy. I never before saw such a human side to the man.

I’m thinking of the late Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell, the time he said that he had made a mental reservation. Is that another phrase for telling a lie?

The story with words can often be like everything else in our lives: there's one law for the rich and another for the poor.

But I have no doubt our world would be a better place for all of us, rich and poor, if the words we used were linked to truth. Words are sacred.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Johnson and Cummings are dogmatic and incompetent men

This has to be journalism at its best. Nick Cohen writing in Saturday's Guardian

This extract is the final two paragraphs of the article.

Unlike Trump and Johnson, Cummings is not trying to fool the public but fool the fool who employs him – not the hardest of tasks, I grant you. He sinks to the level of the petty cheat because he must convince Johnson that he is a political mastermind.
Don’t be fooled as well. Too many liberals see Cummings as a manipulative demon with supernatural powers, when the most frightening thing about him, and Johnson, is their pathetic inability to control events. 

They are not evil geniuses but lazy, dogmatic and incompetent men, whose shabbiness is revealed as much by their little deceits as grand blunders. Don’t inflate them into monsters, who can never be beaten. Draw courage from their littleness. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

A reader posts an interesting comment

Below is a comment, posted yesterday, on the blogpost of Thursday, May 28.

The comment is clearly self-explanatory.  It's worth posting. It tells a tale.

It doesn't take rocket science to know that the website of the Irish Jesuits is 'far superior' to its Irish Dominican counterpart.

Billy said...

The well written obituaries which you publish on your blog for Irish Dominicans who die are, it seems to me, measured and fair.

The website of the Irish province stays silent when a member of the province dies. This is a glaring lack. Your obituaries ought to be also published on the website of the province.

This website needs a lot of work. It ought to be developed and improved. In it's present format it is unfriendly and unattractive. It gives no great sense of the work of the province. You won't like me stating that the website of the Irish Jesuits is far superior. The content is substantive and informative and mention is always made of Jesuits who die.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Schönborn criitical of some John Paul appointments

In a report in The Tablet of May 23 Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said that he is of the opinion that  some of the episcopal appointments made by Pope St John Paul II had gone badly wrong.

He cites the appointment of his predecessor Benedictine, Hans Hermann Groer, whom John Paul appointed personally, and breaking a promise that he would consult Viennese archbishop Cardinal Franz König. Groer was a paedophile.

"It was an unfortunate choice as were several of John Paul II's episcopal nominations in the second half of the 1980s. There is no doubt that John Paul had weaknesses. But who has none?"

Spectacular words from a serving archbishop about a canonised pope. Martini was one of the great cardinals of the church.

But the Dominican cardinal did point out that John Paul II also directly appointed Jesuit Carlo Maria Martini as archbishop of Milan.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The right-wing calls for early opening hours

The extract below is from an article in yesterday's Guardian. The link to the piece is included on this post.

When the US has endured past attacks by stealthy enemies – Pearl Harbor, say, or 9/11 – there has been some effort from the White House down to rally the nation around a common defense. Not so this time.
When Americans are asked about key policies relating to coronavirus, such as when lockdown should be eased and economies reopened, their answer is starkly partisan. A survey by the University of Chicago found that 77% of Democrats want lockdown restrictions to remain in place for as long as needed to protect health, while only 45% of Republicans take that view.
“Politics more than economics is dividing Americans,” the Chicago researchers concluded.
Trump has adopted a similar partisan stance. Instead of acting for the nation as a whole, he has favoured party political point scoring ahead of November’s presidential election.

Fr Tim Hazelwood, a priest of the Diocese of Cloyne and a member of the Association of Catholic Priests of Ireland, said on RTE Radio yesterday that there was a Catholic media that was calling for a relaxation on the rules concerning the reopening of churches.

When pressed to name who he was talking about he mentioned The Iona Institute and The Irish Catholic newspaper.

Why is the right-wing so intent on pushing for an early opening? In the US it is the Republicans and the Trumpites, who are pushing for early opening. And now in Ireland right-wing Catholics are calling for an earlier opening of churches.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was clear on radio and television yesterday pointing how important it is for the Catholic Church to heed the advice of State authorities.

