June 8 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


The Christ-like sacrifice of police officers

Weddings, safety concerns and a few feathered friends feature in this week’s THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS. — By FR JOHN BOLLAN

I’m not writing this in the garden. Our glorious summer is having a day off, leaving the Bow under a thick mantle of cloud. The humidity is crazy and the ‘midgies’ are loving it. Were I to attempt a spot of al fresco writing, like last week, I would be eaten alive in no time. Instead I’m tapping away indoors, while Sandra is fanning me with last week’s Scottish Catholic Observer.

Last week was a strange one. The hospital phone troubled me only once—a personal record: I hope it’s as quiet for my successor on the rota.

The first public meeting as part of the post-synodal process passed off without incident. Although it was mostly about giving information, there is always the possibility that things will kick off when change comes knocking at your door. Next door is fine.

However, the process is about making all things new, not making all things nice. I’m sure there will be some difficult—and perhaps heated—conversations ahead.

A decision was made, wise in my opinion, to structure these discussions around the high school catchment areas and have the meetings in the schools themselves. As I have pointed out before, these schools are ready-made villages of young Catholics and if we don’t have a plan for them, we have no plan at all. It also helps that schools are neutral ground. If meetings were held in parishes, there would inevitably be questions asked about ‘why that one?’—is that because it’s ‘safe,’ or maybe because it’s under threat?

The meeting was held in the hall, which doubles as a theatre for school shows and assemblies. I’m not sure if it was unintentional or deliberate, but the only seating was the banked seating at the back of the hall. This meant there was a good 50 feet between the moderator’s podium and the first row of participants. If nothing else, it served to create an authentic experience of ‘Church,’ especially from the celebrant’s perspective. I’ve often thought the salutation ‘hello at the back’ should be added to the optional greetings at Mass.

One good thing to emerge from the feast of data which was set before us, is that Inverclyde is the most Catholic bit of the diocese, with the highest proportion of practising Catholics to boot. I admit I was a bit surprised by that, thinking that our suburban parishes might enjoy that distinction.

While we have the highest Mass going population, it’s very apparent that we have what might be described as an ‘overprovision’ of Masses at more or less the same time in what is quite a small geographical area. Following on from last year’s experiment, the Greenock parishes are implementing a pared-back summer Mass schedule. It seems likely that some of the changes will continue after the summer period.

A wedding took place yesterday. This is somewhat unusual for a Sunday: indeed, I can picture clerical eyebrows being raised at this incursion on the Lord’s Day. Of course, there’s nothing to say you can’t have a wedding on the Sabbath, it’s just that most parishes have busy enough without the added ‘burden’ of a wedding. It so happens that we are not snowed under with weddings and, if someone asks for a church wedding, then I would rather say ‘yes’ to them than have them go for a function suite in a hotel.

As it turned out, it was a lovely occasion: with a Scottish bride and an English groom. The guests from south of the border were clearly caught out by the balmy Greenockian climate. Parkas and pacamacs were cast aside with abandon and everyone was caught up in connubial joy.

I’m glad it was a nice day for our visitors, because the parish has had a little adverse publicity of late. Last Friday we were all over the news—both local and national—because of an incident in which two police officers were stabbed. It was strange seeing a crime scene only a few hundred yards from the chapel house.

Although I paint a whimsical picture of life in the Bow in this column, there are times when things can get a little hairy. The vast majority of the people in this area are decent and community-spirited, but there are some areas in which drug addiction and criminality are deeply entrenched.

And that’s the problem: those under the influence of drugs are seldom in control of their actions. I’ve been threatened a couple of times while walking around the parish and it can leave you feeling pretty shaken, let me tell you.

Chapel houses are quite vulnerable places, especially as we mostly live on our own. Alongside the nuisance of the locals taking a shortcut through the garden and car park to sneak onto the golf course for an illicit round, there can be other more belligerent callers at the door.

The installation of CCTV has provided at least a layer of security, but it’s only a matter of time before one of them asks if my recording policy is GDPR compliant and threatens to sue me. That would make a change, however, from some of the things they’ve threaten to do to me.

Thankfully, we have very good community police officers who maintain good relations with schools and other organisations: if I ever get hassle, then they are quick to help. I have a panic button upstairs in the house which is, I think, linked to the police station. Thankfully, I’ve only had to use it once, when I ran out of tonic water. The response team was very sympathetic as they pointed out that my issue wasn’t the sort of emergency they covered.

Seriously, though, last week’s stabbing brought us a renewed appreciation of the risks taken by our emergency services in the line of duty. Just over two months ago, we witnessed the tremendous sacrifice of that French police officer, Arnaud Beltrame, who traded himself with a hostage seized during a terror attack. As has been rightly noted, there was something distinctly Christ-like in his sacrifice.

We have been praying this weekend for those injured in Friday’s attack: fittingly so, since the law of love enshrined in the New Covenant, as we celebrated in the feast of Corpus Christi, is always about self-offering and surrender.

I have lodgers just now. Not in the house, but near enough. A family of jackdaws has found a gap in the eaves and, either singlehandedly or with the help of local magpie contractors, have loosened part of the fascia for the purposes of nest-building. The loosened section came crashing down last week, exposing the edge of the nest, but the weans are tucked in out of sight.

The parents are on the go all day, darting back and forth in an attempt to satisfy the chicks’ seemingly insatiable—and noisy —appetite. What I call ‘the hunger chorus’ begins long before sunrise, just outside my bedroom window.

Attentive readers may recall that I had a plastic bag caught in the branches of a tree in exactly the same spot. There it fluttered, for months.

I’m not sure if it was annoying the birds as well, because it seems to have been pecked free. Sadly, my relief was only short-lived, thanks to the ravenous nestlings.

Once they are fledged, I’ll have to dispatch Raymond the handyman to repair the avian vandalism. Although I find the idea of birds nesting ‘near the altar’ (Psalm 84:3) pleasing on an intellectual and spiritual level, I don’t want the word to get round that St Joseph’s is prime real estate for our feathered   friends.

As well as threatening the physical integrity of the house, the incessant cries for food are rubbing off on me: I’m snacking in sympathy with them and it needs to stop.

I’m not ready to embrace the elasticated waist. At least, not yet.


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