The Inspiration of a Cowslip

The flowering of hope

The inspiration of a cowslip:

‘Smile and smile and be a villain.’ (Hamlet).  I didn’t immediately grasp what John was saying. It then struck me.  He was grigging me. I thought. This was during our homily discussion on the 14thApril.  I can’t remember now how it arose.  I accused John of murder. He uses the lawnmower outside the bungalow and he must have killed it.  I may even have been talking of the assertive daffodils when this discussion arose. He had noticed the non-appearance of my friend. Two days ago, the flower I thought was murdered, appeared. A cowslip. It greets me every Spring. It is a lone ranger. It is lovely.  It is a survivor. It looks at the door of the bungalow. I look at it. We smile together.  The snowdrops. The crocuses. The daffodils. The buds on the branches. The greening of the trees. And my cowslip. Life wakes up. Never mind the cold. Or the snow. Or the wind. Or the rain.  Life is stirring. My soul also wakes up.

Spring and anti-Spring:

The present day chaos of bureaucracy douses us and almost drowns our souls. Meetings for safeguarding. Vetting. Notices. A great big industry now. We need someone to scream that the emperor has no clothes. Does this growth industry (growing like Topsy), really protect, improve and give added value to life? The accounts.  Charities Act.   The data protection.  This mushrooming  industry is sprawling about everywhere. And it eats up time.   It spews out volcanic ash and burns us up.

As the world of volunteers reduces (and ages; more especially in our type of parish) – every obstacle is put in place to hinder attempts to do the important things and not be distracted by the inessentials. We agree that some paperwork is necessary, but all this?

Where is the great prophetic person who might stand up and ask the questions: Does this help?   Does this protect children?  Does this make for greater efficiency?  Will this really improve life for everyone?  Is this necessary?

We also have to note that not everything can be fixed; not everything can be avoided; not every moment is risk free.  We surely can live with the danger. We have to cut out the obese industry of bureaucracy. It has to go on a diet. Some of what the Brits said was right on Europe – they felt that the bureaucracy of EU was gobbling up time and money and mostly was nonsensical.  (As we used to say a long time ago – Quidquid recipitur.)

Competing demands:

I look at our own work here and my own work.   This work never ends. I have done six months without a day off. That is no complaint. That is a personal choice and I am happy to do it. But I can’t reach all that I want to do and all that I see needing to be done. I am never catching up. As I age, I find that I get tired.

The never ending day and the never-ending week sometimes crowds out my effort to think about what is most important and necessary.  And what shouts for attention when I get into the house? There are more emails and more meetings scheduled and more forms to fill out and more bills to be sorted.

There is a great competition going on between the ‘essential’ (important) aspects of life and the nonsense of paperwork or meetings to protect our backs.  Every meeting needs to be time-limited, productive and definitely have continuity. So much is stop/start.


I wrote a letter recently on Confirmation.  We had sent in our proposed dates for Confirmation back in July. We gave our preferred option (do them ourselves.)  We were waiting up ‘til two weeks before Confirmation to have that confirmed.  I am not complaining. My complaint is this one:  The bishops in the diocese and the episcopal vicars are running around the diocese doing these confirmations. Who will shout- Stop?   We are killing them. Is this the most efficient way to use the energy and ability of these people?  Are we properly caring for our men in such offices?   I don’t want a bishop out here performing in all kinds of regalia for Confirmation.

The so-called sacrament is very flimsy. Why decorate it with a big splash?   Those of us who are local, are usually involved in the school. We are known to the children; know the parents; know the school. The other stuff is a showpiece. And almost nonsense. How can we parade a bishop or his representative around mouthing words and doing formal ceremonies that are so remote from the reality of life?  I would prefer to have all Confirmations across the diocese done on Pentecost Sunday. I would love to have the HQ officers drop out occasionally to listen to the local parish team and get a glimpse of life on the periphery. Someone has to help them use their time well and not wastefully.  They are overwhelmed with meetings and appearances. How can they think? How can they learn? How can they cope?

I see the same distractions happening in the schools.  All these curriculum issues and all those forms work in a Deis (band one) rather differently. Most of the education department stuff doesn’t apply. It is a world of difference.  Social problems take over.
But the big issue for me and others is how can we help streamline our own business and focus on the really important things of life. (Diocese, Parish, Schools).  Are we expending our energy on what matters most?  How do we care for each other to ensure that scarce energy and time is appropriately spent?

