A Comment on the Comments (or not)

Is there anyone out there?

Chris McDonnell wrote to me. He often writes. He is a regular on the ACP website. He asked if he might have overstayed his welcome and had become an intrusive presence on our personal space, the ACP Site. We chatted by email.

In praise of the usual suspects!

He had a problem. He was surprised and somewhat concerned at how few commented on the site or wrote articles. He was happy to share his reflections. He had thoughtfully written on Education (a topic dear to his heart) especially which didn’t provoke or evoke any response. He wonders why.


Be grateful for the gift of the site: 

I went into a ramble with my own thoughts and impressions of the site. I told Chris that I only knew of four Augustinians who read anything I write (and two of them have died, Kevin & Brian in the UK; John in USA and Tony in Ireland). I don’t know of any in Dublin Archdiocese. I obviously went on to say – that we never know who reads what is on the Site. Mattie Long (moderator) knows how many hits there are but this is a crude enough indicator. It is clear that the most used part of the site are the Liturgy Resources which is great. There is a big divide between readership and commentary.


Erica Jong: 

I recalled a one time young lady called Erica Jong (Fear of Flying; Fear of fifty etc ) writing that she was always reluctant to release her books into the wider world. She felt that her words, thoughts and stories were precious and personal and couldn’t be let loose. They would never be treated with care, attention and reverence. She almost saw them as ‘sacred’ without using such language. My own view is quite the opposite. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. Let them go. Give them freedom. Forget about them. If they touch someone; so be it. If they don’t; that is how it is.


Words should be set free and allowed to fly: 

I write as a distraction. I never see it as very important what I put on paper. My fingers jump around on the keyboard. My head hardly engages. My words are utterly careless and carefree. I am hardly willing even to take responsibility for them. Words take off and land wherever they do. I am fearless. Words cry out to be released. I am a scribbler. I throw out the words and set them free and let them loose. It doesn’t matter who reads them or who likes them.. They are scattered to the winds. If they stir the poetry in someone; that is good. If they are ignored; that too is fine. All our words are inadequate to express the wonder of life. Our artistic attempts are but humble suggestions and approximations. We don’t need a fan club of affirmation. It is the small talk of life that matters; it is the throw away words that excite and incite. Let them go. Let them be.


Writing is essential for a minister of faith:

However, I also have said in the past that the ministry of priesthood demands that we write. It should be a condition for acceptance . It is more essential than gender or celibacy! In some ways, no one should be let into priesthood unless they can use words, speak up/out, and write. The routine of each day, challenges us to write. We are peddlers of something ‘wonder’ful. We are constantly called to write letters; to give speeches; to speak at events; to prepare talks; to do Bulletins and Newsletters; to lift every Liturgy; to express the Godliness of life; to write homilies for funerals.

I think it isn’t possible to speak at a funeral unless every word is written. (Such Masses/occasions have to be personal; it ensures sensitivity; it removes the possibility of mistakes on names).

If this is correct; it is rather strange how unwilling most priests are to write. We are a highly educated professional group. We are supposedly taught to reflect on God/Faith/culture and to present and ‘market’ those reflections. Our theologising has to be alert and alive everyday. A huge investment has been placed in us. Our productivity can be questioned! We are involved in the constant battle of ideas so that Faith takes root anew each day. ‘Fides querens intellectum’ is our coat of arms and our motto. God doesn’t fear questions. Our role as Ministers of faith demandsthe utter courage in facing the new questions that emerge daily.


The Church is battered & bruised but the message is forever:

The above was a very circuitous way of responding to Chris.
The motley crew of priests can be so despondent. The ‘Death of God’ theologians in the Sixties have been replaced by The Death of the Church doomsayers. Priests may feel ridiculed. They can believe that an attack is coming from every side. We can become paranoid. We can hide away in silence. Silence is an unacceptable luxury.
We have a great character in our own Parish called Michael. He was on the Parish Team (the weekly management group) and also on the PPC.) Liz’s (parish sister) assault on him one day was: “I am sick of you. You are always so positive.” We all laughed but we are thrilled that Mick keeps that uppermost for us always. All the floating negativity in the band-of-merry men (clerics) is anti-Christian and anti-Church. Let’s move on with ‘Good News’ as presenters of the Sunflowers of faith. If the Paddy Kavanaghs, Mary Olivers, Padraig Dalys, Fergus Lyons, can write/paint colourfully about ‘nothing ‘ – why can’t all of us write about ‘something’ or ‘ nothing ‘?
The Word has to be become flesh. We have to cause it to happen and allow it to be celebrated. The moaners and the groaners are a pain. The whiners and the whingers are a disgrace and not a grace. Splash out the hilarity of our privileged role in life. As believers, every day the sun may sulk but it also smiles. Every day there are flowers among the weeds. Every day we are alive and alert. (‘Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God.’ Elizabeth Barrett Browning). We cannot suffocate the spirit in us.


