Accentuate the Positive

A strange phone call:

I had a phone call last week. The voice on the phone said: “I am the apostolic nuncio. The Holy Father has chosen you to be the new Archbishop of Dublin. Do you accept?” I won’t print my reply. Diarmuid can rest secure for a little longer. I was humbled at the thought that the busy Francis could be thinking of me in the midst of all his work!

What a sorry lot:

Pope Francis said sorry. Warner & Smith said sorry very tearfully (Australians crying?) Zuckerberg said sorry. Cameron did it. Enda Kenny did it. Rochdale did it. There was a glut of apologies around Keith O Brien’s funeral. Sometimes apologies are important but often times I find them meaningless. We need to get on with living and learn from the past. Mouthing words doesn’t impress me. We have had sufficient confession and it didn’t do us much good.


Acts 4.36 mentions Barnabas (son of encouragement). We have a character here in this parish called Mick. He should have taken the name ‘Barnabas.’ One of the Parish Team was heard to say at a meeting: “I’m sick of you Mick, you are always so positive.”  At any meeting and in every situation, Mick enthuses with praise, appreciation and encouragement. We tease him and we smile as he lifts our spirits. He is a man of music too and we all need the music of life. There is nothing of the ‘caoin’ in him.


I listened back to two bishops recently from their Radio interviews. I was told that they were worth hearing because ‘Sursum Corde’ was the effect from their words.

Michael was interviewed on Radio Lancashire. He was very relaxed. He spoke of his life as a youngster in Larne; he spoke of his most surprising journey from butcher boy to Religious life and study; he spoke of being a Catholic in Larne (in bad old times) and of the ‘open door’ and ‘open table’ which his mother had for everyone; he spoke of the places he had been and the ministries he had been involved in; he spoke of being asked to be a bishop. Everything was most unlikely and most surprising and somehow he could see the orchestration by God in conducting the music of his life. All the formality and solemnity of bishop- paraphernalia, was absent. He was the man I know and the man of humour and fun. It was lovely. I know the story of that street and that family in Larne. ‘Eucharist’ happened with the easiness of an open door. The open fire too spoke a message too – hospitality and warmth.

Diarmuid was interviewed by Miriam O Callaghan. He spoke well. Miriam even began to mother him and to tell him what a wonderful person he was and how highly regarded, he was. Diarmuid can go on and on if he isn’t stopped. There is no halt to his gallop. It is possible that this is what Miriam wanted him to do. He needed no prompting. But again the interview was warm and ordinary and very human and simple. There was something lovely about it. We saw more of the person rather than the speechmaking- front- man that somehow stands aloof from all other church people in the public arena. He almost cried in regard to the Tuam babies and Miriam cuddled him!  We met a real human being.


We had Martin Luther King’s 50th anniversary and ‘I have a dream’ was recalled. It may stir in us our own need for a dream and ‘the dream of faith.’ Too often, chatter around Church sounds more nightmarish than visionary. We had the 20th anniversary of the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ and Bill Clinton was playfully trying to bring Arlene and Michelle together. The wonder of the Agreement was loudly celebrated and now needs to be a catalyst for a shared future. Did I ever think that some of us could be nostalgic for ‘The chuckle brothers? Somehow it appears that big minds, imaginations and hearts are missing.


Francis published his words on holiness. It sounds very simple and very real. I look at the chaos in many lives and yet see what love there is. I look at the laughter and humour where hopelessness would seem more expected. The holiness and the ordinariness of Godliness I find everywhere. There are so many who see little of church and yet exude the beauty of God. I suppose I am looking for positive talking and thinking and encouragement. There is so much moaning and groaning and whinging everywhere. And then I look at Mary. She reared her daughter Jane for over fifty years. Jane is severely intellectually impaired. Mary dies and her other two daughters immediately take over the care of their sister. This is awesome holiness and love. I am lost for words. Surely, the business of faith needs much shouting and gratitude for the wonders of life in ordinary people. The God of every day is not all about sin and badness and historical weaknesses but is oozing with amazement. This is grace: Touched by God.

