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CONFIRMATION

The Holy Spirit is with us always

THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS praises Catholic education and the Faith-filled pupils in our schools —By FR JOHN BOLLAN

The last week of November brings three funerals to St Joseph’s: so we will end the month of the Holy Souls as we began it, with Requiems ringing in our ears. Before we leave this month behind and focus on the Advent season, let me voice an opinion —after all, this column is listed as an ‘opinion piece.’ It concerns parish Masses of Remembrance, which have become a feature of most parishes’ pastoral calendars.

For a start, let me say what a good thing these celebrations are, both as a way of reconnecting with recently bereaved families and of providing a focus for our own November prayers. In some parishes, I have noticed they set up a display of Orders of Service around the altar, as a way of memorialising those who have died. On the one hand, I think this is a nice custom—it reminds me of cemeteries on the continent, where photographs of the dead look out at the living as a reminder that they too were once like us.

I do, however, have a bit of a niggle over this same practice. Not everyone chooses—or can necessarily afford—to have a booklet to accompany the funeral service. What about them? By the same token, what of those who, like my Mum—God rest her—didn’t have their photograph on the cover but a picture of Our Lord, Our Lady or one of the saints? In my Mum’s case it was, of course, St Joseph.

I have no doubt there might be ways round the lack of a booklet, for example inviting families to bring a photo to the Mass, but I’m just a bit concerned this practice veers a little too far towards the cult of personality, which tends to characterise our approach to death, rather than invoking mercy for the deceased. To my mind, you can ‘celebrate’ both the life of the deceased and the Paschal Mystery without putting any noses out of joint. So that’s another tuppence worth from me.

The dip in temperature has caused a dip in my mood, as you can probably tell. This is largely due to the need to keep the church grounds ice-free which, in the absence of James the Gritter, has fallen to me.

James has very selfishly gone to Iceland, leaving me in the lurch. This is not the Iceland which Mums go to, but the country itself. So, I have been left to don my wellies and fire up the salt spreader. Gritting is not an easy job, let me tell you. It can also be a bit soul-destroying when, as happened the other day, you salt an icy car park before the Vigil Mass and then the rain comes and washes it all away an hour later. Starting from scratch the next morning is a right pain in the gritter.

To be honest, I’m a little concerned about the Iceland trip, not so much about James, but about his wife Rose, who is one of the housekeepers. Rose has an unhealthy obsession with Santa’s little helpers and, as it is, already spends much of December dressed as an elf. As I’m given to understand she will be visiting ‘Santa’s Icelandic Workshop,’ this may well push her—and us —over the edge.

The arrival of Advent means we get to open up the new Liturgical calendar for Scotland—or Ordo—which this year has the beautiful icon of Jesus our Teacher on the cover. This icon, written by Coatbridge artist Bernadette Reilly, was commissioned to mark next year’s centenary of the Education (Scotland) Act 1918. The icon will be touring the country during 2018 and, although principally visiting our schools, I would love to have it in the Church too, since we would then have four pieces by Bernadette in St Joseph’s—the other three being the triptych in the sanctuary.

What I love about the icon is the way it brings both past and present into the ‘frame’ as it were—the broad sweep of Catholic education from the saints to the workers, teachers and learners of today is there for all to see. We have so much to be grateful for in our schools and I hope that 2018 will be a celebration which embraces past, present and future—with the emphasis on the future.

I must say that we have some very polite young people in our local high school, St Columba’s. I have tried to meet the first year classes in the oratory to give them a little talk about why we have a church at the heart of the school. Using Doctor Who as my reference point, as I so often do, I point out to them that, like the Tardis, the outside and the inside of the Oratory exist in two different dimensions. The outside is where the noise and bustle of the school goes on full pelt, but the inside is God’s space. We can’t help something of the outside ‘in’ with us, but we have to allow ourselves to take the peace and blessing of God back into the bustling corridors and public spaces.

Last week I was regaling a class with all sorts of important information about the difference between a cross and a crucifix. “Very important to know when confronted with a vampire,” I told them, when one piped up, “Yes, you told us that the other day.”

Thanks to a recent change in the timetable, the same class had come twice to the oratory. I don’t know who was, or should have been, more embarrassed: me or the class teacher. To be fair, I did think that some of the children were very familiar, but they had also just been to Mass as a class, so I thought that was the reason.

What really threw me off was that none of them seemed bored by what was in fact a repeat of a talk they had been given just days before. It was only well into the presentation that one of them gave voice to their collective déjà vu—or déjà entendu, to be precise.

The High School are currently collecting for the local food bank through the parish. This is a praiseworthy initiative and I’m sure the good people of St Joseph’s will be generous as ever. I am a wee bit conscious, however, of the risk of compassion fatigue at the moment. We are not long past the Smalls for All appeal. Last week we had a second collection for SPRED and once again we have distributed boxes for Advent donations in support of this same cause. This weekend, we see the return of the Giving Tree, which we hope will meet with the same levels of response as in previous years.

Generosity is the hallmark of this parish, as it is of many others. But we are also living in a time of straitened circumstances for many households and there are only so many ‘widow’s mites’ to go around. I do hope that we are not putting folk under too much pressure to dig deep, especially at this time of year.

Still, Advent is a time for us to strike the balance between the spiritual and material preparations for Christmas, ensuring that we do not allow Advent to be swallowed up by its ‘jolly’ neighbour. It’s perhaps providential that we have the Primary 7 kids coming to Mass this weekend to commit themselves to prepare for the Sacrament of Confirmation (above).

Just as we reflect on ourselves as the clay in the hands of the potter, so it is good to remember that we are ‘fired’ by the breath of the Holy Spirit. We would not get very far—in Advent or in life —without that same Spirit which overshadowed Mary and made her ‘yes’ to God one which resounds to this day. Hopefully, it will echo in the ‘yes’ which our young people will say, loudly and clearly, this Sunday.

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