A sledgehammer to crack a nut

Pele the Goddess:

Kilauea, on Hawaii’s Big Island has erupted. Donald Trump has erupted on the Iran Nuclear Deal.  Boris Johnson has erupted on Theresa May’s crazy ‘customs partnership’ plans with the EU. The debate on the 8thAmendment has erupted on the ACP website.  Will we all need to leave out some offerings for the Volcano Goddess Pele, to placate this great lady of fire?  Subtlety doesn’t reign supreme presently.

Heaven and earth:

Faith was at Mass with her classmates. All 36 of them. We chatted our way through the Eucharist. The 19thMay will be their First Communion day. After the ‘Holy, Holy’  I asked if anything in that prayer, reminded them of our earlier song and chat. Young Faith said:  “Heaven and earth is full of your glory.”  And she was right. We had talked earlier about the song they were singing on what they saw everywhere around them and where God was. We had trees, flowers, birds, houses, paths, roads, cars, friends, families, tables, food and games.  I am rather demanding. I tell them that they can’t just sing words – they have to know what they are saying in the songs.  Then I told them that they would be wearing their school tracksuits on Communion day and no ‘Fat Dresses’; they were aghast.  I didn’t have an eruption but it got close.   (Don’t worry, the tracksuits won’t be out that day; I was teasing.)

A grandchild:

You will be pleased to know that my cowslip is chatting me up every day. You may even be happy to know that I haven’t been traumatised as my friends the daffodils, say goodbye.  Life everywhere in all its guises and disguises whispers gently of God. One of our Parish Team led us in prayer today. She had a reflection on Mary and Elizabeth. It was delicate and beautiful. In the sharing, she was bursting to say more as she counts down the days to the birth of her first grandchild. It is a very elaborate story with many international ramifications but the preciousness of life was volcano-like, as it erupted all around us.  And her final line was anger at the thought of repealing the 8thAmendment.  She is a very gentle, thoughtful person but this stirred the deep embers of her heart. She has serious history in her soul.

The beautiful game:

Arsene Wenger is leaving Arsenal. He brought a breadth of life to football. I remember when he arrived from Japan. This unusual man from a very unusual place, brought subtle music to the game. He spoke of art. He saw art as something/anything done well. He brought poetry to football. He accumulated the victories and still had his spats. There were many volcanos on the side-line.  It could hardly be otherwise with Fergie and himself around. The skill, the colour and the beauty of his game lit up our world.  He shocked us too by playing a team with almost no UK native on it.  The wider culture of nations began to change the nature of the drama on the field.  Jose Mourinho is poor on the poetry. He stubbornly manages to make prose out of poetry.  Klopp (of Liverpool) brings fun and colour. I cannot quite yet see the poetry in Rugby but I do hope Leinster can conjure up some magic against Racing. I know the championship in hurling will show off more poetry.


The Rockerfeller sale smashed records for single-owner auctions at Christie’s New York last night (8thMay 2018). 1905 Picasso masterpiece went for $102m.  Records were broken too for Monet, Matisse and Delacroix paintings in the process. Not many of us are Rockerfellers or Arsene Wengers.  Yet somehow faith only makes sense as poetry and as art. It isn’t possible to be prosaic in faith. Such imaginative leaps may not be natural for some of us. We like control, tidiness, neatness and order. We like to know what is happening and how. Jesus was the great poet and artist of humanity. He is now the great conductor of the orchestra for the music of our lives. The New Testament is a gallery of originals.  The Exhibition goes on forever. It is on Show but it also hints at ‘more.’ It (we) is (are) always ‘work in progress’. The Studio is around us. The painter, the poet and the music maker is forever dabbling in something new.  The world of God never halts. New colours; new music; new words are forever being forged in the heat of living.  Hawkings even may have reviewed his ideas in his final works but we always have to review our own outlook. Our minds and hearts are very small. We get only a glimpse of the ‘more.’  The grandmother waiting. The child seeing –‘all heaven and earth is full of your glory.’  The drama. The music. The words. The paintings. Ministers are (have to be) creative artists.


I have often found the ancient churches gaudy. But I know that much of the paintings was catechesis. The ornate gets on my nerves as it lacks subtlety. But I can see what was attempted. The Goddess of fire, Pele, has been appealed to, in Hawaii. I like the link with Pele. I probably am more likely to be reminded of Pele the footballer with poetry and beauty, than to the Goddess.  But the Church historically did reach into the depths of art to display faith.

