Séamus Ahearne: An Invitation and a Proposal

An Invitation and Proposal:

Brendan Hoban has written a book – A Priest’s Diary. It is now into its second printing. Many have bought the book and presumably some have read it. Brendan has reflected on priesthood. He is an artist with words. His craftsmanship is quite beautiful. His turn of phrase; his little vignettes; his colourful asides are quite delightful. Many of us could recognise the situations and characters who wander about in those pen-pictures – they have happened/are happening for ourselves. The Book is alive with wry moments and stories that cry out for a great big canvas. The Gallery awaits an Exhibition of paintings from the wider Community of Ministers.

I think the ACP was born and lives because the ministry, and therefore ourselves, need to share the business of our lives, and need the support of each other, in living out the privilege and challenge, of mission and priesthood.

Brendan has written a serious book with humour and some sadness. He has set a sublime standard. His genius with words is the gift that few have. But our experience of priesthood is personal and profound, and it deserves to be shared. The rest of us need it. We need to hear each other. Bring along your Exhibit. A paragraph, an article – whatever helps to create a Community of Reflection on priesthood among us, would be good.

What is awakened in you, from your own experience of ministry, as you read ‘A Priest’s Diary’ by Brendan Hoban?

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  1. Liamy MacNally says:


    The lockdown experiences have brought us closer to nature according to many people. Others have gone further and delved deeper into the mystery of themselves. A little contemplation on the ‘5 Ws and 1 H questions’ – who? what? where? when? why? and how? have all popped their inquisitive heads around the corner of the mind.
    Contemplating or meditating on these questions can lead to a greater sense of personal peace, a deeper sense of satisfaction with one’s awareness of one’s state of being. Some people can use the lockdowns to ‘get the house in order’ – doing personal things that were meant to be done for a long time. Fragments are gathered and put together. Loose ends are joined up. Pen is put to paper, oil to canvas or earth to kiln.
    Well-known Mayo priest Brendan Hoban has just published his latest book, A Priest’s Diary, which is a collection of his reflections on experiences during almost 50 years of priesting in seven parishes across Mayo and Sligo. He describes it as ‘a potpourri of incidents that led to a series of musings on parish life.’
    Such musings are the stuff of everyday life. The sixty reflections captured in the book include experiences of humanity wearing all its coats – joy, sorrow, anger, despair, hope, loyalty, laughter and tears. It is a beautiful read.
    The writer does more than simply recall a particular story. In some sense he relives it and we relive it with him. In doing that we share the joy of inner thoughts and observances that bounce from being funny to profound. The stories, in the retelling, are like nuggets of wisdom, wrapped up and offered to the reader. They present challenges, supports and deep insights into our lives as human beings.
    The story about the differences between men and women in making friends is most insightful. ‘Men are not good at friendship. I read somewhere that men seldom make close friends after the age of twenty. And that sounds about right. Women are better at sustaining friendships. They invest more in them, forming them, shaping them, resuscitating them…Men, on the other hand, substitute for real friendship uncertain professional associations or old imperfect friendships formed in youth. Or play bridge or golf. We harbour doubts about the wisdom of casual sharing. Closeness and intimacy are not one of our favourite words. (Not one of our words, dear, as the late Denis Thatcher once memorably said of ‘compassion’ to his wife Margaret.) We don’t confide easily. We’d never discuss falling in love, feeling lonely or sharing the pain. Friendship, we imagine, requires too much patience and perseverance and possibly too little imagination.’
    He develops this to write about priests. ‘As men our capacity for friendship is limited and as celibates, coming under increasingly neurotic suspicion and sometimes surveillance, we are retreating more into ourselves.’ He concludes that ‘RC is no longer PC’ and how, today, some priests are ‘clinging to the wreckage of our humanity.’
    There are stories about cars, housekeepers (and ‘the unsigned treaty’ with parish priests), bishops (who think that telling a priest he is to be changed is consultation), the appointment of ‘exuberant’ Daphne as a substitute teacher (‘We could, I felt, have done with less excitement’) and her marriage to Harold (‘…it was rumoured that he was obliged to have a shower everyday, the latter regarded as an exceptional infringement on a farmer’s liberty.’)
    There is a story about the death of a bullying husband after which ‘a great calm descended, as if a tranquil sea had replaced a violent and never-ending storm.’ Suicide and the ‘bitter harvest’ of limbo are explored. And Hennessy features – ‘Hennessy and only Hennessy. Neat, And none of this ice business. Like throwing paint on the Mona Lisa…’
    This book is about the human condition. Brendan Hoban is a skilful and insightful writer. He has the knack of wrapping a story around the reader. He draws us in, somehow verbalising our innermost thoughts and allows us to walk away enhanced, uplifted and nourished.
    A Priest’s Diary, available in all good bookshops, is about more than priests. It is about so many people we know.

  2. Seamus Ahearne says:

    I hesitate. The effluent from my fingers appears too often on these pages. However, I should accept my own Invitation. At least someone needs to. Liamy did a lovely warm response to Brendan Hoban’s book: A Priest’s Diary. This will not be a review but rather a summary of what stirred in me, as I read the book.

