GUESS WHO IS COMING TO DINNER 10.09.2017

I was brought up on movies. Actually the movies are in my genes. I have the world of films in my blood. Now before you go wondering what great acting dynasty do I belong to, let me explain. My mother went from school to work in the ticket office in the old Broadway cinema on the Falls road in Belfast. This is back before omniplex and multi screen and 3D. It was when they were called picture houses. At this stage my Dad, after his day’s work in the bakery, was working a few nights in the Classic picture house in the City centre. I am not exactly sure what
you would call his job, but I know he had quite an imposing uniform complete with peak, epaulettes and brass buttons. At some point he had to fill in for a colleague in the Broadway where he met my Mum. All their lives they loved movies and were so knowledgable about them. He loved Judy Garland and Bette Davis, she loved Ray Milland and Rock Hudson. When my Mum was in her later years I often asked did she know such a film she would say ‘oh I could act a part in it’. In the past week I have been watching ‘The Man who Shot Liberty Valance’, and
one of my firm favourites ‘Guess who is coming to Dinner’, starring my favourite actress Katharine Hepburn and the brilliant Spencer Tracy. All through this film there is a nervous expectation about a dinner guest, and indeed eventually dinner guests. It manages to sustain a taut balance between excitement and trepidation. How will they get along? What will their reaction be? There is a particular surprise in store that will challenge all who will gather for dinner. It is a movie that has really stood the test of time and sadly with recent events in the United States has a renewed poignancy. One can only hope and pray that there will never be a return to the major theme explored in this film nor to the events that were unfolding as the movie was being made. The year was 1967. Perhaps one of the things that makes Guess who is coming to Dinner, so memorable is the sustained tension throughout. Sometimes it is difficult to separate our feelings of excitement from our feelings of dread. There has been something of this mix in recent readings from the Gospel.

Recently in the readings we have heard about Jesus coming, sometimes it is quite graphic, such as with the story of the virgins with the lamps, with oil and without oil. There is expectation. Some of it an excited expectation and some of it clearly an expectation with considerable trepidation. I think these readings are very challenging. I think they are challenging because they ask us fundamental questions about our relationship with the Lord. When we think about the Lord coming what emotion does it immediately evoke in us? It is probably unlikely that we find ourselves in either of the two extremes: that of being paralysed with fear or that of dancing for joy. For most people the notion of the Lord’s impending arrival will lead to an array of feelings. Sure some apprehension is necessary, however if there is no joy, no hope, no real excitement we should note this. Not only should we note this absence of joy and indeed the presence of fear we need to ask why is this the case? Where did it come from?

When we think of a significant visitor coming to our house how do feel, how do we imagine the encounter? Is it that they are coming to look at the state of the place? Do you notice their eyes taking everything in? Could another significant visitor be on the way and you not be remotely worried about their arrival? Will the mugs do, or should we be getting out the fine delph? Are we expecting inquisitor, judge or even executioner? Or are we expecting the One who will listen sympathetically, make excuses for us and even heal restore and forgive us? If we are truly sorry and have expressed that sorrow especially within the Sacrament of Reconciliation do we actually believe in the tender loving embrace of Jesus? Is he really with us? As in is he on our side? Or is he out to get us? If we believe that he is coming as he said he would surely do we need to examine our image of the one we acknowledge to be the Lord. The other question might be around what will the Lord find us doing when he arrives? If his arrival was tomorrow afternoon do we need to dramatically alter what we had planned to be doing. Or is it possible that we are exactly where the Lord wants us to be, with no big dramatic change necessary just because the Lord is at the bottom of the street!

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