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10-SUMMER-CHURCH

Everything looks brighter in the sun

All it takes to lift our spirits is a bit of summer weather, THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS says — By FR JOHN BOLLAN

Improbable as it may sound, I’m writing this in the garden. The May long weekend has been filled with glorious sunshine and I have decided to combine column writing with a bit of sun-worshipping. To this end, I have brought a table and my laptop into the garden. Jasmine is running about, having a ball as ever: I can hear her lapping away at her water bowl in the shade.

Nestling beside my coffee cup and the laptop is the hospital phone: my turn on the rota has come back round again. But it doesn’t seem so bad when the sun is shining.

Although the schools are off today, it’s the Higher RMPS (Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies) exam. I’m awaiting an update from the RE department as to how fair they reckon the paper is and how the students feel they have done with the questions.

Tomorrow evening, the high school will be playing host to the first of three ‘cluster meetings’ as part of our post-synodal ‘Making All Things New’ process. The four feeder parishes will be getting together to kick-start the discussions around the shape of our parishes and the kind of communities we hope to build there.

Of course, the headline question in most people’s minds will be: ‘So which parish is getting shut?’ Hopefully, we can move beyond that sort of thing quite quickly and start thinking openly and generously about the best way to be the Church of the future.

I’m not sure how much detail there will be at this first meeting; it is just the start, after all. Perhaps by the time the second meeting comes around in September there will have been solid progress made.

Besides, you never know, perhaps circumstances will change between now and then to give the process a shove and make the discussions less speculative and more focused on the reality of what needs to happen now.

Oddly enough, it’s not just my column I’m working on in the garden (to be honest, the keys are starting to get really hot and I’m having to squint past my reflection on the screen—it’s quite off-putting, let me tell you); I’m also delivering a short input to the teachers’ in-service day tomorrow morning. The theme is vision: you see, it’s not just the diocese which is trying to work out its future path. The text I’ve been given is Revelation 21:1-5, all about the vision of the New Jerusalem where God lives among His people.

While I’ll work with this text, I’ll add in another couple of references. Whenever people get together to think or pray about their vision, you can bet that sooner or later that line from Proverbs 29:18 (much beloved of President Bill Clinton, I gather) will feature: ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’

But obtaining a vision to live by is no easy thing. Sometimes, you have to slog at it. Sometimes the first thing you ‘see’ is a very rough draft and you have to revisit it to try to make it clearer and more solid.

I like the story of the blind man healed by Jesus in Mark 8:23-25. Jesus’ first attempt to help him see is only partially successful. When Jesus asks the man, a bit like an optician carrying out an eye test: ‘Can you see anything?’ he replies: ‘I can see people, but they look like trees walking about.’ Jesus has to have another go before the man’s vision is fully restored.

Of course, there are times when we have to let go of an old vision which no longer serves its purpose. When Saul is blinded on the road to Damascus, I think he’s been made to discard his old ‘world vision’—the way he saw everything, God and himself included, has to undergo this radical change.

Saul’s blindness is, in that sense, a gift: he has to leave behind the hyper-confident Saul and allow himself to be led like a child to a new vision, a fresh insight.

Gosh, it’s hot. I wonder what life would be like for us in Scotland if the sun shone most of the time (the way it has for most of this month of May)? It’s not just a cliche to say that everyone is cheerier and seems more relaxed as their vitamin D levels go through the roof. Last Thursday, I attended my great-niece’s Confirmation in Paisley: the main doors of the cathedral were thrown open to the warm evening sunshine. It all felt very ‘continental,’ as the sounds of families chatting and children playing in the cathedral piazza drifted back down the aisle.

I’m a bit ‘old school’ when it comes to Confirmation: I prefer the bishop to do it and that’s it. We were lucky for many years to have two bishops to confer the Sacrament, but now the local parish priests have to help out.

Just as I had very kindly been invited to give my nephew his First Holy Communion a few days before, so I was also given the option of confirming Katie. I was a bit more ambivalent about this one, though.

I’d decided that, if it was her ‘turn’ for the bishop, then I would stay put: the Confirmation card I got her had a mitre on it and, while I am still unjustly deprived of said headgear, clearly a bishop was best.

As it soon became apparent, however, that she was being directed to the redoubtable Mgr Carlin, I made my way—rather magnificently I must say—down the sanctuary steps (if you’ve ever seen Alec Guinness’ Pope Innocent III as he descends to greet Francis of Assisi in Brother Sun, Sister Moon, you’ll have some inkling of the spectacle). There were gasps from the pews.

Katie seemed slightly caught off-guard as I gently shoved her favourite prelate aside and dipped my thumb in the Chrism. She had clearly prepared her answers to inevitable questions about her choice of Confirmation saint and who her sponsor was (her godmother, my niece, Lesley).

I thought it would be churlish not to ask her these anyway, even though the look she gave me was enough to reacquaint me with the fear of the Lord which she had only just received, along with the six other gifts of the Holy Spirit, scarcely a few moments earlier.

I’ll be back up at the cathedral this coming Thursday for our own parish Confirmations. I’m very fond of this class. They were my ‘first First Communicants’ after I came to St Joseph’s as parish priest, so it will be nice to see them take this sacramental step together.

Before long they will be in the Big School: indeed, their sacramental preparation has been running cheek by jowl with their transition induction programme to St Columba’s.

This year’s First Communion class were down at the church the other day for a Mass of Thanksgiving.

As well as the ‘giving thanks,’ which every Eucharist celebrates, it was also an opportunity to deck them out in their albs and tabards and give them a belated Communion breakfast.

The ladies of the parish lay on a fantastic spread—I feel I must single out Janet’s baking for special praise—and I was only too glad to stock up on sausage rolls and cupcakes to see me through an afternoon teaching session at the University of the West of Scotland.

Although the students were right at the end of their studies and have rightly earned the joy of the soon-to-be demobbed, they proved a gracious and attentive audience—or as attentive as you can be to the last speaker on a hot afternoon in Paisley. Did I mention the weather?

Right, this laptop keyboard is beginning to be too hot to handle. I shall have to take it indoors before we enter meltdown territory.

I’ll make myself a quick sandwich before heading out to meet a family in a sheltered housing complex to arrange a funeral. I just know the central heating will be on full bung.

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