Thanks to all our writers and commentators: 

Conclusion: Chris was right to ask. It is understandable that he is disappointed with the lack of comments and contributors. However, it is the Site that matters; it is the Shared Forum that is important. It is both Eucharistic and Holy Communion (the sharing). We can let Mattie our Moderator, decide what is worth printing and publishing or not. Keep on throwing words and reflections around. The wind will carry them somewhere. We don’t have to know the value or effect of such words. Everything is done under the banner of our profession- ‘sub specie aeternitatis.

Chris keep on writing. You catch the music of every day. You link up ever so well with the songs of your past and you connect current affairs with faith. Throw down the gauntlet to the silent. We will ask Jim Gavin and Jason Sherlock to knock us into shape. In the meanwhile, Paddy, Joe, Eddie, Mary and Padraig will keep us going.

Seamus Ahearne OSA


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  1. Jerry Peth says:

    From America, thanks to all the wrtters! I truly enjoy the reflections and comments each and everyday. With a cup of coffee first thing in the morning I’m so grateful for the words written on these pages. The lord is truly at worK!

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    “ Silence is an unacceptable luxury” says Seamus. I totally concur but Seamus is an Order priest and I feel they have more freedom to speak out than the ordinary, even the extraordinary, diocesan priest. There are many Order priests who have spoken out and been cruelly punished for it of course and the lack of support for them has been disheartening to say the least.

    Fear is such a blight on the soul, the fear of losing status or goodwill with the bishop, the fear of being sent away from a comfortable parish into the unknown. Where is the Holy Spirit though if fear is allowed to rule our words and actions or our lack of action?

    Eddie has often lamented or berated the ordained who read but never comment. Not everyone has Seamus’s facility for letting words tumble out in such admirably scintillating poetic fashion nor Eddie’s clever and sometimes barbed wit. (We Northerners are often more honest I think in saying it as it is -no bad trait.)

    I like what Seamus says, “ God doesn’t fear questions.”

    Read this article below and question yourself on whether you agree with Bishop Genn here. If you do, what are you going to do to support the idea of a truly synodal Church in Ireland? What about Lumen Gentium 37 and Sean O’ Conaill’s ‘convocation’ to draw attention to the fact that structures still have not been put in place to facilitate real, lasting, constructive dialogue between all sections of the Church? ( check out the ACI site to the side of this page.)

    I’ll admit I cheered inwardly when I read Bishop Genn’s words this morning. Words do have the power to bind us together and ultimately to move us into action.
    “We read to know we are not alone.” Thank God for words. Go raibh maith agat arís, a Sheamuís.

    ‘As bishops, “we must and want to follow the tortuous path of accountability, at first glance taking into account the victims but also the church structures that allowed and covered up these actions”, Bishop Genn explained.

  3. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    As I went out the front door this morning for Mass in the parish church, a woman walked past the gate. She didn’t see me. She walked on a few metres (yards?!), she stopped, bent down, and buried her face in a rose on a bush I planted about 10 years ago. Then she did the same with another rose by the time I got to the gate, and she heard me. She looked over, and said something like: “Beautiful! I stop here when I pass by to enjoy the perfume!” I said, “Great!”

    In ten years, that’s the first time I saw that happen. She may be the only one, or there may be a few or many others. I enjoy the roses myself, of course, but somehow what this woman did and said made the planting and the pruning of the past ten years all the more worth while. It lifts the heart.

    Maybe it’s like that with what I, or you, write. What I write most frequently is a letter to the Irish Times – more than 40 years at it. A possible readership quite unlike those who look at the ACP website. They publish perhaps less than 5% of what I send in. I rarely get any feedback – it’s a surprise when I do. I have no idea whether it’s seed which never bears fruit, or whether on occasion it may bear 30, or 60, or 100-fold. I console myself with the thought too that those which are not published may be read by one person on the staff of the newspaper, whose job it is to approve or reject for publication. Perhaps an occasional letter may spark off something for that person. Unless, of course, it’s automatically rejected when they see my name!

