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10-FR-BOLLAN-STAR-WARS

Uniting the generations as one-sie

THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS’ unusual gift illustrates the union of the generations this Christmas By FR JOHN BOLLAN

I’m one of those people who doggedly insist that we should celebrate Christmas as a season and not just one day, a fleeting blip in the midst of the sales.

That said, the big day itself was very joyfully and prayerfully celebrated here in the Bow. Once again, the vigil Mass proved to be a logistical challenge, in terms of how many people can be safely squeezed into a Church, to say nothing of managing the traffic in the streets surrounding St Joseph’s which tend to get gridlocked on Christmas Eve. Thankfully, we had no mishaps at this, the busiest Mass of the year.

I was pleased to note an increase in numbers attending the candlelit carol service and night Mass later in the evening. While I don’t mean to detract from the Easter Vigil, there’s something particularly heart-warming about seeing the Church illuminated by the flickering candles of those who have come to welcome the light of the world in word and song.

This year it was lovely to have our music group bolstered once again by the considerable talents of Christopher Duffy, a local boy done good at the Royal Conservatoire and now making a name for himself in musical theatre in the West End and further afield in Europe. While Silent Night was originally composed for the guitar, there are some carols which can only be sung properly with organ accompaniment.

That said, the music group always give a cracking rendition of O, Holy Night. It’s funny how this delightful carol really came out of nowhere to become such a favourite with folk. It’s the carol which makes everyone think they’re Pavarotti as they belt out the chorus. And don’t pretend you haven’t waved a hanky as you’ve gone for the high notes.

After the packed pews and lusty singing of the earlier Masses, Christmas morning Mass in St Joseph’s feels a little bit of an anti-climax, or at least more subdued than the other celebrations. I know this is ­actually what many people come for, a chance to have a bit of quiet reflection. I guess it also mirrors that restful pause between the birth of a baby and the arrival of the first visitors.

Once again, the people of St Joseph’s were most generous in their gifts for me, Jasmine or ‘the house.’ There was the now customary ‘every conceivable Malteser’ bag, several bottles of Christmas cheer and lots of other thoughtful gifts, many of which had a Doctor Who or Star Wars theme.

The Force was certainly with our acolyte Matthew, as he got me a Chewbacca onesie. I realise that, for many of you, the very words ‘Chewbacca’ and ‘onesie’ may be quite meaningless. For a start, a onesie is essentially a romper suit for adults, an ‘all-in-one’ sleep outfit which offers both comfort and sufficient cover to allow the wearer to pop to the supermarket without all the fuss of getting dressed.

Onesies were all the rage a few years back, and though less of a ‘thing’ these days, they are very snug indeed. As for Chewbacca, he is the tall, furry sidekick of Han Solo in the Star Wars movies: fierce and ­thoroughly incomprehensible, he is nevertheless one of the good guys. Perhaps Matthew had these same qualities in mind as he selected my gift.

The more cynical might be of the view that a priest in a romper suit sums up all that is wrong with the Church in 2018, and, while they may well have a point, I think they should resolve to be a little less judgemental in the New Year.

The last days of 2017 brought a heavy fall of snow. While not quite as bad as the waist-deep snow of 1981 (when we ran out of sugar, prompting me to give up the white stuff to this day), this was a total ‘whiteout.’ You may recall that I routinely refer to St Joseph’s as ‘above the snow line’ and with good reason: Bow Road quickly becomes impassable in wintry conditions. Although I tried to clear a bit of the pathways, I soon had to give up and took the decision, for the first time in my pontificate, to shut the side gates of the Church.

There is something quite dramatic about pushing gates closed and it is, of course, not something one does lightly. While the Church was still open —for a hardy congregation of four—the path and stairs were too dangerous. Priests have a responsibility for the physical as well as the spiritual integrity of their flock, and the shadow of health and safety falls across even these sacred precincts.

Being a sad classicist, my gate-shutting put me in mind of the temple of the god Janus in ancient Rome. Janus, the two-faced patron of boundaries and thresholds, gives us our month of Janu-ary. The gates of his temple stood open at all times except on the rare occasion when Rome was at peace throughout her empire.

The first emperor Augustus, whose census set the scene for the Nativity, recorded that the gates of the temple were shut on no fewer than three occasions during his reign. According to the Kalenda, the liturgical proclamation of the birth of Christ which, alas, does not form part of our Christmas repertoire, Jesus was born during one of these rare moments when all the world was at peace and Janus’ doors were firmly closed.

Readers of the Greenock Telegraph could be forgiven for thinking that the priest of St Joseph’s is something of a man of war (perhaps it’s the Chewbacca onesie rubbing off on me). There was plenty of bellicose language in an article covering my outrage over fly-tipping in the parish. While out walking Jasmine after Christmas, I was genuinely annoyed to see that someone had dumped all their festive debris by the side of the road which joins the church to the back gate of the cemetery. This is quite a blackspot for litter dumpers— last year you could have built a fair-sized conservatory out of the material, including some patio doors, discarded there.

For some reason, this seasonal rubbish pressed my buttons and I took a photo of the mess, which I attached to a post on Twitter. As the Telegraph closely monitor my social media outbursts, I had a journalist on the phone within seconds of my returning to the rectory. They wanted to know what I felt about fly-tipping, what I thought the potential causes of this anti-social behaviour were and what I reckoned should be done about it.

Although I was measured in my response, some of my passion must have seeped through as the resulting spread had recourse to lots of punchy language like ‘priest slams’ and ‘churchman blasts.’ Incidentally, the Tele is fond of referring to sheriffs as ‘lawmen’ and clergy as ‘churchmen’: it all sounds a bit Wild West to be honest, but perhaps that’s with good reason. Still, those who know me would attest that I’m not really the slamming or blasting type.

It’s safe to say, though, that I consider that kind of thing really disrespectful, as well as lazy. People are dumping their rubbish just yards from other people’s homes and doing so just a few days before it would have been uplifted by the council anyway. In addition, there are perfectly good recycling and tipping facilities provided—and paid for—by us. So, for once, I was only too happy to be the voice of ­community indignation.

Right, now that I have got all that off my chest, I’m going to head off to my sister’s house for my New Year’s dinner. I played host to the family—or at least as many of them as could saw off their electronic ankle tags—for the Bells at Hogmanay.

It’s always a joy to welcome the different generations together to see in the New Year and then gather next day for Mass and more family time. Alas, I shall have to go easy on the festive spirit as I am on call for the hospital this week. Wherever and however you saw in 2018, may it bring you every blessing. Happy Christmas!

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