Séamus Ahearne: “I have refused to live locked in the orderly house of reasons and proofs. The world I live in and believe in, is wider than that. And anyway, what’s wrong with Maybe? (Mary Oliver)
The Bard of Listowel (plus):
I associate Listowel with Writers’ Week and the characters of literature there – John B Keane (everything), Bryan MacMahon (The Master, especially), Brendan Kennelly (his colour of language and the voice), and Maurice Walsh (The Quiet man). I only visited the town once. It was for a funeral of a little child called Adam. However in recent times, St Mary’s has been in the News. I did hear Bryan Dobson and Seán Sheehy (RTÉ News at 1) have something akin to a bare-fisted battle. The basic rules of combat didn’t apply. Bryan tried hard but the slogger Seán, kept going and shouting. He reminded me of the Donald (Trump). Overall Seán Sheehy did ‘stir the pot’ with his comments at St Mary’s and his various appearances on Radio.
In some ways, the whole episode is quite amusing. There was great embarrassment at his words. And nonetheless, it isn’t too long past when his words would be mainline and core thinking. Are we then too sensitive to be reminded of views that we promulgated a little while ago? Or should we be very humble and admit how embarrassing some of the statements made, as Church officially, have been a little while ago? Seán Sheehy highlighted for me the Trumpian wing of the Church in the States which I simply can’t understand. It is an embarrassment for me that anyone could follow the policies and behaviour of that man and see it as right. The learning surely for all of us as ministers in the Church, is to walk gently and humbly into the future and to be very pastoral and caring of everyone. We have made mistakes. But we don’t have to apologise for everything and keep on blushing. We are learning. The Word becomes Flesh anew in every era. We are students and theologians today. Whoever might be destined for hell (in Seán’s thinking?) – let’s dump that thinking and also let embarrassment go to hell! Faith always has to be full of gentle humour and not doctrinaire!
Hasn’t she done well?
Gillian Gibson Keegan was interviewed by Nick Robinson. (BBC). Not too many of us know Gillian. She is Secretary of State for Education in the UK. She was appointed by Rishi Sunak. She came from a place called Huyton in Liverpool. This was a very poor area which was politically labour. Many would have been influenced by Derek Hatton (Militant tendency) in those days. Keegan came through school where very few emerged with any qualifications. She went to work as an apprentice in a car factory in Kirby. And life changed. She moved into business and worked very successfully on the international scene. Most of her family remain Labour. How she eventually joined the Tories is quite a mystery. But her interview with Nick Robinson was delightful. Her roots in family and community were spoken of with great love. She enjoyed telling the story of her grandmother who was senile. She showed the granny some of her election literature. Granny loved the photos of her granddaughter. And then she said: “That’s not my party.” Keegan came across so well in the interview – in her ability to share views; to listen; to be different and yet to remain friends. It sounded close to what we hope to do in the Synodal method! A respect for others without arrogance.
The South Africans came to Dublin and the world champions were beaten. The Argentinians went to Twickenham and beat England. Séamus Power has had a good few weeks in the US (golf). Rhys McClenaghan is a world champion in gymnastics. ‘On days like these’ is a book written on Martin O Neill’s life in football. Roy Keane features too, and is praised not just for his acerbic comments, but for his knowledge of football, and his tactical awareness. Tony Adams has remained in Strictly Come Dancing despite not being able to dance. Again Tony’s past story is a good one. Young Ellie Simmonds was eliminated in the Dance Off. She is the Paralympian swimmer who apparently has been brilliant throughout the show. I never saw the dancing but am told by those who know, that she was excellent and her partner adapted magnificently, despite the disparity in height. Arsenal, Liverpool, Brighton, Newcastle, Man City and even Aston Villa… are doing well. Doesn’t sport lift our spirits? I love to pass down Érin’s Isle in the Parish and to see all the young ones gathered for hurling, football, camogie. And in the philosophy of the past: It is not winning but the taking part (de Courbertin) and the sense of working together than matters.
Relics on the way:
I read this morning that some relics are on a journey. It seems that Bernadette is travelling through England, Scotland and Wales. Padre Pio is on his way to Down and Connor. It appears that these trips are highly regarded by many. I’m not deeply impressed myself. However, as we focus on our local saints, the gathering for the 2nd November was seriously moving. Last week, we had a packed church. It was a dark and stormy night. But people came. Many were young. The dead of the past year (and those who died during Covid) were named and remembered. The Service was very reflective. Many, if not most, in the church, would not be regular attendees. But the reverence, the respect, the quietness, was extraordinary. It was as if, everyone ‘took off their shoes’ as they approached the memory of those who had gone. It was sacred. I can’t see the relics of Bernadette or Padre Pio having the same effect. The Sacrament of the moment (the collective at the Service) brought the past alive and brought God into the middle of all our lives. These then are our saints.