The 8thAmendment:

I return to the volcano.  I find Trump crude. I find his volcanic eruptions sad. The burning lava of argument seems to destroy rather than make for clarity. The chaos at the heart of Government in the UK on Brexit is utterly destructive. There isn’t the humility for learning in the arrogance of certainty. I can understand too the statement from the Leadership of the ACP. Was it brave? It was needed. Something had to be said. Was it going to help?  I’m not sure what would help. Some of the statement was clumsy. It almost felt as if the camel had been let loose. Was the line on ‘not being fathers and not being women,’ helpful?  I don’t think so. Was the part about using the pulpit fair and right?  It was. There have been some very bad experiences. The arguments on all sides have been riddled with certainty and lacking in subtlety frequently. Did the overall discussion enlighten?  Maybe. It provided a forum. I think it turned out well in the end. There was some volcanic ash and acid rain and not sufficient kindness in grasping the nuances. It is life or death. The very sad reality too is that anything said by Church linked people is almost suspect at the outset. The media grabs the soundbite and neglects the subtleties. Somehow I wished that the ACP Statement had nodded to Our Common Humanity/ Two lives, one love (Bishops) or the Evangelical Alliance Ireland Statements. But not everything can be said at any one time.

The happy world of uncertainty:

I know very little about music or art or drama or literature. But I do know that in the world of certainties, only the music of faith can hint at, whisper or suggest the  something ‘more’ of life. Our past in Religion has been too certain. We strutted around with our QEDs. Our Adversarii were dismissed ruthlessly. We live in a better time now when we are uncertain; when our status is smiled at or ignored.  It is a richer and more open and less certain era (in Religion). We live in a time when the surrounding air doesn’t express Godliness. We live in a country where our stupidities are highlighted and where sometimes we aren’t trusted. Is that difficult? I think not.  The world of faith challenges us to move away from the all-conquering volcano of absolute certainties into the unsureness of ordinary living.  Life is a mess. We have to get used to being unsure; used to being scoffed at; used to being unaccepted. It really is not important who accepts or rejects us/God/faith. Faith, grace and Church are totally invitational.

The minister as artist:

We chisel away forever trying to produce our sculpture. We create the drama of life. We are never satisfied with the drama of Liturgy. We never have said what should be said or have written as clearly as we want to. We are always learning. And trying.   We know so little.  We are dramatists, poets, musicians and artists.  Our role is as an impresario. It is an exciting and frightening business. It only tells us be humble. In any relationship – the artist too is at work. Nothing is ever perfect. We are always learning. And failing and getting up. And surprised and foolish and lovely.  How dare we assume that the God-world could be conquered by us on a daily basis?  We often were crude and simplistic in Biblical understanding.  That shows in how so many are literal in their understanding. We were often crude in our certainty on sexual matters. We are still rather doctrinaire in our understanding of celibacy and of priesthood.   We need to learn. We can miss the obvious. The artist has to communicate. The poet has to link the language with the experiences of the audience. The music has to speak to the heart. The theatrical production has to make sense in the lives of those taking part.

Two ordinations:

Two men were ordained in Hammersmith London for the Augustinians on Saturday. What did I suggest to them? Gentleness and humility. A commitment to learning. A commitment to an athletic way of life to be able to make a leap of faith as a poet, artist, musician (daily). A sense of reverence and awe. Humour and laughter.  A total commitment to prayer which means every day, every place, every ceremony and every privileged place of meeting – being open to the presence of God and then total gratitude. No volcanic eruptions of certainties. That lava only destroys the subtlety of grace, the graciousness, godliness, goodness, beauty and wonder of real ministry.

Seamus Ahearne osa


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  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    Seamus, I always enjoy the poetic nature of your reflective prose. You are the exact opposite of what you accuse “the special one” of.
    I had never heard of the other Pele, but I did see the greatest Brazilian, in the flesh, once in my life. It was late in my sojourn in Dublin, possibly late 1976 or early in 1977. Santos were on a world tour and they played a Shamrock Rovers X1 at Dalymount and Pele was playing. Was he the greatest ever?–better than Maradonna or George Best. Has Messi now surpassed them all? We could discuss this all day and all night. If I mentioned Eusebio, have we included the five best footballers of all time?