It is a pity that The Iona Institute and The Irish Catholic are attempting to hijack the Catholic Church in Ireland in order to shape it into a conservative/right-wing organisation.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

A thoughtful reminder of the late Michael Neenan OP

Yesterday someone by the name of Mary left the following comment on this blog: "Happy birthday. Gone but not forgotten."

Mary was leaving a comment on the short piece that was written about her uncle, Michael Neenan, who died on February 25, 2016. It was the fourth comment Mary has left on the blogpost of March 3, 2016. What a lovely touch.

Back then this blog was not as systematic as it is today in writing about Irish Dominicans who die. It was a much more hit-and-miss operation. So, apologies for writing such a short piece on Michael Neenan.

There was a short note on the death of Michael on this blog on March 5, 2016.

Not once but indeed, on many occasions a member of staff at St Luke's Hospital in Rathgar, Dublin, where I am chaplain, talks to me about Michael Neenan. He often travelled with Michael to Fatima and speaks in glowing terms of the A'dorney man. People not from Kerry, indeed, many in Kerry, may not be aware that the local people abbreviate the north Kerry village, Abbeydorney to A'dorney.

Michael was born on May 25, 1941.

A lovely thought Mary, and thank you.

So often the small gestures make such a difference.

It's a sign of a person when they are fondly remembered.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Top marks for Andrew Marr's BBC 4 history programme

Monday evenings from 8 to 9pm BBC Four television is airing a series on the history of Britain. It comes highly recommended.

'Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain' dealt this week with  life in Britain in the 1960s and '70s. 

This week Andrew Marr was most critical of Harold Wilson and his political machinations.

The programme also covered the events of Bloody Sunday when unarmed the British Army opened fire and shot dead innocent people.

Marr stressed that Roy Jenkins was the UK's most liberal Home Secretary. 

He told of how there was a board in the Home Secretary's office, which named those who were about to be executed by hanging.

Jenkins removed the board from his office and was  instrumental in removing capital punishment from the Statute Book.

Capital punishment was abolished in 1969 and in Northern Ireland in 1973.

The killing of another person is wrong. Obviously, there are occasions when it is permitted, self-defence being an example.

On this day, May 27, 1942 in Operation Anthropoid, Reinhard Heydrich was wounded in an ambush in Prague. He died eight days later.

Surely Prague and the world was a better place without this man, who had inflicted unspeakable crimes.

At the time of his death he was acting Reich Protector for Bohemia and Moravia. He had been sent to Prague to enforce Nazi policy. 

Heydrich played an influential role at the infamous Wannsee Conference, where plans for the 'Final Solution' were decided.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Important events are wrapped around our relationships

This week's Independent News & Media Irish regional newspapers' column

Michael Commane
In last week’s column I wrote about ‘Normal People’, both the book and its dramatisation, which is currently being screened on RTE and BBC.

At the time I had not finished the book and as the drama series is still running, I did not know how it would all end.

I’ve finished the book. I’m not going to ruin it on readers by revealing what happens.

Usually the written word wins out and while I’m enjoying the drama version of the book it would be impossible to show or depict on screen Sally Rooney’s genius in describing situations. She has an uncanny ability in putting down in words incidences, moods, feelings, the fraught moments experienced by people. She writes about the banal, the run-of-the-mill. 

The book is centred on the relationship between the two main protagonists, Marianne and Connell. Rooney says she could not imagine writing a novel about an individual person in isolation. She has never come across a novel about a character in isolation and she argues that such a novel would be an experimental work.

I had less than 80 of the 266 pages to read when I learned of the death of a fellow Dominican. Christy O’Flaherty died in Galway on Sunday, May 17. He was six years older than I. 

Thinking about Christy since his death, I was reminded of ‘Normal People’. It’s important to catch the moment. To make the best of times, to be kind. I’m wondering did we all tell Christy to his face how we appreciated him.

Christy was an extraordinarily talented man. He could do anything. He started framing pictures in St Mary’s Priory in Tallaght probably in the late 1970s. People came from far and wide for him to do framing for them.

Later he effortlessly turned his hand to cooking and gardening. He could turn a patch of unloved ground into a place of beauty.

Some weeks ago when a woman realised I was a Dominican and asked me if I knew Christy her face lit up when I told her I did. She went on to tell me the friendship she and her family had with him. 

