The Heelers Diaries

the fantasy world of ireland's greatest living poet

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Location: Kilcullen (Phone 087 7790766), County Kildare, Ireland

Sunday, January 18, 2015


(it's good in spots)
with the Reverend Wilberforce Smythe

The problem of constructing a good sermon, that is to say a short lecture on spiritual themes that may be somewhat efficacious in the saving of souls, is one that bedevils many a poor religious. For some lucky Padres, their sermons come as naturally as breathing. For others, it must be admitted, the process of formulating a short speech for declamation to the congregation in church, is like a trip to the depths of Purgatory. (My Protestant friends will probably be unaware of what Purgatory is. And they're better off. They'll find out soon enough when they get there.) There are of course books to help us with our sermons. A few years ago I attended a three day retreat in Dublin with forty other priests. Some of us groaned inwardly at the first service on Friday evening when the priest on the altar told the following story which we immediately recognised as origination from a book of ideas for sermons which had been distributed in the diocese not so long ago. The priest declaimed with a completely straight face: "I was on holiday in Hawaii during the Summer. There's a beautiful beach there called Waikiki. As I strolled along it, I noticed hundreds and hundreds of starfish high and dry on the sand. Just ahead of me, a man stooped and picked up a stranded starfish to throw it back into the water. I asked him what was the point of throwing one back and how could he hope to make a difference to the starfish since so many of them were dying on the beach. He answered that at least he had made a difference to that one." Thus was presented the sermon in its entirety. It had pith at least. And presumably there's a lesson there somewhere. With a nice diversion possible for the more meditative among the congregation with might wish to weigh its application viz sermonisers generally and the the seventh commandment in particular. On Saturday evening imagine our surprise mixed with chagrin when the priest celebrating mass, who had not been present on the first evening of the retreat, began his sermon with the words: "I was on holiday in Hawaii a few years ago..." The time frame had changed from last Summer to a few years ago but otherwise the story was essentially unchanged. On the final evening of the retreat, Bishop Harvey Ronaldson of Fife was our guest and preached the sermon. Lo and behold. He too had been to Hawaii. He too had strolled on a beautiful beach. He too had encountered stranded starfish. His experience was in fact precisely the same as that of the two previous sermonisers. The only difference being that Bishop Ronaldson encountered no lone stranger throwing starfish back into the ocean. In Bishop Ronaldson's sermon it was Bishop Ronaldson himself who had taken the initiative and had afterwards mused to himself about making a difference to "that one."