Séamus Ahearne: EX CATHEDRA


It has even rained here (on Tuesday). The Algarve. It was a deluge. We went out covered in towels! It was a sight worth seeing if anyone could see us. The locals couldn’t get enough of the rain. They loved the downpour. The land is so dry. Some parts thrive. Their thirst is quenched daily with the timed water spray. The landscape is beautifully nourished and nurtured. It is a world of contrasts. Most parts are craving water. Some of us are truly blessed in having such an opportunity to experience all of this. The mixture. The wonder. The colour. The beauty. 


The morning sea keeps on talking. The unrelenting waves have the last word. The rhythmic musical beat of those waves is like the throbbing heart of the ocean. There is sand – which is very heavy to walk in. There is air – which slowly warms up at the early hour. Sand. Waves. Sun. Sounds. Birds. An odd swimmer. Two or three boats in the distance. The God of nature reminds me that we are very little. (Poor worm; puny mite – Is 41.13). ‘Earth is crammed with heaven; every common bush afire with God.’ (E Barrett Browning). So true. Awe is the only possible response. If prayer in our old fashioned minds was – ‘the raising of the mind and heart to God’ – This is it. 


Nonetheless, I am intrigued. Tiny little birds dance along as they wait for the waves to end their aggressive and assertive assault with the tide. The little birds judge the incoming water and search for what gift it is now bringing in for their breakfast. Other birds ramble along the dry sand – I don’t know what they pick up. It is possibly leftovers from last evening’s sunbathers. More birds fly in pairs; some in groups. The birds seem to know where they are going – do we? I don’t know the names of any of these birds. My education was very defective or rather my own interest was very dull. On my way back I watch egrets, calmly and carefully but very studiously, search for their porridge or prey. It is a study in focus and deliberation. The flamingoes haven’t appeared yet into my view. Now if I met my Galway man (who goes out with binoculars at 5.30 each morning to greet the birds) – he would tell me. We bump into one another occasionally. I do meet the Dutch couple every morning and we chat. Galway man knew the Dutch couple; the man by name; the dog by name but not the wife! Dogs seem important. Bród’s death meant a letter from Joe Biden to Michael D. Camilla apparently had sown into her dress for the Coronation an emblem of her two Jack Russells. (I don’t understand). 


As I sat on the beach this morning, I was remembering events of the recent time. Twice in a week, I spilt a cup of coffee. The first time it hit the floor but avoided me. The second time it didn’t avoid me and my poor trousers were drenched. My two lady companions burst into hilarious laughter. And not alone that, their laughter was infectious which had others in the queue at the airport waiting room also entering the chorus of fun. The two women expressed dishonest concern, lest the hot coffee had done real damage. With friends like these two………Out here, I don’t know what people think of us. There are three of us. We walk with three similar sticks. Obviously on day release from the same geriatric institution. Most people simply step aside and probably feel sympathy for these three poor souls! But we manage. These old codgers aren’t dead yet. 


We missed out on the Pathways graduations at home. Four from the parish. Two from our local community. Our Betty spoke. She looked the part. A young lady. Full of passion. With a theatrical touch. She wanted to tell everyone what she had got from the course. She is a bright light in our community. She used to tell us most Friday mornings at Mass, how she had got on at school the evening before. We found it great. Such sharing at Mass is essential for any real Mass. We were sorry to miss out on the Graduations. Pathway or something similar, is essential to give people confidence in their own experiences of God. 


The morning chair takes me into reflection. The walk is a metaphor. A long journey. Varied terrain. Some very rough. The sea too chases me. The sand is soft and difficult to walk on. I glance backwards and outwards. Those 59 years. Since August 26th 1964. (I began Novitiate). 50 years priested on 12th September. 26 years in Finglas on June 7th. A story. Some of those long thoughts float in my mind from my chair. I will distill them in the months ahead. 

