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Seeing the ‘extra’ in the ordinary

Messenger Publications has just released a book of reflections by Dublin diocesan priest Fr Alan Hilliard. It is titled Dipping into Life: 40 Reflections for a Fragile Faith, and the foreword is by renowned psychologist and mental health expert Dr Tony Bates.

Dr Bates says that Alan Hilliard is like the curator in an art gallery and that “In this beautiful book, he has gathered together a series of images and stories that each reveal a truth… A young migrant girl whose story gives us a whole new understanding of Eucharist. Rather than seeing it as some complex theological construct, she explains it as a simple expression of love we carry with us in every moment.”

He also says that the book is exactly what people need for the challenging times of the pandemic. “No matter how much we may believe in prayer, meditation and faith in a loving God” he notes,” we need help to experience these truths in our everyday lives, particularly when life seems cruel.”

Tony Bate’s sentiments are echoed by Dr Sandra Cullen of Dublin City University. In her review of the book, she says, “Alan Hilliard again opens up a space for us to engage with our emotional and spiritual response to what life throws us… Dipping into Life invites us to be enchanted by the complexity and beauty of our own lives, as it is here that we encounter God.”

At the book launch on 21 June 2021 that featured special guest Archbishop Dermot Farrell, Fr Hilliard took the opportunity to thank all those who gave presentations including the Archbishop, Dr Tony Bates and Dr Sandra Cullen. He was also appreciative of the support from his friends and colleagues throughout the world who attended the launch.

Fr Hilliard said:

“I hope when you read this book, and I thank the Archbishop again for taking the time to delve into it and for Tony to delve into it, I hope in this book you feel compassion for yourself. I hope this book gives you hope in that if we have compassion for ourselves we can bring that compassion to the world, and God has compassion for us.”

In one of the book’s reflections, Fr Hilliard quotes a struggling barrister in a TV series who said “gratitude is often the shortest-lived emotion”.

Fr Hilliard continues:

The little bit of wisdom that ‘gratitude is often the shortest-lived emotion’ has forced me to dwell on those things I give thanks for. When I think of the things in my day that I can say ‘thank you’ for, rather than swallow them quickly I savour them and dwell on them. I have often given this bit of advice to people who are struggling with a spot of depression, and they’ve come back to me to say ‘thank you’.

A regular contributor to the Sacred Heart Messenger magazine, Fr Hilliard has written other books of reflections in recent years, Dipping into Lent and Dipping into Advent, also published by Messenger Publications. His new book addresses the loss, fear, isolation, and fragmentation which most people have experienced during these COVID days. He aims to help them to see beyond this turmoil to the goodness and simple beauty that can be found in everyday interactions.

Fr Hilliard’s reflections address a wide range of other experiences such as laughter, grief, forgiveness, contemplation, and freedom. He considers these in the light of the wisdom given both by religions and by literature, poetry, music, sociology, and common sense, hoping to help readers to find the deeply religious in the everyday and to enable them to “cultivate reverence and recognition for what is already present”.

Alongside the reflections are colour photographs taken and selected by the author himself to aid readers in their prayer and meditation.

Fr Alan Hilliard is the Coordinator of the Pastoral Care and Chaplaincy service at Technological University Dublin and a board member of the Irish Bishops Council for Emigrants and Prisoners Overseas.

Dipping into Life: 40 Reflections for a Fragile Faith is published in Ireland and the UK by Messenger Publications ». Priced at €12.95/£11.95.