September 8 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


The Church must go to the people

THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS says we will be waiting a while if we wait for people to come to us —By FR JOHN BOLLAN

Last week a real-life rainbow was glimpsed over St Joseph’s, as though the Lord himself had finally given his blessing to these back-page scribblings—or perhaps he was sending me a ‘chin up’ message from on high.

I don’t mind telling you that last week was a challenge. As I had anticipated, I ended up with three funerals and a wedding (sounds like an idea for a film) in the space of a little over 24 hours. Adding the wedding rehearsal, the St Peregrine Novena and the reception of remains into the mix, the end of the week disappeared in a bit of a haze: indeed, I was so light-headed that I forgot an appointment on Friday afternoon (despite it being both in my diary and my head that morning), so that I had to high-tail it back to the parish from town.

Thankfully, Rose the housekeeper is quite good at diversionary tactics—although there’s only so long you can spin-out a game of I Spy.

To be honest, I was a bit concerned by that lapse of memory as it’s quite uncharacteristic of me. Having praised technology in last week’s column, I may have to start setting alarms and alerts on my phone to keep me abreast of my schedule from now on.

Inverclyde as a whole has been going through a bad patch funeral-wise of late: St John’s in Port Glasgow has had, I think, six or seven funerals in 10 days.

While it’s both our duty and our privilege to conduct the funerals of the faithful, there’s no denying that a run of Requiems can take its toll—not just on the priest, but on the regular morning Mass-goers.

Hearing many of the same readings over and over again, interrupting the flow of the weekday lectionary, can make it hard to follow the spiritual itinerary of God’s word as the Church offers it to us day-by-day. That said, the occasional slip of the tongue can enliven things for the congregation, such as hearing a new slant on the book of Wisdom: “Their hope was rich with immorality…”

I had a Baptism on Sunday after the morning Mass, one of a few we’ve had lately. This one would definitely fall into the ‘lively’ category. It’s not unusual for babies to register their protest at the font, but this young chap, two years old, objected to just about everything I was required to do in the ceremony.

If you’ve ever seen The Omen, you’ll have an idea of the degree of resistance I was being offered. I think the problem was not so much that he was possessed—though some parents look quite hopeful at the mention of the prayer of Exorcism during Baptism—but that his Christian initiation was getting in the way of his playing on the phone to which he was clinging for dear life. Typically, once the rite was concluded, he was as angelic as they come.

Of course, Sunday was a red-letter day for the Catholic community. Sadly, the 5pm Sunday evening Mass at St Joseph’s meant that I had to forego the National Pilgrimage at Carfin. I did, however, send Fr Matthew in his dual capacity as Bishop of the Bow and my vicar general: he was both delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to serve the Mass at which our country was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

We also had a fair number of folk who went on the bus we had laid on for the occasion, ensuring that there was a healthy contingent from above the snow line.

By all accounts, it was a day which will live long in the hearts of those who were present. When the coach returned to the church in the evening, you could tell from the pilgrims’ faces that, though slightly damp, they were all very happy indeed. And, despite the strong smell of drink on the bus, it was apparent that the chief cause of their joy was the spiritual uplift they had received. Local boy Bishop Brian McGee had also preached a blinder, they said.

It was our September weekend this week, so the schools were shut on Monday, allowing me to have a bit of a breather after the preceding few days of hectic activity. Although I’ve been into the high school a couple of times this term, I’ve only shown my face once in the primary school. And that is bad. I do have a whole school Mass on Friday afternoon, so I’m hoping that will redress the ­balance somewhat and assuage my guilt.

The parish has its deanery mission appeal coming up, given this year by the Missionaries of Africa, or White Fathers. It’s helpful that the appeal is being given by a priest because this means that I can take myself off that weekend and, if things work out, run my annual retreat into an additional couple of days away. Some might look askance at that but, hey, you can’t please everybody.

One of the pleasures of writing this column is that I’ve become aware of a ‘fan-base’ of avid readers who get in touch with me to offer ideas or, on occasion, well-meaning critiques.

Of course, when I say ‘fan-base,’ I should more accurately describe them as Jasminites, since it’s really my brown-eyed girl they’re interested in.

“How’s Jasmine?” they ask. “You’ve not mentioned her for a while, is she OK?”

It’s genuinely lovely to have folk take such an interest in her. She herself is developing something of an attitude, it must be said, wondering why the proceeds of her ‘pawsonalised’ photos are ending up in daddy’s account rather than her treat tin.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a reader who follows our adventures all the way from the Philippines. The pleasure was doubled by her being a Little Sister of the Poor and another local vocation story: Sr Mary Clare was back home to celebrate her jubilee of profession and, like so many of her sisters, she radiated joy and gratitude.

Not many local girls took the journey from the Playtex factory to the Convent, but the foundation garment industry’s loss has certainly been the Church’s gain. Sister only returns to the parish once every three years, and I’m sure that when she does, she notices several changes around the town.

One change which happens this very week is the closure of the Marks & Spencer store in Greenock after 81 years in the same spot: M&S is relocating, like many other shops, to the retail park in Port Glasgow.

With its closure, we are losing what I reckon is one of only two shops which remained unchanged throughout my lifetime (the other being Smiths, the sportswear and school uniform emporium).

I do feel quite emotional about this, if I’m honest: my mum loved a wander through Marks and we loved a slightly upmarket treat from her visits to ‘St Michael,’ whether it was toffees for my dad or posh crisps for me. I realise, of course, that shops are businesses and that cosy nostalgia is no substitute for footfall and other such pragmatic concerns.

I can imagine that the shutting of shops can occasion many of the same feelings as the closure of parishes: hard-edged realities must be reckoned with, no matter how many happy memories are evoked by the mention of a name.

I suppose, if we are prepared to take risks for the new evangelisation, the Church should also consider migrating to the retail parks. They are the modern equivalent of the forum or the agora of the ancient world, where the apostles would pitch up and ‘sell’ the Gospel. It’s always been a touchstone of Christianity that we go where the people are and, if we wait for people to come to us, we may be waiting a while.

Anyway, enough of these nostalgia-laden ruminations. I must now turn my thoughts to another writing assignment, this time the obituary for Deacon Paul in the Western Catholic Calendar and Catholic Directory for next year. Long before he fell ill, I remember him saying: “You’ll miss me when I’m gone.” How right he was: for a start, he would have made last week a whole lot easier. But that’s me being selfish.


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