‘Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.’ These are the words of Seamus Heaney from The Cure at Troy. (Faber & Faber, 2018) To believe that a ‘further shore is reachable from here’ is to have hope. It is to realise that there is another horizon – there is another land – there is something more. It is really to realise that, no matter where we are, we can always journey on towards something more – something greater. Hope always reveals that we have not arrived. We are always on the way. Hope reveals movement, action, direction, confidence.
Of all the things in the world that could possibly give us hope, they fade into insignificance when we realise the hope that heaven gives us. When we believe in heaven, when we desire heaven, we are people of hope. When we don’t believe in heaven or when we take heaven for granted – see it as our right – then it is not possible to have true hope.
In the Gospel today the two people walking on the road from Jerusalem – in a sense walking backwards in their lives – had no hope. They had lost their hope in Jerusalem. They had lost their hope on Calvary. They had hoped that Jesus would bring them freedom, but now he was dead and so was their hope. One of the greatest tragedies of life is when hope is spoken about in the past tense. This is what the two people on the road did. They spoke about hope in the past tense.
‘Our own hope had been‘, (Luke 24:21)) is how they started their statement. They had hope but they believed that their hope was ill-founded. It is nearly worse to have hope that has been killed rather than having no hope at all. These people were hoping for freedom, for their country to be set free. Yet now it seemed to be all over and they were going back home disappointed and deflated. There was no further shore for these people. This was as good as it gets and it was far from good.
Really, this is the fruit of the action of the devil. The devil wants to smother hope. The devil wants us never to look at heaven and if we do to take it for granted. He wants us only to focus on this world and to despair at how finite it is. He wants us to believe that freedom is a fantasy and there is no further shore from here and this is it. This is the attack that is constantly focused on humanity. It is to make us speak at best about hope in the past tense. The material world can do that so powerfully. The material world can stunt our vision and make us believe that all life and the meaning of life is found only in what we have. When that happens, we don’t see beyond ourselves, we don’t dream. We cannot hope.
However, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus gently challenged the disappointment and despair of the two people. He brought them back to the prophets – to those driven by hope and to whom hope was communicated. He outlined their reasons to hope. Their hearts were burning within them as this was happening. Their hope was being rekindled. And then something wonderful and fascinating happened. They recognised Jesus at the breaking of the bread.
The breaking of the bread is the moment where, ‘hope and history’ truly ‘rhyme’. (Heaney, Seamus, The Cure of Troy, Faber & Faber, 2018) At the breaking of the bread – at the Mass – our hope in the future – our hope in the further shore being reachable from here – our hope in heaven is realised. It happens before our very eyes. The Mass is the greatest act of hope and the greatest evidence of hope, not smothered or disappointed, but hope fulfilled. When the number at Mass decreases, it reveals that the level of hope in society is decreasing too. When we don’t seek the moments when ‘hope and history rhyme’, the truth is we are not seeking heaven. When we are not seeking heaven we are either taking it for granted or not believing in it. Then we walk backward and downcast in life.
So believe that a further shore is reachable from here. Hope in God. Hope in heaven and pray with the Psalmist to God asking, ‘Show us, Lord, the path of life.’ (Psalm 15)
Believe that path is to heaven where ‘hope and history rhyme’ for ever.
Fr Paul Farren is Administrator of Saint Eugene’s Cathedral, Diocese of Derry and Director of the Derry Diocesan Catechetical Centre. ‘Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.’ is the text of his homily preached on the Third Sunday of Easter 2023