For the birds

The Heron:

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare; No time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep or cows.”  (Leisure by Willian Henry Davies).  It hums in my head and forgets to move out.  It is a niggling haunt, ringing in my ears. It does comment rather sharply on the present times. ….As I walk down by the Tolka River, each morning, I watch the Heron. Most mornings. It stands there. In the same spot. Silent. Still.  It must know Davies’ poem. It may not need his poem but they appear to have similar thoughts. The Tolka flows past. The food will come. The heron is patient.  It is a symbol of mindfulness.  My friend the heron, surely is a metaphor for these days or can be.

The Swans:

I pass along by the water, as the Swan-parents emerge off the little island with the young ones (cygnets).  This monogamous couple, gently but firmly, guide the little ones onto the water.  They calmly manoeuvre the seven of them.  I believe they don’t feed the little ones, but show them where they can eat.   I wonder does that contrast with the Nanny State and the Nanny Church of the present days? I get weary with the assumption that most of us are incapable of having common sense in regard to Covid 19 or anything else.

The Starlings:

The Starlings have returned. They no longer jeer me but do ignore me. They follow me as I continue on my walk at the school. They are very sociable with each other and eat communally.  They are totally disinterested in me but seem to like knowing that I am there. They must like the idea of company.  They find me unimportant.  I envy them somewhat. Eating alone never feels right.  Food needs a table and people.   Mass online doesn’t feel right either.  It is too passive.  It makes me lonely.

The Cuckoo:

A video arrived to me on the family WhatsApp, Monday evening. It was taken or made, in a back garden of a friend. It was a video of a cuckoo.  I had never seen a cuckoo. I asked my companions in the group.  The young ones didn’t know what bird it was, even as the cuckoo produced its usual message on the video.   I was delighted to see it and hear it.  I know the cuckoo has a bad reputation and that it has very little respect for the natural order of things.  Some see it as very lazy.  But many see it as heralding the Spring, as it drops over to us from Africa.

The Flora:

Gabriel Daly osa (92½) tells me that he has ‘never experienced a Spring like this one.’ He goes out each day, on his motorised wheelchair.  He stops along the path.  He watches the change in the plants, flowers, shrubs each day. He delights in it all.  We chatted too about one of our priests who had died (Bernard, 93).
We reminisced on when Gabriel arrived from Carlisle as shepherd/master for the students in 1966. (I remember it well!)   There was some tensions between the older way of doing things and his outlook.  His summary – “I definitely wasn’t going to change their nappies!”

His view was that they had to be free and sensible.  They had to look at the world and make theology in that world.  They had to grow up and be rugged. They had to be bold and tough with back-bone and questioning heads. Otherwise, he saw them as unsuitable for the rough and tumble of ministry.  He challenged us to think. To read literature. To listen to music. To delve into world affairs. To be very questioning of everything. Many who spent time with us in those days, still recall with appreciation, the gift he was to us.  He is still watching, learning, stretching, noticing, expanding, the world of God.  (Like the heron.  Like the parent swans!)

Colonisation of culture:

John Waters and Gemma O Doherty got short shrift from Judge Meenan yesterday (Wednesday), when they attempted to challenge the State on the new laws introduced due to Covid 19.  The Judge said that “unsubstantiated opinions and empty rhetoric was no substitute for facts.”
I am reading John Water’s book – ‘The Feckers.’  I rather like it.  He collects the 50 ‘Feckers’ who damaged the culture of this country.  In fact, he applied to these characters, what the Judge said about himself and Gemma! John is eccentric. He does think on the periphery. He has a different slant to the conventional wisdom. It is good.   He abhors the superficiality of today’s Irish culture. He sees it, as imitating everything that is worse and vacuous in British and American life style. We are newly colonised now by language, behaviour and thinking of those imports.  He wants us to think for ourselves and to be ourselves and not clones of other countries.  He sounds like Gabriel!  (His wish for us back in those days).

A bird’s eye view:

A strange flurry of thoughts tumbled through my head as I looked at the thinking Heron:   This shutdown is a blessing. It has stopped us in our tracks. We take so many/so much for granted.  Very little is, as it was.  We are forced to think; to assess what, and who, is important; to appreciate life, love, home, family, neighbours, community and the special workers/helpers in our lives. It can lead to humble gratitude.  We can even look now at God. We can reflect on how important God is; where God is and how to be in touch with God.  It has moved us on (or can do so) from someone (else) always doing the nappy-changing (minding, caring) toward taking responsibility for life, self and those near and dear to us.

It asks us big questions:  What am I about? What is important? Who matters to me?  Do I matter to anyone?  It demands a Eucharistic response or its equivalent.   For us as ministers, it is quite dangerous and can undermine our very existence. Do we need ‘them’ (them=our faith community) more than ‘they’ need us?   We feel very ‘useful’ normally. We are very busy. Now many of us can do very little. We don’t like it.  But we are thrown back into ourselves.
Where is God for us?  How do we pray?  Do we know how to pray?  When we aren’t preparing for prayer and for leading others in prayer; are we coping?  If we are on air with Mass – what is it like?  Is the old cant still around:  Ex opere operato.  Is there magic afloat?  Does it come across as robotic incantations? What was our Liturgy ever like previously, or how might it change?

Where have all the flowers gone?