Planes are the only intrusion as they fly out of Faro. The past is noisy in my head. The present is a delight. The future is bright. Pentecost is appropriate for celebration. ‘Sounded like a powerful wind; Something appeared that seemed like tongues of fire; bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language.’ All our words; all our efforts are feeble. We can only give hints and whispers of a God who is way beyond us and yet close to us in Christ. Let the wind blow. Let the fire happen. Let the enthusiasm break out. Let us learn the new language. Let the creative juices of our imaginations run mischievously wild. God cannot be contained in dead words. I Kings 19. 11-13 – suggests God is there in the gentle breeze. Again if we can see it. The sea and the air and the sun in the Algarve does help to open the pores of the mind. 


Séamus Ahearne OSA. 27th May 2023. 

Sent from my iPad

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  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    Séamus, what a beautiful piece!

    I, too, am uneducated as far as birds are concerned which is shameful for a country boy. I remember, of course, hearing the corncrake at home in Donegal and, I think I am right in saying, West Donegal is one of the few places you will now hear the corncrake. I also fondly remember hearing the cuckoo which was always a great sign that summer had arrived. I expect you will hear the cuckoo all over Ireland but I have never heard it in Scotland.

    Séamus, thank you for continuing to provide all these wonderful articles for us on our ACP site.

    I haven’t contributed much recently and I don’t know why. I have things I want to say and I should have the time now.

    I am slowly getting used to retirement. It hasn’t been easy. I have always loved being a dentist. I have also always had many interests out with my professional life but I have missed the social interaction in the surgery with my patients every day, many of whom had become great friends over the years, decades even.

    And you miss your colleagues who become your closest friends.

    I should have responded to Ned, for example, who had been a frequent contributor on this site. I would have said to Ned we must not despair because we have the miracle of Francis.
    God bless and support ‘this’ pope.

    And, Ned, if you are reading this, your Oblate brother, Tony Quinlan, continues to inspire us all over here in Edinburgh.

    Séamus, you know I was genuinely excited for a few seconds when I saw the title EX CATHEDRA. I thought you were about to embark on something controversial — honest — about papal infallibility.

    I think I am right in saying that only Joe and I had the courage to utter an opinion on this topic on the few occasions it was raised –probably by me — on this site.

    Even at secondary school when I knew very little doctrine and scripture I had quickly developed an opinion on infallibility. And that was long before I came across the writings of the Great Hans.

    My first real experience of being educated in the affairs of our church was reading Fr. Joe Dunn’s wonderful books based on his Radharc experiences.

    In one of those books he described how the late, great Franz Cardinal Koenig so easily debunked the whole idea of biblical inerrancy at the 3rd session of Vatican II.

    Fr. Joe then goes on to say that if it was so easy to bury that particular teaching it should be even easier to bury papal infallibility.

    The more I read the more puzzled I have become as to how biblical inerrancy was ever considered tenable.

    So, today is Pentecost Sunday. We were told at Mass this morning that it was the official founding of the church. How do we reach that conclusion?
    I wonder what Garry Wills and John Dominic Crossan would have to say about that. I am sure they already have.

    Séamus, keep up the good work. You’re a great man.


  2. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Ah Paddy, even a dentist’s chair is a kathédra – even if not the most comfortable. Séamus’s reflections from Algarve, whether from chair or sandy walk, are a treat as always. But Paddy, welcome to the retirement ranks – at times, like Ned, you’ll be happy on the sidelines, letting the scribblers get on with their scribble or scrabble. Btw, your mention of “many interests out with my professional life” reminds me that you’re really a Scot. Is “out with” for ‘outside of’ found elsewhere in these islands out with Scotland? Nova Scotia maybe?
    As for retirement, isn’t Jorge Bergoglio thriving on it at 86, with half a lung, a flat foot, sciatica, a semi-colon but no signs of a full stop? That’s what I keep telling myself as I lie horizontal under yet another CT or MRI scan. Why didn’t they send us all to Rome or even the Algarve for retirement?

  3. Paddy Ferry says:

    “….you’ll be happy on the sidelines, letting the scribblers get on with their scribble or scrabble.”

    Eddie, the recent, major problem on this site has been that there are so few scribblers, in comparison to days gone by, wishing to get on with their scribble.

    PS I presume it should have been “outwith”.

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