Divine minimalism:

Mine is a minimalist approach to Confirmation.  We have striped Confirmation of the Mass. Mass is very far from the lives of these children and their homes.   We have tried to reduce or highlight the essentials of Confirmation.

I think we succeed. But our demands are very low. A little touch of God may happen. We try to make that possible. Do we succeed?   I don’t know. But the occasion is good. Do we want a Show for the visitor from the Diocese? No.  It is a waste of scarce energy and scarce time.  We have to protect them from themselves.  I fear the use of words in the ceremony of Confirmation.  The ‘Sacrament’ doesn’t confirm anything really.  But there is a suggestion or hint of God and that is sufficient. I know the homes. I know the families. There is enough going on for families to deal with the everyday which doesn’t leave space for the ornate Godliness of Confirmation. Our business is to make links however tentative.

Communion with whom and what?

It is the First Communion season. I have written of this previously. If there weren’t Communion there would need to be something to mark this great moment of curiosity and delight. The little ones are marvellous. I hesitate on the Show. The fat dresses. The delighting and tearful parents and grandparents. The wonderful words said and sung. The spontaneity of the children.  But the world of church, and possibly the world of God, is missing from the lives of most of these children. Am I sad? No.  Does the celebration work? Yes if the minimalist view prevails.  A visit to the homes is quite moving and very beautiful and something of God is caught and shared. That is sufficient. This God-world is delicate and intimate.   How can we extend it or expand it?

Is the Eucharist prayerful?

Our Mass: How do we touch the divine when we gather? How prayerful is it.  The previous and old way was very passive and probably is still very passive in many places. In our own very participatory Mass – is there room for a sense of God to happen?  That I think in our main goal.   How do we do it?  Topsy has obtained also in worship.  It has got fat. So many words. So many actions. Every moment filled. Can God break through?
The New Missal was dumped together by stupid people and accepted by stupid people. (The camel effect by committee). It kills the heart of any real worship.  It slams the door from any hope of finding God. It was supposedly Sacral Language.   There is nothing sacred about language that is rubbish.   But nonetheless – whatever about the load of stuff at Mass – Readings (too many); collections (too many); the absence of quietness – we need to focus our attention on touching lives with God. Do we pray? Do we find it prayerful ourselves (as priests)?

I don’t believe people have given up on Church because Mass is boring but because nothing of God is caught. The very culture of God has evaporated.  Where is God to be found?  Is there any search for God? Has God disappeared from life because there is now no need for God?  What are we doing as Church?  We don’t need holy smoke but we need something to bow in reverence.

For what we have received: We say thanks. For what we are about to receive: We say Yes.

My great concern and question is: Gratitude. Has life become very uncivilised?   Do people say thanks? Is the coarseness and fakeness of Trump infecting and affecting all of us?   In the most ordinary things of life – the behaviour in cars; on the footpath; in the shops. In life generally.  Do people appreciate anything?  If we don’t appreciate people, places and moments – we cannot reach God. We cannot pray. We cannot celebrate Eucharist.

I listen to the Radio and politicians. They weary me. They are shouting at each other. I listen to the nurses, doctors, teachers, the transport people and every other section of society. Everyone wants more. The Government should do this or that.  Where does the money come from?  There is a sense of entitlement everywhere.  There is crudity in life. It is ‘a me-me‘ generation.  ‘I want.’    (Acceptable in children but not in the adult population). I deserve more.

We have lost something of the courtesy of life.  A sensitive spirit stops. The Gospel message is totally foreign. ‘Love.’ Indeed.  Appreciates.  Love remembers where we have come from. The ‘poor me’ syndrome takes over. The gift of the past is forgotten. People are there to be used if they are useful. ‘ I want. I want it now.  Me-me. The Now.’ We are much bigger than now.   We are addicted to the immediate.
We as priests or ministers in the Church – are we too riddled with negativity and moans? Do we only see problems? I am probably doing that myself at this moment.  I want to break through to the Godliness of life. I want to help others catch the moments of life that God speaks through. I want the burning bush. I want the gentle breeze. I want these words to happen:  ‘God is in this place and I never knew it.’ Gen 28.16. I want that ladder and those dreams.

