Brushing away the dirt unveils hidden treasure
A curious discovery in the garden has THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS reflecting on the beauty in us that only God can see — Fr JOHN BOLLAN
There’s something I need to get off my chest, quiz-wise. Last week’s First Friday Quiz was something of a disaster: after a run of a couple of months with brain teasers which were both fair and challenging, last Friday’s Irish-themed quiz offered up a succession of very poor questions. Added to that, my team, Les Quizerables, was severely depleted in numbers while other teams seemed to have drawn upon the expertise of several new faces.
The upshot was that we came a rather poor sixth. I blame our pathetic showing on my Lenten foreswearing of alcohol, whereas the winners’ powers seem to have been considerably enhanced by their team sponsors, Messrs Bailey, Guinness and Jamieson. Still, I won’t begrudge them the victory: like the Murphy’s (another of their sponsors), I’m not bitter.
The rectory has been in something of a guddle of late. My shower has finally given up the ghost and the wall in the shower area has begun to bulge due to water ingress, taking the tiles with it. That, combined with the detachable toilet seat and the sporadically leaking sink has led to my bold decision to have a new en suite bathroom installed.
To be honest, I’m always a bit reluctant to spend money on the house since it isn’t my money in the first place, but this is now a matter of structural integrity. I was going to pose for a photo in front of the damp wall—a bit like those photos you see in the ‘consumer champion’ pages of certain Sunday newspapers—but I reckoned that would be a bit over the top. Now that the work has begun, it has reminded me of how much I hate upheaval in the house. Since my quarters are at the furthest end of the house from the front door (impatient doorbell ringers, please take note), there is a trail of yellow carpet-protecting cellophane snaking its way from the skip to my loo (pictured below).
The skip is there for the debris from ripping out the old and fitting the new. We have taken advantage of the skip’s presence also to dump some of the junk which has accumulated in the garden: a barbecue which has seldom seen action and is now merely a rusty water feature, bits of discarded railings, and some old chairs. And it was while we were clearing out this rubbish that Alex, the housekeeper’s husband, made something of a discovery.
In a neglected corner of the garden, where once perhaps there had been a little shrine to Our Lady, he unearthed a Legion of Mary vexillum (a vexillum was the standard of the Roman legions, and the Legion of Mary, which borrowed some elements of the Roman army’s organisation, decided to adapt it for their own spiritual campaigns). The vexillum (above) was found caked in mud, with several years’ worth of grass and foliage grown over it and was only saved from the skip by the eagle poking its beak from the mire.
Sandra set to work cleaning it and I’m delighted to say it’s in remarkably good condition considering the time it has spent outdoors in all weathers. I wish I had taken a photo of the ‘before’ stage for illustrative purposes since the transformation is quite remarkable.
To be honest, this archaeological find filled me with nearly as much excitement as the discovery of a real legionary standard in our backyard would have done. Its coming to light fills me with curiosity: just how long has it been there? What were the circumstances of its disappearance? How long has it been since we had a praesidium—a conference—of the Legion of Mary in this Parish?
If this were one of the ghost stories of MR James, my favourite author of such tales, the finding of the vexillum would be the start of a sequence of increasingly unsettling events: in this case, however, I would like to see it as a source of a blessing, rather than a curse.
Perhaps in this centenary year of Fatima, we in St Joseph’s are being invited to refound the Legion once again? After all, although the Legion itself is far from new, its outreach is eminently in tune with the New Evangelisation to which our diocesan synod is calling us, not to mention all the recent popes.
The skip and our reclaimed treasure also chime beautifully with this approaching Sunday of the Lenten season. While we are immersed in the work of clearing out all that encumbers us, the detritus of sin and self, so too we are offered a glimpse of dazzling beauty in the Transfiguration of Our Lord.
This episode offers us a glimpse of Jesus as seen through God’s eyes, a brief flash of glory on Tabor before the awful spectacle of Golgotha descends upon us once again.
Like the mud-caked Legionary standard, Lent also reminds us of a beauty in us, a beauty which God can see even if we cannot. This beauty derives from God’s image, which not even the accumulated layers of sin can wholly obscure. The graces of this season should, if we cooperate with them, bring a little more of that original beauty to the surface.
With thoughts such as these, it’s fitting that we celebrate First Confession for our Primary 4 children in a few days’ time. I always enjoy these occasions in the lives of our children. Although sometimes accompanied by a little nervousness, I think it’s lovely to see the boys and girls develop that capacity to talk with honesty and frankness about their struggles to be faithful in love.
It’s a great pity that we, as adults, often lose that capacity to approach the Sacrament with similar trust. In fact, this coming week also sees me giving a talk on precisely this topic to the Paisley faith forum. Fingers crossed it won’t be too much of a penance for the audience!
Fingers crossed too that, by the time this column appears in print, the dust will have been hoovered up and my new bathroom will be fully functioning.
At Mass on Sunday I made an ill-considered offer to the parishioners that, since they were paying for the work to be done, they also might wish to inspect the finished job for themselves.
There was much shaking of heads as the faithful exited the Church and several comments along the lines of ‘You’ll regret making that offer, Father.’
In hindsight, they’re probably right. While I’m all for transparency, I’m also not that keen on folk criticising my choice of toilet roll or having a furtive spray of my Brut 33; after all, Our Lord tells us to shut the door of our inner room (Matthew 6:6), not have the curious traipsing round it.