Eight Amendment:

It almost feels that around the Referendum on the 8th, we (as church) can be ignored. We have become an irrelevance. That too is fine but we can’t simply bow down and accept the caricature.  I recall some forty years ago, friends of mine in Dundee who were student doctors. They were allowed not to participate in abortions. They were known to be Catholics and then their position was understandable. The medical Establishment couldn’t grasp that anyone else might also have doubts around abortion. This Referendum isn’t about being Catholic but rather is about respect and regard for life itself. I don’t need the Constitution or the Legislature to protect my understanding of life. I have values. But the argument on the Eight, needs to be whether the State is sensible enough to stop wanting to appear grown up and to be like all the other ‘enlightened States.’ I remember the sad story presented by Simon Harris of the couple coming back from the UK with the body of their baby in the boot of the car. (I could add many such stories). Simon thought this was dreadful that our State and our Constitution would cause that to happen. But of course the Constitution didn’t. Exceptional cases could and should have been sorted out. The problem re fatal foetal abnormality (or other such issues) was/is that the Legislature hadn’t the gumption or backbone to specify how to deal with such cases. The 8th Amendment wasn’t the problem. We cannot allow once again – this Referendum or anything else to reflective negatively on Faith people or Church people.

Our self-image as Church:

Empowerment is a modern word. All kinds of courses are now set up to correct ‘poor- self- image.’ Personal development is seen to be so important. We need to be doing something similar in regard to building confidence in our Church people – their own experience of faith and God in life matters.  When we look outwards, we can’t allow what is said about us as Church to diminish us or to knock us aside as if we had nothing to say. We are inclined to accept what is said about us. We are battered and scoffed at. All the problems of life have been caused by the Church (supposedly). All the educational ones. All the social ones. All the received attitudes. For God’s sake let’s move away from being problem-centred. Bernadette Devlin once spoke of a Larne Catholic (nothing to do with Michael above!). She saw the Larne Catholic to be a defensive and apologetic person who almost said sorry for being alive. It was totally understandable in the context. But we (as Church in Ireland) need to wake up. Be bold. Be outrageous. Be outlandish. If we are people of faith – we can shout out what we believe. If we are full of Easter Joy and Holy Spirit and all that – why be apologetic? We have got some things wrong but we are blessed with the God in us and around us. Straighten up those shoulders. Lift up that chin. Face the world.


Sometimes in the clerical caste – we hear heavy sadness on the age of priests; on the disappearing priesthood; on celibacy; on low attendance; on the farcical performance of Baptism, Communion, Confirmation. We can scream or cower down with the rottenness of negativity. We know that Ordination has nothing to do with gender. We know that Theology and codology has got confused. We know that all the work done in schools is now dismissed as control. We know that sexuality got very mixed up. We know that Confession was a minefield. We know that the CDF was crazy. We know that the case of the Silenced priests is disgraceful. We know that our local Hierarchy did nothing. We know that Sean Fagan, Tony Flannery and others – were treated abominably. We know that sometimes the Institutions went wrong. We know that the Tuam babies shocks us now.

But let’s be real: Who were the social workers? (of the past). Who were the educators? (of the past). Who were the nursing people? (of the past). Who looked after the broken and the poor? (of the past). Obviously much of work done then is now badly missed. The 9-5 brigade will never compensate for the loss. But never mind what has happened or is happening or how church people are characterised – we still are missioned and graced by God. We need to believe in ourselves. We need to get on with life. We may age. We may not have replacements. But faith goes on. God goes on. The sun still rises. The daffodils still fight their way out of the ground and are heard and seen despite the bad weather. Why can’t we do the same? Get on with it.   The team member here who said to Mick: ‘I am sick of you; you are always so positive.’   I wish the rest of us were more like Mick and Barnabas.

Quicksand or swamp:

School life here is very colourful. Deis band one (mentioned in an earlier articles) sums up disadvantage. I go into school most days. I hear all the social problems and they are huge. I see the educational efforts of the staff. I keep on saying to the Principal- ‘don’t be swamped by the social problems.’ Many of them would break anyone’s heart. We do what we can. We fix what we can. But we have to catch the Barnarbas nametag: ‘Son or daughter of encouragement.’ That is what we are. Move on. Smile. Lift the head and heart. Make poetry. Catch the sunshine. In the old song: ‘Don’t let life get you down.’

Belfast Trial:

The sexual education from the Rugby trial, may have proved very informative and very shocking. Whatever was learned- be it prurient titillation or fascination with the values of a younger generation re drink and sexuality. It might even have driven some, to realise that the values of respect for each other; reverence for the explosive dynamic of sexual desire; or a fear of excessive alcoholic induced insensitivity; or the hint that the received wisdom of our past, through religion might not be all wrong or unnecessary. Real questions of secular values were raised.