Political life:

The Government gets strangled by stray issues. Such as McCabe. Such as Water. Such as Garda Commissioner.  So much of it is an avoidance of the real problems. Homelessness is a major issue. It is a big story. Does anyone stop and say – we can’t produce homes if people want to be owner-occupiers. We can’t produce homes if people who have them, won’t care for them. We cannot produce home for people who are riddled with drug and alcohol problems.

Would the Government dare to offend all the speculators by halting the madness of the runaway house prices?  The market cannot be allowed to spiral out of control (again). However the government cannot answer all the childish demands of the give me/give me brigade. Sometimes listening to all the advocacy groups, it would seem that the Government could create money and throw it around to silence the most vociferous. We need a kindness and a gentleness in life. In politics too. In community. With neighbours. With each other. In the Church. Everywhere. The Christ of the Gospel is badly needed.  It is essential for our humanity.

The greening of faith:

My little cowslip. It stops me. And I gasp.

What stops other people?  (Jonathon Tulloch in The Tablet opens the eyes of his heart and sees). I think our job in the business of faith is to open eyes, hearts, imaginations and then to help each other, see. Then real worship will follow. Then the Scriptures will come alive. Then Communion will happen. Then our faith will be confirmed. Then ministry will blossom. Then gratitude will abound. Then God will walk among us and we will be struck with awe. Then the music of life will dance in our hearts.  Then all that is poetic and beautiful will stir our souls.  Then we will pray with or without words.  A new world is dawning.  Spring is not just a season; it is a way of life.

Seamus Ahearne osa



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  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Séamus –
    Last week: daffodils!
    This week: cowslips!
    Winter gives birth.

    There never was night that had no morn.
    -Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

    the mightiest meditations of mankind
    cancelled are by one merely opening leaf
    (beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)
    – e e cummings

  2. Marvellous, as usual, Séamus! I must pay more attention during my daily walk, not to miss the cowslips. And what you say about our leaders (and ourselves) being drowned in beaurocracy, marginal issues and formality is a real call to conversion. Rem ipsam tetigisti!

  3. Martin Waw says:

    Very good-hearted article! Thx 🙂

  4. Phil Greene says:

    “Meetings for safeguarding. Vetting. Notices. A great big industry now. We need someone to scream that the emperor has no clothes. Does this growth industry (growing like Topsy), really protect, improve and give added value to life? The accounts. Charities Act. The data protection. This mushrooming industry is sprawling about everywhere. And it eats up time.”

    Yes Seamus they do! without them there is no accountability , and that is
    a road we no longer wish to travel!! The problem surely is that the Church wants to continue to rely on volunteers, the answer is possibly that it needs to evaluate and centralise and avail more of economies of scale (are your eyes rolling to Heaven?!).. The administration should pay for people and IT systems that lessen your burden.

    I unknowingly killed my last remaining cowslip last year, I mourned it then and mourn it now.. I have found one to look as I drive by on my way to work.. a joy to see !
    We all need a day or two away Seamus, I hope you get some soon.. take care
    and .. “Thank You” 🙂

  5. Kay McGinty says:

    Seamus, you are truly inspirational and heartwarming.. “we need a kindness and gentleness in our lives.. then the scriptures will come alive..” Would that this be so.. a beautiful and uplifting article, thank you.

  6. William O'Brien says:

    Many years ago (nearly 40) I was in a parish and found myself rushing through the liturgy. It was not prayerful for me and one day I asked the peole who came to the daily mass if we could try something. I would pause at the memorials in the Eucharistic prayer and we would each say a name of a person to be remembered there clergy, then dead then living persons. The group was small enough to allow that. I now simply stop at each memorial and think of the persons I wish to remember. It allows the congregation to stop and think as well. It came to the attention of one of our Auxiliary Bishops and he began to do the same.. I notice now more and more that some priests are doing the same thing. It takes only a few seconds, but allows everyone to pray in a real way for someone.
    It is quiet time. As the presider we control the amount of quiet time and should allow people to reflect and pray.
    You will be on my mental list now.

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