Séamus Ahearne: Collecting the Vicar

Refreshing the spirit:

It is a luxury to be away. To be in the Algarve. To be with friends. To walk and to sit. To let the air speak to me. To listen to the sea. To hear the gentle breeze. My walking stick helps the rambling. All steps everywhere are becoming more difficult. What is the need and the value to be away? To step back. To realize that the relentless preparation of every day – Masses; funerals; weekends; responses to emails and letters, takes its toll. The ‘job’ is never done. There is always much left undone and we cannot ever catch up. But we must accept this and respect it. I may be 76 shortly and am still full of energy but stepping back and looking at life without the workaholic attitude is essential. I am blessed in that my ‘work’ (ministry) is a joy and a privilege. I love where I am and those among whom I work. Nonetheless, they also need a rest from me.

Federer, Job and the Heron (1)

I have three characters as my symbols today. Roger Federer, Job and the Heron. Roger Federer was graceful, languid (effortless), poetic. His playing was a thing of beauty. His attitude and outlook was also warm, easy, gentle and self-effacing. He enjoyed what he did; we enjoyed watching him. He coaxed us into calm relaxation. It was a soothing form of music. It was lyrical and classical. And then there was Job which is an absorbing story. He had everything. And then his world collapsed. He wished that he hadn’t been born. He was then spoken firmly to, by God. Who did he think he was with his little mind? How stupid and ridiculous he was behaving, because he thought he could understand everything and explain all problems. My final symbol is the Heron. My Tolka Heron accompanied me out here. It minds me. Now sometimes, I am confused. I meet three or four each morning as I do my circuit. They provide a form of guard-of-honour for me. The Heron is still. It stops. It hardly moves. It is reflecting on life (and breakfast!) All the fussing and fretting (of most of us) on so many things, is irrelevant to it. This moment. This place. This morning. Here and now. That is sufficient for thinking.

Roger Federer:

I like those symbols for life; for Church. Roger: A graciousness and an ease. A fine symbol for all ministers. No need to get uptight about anything. Play to our strength. Enjoy the moment. Exude calmness. Be gentle but focused on what matters. Never get overexcited. Do the job. Never make our role, our views, our game, too important. Do what you do, do well.


And there is Job: The formidable Church of the past. Triumphal and aggressively certain. The creator of culture. The leadership in everything. The dominant force. All was well. And now that church is dying. Everything is falling apart. The world of yesteryear is gone. The clerical caste is a thing of derision. The end is nigh. Who cares. But then there is the conclusion. Yahweh speaks. How can puny little minds be so arrogant? And we all are sometimes. Let the revolution begin. Become small. Let God be God. The institution has to be stripped back. We are architects of the future. We don’t need certainty. God is always essential. It is our language and behaviour and liturgy which is defective. Try again.

The Heron:

The Heron tells us to reflect and to relax. Be still. We are too excitable. And fearful. The contemplative has a very special place. God isn’t totally dependent on us!

The Heron and Roger and the humble Job can teach us.

The chairman on the beach:

My two-hour morning stroll makes me drunk on sea air and the waking sun. A couple from Derby asked Ian (one of our threesome) if he was going to the beach ‘to collect the vicar.’ I can’t recall how they know me or if I should know them. They seemingly watch me sitting on my chair in deep contemplation every morning. Usually, the beach is almost empty of people. I sit there and always see something different. I like the waves coming in, all coalescing at the last moment, before hitting the beach. They put on a white scarf and are companions together, as all waves become one. These waves never tire. They speak of power and are a challenge to us, of how little we are. The smallest little birds run up and down, as they greet the oncoming white scarfed waves. They act as sentries or as a guard-of-honour. I think actually they are waiting for some type of food to be swept in but those little ones bravely meet the power of the sea and are unafraid.

Trickle-down economics:

I used to know the theories of Economists. I was even interested once upon a time. I know nothing now and feel very disinterested. John Maynard Keynes was important to me way back over 50 plus, plus, years ago. Then Milton Friedman (Chicago school) became very popular with Reagan and Thatcher. I’m not sure what school Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng belong to. Trickle-down economics seems far-fetched. The popularity of people like Bolsonaro, Berlusconi, Trump, Georgia Meloni, Orban is worrying. The socialist political model, seems more in keeping with the Christian ideal, of caring for the less fortunate rather than the market-led version of the above. The Irish Budget is too complicated for me to work out where it is coming from, and where it is going. Whichever model we use, we can’t keep borrowing forever, to meet the needs of the moment. We can hope that the present problems on energy may fade away, with a solution to the war in the Ukraine, but that all seems wishful thinking.

A Table in Umbria where the bread of life is broken:

My book out here has been ‘The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club’ by Marlena de Blasi. I like the idea of the book. It is set in Umbria. It is a weekly get together, mainly of the women. They come away from home and gather in an old broken down shed with ancient cooking facilities. They cook. They love their food. There is a reverence for the food and it is quite elaborate. The flavours are exotic. They vie with each other for variety. They plan together and there is a hierarchy. But intertwined in the preparation and the cooking and the eating, are the life stories. These are deep reflections on life; on love; on family; on philosophical questions; on God. Men don’t always emerge with much credit. Priests and nuns are often caricatured. But the enduring big questions are sprinkled everywhere. Cheap easy answers aren’t tolerated.

I liked the book. But especially I liked the Table. I liked the Food. I liked the Talking. I liked the Reflections. I almost felt jealous. I want something of their Thursday evening to be a pattern for our Eucharist. A listening. A nourishing. A depth. A story-telling. The holiness of daily life with its complexities. Its failures and successes. The twists and turns. The unsureness. The excavation of our own personal history. The holiness of the ordinary. The inscrutable nature of God and love. The Job type of response to the Yahweh speech Job 39. Our Mass is too neat and too unreal and never messy enough. It cannot reach the innards of those present. The Priest-caste cannot do it. All the new systems in the world will not rescue a dying church until and unless the awesomeness of God; the story of waves; the holy bush; the taking off of shoes; the experience of everyone is totally respected. The Table has to release the God of everyday life.


She hasn’t time for talking. She is minding her nanny. She is calming her parents. She tells me that God has asked too much from her. She is only a little girl and these adults are such a nuisance. They must learn to play. They have to get a sense of proportion about life and problems. They seem to find something new to worry about every day! She is also less than happy that I should be out here with lots of sun while it is getting cold where she is. The Autumn colours are appearing. They hint at something new for her. She just loves discovering new things. She used the phrase: God has always something different up his sleeve. She sees God as a magician who produces the unexpected and is forever playing games for fun.

Seamus Ahearne OSA

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