    I was jealous. All my best stories cannot be told or rather I don’t feel bold or brave enough to do it. And yet Brendan got away with it. I know that this book is not autobiographical but it is. It is not a memoir but it is. It is not a diary but it is. It is an amalgam. Good stories deserve to be written and they don’t need the distraction of truth! Brendan is an artist. His words flow. He dabs a little colour and they light up. Throughout the book, we can recognise the characters. We meet them. Every parish has them. There are bits and pieces of every priest there and we have met them. The stories cry out to be told. But the caveat was always there. People and places had to be disguised. The jigsaw of pieces could be knitted together, to form a fair picture of life in the Church, as a priest. And it is there that my hesitation continues.

    Life is a bitch:
    There is a layer of torpor. A sprinkle of lethargy. A dose of ennui. Existential angst seeps through. Even the Pogues’ use of the line ‘Life is a bitch and then you die’ meanders across the pages. I loved the beauty of the words and the descriptive gems of moments and people. But Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus surfaced in my mind from long ago. I was dragged back into heavy weariness, with many an escape into laughter due to the genius of the story teller.

    Our shared scenarios:
    I meet these situations every day. I have met those priests occasionally. I have seen the wooden autocrats in leadership. (And it isn’t all past). I have seen the distortion of humanity in some of the values we flaunted. I have been embarrassed at the stances Church people have taken. I have felt like screaming at the stubborn rigidity in Church teaching and supposed doctrine. I have been shocked at the apparent absence of the Gospel-Christ, in some pastoral situations. I have winced at what passes for Eucharist and worship so often; damaged and reduced to the ridiculous in rotten language. I have been worried at the crass and crazy misunderstanding of sexuality in our Church. I have worried about the frozen humanity, in some of our ministers, due to the clinical and cold interpretation of theology. I have been deeply aggrieved that some of the ministers stumble towards death, embittered by life, and feeling that their life was a waste. I have wondered sometimes how much faith is left among us and how we can still do the ‘preaching’ when the life of God has withered within us. And finally, my heart breaks at the pain that so many suffer, when their whole ministry is caricatured or described as a relic of a bad past, and all that was wrong.

    There is more:
    But that is only part of the picture. Whatever is wrong and whatever or whomsoever has mangled the person of Christ; there is much more. I have met and have been blessed by many ‘holy’ and delightful priests and religious on my journey through life. I meet them and I see the gift they have given, and are giving every day in our world. They inspire me. I have found the life of ministry to be awesome. The privilege of priesting is sacred. The trust. The invitation into the heart of lives. The multiple lives of people, that share with us and stir the juices of our lives. The chatter. The fun. The presence in pain and where somehow and sometimes, words of warmth and love drop out of us. In some ways, I can hardly imagine how any other life, could be as wonderful and as fulfilling.

    There is more and even more:
    Most days, I shake my head on being allowed into situations and into the heart of people. I walk away and feel so humble. People still believe in us. They still trust us. They still know that we will give everything. They still know that somehow God works in us. When I go into Church and listen to people responding to the message of Scripture; I am rebuilt by their lives. They are ministering to me. When we break the ‘bread of life’ in differing experiences; my head, heart and imagination wakes up. When I feel totally at home in the homes of the community and people share the life of their dead in preparation for funerals; I know God is in this place and something happens deep within. I have seen ‘the burning bush’ and I want to take off my shoes. I never want to lose the sense of wonder in this ministry. I hope that cynicism or fatalism or sheer weariness will never sap my spirit.

    Thank you Brendan:
    Brendan has hung his paintings in the Gallery of the Church. His exhibits are masterly. His self-deprecation is over-riding. His emphasis on sickness and ageing is striking. His ability to show off the houses of the lonely, and seeping decay in clothes and house, is touching. His views on how the status has changed and even his trip to the sea and how every priest is suspect, is very sore. But there is much more and ‘the more’ cannot be neglected. I want some of that ‘more’ from Brendan. After all, he was bold enough to reveal his stories with a twist. His amalgam was magnificent. And I continue to be jealous. I am probably too cautious.

    Seamus Ahearne osa

  3. Mary Vallely says:

    I ordered Brendan’s book as a treat for myself four days ago and I hope it wings its way from Mayo to Armagh before too long. (Well done Mayo and commiserations on losing to a phenomenal Dublin side. You did better than the rest of us to get that far.)
    Seamus Ahearne, you are a wee tonic. Reading about what grieves you, the rigidity in Church teaching, the ‘crass and crazy understanding of sexuality in our Church’, the ‘rotten language’ in some of our liturgy… I feel the same and there is a strange sort of comfort in knowing that an ordained minister feels as I do but still clings on in the hope that things will change. To Brendan, Seamus, Mattie, Roy, Liamy and all the team and all those who continue to give witness, to inspire and share their struggles I wish you a safe and a hope- filled Christmas season.
    Never. Lose. Hope.

  4. Joe+O'Leary says:

    It is really time for us to take the liturgical language situation in hand. Nothing is easier than to retrieve the previous translations, which were quite prayable and did not inflict pointless distractions on congregation and presider. It may be said that such an action would be a breach of Canon Law. But “salus animarum suprema lex” and there is no doubt that the bad translations are damaging to the salvation of souls.

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