Reading between the lines

De Facto

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

The lockdown experiences have brought us closer to nature, according to many people. Others have gone further and delved deeper into the mystery of themselves. A little contemplation has seen the ‘5 Ws and 1 H questions’ – who, what, where, when, why and how – all pop their inquisitive heads around the corner of the mind.
Contemplating or meditating on these questions can lead to a greater sense of personal peace, a deeper sense of satisfaction with one’s awareness of one’s state of being. Some people can use the lockdowns to ‘get the house in order’ – doing personal things that were meant to be done for a long time. Fragments are gathered and put together. Loose ends are joined up. Pen is put to paper, oil to canvas or earth to kiln.
Well-known Mayo priest Brendan Hoban has just published his latest book, ‘A Priest’s Diary’, which is a collection of his reflections on experiences during almost 50 years of priesting in seven parishes across Mayo and Sligo. He describes it as ‘a potpourri of incidents that led to a series of musings on parish life’.
Such musings are the stuff of everyday life. The 60 reflections captured in the book include experiences of humanity wearing all its coats – joy, sorrow, anger, despair, hope, loyalty, laughter and tears. It is a beautiful read.
The writer does more than simply recall a particular story. In some sense he relives it, and we relive it with him. In doing that we share the joy of inner thoughts and observances that bounce from being funny to profound. The stories, in the retelling, are like nuggets of wisdom, wrapped up and offered to the reader. They present challenges, supports and deep insights into our lives as human beings.
The story about the differences between men and women in making friends is most insightful:
“Men are not good at friendship. I read somewhere that men seldom make close friends after the age of 20. And that sounds about right. Women are better at sustaining friendships. They invest more in them, forming them, shaping them, resuscitating them…
“Men, on the other hand, substitute for real friendship uncertain professional associations or old imperfect friendships formed in youth. Or play bridge or golf. We harbour doubts about the wisdom of casual sharing. Closeness and intimacy are not one of our favourite words.  (Not one of our words, dear, as the late Denis Thatcher once memorably said of ‘compassion’ to his wife Margaret.) We don’t confide easily. We’d never discuss falling in love, feeling lonely or sharing the pain. Friendship, we imagine, requires too much patience and perseverance and possibly too little imagination.”
He develops this to write about priests. “As men our capacity for friendship is limited and as celibates, coming under increasingly neurotic suspicion and sometimes surveillance, we are retreating more into ourselves.” He concludes that ‘RC is no longer PC’ and how, today, some priests are ‘clinging to the wreckage of our humanity’.
There are stories about cars, housekeepers (and ‘the unsigned treaty’ with parish priests), bishops (who think that telling a priest he is to be changed is consultation), the appointment of ‘exuberant’ Daphne as a substitute teacher (‘We could, I felt, have done with less excitement’) and her marriage to Harold (‘…it was rumoured that he was obliged to have a shower everyday, the latter regarded as an exceptional infringement on a farmer’s liberty.’)
There is a story about the death of a bullying husband after which ‘a great calm descended, as if a tranquil sea had replaced a violent and never-ending storm’. Suicide and the ‘bitter harvest’ of limbo are explored. And Hennessy features – ‘Hennessy and only Hennessy. Neat, And none of this ice business. Like throwing paint on the Mona Lisa…’
This book is about the human condition. Brendan Hoban is a skilful and insightful writer. He has the knack of wrapping a story around the reader. He draws us in, somehow verbalising our innermost thoughts and allows us to walk away enhanced, uplifted and nourished.
‘A Priest’s Diary’, available in all good bookshops, is about more than priests. It is about so many people we know.