Séamus Ahearne: On being ‘a lovely priest’ and no intention of retiring!

A Sense of Wonder (Socrates)

‘Love you.’

The schools close today. Interviews have already begun; these aren’t the most exciting aspects of pastoral ministry. I will miss the teachers gathered at the gate every morning welcoming the children to school and chatting with the parents. It is such a homely gesture and real warm hospitality. I frequently smile as I overhear the parents telling the children: ‘Love you.’ I never remember such endearments in my day! Many parents are in a tizzy that the First Communions and Confirmations have been postponed again. God bless the bishop. He was blamed by a few. I had to tell some that it wasn’t the bishop and it wasn’t us. It was NPHET’s message to Government. It was the shock of the Delta variant and its rapid spread in the UK. (Numbers arising from the Scotland England game are stark). The message was clear. Any congregating is highly explosive.

I hear some of the politicians (opposition – Roisín and Mary Lou) talking nonsense about discrimination on demanding proof of double vaccination for access. Of course nothing is fair about the virus but we have to be sensible, careful, and manage safety as best possible.

The Euros:

Portugal, Germany, France – the heavyweights, are out. Switzerland, Denmark (without Christian Eriksen or because of him), England, Italy, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Spain, Belgium, – are in. Who could have predicted this? The genius of Ronaldo, the imperial majesty of Pogba and the dynamo that is Kylian Mbappe, have gone. It has been a successful project to bring the game to European cities even if Dublin missed out. It is a surprise and a delight that such sport could happen at all, during Covid. The feast was put on. The appetite was keen. The variety was splendid. The poetry of athleticism was admirable.

Early retirement:

I had a phone-call during the week. A mother chatted. She also told me that her son had taken early retirement. He is forty-six. He has come out on a big pension. At 46! What on earth are the rest of us doing wrong? We have handled 149 years of priesthood in the three of us here and 173 years of profession! We haven’t done badly! We are willing to go on and on, but some ‘in leadership’ think we are too old and we need rescuing from ourselves! Retiring at 46? My God, we are busy every day and all day. We are enriched and inspired by the wonder of our ministry. Retire? No thank you.


Religion contaminates:

The main news item on the New Maternity Hospital at St Vincent’s, has faded from the headlines. A bunch of clinicians wrote a letter guaranteeing 100% that there would be no religious input or direction for the new hospital; that the Repeal of the 8th Amendment would be fully implemented (and is); that there would be a secular ethos in the new body and that there was much misinformation out in the general public. It is quite fascinating how life has changed and how religion is now seen as a dangerous contaminant to the life of the State and definitely to women’s health. As a church, we could feel resentful and disregarded as the successful in our land have forgotten what they received. The education. The hospitals. The Social Services. The Pastoral care. But we have done our job. It is time to hand over. If we have done this job well, something of the best in our values will have been caught. There is a serious cultural debate necessary on all of this. Our chance as church now is to move on and to explore, as pioneers, new paths into the future. Different needs arise. The State will never cover those needs. God never becomes irrelevant. We too have to learn from our past. Wonderful work was done. Some mistakes were made. We can learn if we are faithful.

The music of nature:

The Tolka is very quiet. The heron remains still. And exudes calmness. I try to catch the message. The egret appears on the river. We haven’t become friendly yet. The pond is empty of the youngsters. The swans’ home is overgrown. I don’t know if it was abandoned by the parents and the six cygnets or if it was an eviction. The heron sometimes squats there. The dog walkers don’t appear these mornings. I have become a loner. My conversation with the morning continues. The air. The sky. The appearing sun. The water. The praying or waving trees. It is a type of music. It may not be lyric FM but it warms my soul. There is gentle music in nature and the language is understandable by those of us who are otherwise rather ignorant musically.

A wake:

Tom Cooney died. He was 79. As with any death, we talked. We had our own wake and the memories woke up. As we become the old ones, we are the guardians of the memory bank. We have the history. Stories are stirred. Gestures of the past come back to life. Many wouldn’t know what we are talking about but we have to preserve the past. Not as nostalgia, but rather it is our history. It is the family album. Tom did so much and reached so many. He had polio but his determination and stubbornness never stopped his gallop. Some three years ago, he fell. He was now paralysed. He could move his head only. His hands slightly. He lost his independence. His living was an example and an inspiration. He was the same Tommy with the big voice and the strong Temonfeckin/Drogheda accent. I recall a little huddle in Rome many years ago. We were looking for someone to be Assistant to our General. We came up with Tommy’s name. I was very doubtful. I couldn’t see him capable of doing all the travelling the post demanded, across the world and knew also, that he didn’t have the languages. The conclusion from the huddle was, ask him. He immediately said YES. How he did so and why – I don’t know. I suppose all we ever had to do with Tom was to hint – that a job might be too much for him, and then he would take up the challenge. Tom’s determination and commitment was an inspiration. We don’t need haloed saints. We have our own.