He had an extraordinary ability to support and listen to people. He never judged and always put himself at the back of the queue. He disliked headlines and fanfares.

And he had a smile that told a thousand stories.

I remember having a discussion with him over Irish politics. It must have been in the mid-1970s. We had different political views. On that particular evening we were strongly disagreeing with each other. I have no idea what the issue was but I can still vividly remember his parting smile.

When I visited him earlier this year in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital as soon as he heard my voice I saw that very same smile again. 

Christy’s funeral Mass was last Thursday in Galway. Because of Covid-19 I was unable to attend.

I am back thinking of Sally Rooney and how she can describe the tiniest of details, the incidental moments.

Aren’t they the magical moments in our lives? 

I’m hoping that Christy knew that he was cherished.

The important events in our lives are wrapped around our relationships with other people. And often the tiniest of things are what count.

“Normal People’ is a love story between two young people but it’s also a great piece of writing about the ordinary, the run-of-the-mill, as Rooney puts it. There’s a lesson in it for all of us.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Astute words from Henry Ford adapted for political situation

A quote from Henry Ford. It was used by German commentator Gabor Steingart in his piece forecasting the political demise of CDU politician Friedrich Merz.

Success is to have exactly the skills that are in demand at the moment.

The unseemly behaviour of Johnson and Shapps

Anyone who has followed the Dominic Cummings story over the last 24 hours must be left confused, confounded, annoyed and in disbelief.

In the weeks leading up to the UK general election a senior Conservative member and retired government minister publicly stated that Boris Johnson tells lies.

Those who watched yesterday's press briefing at 5pm and observed Mr Johnson must give the UK prime minister full marks for a brazen neck. It was interesting how his eyes changed when he was talking about the Cummings affair.

Earlier in the day the UK Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps appeared on BBC's Andrew Marr programme. He was sent out to bat for his boss. The usual suave and articulate operator was at sixes and sevens. He was all over the place and simply not credible. 

In this affair someone is not telling the truth and on this occasion it would seem the newspapers are telling the truth.

Watching these politicians trying to defend the indefensible is not pleasant. They come across as pathetic people, obviously attempting to circle the wagons.

It is an awful sight and can't be good for democracy, especially at this time.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is cutting a good image in his first days as party leader. In an interview on Sky yesterday he spoke with clarity and conviction, making the point that the British people deserved better than what they are getting from Johnson and company.

There seems to be an honesty in Starmer that's clearly missing in Johnson and his band.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

American dream lies in chaos

This is an editorial in The Tablet of May 16.

By comparison with the British, Americans have every reason to feel profoundly depressed. There have been more than 80,000 deaths from coronavirus in the United States so far, and epidemic modelling at the University of Washington (admittedly an inexact science) predicts 140,000 by August. The economy is shrinking fast and unemployment is soaring. Yet political authorities, not only in the White House, have abrogated their responsibilities for the common good and decided now is the time to start returning the economy to normal. 

That is despite a warning from Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that a premature return to work will cost many lives. Premature means now. But that is not the advice they are hearing from Donald Trump. The biggest reason for American citizens to feel depressed is the chaotic leadership of their President, whose single priority seems to be his own re-election in November rather than steering his country through its most severe health crisis ever.

As in Britain and indeed throughout the world, governments have to find a fine balance between the safety and wellbeing of the population and reviving the economy, on which lives also depend. The issues are subtle and complex. The view in much of Europe is that the safety of the population has been more or less secured by lockdown and social distancing, with the disease reproduction rate (R) at or below one. So businesses, schools, places of worship and even cafes and restaurants may gradually reopen, provided the necessary precautions are taken. 

This caution has been thrown to the wind in much of the United States, where local lockdowns are being lifted by county and state authorities – public health in America is hugely fragmented – regardless of the disease transmission rate. This is a climate of denial, and is being fostered by President Trump. Sometimes he accepts the need for monitoring and testing; sometimes he is dismissive of it, worried that the more testing there is, the more cases will be discovered. 