    I wrote a book about the Murphy Report in 2013. Ignored in the media. Financially a dead loss. But it did make a difference to one person that I know of. Two others said it will be important when they come to write the history!

    Last year I wrote a short book about the referendum on the Eighth Amendment. Ignored in the media. Financially a dead loss. I sent individually addressed copies to every member of the Oireachtas – over 200. I got perhaps 20 acknowledgments; probably almost all went straight into the recycling bin. I got encouragement from a small number of others. It didn’t bring about the referendum result I hoped for. I also put advertisements in three national newspapers – far more expensive than publishing the book. But perhaps it made a difference for someone I will never know of.

    A teacher in Synge Street once characterised a human response like this: “I’ve made up my mind! Please don’t confuse me with facts!”

    I have the consolation of the fact that my first book, A Wedding of Your Own, published by Veritas, is still going (now the fourth edition) after 40 years. It was a boost when the Royal Irish Academy asked to publish my translation of St Patrick’s Confessio.

    I wonder what would St Thomas Aquinas say if he knew the influence his Summa Theologica would have. But the number of writings with that influence must be very much overshadowed by those lost in the mists of history.

    There’s a story that someone said to Mother Teresa: “How can you continue with that work, when it can make so very little difference considering the magnitude of the problems?” Her reply was: “God does not call me to be successful. God calls me to be faithful.”

    I will never know whether the writing makes any difference. I work on the principle that it is always worth while to speak the truth, in season and out of season. To reap any harvest is beyond my ken.

    Tony de Mello told of a Zen Master whose disciple complained, “You are hiding the final secret of Zen from me!” He rejected the Master’s denials. One day the Master took him for a walk in the hills. As they walked, they heard a bird sing. “Did you hear that bird sing?” said the Master. “Yes,” said the disciple. “Well, now you know that I have hidden nothing from you.” “Yes,” said the disciple. (The Song of the Bird, 1982)

    One person enjoying the roses – Hallelujah!

  4. Jo O'Sullivan says:

    Like Jerry, I look forward to reading the contributions on the ACP site. I don’t comment generally, as I always feel I should have something important to say before I commit “pen to paper”. Added to that, it takes me some time to formulate a properly worded response, so I end up letting everything go by without comment. Actually, I generally find that some of those faithful respondees have said eactly what I’d like to say anyway! Please don’t be disheartened by the seeming lack of response Chris – I find what you write to be invaluable. Thank you, every one of you who DOES take the time and trouble to write. Keep it up.

  5. Eddie Finnegan1 says:

    I’m very much with Mary and Pádraig and Joe on this. To Seamus and Chris, I sent you a celebratory Clerihew or Clerichew yesterday by my usual carrier pigeon but, as often, she seems to have miscarried. Oh well as Titus told the Senate the other day, ‘Verba volant, scripta manent.’
    Meanwhile, following Mother Teresa on being faithful, let’s all remember my two favourite Sisters of the Adoration on the Falls Road who have had to give up their dream of being professed because their Order is too small to satisfy Rome as to the Canons of Governance. Maybe this Order, as Benedict might say, is also objectively disOrdered. Martina Purdy and her Sister would make two great deacons or, better still, priests.

  6. Iggy O Donovan says:

    Seamus you have a FIFTH Augustinian follower.
    I always look foreward to and enjoy your contributions.

  7. John Dwyer Kirwin says:

    AMEN, AMEN, AMEN! To all those who take the time, who both read and write about the food for thought, and prayer and action that comes from the ACP site. I open it every day with hope and expectation, a thousand thanks for all who write and read your words. You keep me going and then some.

    A retired presbyter on the other side of the pond!

  8. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    “Why can’t you hear our voice?
    Is there a reason to deny?
    Is silence the only choice?
    Do you not think to reply?

    How can’t you see our pain?
    Is a blind eye all you give?
    Do we all bleed in vain?
    Don’t we all just want to live?

    So take your time, but listen up
    Questions are about to get tough…

    So now peaceful revolutions, don’t happen everyday
    But to find that resolution, we’ll need to put our hate away
    And in peaceful revolutions, we’ll find they’re here to stay
    As long as love surrounds us, fears will not, fears will not sustain

    What sense is to divide?
    Is separation the only thread?
    Where’s the unity we provide?
    When not all has been done but said?
    Are there actions in our midst?
    Do we all care to command?
    Do imaginary lines exist?
    On this our home in native lands?

    So take your time, but listen up
    Questions are about to get tough…

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