I met her father Nigel over in Kilnamanagh at his uncle Desi’s funeral. He mentioned in passing, that his daughter Indi, was bossing him around. He said that she had a mentor – her mother! He wouldn’t go as far as saying that she was immersed in the terrible twos but he was finding it hard to cope with two bossy women! He then said that young Indi was now into the colour Purple. Everything had to be purple. She hasn’t read the controversial book by Alice Walker: ‘The Color Purple.’ But she seems to like the colour purple song: ‘Dear God, dear Stars, dear Trees, dear Peoples, dear Everything.’ I wonder do the words associated with Purple apply to young Indi: Wisdom, Creativity, Royalty, Power, Ambition? Now I have to say, that I did see her dancing with her father last night (WhatsApp). She must have been happy to have him back from Dublin.
Seamus Ahearne osa 7th November 2022.
“And nonetheless, it isn’t too long past when his words would be mainline and core thinking. Are we then too sensitive to be reminded of views that we promulgated a little while ago?”
You know Seamus, I’m really sorry they didn’t make you Bishop of Kerry before you hit the 75 mark. Your reminder is the take-off point for a gentle disquisition on our church’s development of doctrine, discipline and plain common sense for those of us, like Seán Sheehy, now hitting 80. A pity then that Bishop Ray Browne, a mere 65-year old youngster, couldn’t have taken your approach instead of his somewhat weaselly apology to anyone who might have been offended by Sheehy’s homily from the 1940s, 50s or early 60s.
Eddie, I did not think the bishop’s response was weaselly. The kind of sermon Fr Sheehy gave would be disapproved of by any postconciliar bishop, and the reasons why are found in pastoral theology (distinction of objective and subjective morality, and of grave and mortal sin, equity and epieikeia, freedom of conscience). A priest who used to go on about contraception from the pulpit sparked an episcopal directive that this was not an appropriate sermon theme — 40 years ago in Cork.
However, Bishop Browne did not confine himself to such discourse, which would in fact have been weaselly. He went straight to the essential point, as Jesus so often does in the Gospels in face of insensitive religious preachers: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” (Mt 7:9-1). “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath” (Mt 1:11-12).
Shouldn’t the shepherd naturally want to try to ensure the rescued sheep wouldn’t fall in to the same pit again, if there is a pit? (Or have pits gone out of fashion, cancelled by modern health and safety practices on the farm?) Shouldn’t he try to take steps to ensure the sheep was protected by better fencing (or teaching in this case), by providing knowledge of why such and such is sinful/morally injurious?
I know there’s no point in just saying, “Bad sheep, don’t do that again!” But equally there’s no point either in a shepherd turning a blind eye to the sheep’s danger. So, if we considered things morally and spiritually dangerous in the past, why don’t we accept now we were wrong to think so, and say that (and not just to suggest our tone then was a little harsh, perhaps, in condemning), and if we were right in the past, why can’t we find a convincing way to explain it today? A bishop’s tut-tutting about the errant old-fashioned priest and saying it’s all very regrettable to raise such issues now in such language, rather than appearing compassionate, just looks like ineffectual soft-soaping.
Surely some clarity about all this is needed: is it possible ever to say if an act is sinful or not, and if it is, the explanation as to why it is injurious exactly, and to whom, or why it is displeasing to God, in older words, on the various issues raised by Fr. Sheehy, could and should be given? Moral or spiritual power, or both together – what is the church for, in society, now?
Perhaps the objection is really that a homily is not the appropriate vehicle for addressing such issues. But a homily should be the very best place of all to address issues that affect the community, the people of God. In fact, one great weakness of so many homilies is that all too often priests fail to address the issues that affect the life of the community directly – relating to greed for property and money, unscrupulous business practices, defaming the good name of others, and so on.
Joe, I think what irritated me was Bishop Browne’s “I apologise to all who were offended,” though I suppose “We apologise to anyone who may have been offended” would be closer to the corporate non-apology I had in mind. I have retired the weasel.