March 30, 2016

Love is a most beautiful force, but why is there so little around?

The Dooley family is like any other. We have good days and bad. Sometimes, the sun shines brightly. Sometimes, it doesn’t shine at all. Families are like little societies. There is a hierarchy to maintain order, a value system and a process of give and take. As such, the family is the first of our institutions. It is also a school of love. All other institutions function in the absence of love. Solidarity and loyalty are required for them to run effectively, but love is not a prerequisite. And what is love? St Paul tells us that ‘love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.’ To love is to leave self behind in favour of the other…

March 23, 2016

Why chance encounters are priceless

The great lessons of life are not learned directly. They come to us through experience of people, events and random happenings. It is only after we have such an experience that we realise we have learned something vital. I was lost in my own world when suddenly I saw him. We were walking towards one another, two people exercising body and soul. At first he did not recognise me as I tend to exercise incognito. ‘Hello, Mr Sweeney,’ I said, to which  he responded by …

March 16, 2016

With so much talk of the Rising, we’ve forgotten St Patrick

It is only when the curtain falls and we drift away that our lives can be truly assessed. It is only when the passage of life is complete that we will be considered in the round. It is then that those who survive us shall judge the type of people we were. From the fragments of memory, our descendants will paint a picture of you and me. They will tell their grandchildren stories about the best and worst of times. This means that our legacy is in the hands of people we might never meet. No life is fully transparent. We project a public image that is very much at odds with our private lives. There are things about us that are never seen or known except by our nearest and dearest. Those things are more true to who we are than the life we lead in public. However, those things rarely make it into our personal histories. And what are those things?

March 9, 2016

Music of the angels made my tears flow

My day started with a song and ended with another. They were completely different tunes, yet in my mind they became one. Linking them together were a kindly priest, a talented thespian and a gifted young boy. Our eldest stood in the centre of the sanctuary. He had just served Mass for a priest of rare gentility and kindness. Father Michael Simpson was leaving the local church and these were his final moments. Dressed in pink vestments to symbolise the dawning light of Easter, Father Simpson paused with our son as the choir bid him farewell. The choir is not young but they are exceptionally versatile and melodic. They chose to sing John Rutter’s A Clare Benediction, a hymn so tender, moving and sublime. ‘May the Lord show his mercy upon you; may the light of his presence be your guide. May he guard you and uphold you; may his spirit be ever by your side.’

March 2, 2016

In caring for our gardens, we are reconnecting with the world

I know it is earlier than usual, but I could not resist taking to the garden at the weekend. Perhaps it was election fatigue or merely the bright evenings that drew me outside. Either way, it was like returning home after a long period in exile. Recently, I was asked on radio what significance gardening has for a philosopher. The interviewer had read my book Moral Matters in which I speak about the garden as our last link with the land. We may have fled the farm, but …

February 24, 2016

Kindness can change the entire world

My wife is a person who looks upon our world with a smile. No matter how bad things seem she will always disperse the gloom with humour. For her, nothing can withstand the power of good cheer. That is why I was taken aback when she recently exclaimed: ‘Even though I like the up-and-coming generation, there doesn’t seem to be much kindness in them’. She said this more out of regret than despair, but I think we all know what she means. Kindness is such a beautiful word, conveying as it does the sweetness of our condition. According to Robert Louis Stevenson, the ‘essence of love is kindness’. We may not know how to love a stranger, but…

February 17, 2016

A kiss speaks to the heart… it is what binds us to our loved ones

What’s in a kiss? Everything, as it happens. It is an expression of love that transcends time, language and territory. In the kiss, we discovered a way to bond and bind, to direct affection without the use of words. Not all kisses are the same, however. To kiss a child differs from the way we kiss a spouse or a friend. Charles Darwin found that not all cultures kiss as we do. Some rub noses while others rub or pat their arms. ‘Kissing-like behaviours’ are, it seems, a universal element of the human condition. A kiss erupts from the depths and seeks to absorb the other person. The other night, for example, …

February 10, 2016

A culture that can turn us all into addicts

‘The more I think about it, the more I believe we are being sold addiction.’ The person who said that was on the radio discussing the plague that is stress. It was an astute observation that explains most of our modern social and personal problems. Addiction has always been part of the human predicament. In order to escape our tribulations, we seek refuge in something that temporarily soothes the pain. We try to reconfigure reality by creating virtual worlds in which the self is sovereign and in control. Such is the nature of alcoholism and drug addiction, both of which are virtual states totally disconnected from actuality. Today, however, addiction comes in many forms and is not exclusively the condition of those running from reality. In most cases, …

February 3, 2016

Sacrifice for others is the finest reward

A kind reader, Carol Broderick, sent me a story which I want to share with you today. It is one of sacrifice, true love and the sort of commitment which every child deserves from their parents. It is an inspiring story about one man’s determination to put his priorities in their proper order. In 1924, American canoeist Bill Havens was widely expected to win a gold medal at the Paris Olympic Games. He was at the top of his game and had shown he had the mettle to succeed. Shortly before the Games, however, Bill’s wife announced that she was pregnant and that their child was due to arrive while he was in Paris. His wife reassured Bill that everything would be fine and that he should definitely travel. Bill, …

January 27, 2016

Why we must never forget the Holocaust

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a day when we are invited to spend a few moments
remembering the victims of the most heinous genocide in human history. At no other time, and in no other place, were six million people slaughtered simply because of their faith. Ponder that: six million people ritually immolated because they were Jewish. Think of the entire population of Ireland and you have some idea of the scale of Hitler’s Final Solution. It was nothing less than industrialised murder with the aim of exterminating an entire race of people. That he very nearly succeeded shows…

January 20, 2016

In this visual age, so many of us are blind to true insight

What does it mean to see? For most of the day, we live with our eyes wide open. We look, stare, study and gaze at each other, our world and life in all its abundance. Right now, you are looking at this page, absorbing its message through the eyes. You see words which contain meaning. In seeing what is written on the page, you ‘hear’ what I am trying to say. To see is to connect with reality, with the world of which you are a part. Sight binds us to the environment and to those with whom we share it. In opening our eyes, we see where we belong and how we fit in. Superficially, we see what is in front
of our eyes. That, however, is not…

January 13, 2016

We can’t stay young… but inner beauty never fades

Taking stock is something most of us never do. Bedevilled by distraction, we run here and there without ever taking time to ponder where we are going or who we are. Then, one day, we wake up to find that life has passed us by and we are none the wiser. Yesterday, I celebrated my birthday. Getting older is not something that bothers me, for there is no point in fighting the inevitable. Indeed, having survived another year should always be a cause of jubilation. I did not wake up feeling a year older, but only a day older than the one before. Indeed, were it not for…

January 6, 2016

Don’t look back in anger… and enjoy your life without anxiety

As the rain subsided he gently held my hand. After a week of storms, it was finally time for the sun to shine. That was our cue to take to a much-needed walk. The streets had been ravaged by the relentless tempest, but now it was cold and the frost was glistening on the grass. People were slowly returning to work, yet the roads were still subdued. The low winter sun was a magnet for joggers, walkers and cyclists. My seven-year-old loves to talk. In fact, he often exclaims after a long discourse on this or that: ‘Oh, I really dislike myself for being such a chatterbox!’ However, it is his incessant chat that we find so endearing and which never flows more freely than when out walking with his parents. He held my hand as we headed towards the sun. As if preparing for a valedictory speech, he joyfully announced: …