How about this as an unruly heretical observation?
Baptisms gone.
First Communions gone.
Confirmations gone.
Is there any real loss?
What effort was really made (and how much progress occurred) to guide people toward the food of life and away from just an occasion (like the swan parents). To be in touch with God and to maintain contact with God?  Was it a show?  A holy show and a lovely show. But something very ephemeral.  Emotional and glossy. But more like candyfloss.  The serious work put in by teachers; by parishes; by homes (?) is impressive.  Was it real?  The test then is for them and for us – what praying is going on now in the lives of our community? Never mind the showpiece events.   Does God matter? Really? Even ‘The poem of a three year old’ (Brendan Kennelly) has the child asking questions. Do the flowers grow old; will the flowers die; will you grow old; will you die;  will I die; (along those lines).  Did we create a culture of faith- questioning? Or will Mary Oliver’s poem on Gratitude float among us and prepare us for Eucharist.   Encouragement.  Praise. Gratitude. These can be severely lacking in life. In Church life too.  If we haven’t a Eucharistic mentality; can we ever celebrate together Eucharist?

“Don’t lie to me.” Barbra Streisand.

In the midst of this pandemic, the health workers (mainline and generally) are rightly praised. They are wonderful.  They are also being forced to work together cooperatively and more efficiently. Every hospital was always full of people wandering around with clipboards; asking the same questions several times, and then joining in the squad with the consultant.  There is work to be done to make hospitals more efficient. Local Services can help reduce the pressure on hospitals.

Our local band of public representatives often appear on the airwaves pontificating on national issues. They were useless on the ground here, when it came to the possibility of a Primary Care Unit. This Facility reduces the demand on hospitals and makes essential services available locally.  There is also more of a communal method of working.
Our local politicians squabbled about having the Facility in their own area and got caught up in the Nimby argument.   We lost out.   It was sad. It was disgraceful.  Their behaviour will continue to affect my judgement in every future election. And if I can spread the news and cause people to remember; I will.
I suggest that all our politicians should have a listen to Barbra Streisand singing “Don’t lie to me.”  She dedicates the song and video to Donald Trump.  It might speak to many.      ‘Per gli uccelli’ as we used to say in Rome a long time ago! The birds are great including Pharaoh (my pheasant).  Mt 6.26.  They make my fingers very fidgety. Does that happen to anyone else?

Seamus Ahearne osa.


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  1. Veronica Clerkin says:

    The Heron on the Tolka reminds me of lines from Mark Nepo’s Poem “The Slow Arm of All That Matters

    I have fallen through and worked into
    a deeper way—one step at a time, one pain
    at a time—until the long, slow armof all that matters
    has bowed my estimation of heaven. Now, like a
    Heron waiting for the waters to clear, I look for heaven on earth and wait for the turbulence to settle ……….

    Mark Nepo The One Life We’re Given

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    I’ve been thinking along somewhat similar lines, with a different angle. What have we learned, and what will we have learned, from this hermit experience? What in it can we decide to hold on to as an enrichment, even though not of our own volition?

    And what have the people we want to serve been doing, while we are unable to serve in our accustomed pattern of work? Do we have any way of knowing how they make their faith, of whatever kind, explicit in their lives on Sundays when we cannot congregate, and on other days too?

    What did our ancestors do in the days when it was dangerous to be a Catholic priest – what did they do in the weeks or months between when a priest might come by? Where was their faith in God expressed?

    I took out again my 1975 copy of Ár bPaidreacha Dúchais, the collection of Irish prayer gathered from around the country by Diarmuid Ó Laoghaire SJ. Part 1 has 539 prayers; Part 2 has 415 shorter prayers and blessings.

    There’s a section on the Mass, of course, but the prayers there are not from the Mass, but around it: “Míle failte romhat, a Rí an Domhnaigh!” “A thousand welcomes O King of Sunday!” But there are prayers to go along with the everyday experiences of life: on seeing the sun in the morning, or the new moon, before and after food, repentance, preparing the bed at night, before work, before a journey, lighting the fire, and so many more. An amazing richness.

    Can we rebuild such a sense of prayerfulness in the many parts of life today? There’s a lot new, and a lot that we still do. How about a prayer on first looking at the mobile phone in the morning? How can we rebuild a new practice of such prayer knitted into the day – not prayers we learn from a book, but prayer in our own words from the heart? A prayer life linked with our liturgical life, but with a life of its own.

    O Laoghaire’s book is all in Irish. It’s listed on the website of An Siopa Leabhair:

    Pádraig ÓFiannachta’s 1988 book Saltair (Psalter, but not the biblical psalms) has 123 pages of prayers in Irish, with English translation by Desmond Forristal. It’s on the Columba Press website:

    Ciarán Mac Murchaidh’s book Lón Anama: Poems for Prayer from the Irish Tradition (373 pages) has material in Irish with English translation. It can be downloaded for free from

    Echoing some of what Séamus wrote is the Song of Manchán the Hermit, eleven verses: Listen to
    Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin singing a beautiful free version of part of it at

    Many of you who keep an eye on the ACP website may be familiar with prayers and blessings from around the country, and may have parishioners who will remember such gems, in Irish or in English. There’s a prayer before food I like, that I learned from Declan Caulfield of Belderrig, Co Mayo (the Céide Fields), many years ago (the English doesn’t capture the poetry of the Irish):

    Rath an Rí a rinne an roinn
    Ar ár roinn ‘s ar ár gcomh-roinn.
    The blessing of the King who broke the bread
    On our portions and on our sharing.

    We have about two months (9 Sundays) before the proposed reopening of public worship. There’s a treasure hidden in the field, maybe not fully dormant. It can enrich lives, and our liturgy, and our world.

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