The parallel duties of priests and presidents
This week, THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS looks at the tricky ‘executive orders’ priests have to make in their parishes — BY Fr JOHN BOLLAN
President Donald Trump is now firmly ensconced in the White House and his first week at the helm has been a blur of activity: there has been a steady stream of photos of the Commander in Chief seated at the Resolute desk in the Oval Office signing his Executive Orders with aplomb.
Most of these Orders, such as the immigration clampdown, have provoked howls of protest from around the world, although I must admit that the defunding of overseas abortion providers has at least been one positive development in my book. The Resolute desk at which he sits each day was a gift of Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880, carved from the timbers of the British Arctic exploration ship Resolute, and has been used by presidents ever since. It’s a fitting name for such a desk I think: it’s good to be resolved as you sit there making decisions which affect the lives of millions.
Here in the office at St Joseph’s I have what I call the Irresolute desk, where I sit and procrastinate, worry over bills and bash out this column. It is seldom tidy, often covered with mugs and is the focus of poltergeist activity in the Chapel House. Things frequently move of their own accord or go missing entirely from the Irresolute desk, much to the consternation of Sandra—my PA—and the diocesan finance office.
This week I did sign one ‘executive order’ myself, albeit one affecting a handful of senior citizens rather than whole swathes of people. After eight years, I decided to give up the parish minibus. In truth, this decision has been a long time coming and it is one over which I have ‘hummed and hawed’ for ages.
When my predecessor Mgr Charles Cavanagh took out the lease, the bus was used at all Masses and was fully subscribed. Now, it’s only used on a Sunday morning to transport six parishioners to Mass. The insurance company has just bumped up the premium meaning that, with the lease of the bus, increased insurance, MOT and servicing, fuel and other costs, we’re not getting much change out of £6,000 a year.
As the front page of last week’s SCO revealed, Paisley Diocese is not awash with money, nor is the parish: this is no longer a sustainable expense for the people of St Joseph’s (and let’s not forget, it’s their money, not mine). At £1,000 per head, it would probably be cheaper to fly our Golden Girls to Mass on a Sunday. I checked with our local helicopter pilot but he’s fully booked on the Sabbath, so I’ve just set up a replacement taxi service in place of the bus. After all, the important thing is that folk get to Mass.
Still, you are aware that taking a little decision can have major implications for others and not everyone will be happy with those decisions. Annoyingly, after eight vandal-free years, someone came by last Sunday night and smashed the back window of the bus—hopefully not a disgruntled bus user! The police have fingerprinted all of them at one time or other so, hopefully, we can eliminate the innocent from the investigation which is currently ‘ongoing.’
I mentioned that things occasionally, unaccountably, go missing from my desk. This usually results in no more than a little bit of background inconvenience, as I think ‘it’ll turn up in its own time’ and it usually does, albeit in another room entirely. Trouble ensues, however, when the bit of paper which goes AWOL is an anniversary.
Theologians have debated for centuries over what constitutes the ‘unforgivable sin’ spoken of by Jesus at various points in the Gospels. In my experience, it’s the omission of an anniversary at its proper time.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I know how important it is to have our loved ones commemorated and prayed for on their anniversaries. I strive to be diligent in recording these and I think the fact that I’m usually so meticulous only serves to increase my sense of abject mortification when a distressed parishioner confronts you in the sacristy (and it usually feels like a confrontation, let me tell you).
Yet it’s the way of things that a post-it note gets stuck inside a pocket, an envelope gets buried under a pile of paperwork or, as has happened to me once, a name written on the palm of my hand got washed away before I could transcribe it. Isaiah 49:16 assures us that God’s ‘palm writing’ is eternal, but that of a distracted parish priest is less so.
And the fall-out can be terrible: in one of my previous postings, there was a gentleman who refused to make eye contact with me after I omitted his dear wife’s anniversary. The fault on my part was a genuine mistake but no amount of apology could restore me to his friendship thereafter. From that moment to the day I left, he looked down or past me.
I realise that ‘putting in’ an anniversary is as much a part of managing the grief process as it is an expression of Faith, but it’s unfortunate when the hurt of a missed anniversary turns someone completely off their priest.
So, this is a plea for a little tolerance of your all too fallible clergy: if you don’t hear a loved one prayed for or see their name in the bulletin, a gentle reminder to your priest should suffice.
I’m sure he’ll be as sorry about the omission as you are and will ensure that it’s looked after promptly: the prayers of the parish will be asked, the Mass offered.
My week on call with the hospital phone concluded on Monday morning and, for once, sick calls from the parish outnumbered those from the hospital itself. In fact, at one point, I was concerned that the phone was broken and called it myself from my mobile. It did kick into life at 4am on Saturday morning and again on the Sunday afternoon but, all in all, it was my quietest week so far.
After the lunchtime Mass on Tuesday I had pizza with the Sixth Year Caritas students in St Columba’s. We were joined by the other local priests and this gave us an opportunity to check in with those who are rendering service to our parishes in pursuit of this award which continues the spirit of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Scotland in 2010. There he invited our young people to put their gifts at the service of God and the Church and, since then, thousands have responded to that call to be ‘saints of the 21st century.’ This is very much in line with Our Lord’s words in this Sunday’s Gospel, where the call to be salt and light is put before us all.
Once again, we have a good crop of young people from both St Columba’s and Notre Dame high schools involved in the Caritas programme and doing their bit for St Joseph’s.
Keeping in touch, however, is sometimes difficult and you have to resort to social media: it’s often easier to get them on the Caritas Facebook page or on Twitter than grabbing them after Mass. Having said that, social media has its pitfalls.
My latest follower on Twitter is none other than ‘Death’: this may be due to the number of photographs I post from the cemetery during my morning walks with Jasmine. Still, a follower is a follower after all. But if I’m not here next week, you’ll know what has happened. I just hope someone remembers my anniversary..