The Big Lie:

Jonathan Rauch wrote a book called The Constitution of Knowledge. He is fighting for truth to prevail in politics. He sees Trump as debasing political life and as a cancer eating away at democracy. Mitt Romney spoke recently in a similar vein. He saw how Trump polluted the core idea of American democracy. William Barr (AG during Trump’s time) has been very dismissive of Trump’s ‘big lie’ on the election. Nonetheless, there are many echoing the chant of Donald on a stolen election. But it isn’t just Trump; it is the central core of life. Honesty. Truth. Are essential currency in life. Rauch quotes Socrates early in his book: The sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Philosophy indeed has no other origin. We are called to be proper philosophers and living/radical theologians.

Wonder isn’t merely being awed by life only, but is deep curiosity and a search for truth. In the midst of Covid, some debate has to happen too. We have got our comeuppance. Our arrogance has been toppled. We aren’t in control. Life is bigger than any of us. We don’t have all the answers. Something of the spirit of Job 38/39 needs to be in all of us. A dose of humility is essential. If we step back from the rant and the moan; we might see ourselves as very limited in our understanding of anything. Some of us spent years studying. I don’t know what we learned. Our real learning began after our formal schooling. I’m not certain how educated we are. All I do know is that real learning comes to the conclusion that we know very little and that every day is a school day. An educated society and an educated ministry has to be very humble, and always struggling every day with the issues tossed up by life. Celibacy has curtailed our learning but has given us different possibilities. There is no room for arrogance in any of us. There is more room than ever for real faith.

A lovely priest:

‘You are a lovely priest’ which of course is true. It was said with total surprise as if it was impossible to find a lovely priest these days! Our name (as priests) has been damaged. Our status is low. Being told that I am ‘a lovely priest’ is no great gaisce. What did I do? It was a funeral. People expect little from a detached minister. They feel like shy visitors into the domain of a secret if sacred caste. They feel so often it is something they have to do, (come to church) and are embarrassed if they don’t know the procedure. Anyone who makes an effort towards creating a funeral that is personal (about the life of the dead person and family), will be considered ‘lovely.’   When we can escape the formulaic in the Ritual or the casual devotion to the haughty irrelevant prayerfulness of the Book then it will make an impression which is good. I am no better than many but I am challenged with every funeral so that I can’t hide in the familiar language but venture into the language and landscape of this particular family and their world. It squeezes the guts out of me but also stretches the muscles of faith. By the way, there are many others who say something quite different about me to me! I have my neck broken daily and am threatened by being told how bad I am!!!


Indi is sulking

She doesn’t want to say anything. She has arrived in the country. She has been to her new home. She sees new views and lots of space. She loves those big dogs (cows) and the woolly jumpers (sheep) and the big mountains (horses). She sees the Blackwater and wants to know all about this big river. She looks out at the Knockmealdowns and wants to climb. She can’t understand why they seem very close some days and very faraway other days. But she has a problem.

She had heard that her cousins were due First Communion and Confirmation. She was intrigued by that. But these appear to be called off. She had heard that her Baptism was about to happen and now that too is postponed. She can’t grasp at all why things have to be put off. She wants everything now. Yes. That is her sulk for the moment. She will find something else to excite her and all such nonsense will be forgotten.


Seamus Ahearne osa





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  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    Seamus Ahearne: On being “a lovely priest” …..

    “You are a lovely priest!” Indeed you are Seamus and a living legend — still — in those parishes you once served with such distinction in Scotland.

    But you are also a lovely man. In my experience if you are a lovely man then the chances are that you will be a good — maybe even a great — priest.
    Well, that’s my theory anyway from years of observing the priesthood at work.

  2. John Lindsay says:

    Thanks for this – it was a meditation and prayer for me!

  3. Catherine Holland says:

    You were and are a lovely priest. Wish we had you back in Carlisle.
    ……. Take care Father Seamus.

  4. MARY LOMAX says:

    My husband and I met the young Father Seamus when we were stationed in Scotland with the US Navy, 1980-1983. Through Marriage Encounter in Dundee, we were involved in several group family gatherings with Fr. Seamus and Fr. Larry (last name?). Their love for us all as God’s people left a big mark on our hearts….we have recalled the blessings of their friendships many times over these past 40+ years.

  5. Paddy Ferry says:

    Paddy Ferry Says:
    Seamus Ahearne: On being “a lovely priest” …..
    Worth repeating this, I think, Seamus. And, I am more convinced than ever that my theory is correct.
    Since I first wrote this I have seem much evidence that if a man is not a nice person he will never be a good priest.

    “You are a lovely priest!” Indeed you are Seamus and a living legend — still — in those parishes you once served with such distinction in Scotland.

    But you are also a lovely man. In my experience if you are a lovely man then the chances are that you will be a good — maybe even a great — priest.
    Well, that’s my theory anyway from years of observing the priesthood at work.

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