A simple faith

Former Meath football manager, Sean Boylan, describes his personal faith

I have a very simple faith: a belief in a God that provides for us and loves us and asks us in return to love him and love our neighbour. I derive great solace and comfort from that faith. It has been a huge influence all through my life.

I can never remember a time when I did not want to believe. It was part of the culture I grew up in and the home that shaped me, but within that home there was always an extraordinary tolerance of other persuasions and other values.

My sense of God is that he is present everywhere, in everything. I walk through my fields and see little plants like the ox-eye daisy, and my favourite, parsley piert. I wonder at what they can do in the treatment of the sick and I see God in them. I feel his presence all about me.

At times it can be very, very strong, like a kind of energy. There is a graveyard down the road in Loughsallagh, where my people are buried. I can feel his energy particularly there. The world is full of the wonders of nature, which in turn reflect the greatness of God. I can only marvel at how seeds will die in the ground to provide new growth.

Importance of prayer

I wouldn’t be the most organised person, religion-wise, but prayer is an important part of my life. If I’m going somewhere or am asked to speak at a function, I begin with prayer – often the Memorare (my favourite prayer) or the Serenity Prayer. The rosary beads travel everywhere with me too.

I pray to God for direction in my work; not in the sense of a blind faith but for a better understanding of what I am doing.

When I began managing the Meath football team, I just happened to tell the lads at our first training session that there was a Mass after our training session. “Do we have to go?” they asked. “No, I’m just telling you it’s on.” But they went, and it became a sort of ritual before every championship match. It was a lovely thing to see.

For my part, I would pray for guidance, never for victory, because God is on both sides. Just be thankful for the talents we have and do the best we can with them. If our best is not good enough, it doesn’t mean we are failures.

Some years ago our business was in severe trouble due to an abortive herb contract. In a dream one night I learned that I had to go to Lourdes. By chance at a funeral I met four army chaplains who wanted me to accompany them to Lourdes. I went in 1982, and despite a fear of water I went into the baths. When I came out I noticed a statement in seven languages: ‘Wash your face and pray to God to cleanse your heart’. That message has stayed with me ever since. And we did survive the financial crisis. The family motto is Dominus providebit, ‘The Lord will provide’.

Of course I have had doubts and falterings in my faith life. Sometimes we wonder where is God in the midst of suffering. My sister had an aneurysm and is totally paralysed. I asked her husband and children if they ever despaired. They thought about it and said no, not really.

Such amazing courage is hard to rationalise, but I suppose in times of trial we pray together in a lifeboat situation. There is a plaque outside my office which says “Bidden or not bidden, God is present”.

Lot to do

I don’t particularly look forward to death. I had a near-death experience when I almost drowned in a swimming pool and, believe me, it was not pleasant.

I feel I have an awful lot of things to do yet – not for myself, but for others. I don’t feel things are right just yet.

I believe in an afterlife, although I have no idea what form it will take – and I am not in any hurry to find out!

I have no doubt but that my parents are guiding me now. There is such energy about – it can’t all be due to physics.

The Holy Spirit and the holy souls are all around us. And the outstretched hands of the Lord will be there to welcome us. The afterlife will be good, and as the Lord said, “In my father’s house are many rooms”. There are many ways of knowing God. Fanaticism – my way or no way – is a very dangerous thing. That’s not the way it is. Our Maker is above that.

Sean Boylan is a herbalist who continues a family tradition stretching over many generations in his native Dunboyne, Co. Meath. Former long-serving manager of the Meath Gaelic football team, he brought much success to the county, including four All-Ireland titles. This is an edited extract from the book Credo: Personal Testimonies of Faith compiled and edited by John Quinn and published by Veritas.