A woman priest or minister:

One very fine lady (May) in our parish (she is 85) has been in severe pain for two years or so. She couldn’t sit down. She couldn’t stand up. She fought with God every day. But a visit to May on any day, would have us leave her home with a smile. In many of our gatherings, May would start the singing: ‘You never get to heaven.’ She went into hospital on Good Friday and had her operation. She then had the ward singing with her in Cappagh hospital. She has developed to becoming the lead singer in Clontarf also. Her cheerfulness and her stamina is incredible. . She is a better priest than most of us. That woman despite all that was going on for her, is full of God.   By the way, I turned down that job from the Papal Nuncio.


Seamus Ahearne osa






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  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Thanks, Séamus. You and the daffodil have a lot in common.
    And you can relax now. They never ask you a second time.

  2. Con Devree says:

    “There are so many who see little of church and yet exude the beauty of God.” This has been a central socio-religious theme for decades. One of its many alternative expressions was “you don’t have to go to Mass to be a good person.” Joe and others who go to Holy Mass regularly face the thought: “why is it that I who go to Mass every week am not as good as the typical ‘Mary the mother of Jane’ who doesn’t go to Holy Mass?” Ontologically Mary doesn’t need to go to Holy Mass and feels no need to go. Many like her got on fine before Calvary.

    In terms of Luke 5:32 – “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Revised Standard Version) Mary is insured among the righteous. And Joe?

    A different translation (New Living Translation) reads: “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” Hopefully at Holy Mass Joe will have understood this and found some equilibrium. Should he not, yet another translation (GOD’S WORD® Translation) is explicit: “I’ve come to call sinners to change the way they think and act, not to call people who think they have God’s approval.” The latter is the narrative sweetest to the present Pope.

    In a post Amoris Laetitia world Joe has to learn from Mary but has no missionary responsibility for her. Both worlds can exist together.

    Then Mary and Joe attend a wedding. Everyone feels her personal warmth in the conversations creating a din in the church before the arrival of the bride. The priest is on the altar engaging in merriment with the groom and his men. Joe is in a bind. He has this thing about the Real Presence (“Punctilious concern for … doctrine,” – Gaudete et Exsultate). These are decent people. So was Margaret Mary Alacoque. How to find a balance between adoration and interaction in the more popular festive gin and tonic spirit in the pews? How to choose the better part? He notices Mary, free from that concern, is ‘having a ball’.

    He may however imitate another possible Mary in Luke 7 who paid little attention to the guests and went to work with her ointment and natural asset. It feels risky. But Joe may well be granted the insight that the God viewing events from the tabernacle is absolutely concerned for the wellbeing of everyone in the church, including even him. Christ may give him a nice way of identifying in prayer with those present, one or two of whom may even learn through his example. God may even grant him some sense of His approval.
    Accentuate the positive!

  3. Mary Vallely says:

    Seamus, there’s more than a touch of the Barnabas about you too. I always get a lift from your musings. That story about Mary and her daughter Jane and the love regenerating with Jane’s sisters is exactly what holiness is about. ‘Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.’
    You have a gift for recognising and explaining holiness. Not everyone walks around with a heart as open as yours. Yes, life is complicated and grubby and gruesome at times but the God of amazement can surprise us in the most unexpected places if we open our eyes, ears and heart to the possibilities of those encounters. I like what Pope Francis says in ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ that “holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.” I think many of us found the term ‘holiness’ uncomfortable as it conjured up images of suffering and martyrdom and long faces. To be called a ‘holy Joe’ or a ‘holy Mary’ isn’t a sought after accolade – well to me anyway- but as Francis says it’s the ‘small gestures’ of love, friendship, charity and kindness that encapsulate real holiness.
    Bail ó Dhia ar an obair, a Sheamuis. It is a joy to read your writings especially on this Sabbath day of reflection and rest.

  4. iggy o'donovan says:

    Interesting Seamus and thought provoking. You mention the reaction to the “Belfast trial”. I find it interesting that it has given rise to a great deal of comment re: the tsunami of pornography swirling around especially on social media. Facinating to note how much of that commentary reminds me of some of the things said by Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford forty years ago.

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