    I did see George Best play twice in my life. The first occasion was his greatest ever performance for his country. He would later say so himself. It was in October 1968; N. Ireland were playing Scotland in the Home Championship and my uncle took me to Windsor Park to see my first ever international match, infact my first ever match. In those days, it was quite an expedition to travel from West Donegal to Belfast for a football match. There were 4 Lisbon Lions in the Scotland team, Ronnie Simpson, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Murdoch and Willie Wallace. Infact, the previous Wednesday night Celtic had beaten Racing Club of Argentina 1-0 in the 1st leg of the World Club final. Sadly, the 2nd leg in South America did not go well for Celtic. George was in amazing form, poetry in motion. Tommy Gemmell and Eddie McCreadie of Chelsea, the other full-back, did everything they could to kick him off the park but George was too good and too clever for them. He did not score but N. Ireland won 1-0, a penalty scored by Clements of Coventry City.
    The 2nd time I saw George play was at Easter Road here in Edinburgh, playing for Hibs against Celtic and he scored with the most exquisite lob over Peter Latchford the Celtic keeper. This was just before Packie arrived on the scene.

    Like you, Seamus, I am a great admirer of Arsene. Arsenal became my English team because of Arsene and mainly because of his wonderful dignity, a tract notably absent from many of his peers. Arsene brought such a calm and respectful presence to the beautiful game.
    You also mentioned Fergie, Jose and Jurgen ( I do hope he wins the European Cup) but not a word about our Brendan. Brendan stands on the brink of an unprecedented achievement in Scottish football . Victory next Saturday in the Scottish Cup Final against Motherwell will see Celtic win historic back-to back trebles. My son, Patrick, and I will be there at Hampden to see history being made. At least, I hope we will see history being made !

    My spring spirits are always uplifted by the welcome appearance of our friends, the daffodils and then dampened by their far too early demise. Intermediate certificate poetry gave me the perfect words to express my sense of loss;
    “Fair Daffodils, we weep to see you haste away so soon, As yet the early-rising sun has not attain’d his noon. ……………” from John Herrick’s “To Daffodils”

    I do agree, Seamus, our past in Religion has been too certain; far, far, too certain, infact. For some that certainty still remains and that is what makes our faith so unattractive to some people. Fr. Donald Cozzens, the American theologian and writer in one of his books,” Notes from the underground. The spiritual journey of a secular priest” explains that faith is simply a trust in the great mystery of the unseen God. Reading that really stopped me in my tracts.

    Seamus, I don’t often have to disagree with you but I feel the line “not being fathers and not being mothers” was an essential part of the ACP statement. I feel that had to said.
    The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar changed my attitude to the 8th Amendment. I thought the contribution of Gerry O’Hanlon SJ to the discussion was magnificent.

    Shalom, Seamus

  2. Chris McDonnell says:

    Paddy Ferry picks up the phrase that Seamus uses ‘our past in religion has been too certain’
    I wrote these few words yesterday.

    And yet, and so

    What might have been and what has been
    Point to one end, which is always present.
    Footfalls echo in the memory
    Down the passage which we did not take
    Towards the door we never opened
    Into the rose-garden.
    T S Eliot Burnt Norton

    And yet…

    What we came through
    is still there,
    gathered under grey clouds
    from these passing years
    caught by fear of change,
    till change,
    tested by experience,
    wiped the accumulated dust,
    the yellow-streaked grime and dirt,
    from the small, cracked window pane.

    Gaze anxiously
    through relentless rain, wait
    for a new dispensation to emerge,
    be patient.

    In the distant, sunlit Rose-Garden,
    one reality drifts into another,
    hovering in expectancy,
    aware of Pentecostal change,
    letting go, remaking
    in honest exploration.

    And so….

  3. Con Devree says:

    Just a light hearted comment on the final two words “real ministry.”

    Does the word “real” express a notion, a conviction, of certainty?

    It’s the old problematic statement “There are no longer any absolutes.” or “I am certain of the happy world of uncertainty.”

    I am certain this comment will be taken in the spirit in which it is made, if I my self were certain as to what that spirit is.

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