Thalassa! Thalassa! | Clongowes Wood College

Posted: 30th August 2020

Fr Michael Sheil SJ

 To horse! To horse!  And here we are only a mere week away from reaching home-port – or should that read starting-post …… at last!  But why, you may ask – that title ? …..ans. = Xenophon.

In the 5th/4th centuries B.C. there lived a very remarkable person – a philosopher – a soldier – a historian and a statesman. Xenophon of Athens – and hero in Sparta – was a Greek mercenary in the army of Cyrus, a defeated Persian prince. He led 10,000 men in his own memorable Dunkirk across Asia Minor – through Turkey, Iraq, Kurdistan, Carduchians(!), Armenia – and back home to Greece. They had to survive battles against local forces – traverse deep valleys – face mountain passes and river crossings on a journey of almost 1,000 miles – some of it the depths of winter. He has been called the genius-father of rearguard fighting. When his weary battle-hardened men at last reached a mountain-top near the Black Sea – they first gave voice to that cry – which has come down across two-and-a-half millennia –  to describe their joy when in sight of home!  The sea! The sea!

Like Xenophon’s Ten Thousand – we may now give voice to our Thalassa! Thalassa !we’re nearly there ! ……….. in sight of the Promised Land !

As I look out over the Green-green Grass of Home [pace Tom Jones!] my mind travels forward to about ten days from now – when the fields will be full of athletic [and some not-so-athletic] bodies enjoying once again the freedom of sporting activities with friends – with the buildings full of shouts and  laughter – with classrooms buzzing with brain-fever – as the heart of CWC begins to beat again.

And I also look back over the past 170+ days since it all began – when NPHET restrictions launched us on our own covid Dunkirkon the oft-stormy sea of testing and lockdown – of vulnerable and cocooned elders – of stricken nursing homes – of heroic front-line workers and behind-the-scenes researchers – of social distancing and postponed weddings – of sparsely-attended funerals of loved ones – of closed churches and webcam Masses – of abandoned sports fixtures and our Senior Final – of local neighbour solidarity and rediscovered family values – of staycation delights and ingenious creativity – and, above all, of time to stop the too-often mad rush of modern life …….. and simply BE for a while !

I recall that wonderful line in Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God !

St Ignatius asks us to be always reflecting on our experiences – on our feel-good moments – when things were going our way – when the sun was shining ………. and also on the other times when we have struggled – been stressed – when clouds hid the sun ……. when God seemed far away.

For Ignatius these are important, precious moments – but we need space and time and quiet to enter into this mode and mood ……. we need to be still and know that I am God !

So try to find somewhere quiet for a momentleave the apps and the world behind –  begin when it all began – way back on 12th March – when we heard that the schools were to close ?  Remember what Jacob said after his dream: Truly God was in this place and I didn’t recognize it ! [Gen.28:16]

For those who have Faith – rain or shine, God is never far away. Spend a few moments with yourself – and then share your highs/lows with Family – and give thanks – thanks for the sun and rain!

And now let us return to the present – as we look to the future – more immediately to the coming weeks and months – and all the known unknowns  which lie ahead …….

We are a bit like the Chosen People of the Old Testament – they, freed from the yoke of slavery in Egypt – and we, trying to restart life again after our past 5 months of lockdown – restrictions and challenges – struggles and sorrows  ……….. and now we are setting out across the desert towards our Promised Land [normal school life?!Moses and his people had to follow the very detailed instructions for the Passover – and, in spite of all the trials and tribulations on their desert wanderings – he never lost faith in God, who had promised to go ahead of them and to protect them in all their ways. [Ps 90:11]

Next week will see the start of our crossing – and how we would love to know exactly what awaits us !  But most important is the frame of mind in which we set out ……..

Amid all the media coverage of “expert” interviews and announcements in regard to the reopening of schools – amid all the uncertainty and confusion of the “clear” guidelines and dire media warnings – I am reminded of what St Paul writes in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth:

If the trumpet sounds an uncertain sound – who will prepare himself for battle ? [1 Cor.14:8KJV]

However, there has been nothing uncertain in the on-the-ground preparations for return to the Holiday Camp in Kildare. The minutiae of Moses’ instructions to the Hebrews as they prepared to escape from the Pharoah’s rule has nothing on the clarity and care of the preparations to welcome back our Convicti [the Latin word for Boarders!] The challenge of meeting all the safety requirements has been vigorously and imaginatively met by all the sectors in our very committed Staff – management – administration – academia – boarding – medical – support [catering – housekeeping – maintenance – grounds] – led by our own inspiring Moses in the person of our Headmaster !

Obviously, we are moving into uncharted territory – for, as we have been so often told, covid-19 has a mind of its own ! But – from the earliest prehistoric explorers who left their valley to cross mountains to the latest space launch – haven’t all the great adventures of history faced into the unknown – and for every Student [and Parent/Guardian!] isn’t the start of every school year one of the great adventures in life !  – and for  the first timers – isn’t it their greatest adventure yet !

What is important is that we set out together – our CWC Family expanding with the new arrivals [and their Families] – built on a great tradition 206 years strong – and united in the bonds which enrich our experience in our sharing in Clongowes! 

This 207th year will be like no other – may it be blessed by the Lord who calls us to fulfil the mission He has prepared for each of us during this challenging coming year.

May we set out in Faith in His care for us as the CWC Family 2021…….. in Hope that the year will bring us health and happiness in what we will share together …….. and in Love as we look out for each other and care for all without distinction.

Beginning in the concrete here-and-now of Clongowes 2020-2021 – may our time together enable us make our world a better place because of what we will have given of ourselves – inspired by our school motto – Aeterna non caduca  – as we strive to be guided, in all that we say and do – by eternal values – not passing ones.

St Ignatius wanted his companions to be able to find-God-in-all-things [back to Jacob and his dream!] – and to do everything A.M.D.G. – for the Greater Glory of God – and for good of others.

And so we say a special WELCOME to those joining us –  with Jesuits – Students and Staff – Parents and Past – like Xenophon and the Ten Thousand in our joy when in sight of home …

Thalassa! Thalassa!



Fr Michael Sheil SJ


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