Mr Trump is even more worried that his one ticket to success in November, the booming US economy for which he is undoubtedly entitled to some credit, has turned to dust. His deeply unattractive alternative is to pin the blame on China, where the disease appears to have originated. The Chinese authorities did not act promptly enough, for sure, or with transparency, but many other governments – including the US and the UK – reacted with similar hesitation. Donald Trump’s watchwords are “divide and rule” and “pass the buck”. He is banking on these as his road to re-election. His latest target is ex-President Barack Obama, whom he has accused of the “crime of the century”, while declining to specify precisely what that crime is.

Demonising his opponents may or may not be politically profitable, but it is deeply damaging to the American spirit, at the heart of which is national unity and solidarity. And it gives a free pass to coronavirus to do its worst, to a people large numbers of whom are already wounded by poverty, inequality and ill health.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

A story of love and respect

'Thinking Anew' in The Irish Times today.

Michael Commane
Tomorrow is the feast of the Ascension. The Catholic Church in Ireland moved the feast to the Sunday after the traditional Ascension Thursday, which was the 40th day of Easter. The Anglican Church in Ireland continues to celebrate it on the Thursday.

St Augustine, who lived between 354 and 430 says that the Ascension has been celebrated since Apostolic times.

It is the day when we celebrate in faith the definitive withdrawal of the visible physical presence of God from the world. Jesus came from the Father, returns to the Father and then sends the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, May 31 is Pentecost Sunday. On that day we will celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the world.

While tomorrow’s feast is about Jesus’ return to the Father, it throws a great light on the Triune God. God is about community, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Apologies for the sexist language, but everything we say about God is said in human language, said analogically, and also said in a language couched in history.

The spectacular and great significance of tomorrow’s feast points us to community. Just as it is almost impossible to say anything about God, so also is it to say anything about the Trinity, because the Trinity and God are one. But I think it’s fair to say that it points us to an understanding of the importance of community, our interrelatedness with one another.

Last Sunday at the Dominican Priory in Tallaght Fr Donagh O’Shea in his sermon mentioned that people who experienced the London Blitz, later spoke about it in nostalgic terms. He said that during that time Londoners learned to realise how important fellowship and solidarity were to survive. Years later they came to realise how they missed that fellowship.

And so too in the time of Covid-19 we are realising our dependence on one another. We are also realising our own fragility. We are being made aware of how easy it is to lose ourselves chasing rainbows. Rainbows of their nature are illusory and transient.

Over these last weeks I have heard some people say that Covid-19 is a great leveller. It is anything but. It was heartening last Sunday to hear former President Mary Robinson talk on Miriam O’Callaghan’s RTE programme about how Covid-19 is pushing us to be more empathetic and compassionate towards our neighbour. But she stressed that it is also exacerbating the inequalities that exist in our own society and across the world. 

She went on to say that it is making more visible the interconnectedness of poverty, and migration She said that here in Ireland the plight of refugees and migrant workers is worse because of Covid-19.
“We have an unequal world. We don’t want to go back to business as normal,” she said.

And just some few hours earlier, former President Barack Obama said during an online commencement address to graduate students of historically black colleges and universities: “Let’s be honest, a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country.”

The God story is centred on community. It’s a story of love and respect. It is reached in its sublime perfection in God. It’s our privilege and obligation to work on it, to shadow it here in this world. And I’m inclined to say that if we are not involved in that, so many other aspects, that seem part of Christian living, are some sort of a game, an exercise in fake carry-on, in other words a sham. And it happens ever so easily. 

We can all get caught up in what one might call extra-curricular activities. We can so easily give it all sorts of pious touches and names and then go off and create realities for ourselves that have everything to do with giving ourselves importance  and nothing at all to do with the message of Jesus and the feast we are celebrating tomorrow.

Before he ascends into heaven he tells his disciples to observe all that he has told them. He also gives them great assurance when he tells them that God will be with them and their descendants till the end of time. And that too is interesting. How often are we inclined to think that God has left us. Again, by saying that we are giving ourselves an importance that we simply don’t have.

Is it odd for me to say that I learned so much about the feast of the Ascension by reading and listening to the words of Mary Robinson and Barack Obama? And there is a story in that too.

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The Master of the Dominican Order, Gerard Timoner

A short clip from the new Master of the Dominican Order. Gerard Timoner was elected in Vietnam to the job on July 13, 2019. Setting no...