Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now

Cardinal Rules Part 3: An occasional column (not) by the Primate of All Ireland, healer and crisp fan

In which our hero meditates on the nature of pain, suffering, sainthood – and concludes that Dermot Ahern is doing it all wrong.

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

THIS WEEK I have been thinking about the miserable life of Saint Finnegas. Finnegas, as many of you will no doubt already know, is Ireland’s 48th most important saint ever.

Born in 855 AD, or 901 AD, or possibly some time between 976 AD and 1114 AD, Finnegas was a man who endured great pain and hardship, almost always voluntarily. For Finnegas, pain was a badge of honour. He endured the agony of an ingrown toenail throughout his life “for to do otherwise would be an affront to God,” he claimed. He also kept a small hungry mouse in his undergarments as a metaphorical “reminder of the capricious nature of life.”

Many are the tales of him going from village to village asking people to kick him in the groin. And very often the inhabitants would oblige, knowing that the pain and suffering endured by Finnegas brought him closer to God.

After each kicking, Finnegas would crawl back to the furze bush in which he lived, meditate on his pain, and gain greater understanding from it. Usually this understanding would result in the revelation that being kicked repeatedly in the groin by dozens of villagers REALLY hurts. But beyond this understanding lay a deeper level of understanding. An understanding that God loved him, and that God wanted him to be kicked repeatedly in the groin in order to understand that He loved him. Thus, in this manner Finnegas gained wisdom, and the kind of grace only the truly sainted ever achieve.

“Would it kill him to do a wincey face?”

I couldn’t help but think of Finnegas while seeing soon to be former Minister Dermot Ahern speaking this week. Myself and Father Lawlor watched him being interviewed on the news as he spoke about his chronic pain in a very calm and lucid manner. I shook my head. “He is doing this pain thing all wrong,” I said.

Father Lawlor agreed. Stoicism in the face of great pain is all well and good. But stoicism with a little hint of suffering, well that’s even better.
“Would it kill him to at least do a wincey ‘Ooh, I have really bad wind’ face?” I said.

“Or couldn’t he just stop the interview for a moment, break out in a cold sweat and grit his teeth while saying ‘I need a moment’,” suggested Father Lawlor.

All of the above would have made soon to be former Minister Ahern that little bit more admirable. It also would have raised his stock in the eyes of the Almighty. Father Lawlor suggested that for his next interview that Mr Ahern could scribble on his palms in red biro, and casually display them for the cameras. “Instant stigmata,” he said brightly.

To demonstrate Father Lawlor started scribbling furiously on his own palms in red biro, tongue sticking out, frowning with all the concentration of a small child.

I went back to looking at Mr Ahern, hoping he might refer to the agonies of retirement which awaited. But no, he was as calm and collected as ever. Father Lawlor then did jazz hands with his newly stigmatised palms. “Ooh, I could be Padre Pio,” he grinned. I frowned, and Father Lawlor looked suitably penitent.

We listened to soon-to-be former Minister Ahern for a few minutes more. “At the very least demonstrating his suffering might actually make people like him even more,” I suggested.

On hearing that, Father Lawlor stopped licking the red biro off his hands and made an odd choking sound.

Note: After a failed attempt to kick himself in the groin while standing on the Cliffs of Moher, Finnegas plunged to his death some time between 900 AD and the repeal of the Penal Laws.

About the author:

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady

Read next: