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FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 24th JUNE – 1st JULY
It’s wonderful these days to be blessed with beautiful weather and there is no doubt that the sunshine lifts people’s spirits, and that’s a good thing. Having said that, I have to confess to being one of those unfortunates who, with vampire-like tendencies, has to avoid the sun at all costs, otherwise I will perish. A sunshine holiday would be a nightmare as, even here in Scotland, I splash on the 50+ children’s sun protection, and have to wear floppy hats with crystals in the rim to keep the rays of the sun away from the top of my rather bald head.
These precautions have been learned from bitter experience. My first ever trip abroad was when I was 18 years of age. Our curate in Drumchapel brought a group of us in a mini-bus across the channel and down through France where we stopped in various places and eventually ended up in Lourdes for a short pilgrimage. From there we travelled over the Pyrenees into Spain, to a camp site in Lloret de Mar, where we intended to spend a week before making the homeward journey. On the first day, after pitching our tents, we headed down to the beach. The sky was overcast so there didn’t look too much to worry about. However, that night, I found myself tossing and turning in my sleeping bag, unable to lie on my back, and eventually going to sit in the mini-bus. In the morning I discovered that my back was burnt and covered in blisters, the worst of which were on my shoulders and the size of golf balls. I spent the next three days only coming out at night until a group of Irish nurses, staying in the same camp site, heard of my plight and cured me by agonisingly rubbing gallons of vinegar into my back and shoulders which, despite the pain, did the trick.
My next experience was on the Isle of Barra where I went on holiday with friends for about six years running, meeting up with another friend who was teaching on the island. For most of those years the sun wasn’t something we had to worry about too much, except for one year, when the temperatures soared into the 80’s, and I got too much sun on the top of my head, suffering serious sun stroke in the process, with all the headaches, dizziness, light-headedness, cramps and nausea that go with it; certainly not a pleasant experience.
You would think that by then I had learned my lesson, but no, some years later I was on holiday on Achill Island, on the west coast of Ireland. One of the many beautiful bays there is called Keem Bay, famous for its basking sharks, and on a scorching sunny day I went for a gentle dip in the water. I’m not much of a swimmer so I didn’t stay in long. I went back to a sheltered area of the bay and covered every part of my body to sit awhile and read – every part except for my feet. This resulted in the most agonizing sunburn ever. My feet swelled up and there wasn’t much the local doctor could do. I ended up driving back to Dublin in flip-flops, from where I was due to fly home to Glasgow for my second week’s holiday. Still in my flip-flops I made it back to Drumchapel. Over the week a kindly cousin, who was a nurse, came in and tended to me each day. Even so, I was still wearing my flip-flops when, after the week at home, I travelled to Trosly in France where I had to meet with the wonderful and saintly Jean Vanier on behalf of a handicapped association I was involved with. It was an encounter I will never forget but it would have been better without the burnt feet. Hopefully the lessons have all been learned, at last, and I have finally got some sense.
The log will be taking a break now for July and August so that I can give my brain a rest – and enjoy the sunshine! Here are words from scripture, spoken to John the Baptist by his father, in praise of Christ, the Rising Sun: And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most-High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the Rising Sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 17th – 24th JUNE
This week began with the 35th anniversary of my ordination, which took place in St. Mungo’s on 18th June, 1983, and ends with my 67th birthday, which takes place on 24th June, the Feast of St. John the Baptist. When John the Baptist was born there was some bewilderment in the family as to why he was being called John, as no one else in the family had ever been called by that name. Of course, the reason was that the name had been given him by God, and there was no arguing with that.
When I was born on 24th June 1951, there might have been an excuse for wondering why I wasn’t called John, seeing as how it was the feast of the birth of one of the church’s greatest saints. Two of my best friends share the same birthday with me and both were named, and baptized John – well, Sean to be exact, but still named after the forerunner of Jesus. My family, however, followed the logic of John the Baptist’s family, and I was named Francis, after my father. My father was well over six feet tall and as skinny as a rake, whereas I never grew taller than five foot, seven inches and, beyond childhood years, skinny has never been a word that would describe me. We came to be referred to as big Frank and wee Frank until he passed away in 1960, when I was just eight years of age.
There are a number of Francis’s in the church’s calendar of saints but, as well as being named after my father, I was very definitely named after St. Francis of Assisi to whom there was great devotion in the family. I’m very happy to be named after Francis of Assisi as I have always been enamoured by his story, his simplicity, and his child-like spirit. I have visited Assisi a number of times and, while there are the magnificent Basilicas of St. Francis and St. Clare, I have always preferred walking down the hill in the early morning to the outskirts of the town and the little church of San Damiano, where there was the San Damiano cross from which Jesus reputedly spoke to Francis and asked him to restore His church. I have a copy of this cross hanging in my room. There is only a replica of the cross there now, the original being in the Basilica of St. Clare, Francis’s soul mate. San Damiano in fact became the first convent of St. Clare. I also loved climbing up the mountain to the Carceri where Francis used to go to spend long periods in solitude and contemplation. Another place I liked to visit was the Cathedral of San Ruffino in Assisi where the Passionist, St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, was baptized in 1838. He was named and baptized Francis.
These are just a few of the wonderful places to visit in and around Assisi, and, when I think about it, I can find some hope in my sadness of last week when, for a second time in 4 years, the Glasgow School of Art was ravaged by fire, to remember the times when the Basilica of St. Francis has been severely damaged by earthquakes and each time it was somehow restored to its former magnificence. Maybe a prayer for the intercession of St. Francis would not go amiss in the hope that the School of Art can be restored to former glory as well.
I started by saying that my week began with my anniversary of ordination and ended in my birthday, but it might be truer to say that my week began with Father’s Day on 17th June. Father Lawrence; Father Justinian; Father Gareth and myself, were charmed and humbled by those who handed in cards and goodies to us for Father’s Day. It was a lovely gesture and much appreciated. Let’s close with the Peace Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 10th – 17th JUNE
Recently I welcomed visitors from Ireland and, as we were still enjoying that blessed period of beautiful weather, we took a train journey to Largs for the day. The train wasn’t too crowded so it was a very relaxing trip, lasting just under an hour, during which I filled in some details for my friends of what I knew about the various stops along the way.
When we got to Saltcoats I got rather nostalgic as this was the holiday destination for the Keevins family throughout nearly all of my childhood years. I can remember the excitement when the period of the Glasgow Fair was getting nearer and the cases started being packed. Usually on Fair Saturday we would splash out on a taxi to bring us from Partick to St. Enoch’s Station where the steam train was waiting, belching out smoke, and the smells, the noises and the bustle of the station would increase our excitement. For those who are familiar with J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, it was the nearest thing I can imagine to getting on the Hogwarts Express and heading off for an incredible adventure. We would climb aboard; father, mother and the three boys, find a carriage, and think that the time was never going to pass until the guard would close the doors, blow his whistle, and we would be on our way.
We would always stay in the same boarding house. The family that owned it had a huge Dalmatian which we called “spotty dog” and we would be looking forward so much to seeing it again and getting an excited waggly tail and slabbery tongue welcome. I’m sure the dog had a name but I couldn’t tell you what it was, to us it was just “spotty dog”. We would be on the beach every day, even when it was cold and windy, making sand castles and running in and out of the sea – none of us could swim. When I look back at the old photographs, in most of them we look frozen and windswept, but also happy and smiling. Even after our father died, while we were still young, we made the same trip with our mother, and there is always a poignancy in looking back at photographs where there were two parents, and then only one.
I can remember a bridge over the railway tracks and going through a period of trainspotting. I would stand on the bridge with my pencil and my jotter, waiting for the trains to pass underneath, and trying to jot down the number on the engine as it sped past. I can also remember the fish and chip shop near the boarding house from which, every night, we would bring back a carry-out of chips and a bowl of peas and vinegar. Heaven couldn’t be better. All too soon it would be time to return home again. After a while the memory would fade, until the Glasgow Fair came around once again, and we would start all over.
I left all that behind as I arrived with my visitors in Largs. I said to them later that I didn’t think anyone had ever taken longer to walk the short distance from the train station to the seafront as, before we caught sight of the water, we had stopped at just about every shop along the way where they bought sandals; coffee and cake; suntan lotion; a hat; a book, and fancy tissue paper. Once we did arrive at the seafront they were very impressed with the promenade. We sat for a while watching the ferry cross to and from Millport and then had a lovely stroll to the little lake at the end of the prom where men were sailing model yachts. We strolled back and of course had to have ice cream cones from Nardini’s, to which the seagulls also took a notion, but they didn’t bother us too much. There was more shopping before we got back to the train; two more pairs of sandals, quite a few golfing shirts, and I can’t remember what else. The serious shopping was still to come in Glasgow the following day, when I would mostly leave them to it, but, all in all, it was a really lovely day out.
It’s so important, from time to time, just to get away from the normal grind, and even a few hours away, at a different location, moving at a gentler pace, breathing fresher air, enjoying the smell and feel of the sea, can make such a difference. Jesus said to his disciples, `Come away with me. Let us go alone to a quiet place and rest for a while’. How wise he was.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 27th MAY – 3rd JUNE
I spent the first four days of last week at our Passionist Retreat Centre at Crossgar, County Down, in Northern Ireland. The occasion was an assembly of our Passionist Province of St. Patrick, which includes Ireland, Scotland and, believe it or not Paris, France, where we run a parish for English speaking Catholics living in Paris. These could be Irish, Scottish, English, American, Sri Lankan, Filipino, just to name a few. The parish church, St. Joseph’s in Avenue Hoche, was in fact the place where Oscar Wilde was received into the church at the end of his life by the Passionist, Father Cuthbert Dunne CP. It was also the church recalled by the actor, Martin Sheen, of West Wing fame, where he knocked on the door asking for Confession as part of the journey that brought him back to the practice of his Catholic faith.
The reason for this assembly was that we had reached the halfway point between our last Provincial Chapter and the next. From 20-24 June 2016, we had gathered at Mount St Anne’s Retreat Centre in County Laois, Ireland, to review our life and mission. Our next Provincial Chapter will be in June 2020. At that previous Chapter, Father Jim Sweeney CP was elected as our first ever Scottish Provincial Superior, although his roots are in Falcarragh, County Donegal. He was ordained in St Mungo’s in December 1968. After the Chapter, Father Jim and his Council appointed Father Gareth and myself to St. Mungo’s, and later also appointed Brother Antony. At the assembly our intention was to look back on the priorities the Chapter had set and to review how they were being progressed.
At the time of the 2016 Provincial Chapter, one of my roles in the Province was as Provincial Bursar, in other words holding the purse strings. I had held this role since 2008. I think I fell into this role because I used to be an accountant, but it was such a totally different financial world back in the 1970’s to what it is now in the 2010’s, that my previous experience didn’t really help me a great deal; so, I think that my biggest asset was in being able to count without using my fingers and toes.
Being Provincial Bursar meant that I had to give a financial report to the Chapter, which I did on the very day of the Brexit vote. As part of my report I reflected that the two big unknowns moving forward were the outcome of the Brexit vote and its consequences, and also the outcome and consequences of the pending Presidential Election in the United States of America the following November. With swaggering confidence, I assured the Chapter members that Brexit would be a No vote, and that the American people would not elect Donald Trump as president. When I awoke on the final day of the Chapter, which also happened to be my birthday, I was in a state of shock to discover that there was a Yes vote to Brexit, and that shock would be compounded five months later when the American people did in fact elect Donald Trump. Perhaps even more surprising, I was reappointed as Provincial Bursar, a little bit like Simon Peter being told “you’re still the rock”. I had no financial report to give to the Assembly last week but I did give a report on how things were going in Scotland and Brother Antony gave a report on his work at the City of Glasgow College.
These gatherings have become important over the years from the point of view of meeting each other fraternally. There was a time when we had more religious and more houses and we would be moving around and meeting each other a lot more often. Now, as we have got older and fewer, we don’t see each other so much, and so these gatherings, as well as being vital from the perspective of reviewing our mission and planning forward, are now also vital from the perspective fraternity and friendship, joy and laughter, and with a healthy dose of nostalgia thrown in.
As a Provincial Bursar I always liked this stewardship prayer from St. Ignatius Loyola:
Oh Lord, giver of life and source of our freedom, we are reminded that Yours is “the
earth in its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.” We know that it is from your
hand that we have received all we have and are and will be. Gracious and loving God,
we understand that you call us to be the stewards of Your abundance, the caretakers of
all you have entrusted to us. Help us always to use your gifts wisely and teach us to
share them generously. May our faithful stewardship bear witness to the love of Christ
in our lives. We pray this with grateful hearts in Jesus’ name. Amen.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 20th – 27th MAY
Last Friday, at the invitation of Father Gareth, who is a massive rugby fan, Brother Antony and myself accompanied him to the Scotstoun Stadium, which had upped its capacity to 10,000 for the night, to see the Glasgow Warriors take on the (Llanelli) Scarlets in the semi-final of the prestigious pro-14 tournament. The last time I had gone to a rugby match was in Dublin in 2015 when two parishioners brought me along to see the Glasgow Warriors play Leinster in what was then the pro-12 tournament, before two South African teams were added to make it the pro-14. It was a remarkable match that night with Glasgow running riot in the first half to lead 25-7; and then Leinster doing exactly the reverse in the second half so that the match ended 32-32. The Warriors actually won the tournament that year, beating Ulster in the final.
So, after closing the church on Friday evening, the three amigos walked into town to get the train from Queen Street to Scotstounhill. The train was naturally full of rugby fans going to the match but we managed to get seats more or less next to each other. Father Gareth sat beside a man from West Lothian who was clearly a fanatical rugby fan who claimed to support both Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh, and to follow them both wherever they went. We could believe it as he never paused for breath, talking rugby, throughout the whole journey, although Father Gareth seemed to hold his own quite well. At one stage our friend said to me that I must remember Captain Mike Gibson and Willie John McBride, who were top Irish players in the 1960’s, so it seemed both that he wrongly guessed I was Irish, but rightly guessed my age pretty accurately. Meanwhile Brother Antony was pretending to be asleep to escape the onslaught. When we got off the train Father Gareth was beginning to panic that this man would stick to him like glue for the rest of the night, so he made the most unsubtle excuse imaginable to take Brother Antony and I in another direction and bade his farewells.
When we reached the stadium Brother Antony and I wanted something to eat. The smallest queue was at the fish and chip stall so Father Gareth gave us our tickets and said he would meet us at our seats in the West Stand. After eating our chips, which were very nice, we meandered past the very, very lengthy queue for the bar and began to climb the steps of the West Stand, only to see Father Gareth reclining back in his seat with a nice drink in his hand and basking in the lovely evening sunshine. Somehow, and this will be no surprise to anyone who knows him, he had charmed his way past the stewards to get into the main stand where he was able to avoid the portaloos and the bar queue, and then saunter back at leisure to his place in the stand and wait for us, grinning broadly.
As to the match itself, the Warriors were terrible. They were playing towards our end in the first half and we hardly saw them as Scarlets ran up a big first half lead. Brother Antony and I had started out not really bothering who won, until we found our ears being assaulted by a very noisy Welshman behind us who shouted, screamed, roared, and murdered Bread of Heaven and Land of Our Fathers throughout, and we began to pray the Warriors would win just to shut him up. In the second half, with Scarlets now playing towards us, Father Gareth said “I bet you we hardly see them up this end at all”, and he was right. Warriors played a bit better but never enough to get back into the game.
All in all, we enjoyed the night and we were happy for Father Gareth, and now he is looking forward to finding somewhere to watch Scarlets play Leinster in the final this Saturday. As we left the ground, Brother Antony and I congratulated him and said to each other, “So long as Celtic win the cup tomorrow”, which of course we did. On the train going back I was reminded of my age again when a couple took pains to make sure I got a seat and then sympathised with me as I searched my pockets again and again for my train ticket, which I never found, and so, I was grateful for a kindly guard back at Queen Street who let me through no problem. Thanks for a great night Father Gareth – I think!
Here is the first verse of Bread of Heaven, one of the Welsh anthems, and a beautiful hymn when it’s not being murdered by a noisy, and rather the worse for wear, Scarlets supporter:
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land; I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand: bread of heaven, bread of heaven; feed me till I want no more; feed me till I want no more.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 13th – 20th MAY
Very soon I will need to seek out a good optician and get tested for new glasses. I usually do this every two years but I think with the move from Dublin to Glasgow it has been much longer than that. I have very bad eyesight which I first discovered when I started at St. Peter’s Primary School in Partick back in 1956. My teacher put something up on the board and I couldn’t see it so I was sent for an eye test. As well as having bad eyesight I also had a lazy eye and had to wear a pink eye patch over my right eye for quite some time. It didn’t achieve a whole lot as my left eye remains very weak. Ever since then I have worn glasses, and such is my prescription that my lenses have to be specially made. The optician usually has to shop around to find somewhere that will make them. Throughout the time I lived in Dublin my lenses had to come at times from Germany, at other times from England, and always took weeks after the test before I would get them.
Even choosing a frame creates a problem for me. After my eye test the optician would send me next door to his assistant to choose a frame. My choice would be whittled down right away as only certain shapes and sizes of frame would take my lenses, and then I would have to ask the assistant to tell me which of the appropriate frames suited me as putting on a frame with no lenses meant I had to screw up my eyes to look in the mirror and so I wouldn’t really get the best sense of how it looked.
I had wondered for a time if my eyesight might prevent me from driving. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about not being able to ride a bike when I first joined the Passionists; well, neither could I drive. There had never been a car in the family growing up and so none of us ever learned to drive. It was only when I went to the Novitiate in 1979 that I took my first lessons and thankfully, before the novitiate was over, I had passed my test. I remember that the part I dreaded most was being asked to read the number plate of a car so many yards in front of me. When I arrived at the test centre, in a place called the Flying Horse in County Down, there were only two cars in the vicinity and I committed the number plates to memory. But thankfully, when asked, I was able to read them anyway, thanks to the gift of glasses. Over the years, with developing technology, my lenses have gone from being very thick and heavy glass, to very light and much thinner plastic – wonderful.
Being an avid reader, I would hate to lose my sight. Friends of mine, two sisters, tell the story of how, just after their grandparents got engaged, their grandfather was in an accident and lost his sight, and he said to his fiancé that he would understand if she wanted to call off the wedding, so she went off and had a think and a pray, and then came back and said no, I loved you before you lost your sight and I love you now, we’re going to get married, and so they did, and it turned out to be a long and happy marriage. The two sisters loved to speak of how their grandfather taught them to appreciate the gift of touch, and of how he loved to trace the features of their face with his hand, so as to “see” them in his own way. So, perhaps one gift is compensated by another.
I am reminded of another story, a parable really, of a relationship in which the man was sighted and the woman was blind. The man wanted to get married because he loved the woman very much, but the woman wouldn’t marry him because she was blind and she couldn’t accept it, it damaged her sense of self-worth. Sometime later she got the chance of an eye transplant and she underwent the surgery and she got her sight back again. She sought out the man who had proposed to her but was shocked to discover that he had now gone blind, and she said that she couldn’t marry him now because he was blind. The man accepted this graciously, but a little while later he wrote her a letter to wish her well, and he said please take care of those eyes, they once belonged to me, and she realised that out of his great love for her, he had given his eyes that she might see, and so now she received another gift of sight – a gift of insight, into love, even greater than the first gift.
Jesus said to Paul, 'I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of Me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.' (Acts 26:16-18)
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 6th – 13th MAY
I was drawn to an item recently on the STV evening news about an event taking place in Clydebank Town Hall called the Singers Stories Festival. It was the first such event to take place and teams of volunteers had gone around to collect personal stories about Singer sewing machines and about life in the Singer factory in Clydebank, from people who had worked in what was once the largest sewing machine factory in the world. It opened in the 1880’s and closed in 1980, employing up to 16,000 people, and the reason I was drawn to this item was that I myself had worked in Singers for a short time after leaving St. Mungo’s Academy. I had at that stage decided to pursue a career in accountancy and I was lucky to get a job as a costing assistant in Singers which permitted me day release to pursue my studies in what was then called the Institute of Cost and Works Accountancy (ICWA). This was in 1969 but then, unfortunately, I was made redundant from Singers in 1970.
It was a good job at the time because I could walk to and from work each day from Drumchapel where I lived and save money on bus fares. The department I worked in was called High Volume Cost which had to do with the costing of smaller items that were used in high quantities, like screws, in the making of the machines. I had very long hair at the time because I was playing in a folk band and my boss, a good Orangeman called Archie, would tease me endlessly about my hair, and about my being a Catholic and a Celtic supporter, but in truth I believe he liked me and was never anything but extremely kind and encouraging to me and, when I was made redundant on a last-in, first-out basis, he was very sympathetic.
Of course, just because I worked in Singers, doesn’t mean I know the first thing about sewing or about sewing machines, a fact that could sometimes be lost on some very good friends in Dublin who were obsessively into sewing and into textile art, quilt-making, book-making and the like, and who did wonderful and creative work for us in Mount Argus Church. When they would start to talk about these and related things, though, they just couldn’t help themselves until, after regaling me for ages with the intricacies of Mola and Hawaiian Applique, would suddenly notice that my eyes had begun to glaze over and decide it was time to stop.
The quilt-making was used to good effect when, occasionally for Good Friday, we would make a blanket of pain. This consisted of people throughout Lent handing in pieces of fabric that represented some difficult experience in their lives, especially in the year gone by, and these pieces of fabric would then be woven together to form a kind of patchwork quilt that was carried up on Good Friday and placed near to the Cross, linking our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ. Whenever we did this it was always very moving, and when this idea was first put to me I was informed that Native American Indians were deemed to be the best quilt makers in the world, and that often the memories of a tribe would be woven into their beautiful and colourful quilts, which were then used in their religious ceremonies. Every quilt however, by design, had to have some flaw. They could easily have produced the perfect quilt, but they went out of their way to introduce a flaw because, since for them the quilt was a representation of human life and the human condition and, since no human life is perfect; every human life is flawed; it was deemed important that the quilt should reflect this. At the time that struck me as very beautiful, very powerful, and very true.
By the way, I went on to resume my accountancy studies with Olivetti in Queenslie, and I know absolutely nothing about typing (except with two fingers) or typewriters either. Here is a traditional American Indian Prayer that seems to mirror St. Patrick’s Breastplate:
As I walk, as I walk, the universe is walking with me. In beauty it walks before me. In beauty it walks behind me. In beauty it walks below me. In beauty it walks above me. Beauty is on every side. As I walk, I walk with Beauty.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 29th APRIL – 6th MAY
When the weather took a turn for the better during last week Brother Antony decided to cycle into the Church, taking the Kirkintilloch/Springburn Road on the way in, and coming back via the Forth and Clyde Canal. He did invite me to join him but I declined as cycling has never been something I enjoyed. In fact, when I first joined the Passionists in 1975, at the age of 24, I am embarrassed to say that I couldn’t even ride a bike. The only bike I had ever
ridden prior to that was a three-wheeler at a very young and tender age.
My first year as a Passionist, the Postulancy year, was spent at the Graan in Enniskillen, and I was informed that, when I would go to Mount Argus in Dublin for studies the following year, I would need to be able to ride a bike, as that was the only means of transport that was
available to the students, apart from Shanks’s Pony, and it would be far too far to walk the road to the college on a regular basis. And so, I was given a big black bike with no gears and began, in the little free time that was available to us, to practice cycling around the country roads of County Fermanagh. After a very shaky start I eventually managed to get proficient enough so as not to dread too much what lay in store in Dublin. It was only as the Postulancy year drew to a close that the rector of the Graan told me how much I had been entertaining the local farmers and their families in my early attempts, when it seemed that the only way I knew how to stop the bike was by crashing into the nearest dry-stone wall, a few of which I then toppled over, head first.
Of course, cycling around the country roads of County Fermanagh was a very different
prospect from cycling along the manic roads of Dublin. When I arrived at Mount Argus there were twenty-one of us on the student corridor. Many possessed their own bikes, with multiple gears, but I was given one of the bikes I mentioned a few weeks ago that came out of the lost or stolen property store of the Irish Police. It resembled a great deal the one I had in
Enniskillen. Around that time there had been a popular science-fiction film out called
Rollerball, starring James Caan. Rollerball was a violent sport in which two teams clad in body armour roller skated around a banked, circular track, a bit like a velodrome. The object of the game was to score points by throwing a steel ball into a goal. The skaters however had unbridled leeway to attack and barge the opposing players so as to take possession of the ball, and the Passionist students at Mount Argus, inspired by this, had adopted this method on the daily cycle to college. This generally meant that whenever we were stopped at traffic lights, and the twenty-one bikes were lined up like Formula One racing drivers, ready to launch off when the lights changed to green, they would begin to barge one another and try to knock each other off their bikes so as to get ahead of the pack. I know, as I write this, that Brother
Antony would have loved it as there is nothing he likes better than a bit of danger. After my first few experiences of this, and still not being a confident cyclist, I adopted the method of hanging back and accepting the ignominy of being the last in college every day.
Once my student days were over I didn’t cycle very much, although, during my studies in
Italy, I was taken by a cycling mad Passionist to a place about 40 miles north of Milan, on top of a steep hill that climbs up from the shores of Lake Como, to the Church of Madonna del Ghisallo. Over many years this church had become an established stopping point for cycling
enthusiasts and, in 1949, Pope Pius XII recognised the cycling community's adoption of this little church and gave Madonna del Ghisallo the title of Patron Saint of Cycling. The Church is now a bike lover's paradise, its walls absolutely covered with cycling paraphernalia, much of it donated by professional cyclists who made a pilgrimage to worship at the Shrine after
winning a race, or to pray for some special intention. There is also a museum close by that
collects and displays artefacts from cycling history. The cycle up to that church nearly killed me and I pray to Madonna del Ghisallo regularly that I will never, ever, get on a bike again.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 22nd – 29th APRIL
As you know, I’m always looking out for what’s on at Kelvingrove, and I notice that this week there is a Let Glasgow Flourish Exhibition celebrating 30 years since the National Garden Festival took place in Glasgow in 1988. I was based in Mount Argus in Dublin at the time as Director of Passionist Postulants, but I came home for my annual holiday in July of that year and still retain two memories from the festival.
The first was that 1988 was the centenary of the founding of Glasgow Celtic Football Club, and that there was a huge floral display representing the original Celtic Crest. Given that the festival was taking place on the Clyde at Govan it was a brave and ambitious project. Earlier in the year I had brought the postulants over to St. Mungo’s for a break after Easter, and at the end of Easter Week two of them joined me at Hampden Park to watch Celtic in the
Scottish Cup Semi-Final against Hearts, when Celtic came back from a goal down to win 2-1, both goals being scored in the last two minutes of the match. Celtic went on to win the cup, again coming back from a goal down to beat Dundee United 2-1 in the final, adding the cup to the league title, in the centenary year, under the stewardship of Caesar, Billy McNeill.
My second memory of the Garden Festival is of meeting up with my niece, Lisa, a young teenager at the time, for the sole purpose of going for a ride on the giant Coca-Cola roller coaster. I was 37 years of age and utterly terrified, and I can still feel my stomach lurch at the initial drop at the start of the ride. My feeling of relief when the roller coaster came to a stop was short lived as Lisa, whooping with delight, insisted on doing it all over again.
Thinking of the roller coaster takes me back once again to my childhood years, when I was an altar server at St. Simon’s in Partick. We had three great priests, each very different, Father Robertson; Father MacFadden and Father Kelly; and I loved being an altar server. Whenever there was a wedding in the church, any donation given by the couple to the servers had to be handed in, as did the little stipend we used to get for cleaning the church brasses, which we did regularly in a room in the chapel house. This money was then pooled together for an altar-servers outing to the circus and carnival at the Kelvin Hall around Christmas time. We would go to the circus first, and I can still remember, before we became educated about animal rights, the roar of the lions, the bareback horse riders, and even an elephant walking a tightrope; I can also still picture the clowns, and marvel at the acrobats and the trapeze artists.
When the circus was over we were given some money to spend on the rest of the shows. We would go on the Waltzers; the Cyclone; and the Wall of Death. We would ride the Dodgems and the Carousel; we would laugh ourselves silly in the Hall of Mirrors; and scare ourselves silly on the Ghost Train; we would stuff our faces with candy-floss, and try our hand at the stalls, ending up with the inevitable goldfish, that didn’t delight our parents one bit. We were very innocent and it was just a wonderful night – always! We couldn’t wait for the following Christmas to come around so as to do it all again. Nowadays we take the altar servers to the panto and eat ice-cream, which is also very enjoyable, but not quite as exciting.
Getting back to the Garden Festival, there was a sense of regret for a time when the massive area was dismantled and let go to ruin, but now we can be proud to see the Banks of the Clyde alive again with the likes of the Science Centre; the Riverside Museum; the Tall Ship; the headquarters of STV and BBC Scotland, the marvellous bridges, especially the Squinty Bridge; the SECC; the Armadillo and the Hydro – but where’s the roller-coaster?
As 1st of May is very close it seems appropriate to end with these few lines: Bring flowers of the rarest; bring blossoms the fairest, from garden and woodland and hillside and dale; our full hearts are swelling, our glad voices telling, the praise of the loveliest flower of the vale!
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 15th – 22nd APRIL
After the evening Mass last Sunday someone said to me, “I love reading your Log, especially when it’s about Father Gareth.” I don’t know what it is about Father Gareth that so many people love, but certainly he is a unique individual and it’s great to have him on the team. So, to keep at least one reader happy. I am going to begin by thanking Father Gareth for keeping going throughout most of Lent and into Easter when, clearly, he wasn’t feeling all that well.
What seemed to be a long-lingering cold turned out in fact to be the flu. For much of the time he had no energy and no voice but, apart from the odd day, when he knew he just had to go to bed, he continued to celebrate Masses; hear Confessions, take part in our Lenten Taize,
Tenebrae and Reconciliation Services; represent us at the Chrism Mass in the Cathedral on Holy Thursday; and make his inimitable contribution to the Easter Triduum Services.
Most mornings during that time, when we were having breakfast together in the Passionist Community out at Bishopbriggs, Father Gareth would appear down for Morning Prayer and we would all ask, “Well, how are you today?” Invariably his answer was, “Great lads, great, never felt better in my life”, when obviously he wasn’t well at all, seeing as how he croaked, rather than spoke his response. He even had to endure a few weeks of not being able to go swimming, which is something he loves to do every day. Father Gareth is a great man for
recommending all kinds of remedies for various ailments and conditions to other people, sure fire cures; he would have made a great medicine man in the Wild West, touring around in a covered wagon peddling miracle remedies in a broad Welsh accent; so he took a bit of teasing as to why all these cures weren’t working for him.
And of course, given the fondness in which he is held, other people, wanting to care for him, were giving him certain cures as well. Just last week someone gave him menthol crystals to clear his sinuses. This resulted in a community exercise as we all took it in turn to pull the towel over our heads and breath in the solution. Father Gareth had, of course, put in far too many crystals, thereby nearly blowing all our heads off, and the smell of the menthol, like the costly nard used by Mary to anoint the feet of Jesus, filled the whole house.
I remembered as a child often pulling the towel over my head and breathing in menthol as I was prone to whooping cough, and I have to confess that I always enjoyed the experience, just as now I can enjoy the feeling of putting too much hot mustard on a sandwich, or too much horseradish sauce on beef, and getting that burning sensation passing through my nose to the top of my head. This led to a discussion on other childhood remedies which, for me, were the regular spoonful of malt; rosehip syrup; cod liver oil; and syrup of figs. I’m not quite sure what all of these things were curing or preventing but they were, I think, a
continuance of war time practices making up for what was lacking in people’s diets.
Of course, there were childhood treats as well as childhood remedies that wouldn’t have been there in war time. At the bottom of my grannie’s close in Partick Bridge Street there was a shop run by a lady called Madge Cockburn. In Madge’s shop you could experience the joy of a penny-drink which was a big glass of irn-bru; cream soda, or red cola. Also for a penny you could get a selection of things like sticks of liquorice; gobstoppers, humbugs; sherbet lollies, swizzels and the like. I’m sure Father Gareth would have enjoyed all of them, although what they were doing to our teeth and how they would have avoided the sugar tax I don’t know.
Anyway, it’s great to have Father Gareth back to himself; back to swimming, and even last night, back to making truffles which taste sweeter than any of the afore mentioned delights.
Thanks to all who had a care for Father Gareth. I am reminded of these words from the
Letter to the Hebrews: “Let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works”.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 8th – 15th APRIL
The question on everyone’s lips is not: “When is Father Frank’s Log returning?” but “When are we going to get some decent weather?” I had friends over from Dublin last week and of course when friends come you want some decent weather to show them around. It is, after all, officially summer time, seeing as how the clocks went forward at the end of March. It was, however, during the days that they were here, more like the middle of winter.
My great standby for visitors is always the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and this time around they had an exhibition to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of the wonderful Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I love going to Kelvingrove as I grew up very close to it, and it was so much a part of my childhood to visit the museum and marvel at the sheer scope of the exhibits. I also love the new refurbishment, and if you have ever seen the famous floating heads in the foyer, then you may be interested to know that my friends are convinced that I was the model for them. I do have to admit that one or two of them look quite like me.
The Mackintosh exhibition is really interesting and it gives you a real sense of what his influences were, the work of his contemporaries in “The Glasgow Style,” especially the famous four: Charles himself; his future wife Margaret Macdonald, her younger sister Frances Macdonald, and Frances’s future husband, James Herbert McNair; and then those that they influenced themselves. Some of the collection pieces of his own work are brilliant, and I love that so many of them are just ordinary, everyday things that were put to use; coat stands; umbrella stands; fire guards and the like. There’s even a toilet door. As someone who holds with the belief that God is best found in ordinary, everyday things, this kind of art really appeals to me, rather than the more esoteric variety. I still find it hard to believe I attended a Mackintosh designed school for two years at the St. Mungo’s Academy Annexe in Barony Street with absolutely no appreciation of my surroundings whatsoever.
Apart from Kelvingrove, another regular part of my childhood was going with my father on a Sunday afternoon to Henderson’s shipyard on the Clyde at Partick, where he worked for the Anchor Line as a timekeeper. Whenever there was a ship in drydock being refurbished he would take myself and Hugh along (Patrick was too young) and we would be able to board the ship and walk all in and around every part of it. I have wonderful memories of those
Sunday jaunts. I only discovered recently that the Anchor Line restaurant on St. Vincent Street is bedecked with memorabilia from the Anchor Line and, thanks to a generous gift from a church patron with nautical connections, I was able to go there with my friends during their visit, steep myself in memories, and bore them to death with reminiscences.
On the second day, while searching for a particular shop on the southside (being a north-sider the southside is a foreign country to me), we found ourselves walking through Queen’s Park and visiting the Scottish Poetry Rose Garden with its cairns and dedications to some of Scotland’s best-known bards. It probably wasn’t the wisest time to visit as there were no roses out and, in the driving rain, wind and cold, the place felt and looked a bit bedraggled, as did we. We did, however, find a nice coffee shop with lovely pastries and warmed ourselves up. We also found the shop we were searching for which was near to the monument to the Battle of Langside where, 450 years ago this year, Mary Queen of Scots fought and lost her last encounter with Regent Moray. The rest of the time was spent browsing book shops and the like and, all in all, despite the weather, we had an enjoyable couple of days. There is always something to do in this great city – hail, rain or snow!
The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. (Julian of Norwich)
God communicates with us by way of all things. They are messages of love.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 18th – 25th MARCH
For very many years now my younger brother has ventured out, every Saturday afternoon, to an expanse of waste ground, bearing carrier bags of scraps to feed the birds. I have only accompanied him on a few occasions, and each time I was amused by the fact that, when we arrived at the chosen spot, there was not a bird in sight anywhere, neither on the ground nor in the sky, but that as soon as he would scatter the first scraps the birds would immediately appear from everywhere – crows, blackbirds, seagulls, pigeons, and various other smaller birds – until he was surrounded by literally hundreds of them. I think that the wrong brother was called Francis because I was in no doubt that they recognised him and knew him. This was affirmed for me by the fact that, at the height of the snow a few weeks ago, at our Passionist Community house in Bishopbriggs, we decided to scatter some scraps in our back garden, thinking that it would be a kindness to the birds at such a time, as they may have been finding food difficult to come by. The scraps were there for days and not a bird came near.
This bird-talk brings to mind one of my favourite true stories which many of you may remember. It was back in the late summer, early autumn of 2007, that a seagull began to appear at the R.S. McColl shop in Aberdeen where, as in most seaside towns, seagulls are not the most popular of God’s creatures. As the story goes, this bird would apparently hide around the corner and wait for the shop to open in the morning. When there was no one else in the shop and the assistant was at the till the bird would saunter in, pick up a packet of Spicy
Doritos, and saunter back out again. This became a daily event, with the gull always using the same routine and always choosing Spicy Doritos above all else. The shopkeeper began to get a bit frustrated and instructed the assistant to close the door over after opening up to prevent the bird from getting in. By this stage however the seagull, nicknamed Sam, had become a firm favourite with the locals, and they decided to club together to leave a fund behind the counter to pay for Sam’s Spicy Doritos, and so the door was left open.
Sam soon came to the attention of the media. Journalists and television crews appeared from all over. Sam didn’t let them down. Undeterred by all the attention he continued with his shoplifting escapade on a daily basis and, pursued by the cameras, it was discovered that he was unselfishly carrying the Spicy Doritos to a nearby spot where he would peck the packet open and share them with his friends. Sam persisted with his early morning visits to R.S. McColl’s for his Spicy Doritos for some time to come, no doubt unaware that for very many people, in that particular year, he beat politicians, film stars, football players, television
celebrities, heroes and the like, to be the Scottish News Personality of the Year, and well deserved it was too. If anyone knows whatever became of Sam, please let me know.
As we enter into Holy Week we might ponder the legends of two birds associated with Christ’s Passion. The first is the goldfinch, known for eating thistles and thorns, which in Christian art refers to Jesus’ crown of thorns. That’s why the child Jesus is sometimes depicted in art holding a goldfinch, foreshadowing his Passion and death on the cross. And then of course there is the robin, the legend saying that the robin's breast is red because, when Jesus was on the road to Calvary, a robin plucked a thorn from Christ's head where the crown of thorns had pierced, and a drop of Jesus' blood fell on the robin's breast, turning it red.
This will be the last log until after Easter so, let me finish with a quote from St. Francis:
My brother and sister birds, you should greatly praise your Creator, and love Him always. He gave you feathers to wear, wings to fly, and whatever you need. God made you noble among His creatures and gave you a home in the purity of the air so that though you neither sow nor reap, He nevertheless protects, feeds and clothes you without your least care.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 11th – 18th MARCH
My bedroom window in Bishopbriggs overlooks a wooded area and a pond which is home to a rare breed of frogs. While I hear these frogs constantly, I have never actually seen any. Only Father Gareth, when he was parking the car one night, claims to have seen one that had come through the fence and into the estate. There are also deer in the woods, and I told the story recently of, after over a year of never catching a glimpse, coming across a number of them, romping through the estate, as I returned from a middle-of-the-night sick call to the Royal Infirmary. I have since seen two of them, now antlered, grazing in the woods.
I can now, however, report a more unusual sighting. Before the recent snow, in the middle of another very cold spell, I looked out of the window early one Saturday morning, and I saw two beasts walking across the frozen pond. At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, but as they drew closer I could see that they were, what I can only describe as giant foxes. They were the size of wolves and their coats were, if not black, then a very, very dark brown. I watched them for a while and, when I heard Father Gareth come out of his room, which is next door to mine, but overlooking the street, I called him in and asked him to have a look. He was as mesmerised as I was.
I think that the other members of our community were more sceptical. And then, one night, as Father Gareth was driving home from the church, and nearing the house, he came upon one of these giant foxes on the path in front of him. He arrived home almost in a state of terror, being of a delicate disposition, and told anyone who would listen that, up close, this beast was even bigger and more ferocious looking than when he was watching it out of my bedroom window. I believed every word he said, but the others remained sceptical, and Brother Antony, being a local lad, seemed to suggest that giant beasts of one kind of another were fairly normal in Bishopbriggs.
At the risk of sounding fanciful, and having far too vivid an imagination, I must confess that this wasn’t the first time I had come across a larger-than-life version of an animal. When I was doing my 30-day retreat at Manresa House in Clontarf, in Dublin, back in 1987, I would walk early every morning on Dollymount Strand, which is a part of Bull Island, a specially protected bird sanctuary and nature reserve, which has since become a special area of conservation under the EU Habitats Directive. On one particular morning, about 6 a.m., as I clambered over the sand dunes to get to the strand, I was suddenly face to face with a huge hare, and, I kid you not, it was the size of a small kangaroo! Once again, I stood mesmerised as we gazed at each other, and then the hare scampered off. Being on a silent retreat I couldn’t go back to talk to anyone about it until we were on one of our two break days, when we were allowed to chat, and even go out for a few hours with the other retreatants. My story, however, met with the same reaction as that of our Passionist community to the giant foxes. Perhaps Clontarf is twinned with Bishopbriggs and giant beasts are quite normal.
Very soon, when we enter into the Easter Season, we will meet many different people in the Gospel stories, some of whom will see and believe; some of whom will believe without seeing; and some of whom will see and still not believe. All I can say to my doubters is, I know what I saw, and I will not withdraw my testimony.
Here is the chorus of a beautiful hymn to Christ by David Haas, inspired by 1 Peter 1:8:
Without seeing you we love you. Without touching you we embrace.
Without knowing you we follow. Without seeing you we believe.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 4th – 11th MARCH
Thankfully the snow has abated now but what a time we had! As mentioned in last week’s log (I call it a log and not a blog – nostalgic memories of Captain Kirk’s Log in Star Trek – and someone sent me an email recently, in all innocence, addressed to Father Frank Log) I brought my brother to hospital to see a consultant about his broken metacarpals. I had the car but we prudently decided to get the bus as overnight, Tuesday into Wednesday, the snow had come with a vengeance. The bus took a long time but we arrived at the minor injuries clinic in Partick just slightly late for his appointment. In the end there was no stookie, just the splint, a regime of finger exercises to follow, and blood tests to be sent to his doctor. We made it back on the bus but it was obvious the buses would be cancelled later in the day.
I decided to try and bring the car back as far as St. Mungo’s and I made it safely in the wake of other traffic that had ground the grit well into the road. Father Gareth, Brother Antony and Father Justinian were getting ready to head home to Bishopbriggs and I stayed to do the afternoon Adoration and Confessions – nobody came to either.
As Glasgow was now on red alert I thought it best to stay the night at the church so as to be here for the morning and allow the others to stay home safe. There is a nice reclining chair in the office so, after closing the church for the night, I pulled on a pair of heavy socks and my walking shoes and headed out to see if anywhere was open. I saw a number of foreign students taking lots of photos of the snow with great excitement. I had some vouchers from Christmas and so I bought a duvet to keep me warm and stocked up on some food for the night and the morning. As I got to the top of the High Street, just at the Duke Street junction, I saw a man, slightly the worse for wear, having a great laugh at some poor soul’s spinning car wheels as he tried to move off from the traffic lights, but instead just sliding all over the road. There was no other traffic in sight. The smile was wiped from his face however when he turned around and saw that the Old College Bar was shut. He let out a cry of great anguish as if to say “you can take the buses off, close the shops, shut down the airports, and stop the trains – but don’t close the Old College Bar” – this was a sure sign of Armageddon!
I slept okay on the chair, except that my feet got cold. There were 5 people at the 10 o’clock Mass; nobody for morning Confessions, and 8 people for the 12.15pm Mass. I headed out after lunch to try and get a charger for my phone as it had run out of power and my charger was in Bishopbriggs. I had a successful trip and managed to get myself a pizza in the only open café I could see. As I trudged back to St. Mungo’s I passed 3 men heading over the walkway. They were carrying bottles of something to keep them warm and one was crying out to the other two. “Eskimos, we’re turning into Eskimos!!!” He had a point.
Later in the afternoon I got a call asking me to tend to two people in the Royal Infirmary as the chaplain was snowbound. I put a notice on the Confessional to say I would be back as soon as possible. I had trouble getting out of the hospital as it seems there was a major incident coming in and people were being directed out by another route. When I returned, feeling the beginnings of storm Emma as I waded through the snow, there was one person waiting for Confession. I then closed the church and had a quiet night, doing a little work; reading, and saying a few prayers in the darkened church. Earlier in the day I had discovered a bed in one of the rooms in the old house and so I decided to take my duvet up there and get a better night’s sleep, which I did, hoping that the next day would begin to see a change.
Isaiah 1:18. Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; Isaiah 55:10. "My word is like the snow and the rain that come down from the heavens to water the earth. They make the crops grow and provide seed for planting and food to eat.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 25th FEBRUARY – 4th MARCH
I have a famous older brother, at least to those who follow football, but I also have a younger brother whose life is much more secluded and private. He has worked for the same organization since he left school, which is over 45 years ago, and while the running of the organization has changed hands, the location has moved, and the nature of the work has altered dramatically with developments in systems and technology throughout those years, he has been there as an ever-constant presence, like an immovable rock in an ever-changing sea.
He hates missing work, and rarely has, in all that time, apart from a couple of strokes which saw him hospitalised for a period. No sooner would he be out of hospital than he was making plans to get back to work as soon as was humanly possible, and even on occasion when it didn’t seem humanly possible. He is a man of routine, and those routines are sacrosanct.
Since coming back to Scotland, I have tried to call up to him once a week to have a chat and watch some television together. Last Monday when I called up he wasn’t there and I wondered and worried what was keeping him so late. Not long afterwards he appeared with a splint in his hand, having been at the hospital for most of the day. It turns out he’d had a fall the previous Saturday but declined to mention it or do anything about it, until he appeared into work on Monday morning with a black eye, a swollen hand, sore feet, and a stiff shoulder. Thankfully he was ordered by kindly colleagues to get himself to the hospital where it was discovered he had two broken metacarpals. The poor guy must have been in agony, but in his own stoical way he had just intended to soldier on as if nothing had happened.
I stayed with him that night and helped him to get up the next day before I headed in to St. Mungo’s. He has a number of other health issues too, and was really quite incapacitated. I went back to him that evening to discover he had spent the day practicing various ways of rendering himself more mobile. Later in the evening he asked me what my plans were. I told him that I was intending staying the night again, to which he furtively replied: “You do know I’m going to go back to work tomorrow, don’t you?”
I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised, and neither were his work colleagues. He reminds me of one of those TV characters like the great Jack Bauer in 24 who, after being beaten, stabbed, shot and blown up, pulls the tubes out of his body in the hospital, to get up and get on with the task at hand. In fact, I remember back in 2010, just a week or so after my brother had come out of hospital after suffering a stroke, he went back to work in the midst of a snow blizzard. Sometime during that day the buses were taken off the road. Someone kindly gave him a lift as far as they could, and then he ended up walking about 5 miles knee deep in snow the rest of the way, still intending to go to work the next day. I knew nothing about it until I phoned him from Dublin later that night. As I write, I am preparing to bring him to hospital in the morning, perhaps to get a stookie, and, no doubt, he will be back at work shortly after.
While my older brother pursued his journalistic career and raised a family, and I pursued my Passionist studies and moved around in various ministries, our younger brother facilitated us in doing that by assuming the major share, by far, of looking after our mother in the latter years of her life, which he did lovingly and willingly, without complaint. To me he is one of those unsung heroes of ordinary life who just gets on with things no matter what, and asks for nothing in return. If I were to choose a Gospel image that might capture him, it would be Jesus, setting his face firmly towards Jerusalem, despite those trying to advise him against it, determined to do what he was meant to do, resolute and committed, to the very end.
As Christopher Reeve once said: A hero is an ordinary individual, who finds the strength to persevere and endure, in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 18th – 25th FEBRUARY
On the 2nd Sunday of Lent, which always tells the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, I tend to think of mountains where I’ve walked. I say walked, rather than climbed, as I always preferred to find the gentler ascents, and to be there for the beauty rather than the challenge. When Father Gareth and Brother Antony returned from Highgate last week, having thoroughly enjoyed their time there with the other students, they told me that they had been talking to an English Passionist, Father Ben, someone I knew well from years past. Father Ben had recently returned to London after spending some years ministering in the diocese of Galloway, but that wasn’t his first stint in Scotland. For 4 years, back in the late 1990’s, he had lived in Kingussie where he looked after the parishes of Kingussie, in the diocese of Argyle and the Isles, and the parish of Aviemore, in the diocese of Aberdeen.
His primary reason for being there, though, was to take time in a quiet place, with little distraction, to try and decipher the diaries of Father Ignatius Spencer, a 19th century Passionist priest, whose cause for Canonization Father Ben has been pursuing relentlessly for many years. The task was made all the more difficult because Father Ignatius’s handwriting was so tiny, at times managing to cram 6 months of entries into a single page. Part of the interest surrounding Father Ignatius Spencer is that he was an ancestor of both Winston Churchill and Princess Diana Spencer, as well as in his own time being a nephew of the Duke of Wellington. Those, however, aren’t reasons to be canonised. The main thrust for that, in the mind of Father Ben, is that as well as being a holy Passionist, and a diligent priest, he was 120 years ahead of his time in his work for Christian Unity. He converted from Anglicanism and spent his life working for the conversion of England to the Catholic faith. He is also known as the Apostle of Prayer for England.
The house where Father Ben was staying during this time was the parochial house in Kingussie, where it seems that Canon Sydney MacEwan lived for a while. The attic contained some items that may have belonged to him back in the day. Canon Sydney MacEwan was the famous singing priest, perhaps best known for Bring Flowers of the Rarest which is still often played on our radios to mark the first day of May. Interestingly enough, he was born and grew up in Springburn, the neighbouring parish to St. Mungo’s, and his father was from Partick, where I was born and grew up myself. He once said “I think I prefer a concert audience to a congregation. People listen to me more attentively in a concert than in a church”. But everything he did, including his singing, was really for Christ and for the Church, and we’ll forgive him that he went to St. Aloysius and not to St. Mungo’s, and that at one time he wanted to be a Jesuit and not a Passionist.
During his years there, deciphering the diaries, Father Ben found it hard to get away for a break and so, two years in a row, and being based in Prestonpans at that time, I gave up part of my summer to cover for him, so that he could get away. To be honest, it was no great sacrifice. Being younger and fitter back then, I loved to do a bit of walking in the mountains, and from this house in Kingussie, without even taking the car, I could stay on the same side of the road and, within minutes, be walking in the Cairngorms, or I could cross to the other side of the road and, within minutes, be walking in the Monadhliaths, two ranges in the Grampians. I walked in these mountains every day I was there, and I often had my breath taken away by beauty, which I always like to think of as Transfiguration moments.
Father, your Servant, Father Ignatius Spencer, spent his life preaching the love shown for us in the Sacred Passion of your Son, and working tirelessly to bring people to know that love. Help us to follow his example and show us that you are well pleased with his life by granting any favours we ask, through his intercession. Amen.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 11th – 18th FEBRUARY
Last Wednesday, about 9.45 p.m., Father Gareth said, “Isn’t it strange how, on the day when you can’t have something, you want it all the more?” It was Ash Wednesday, a day of fast and abstinence, and Father Gareth had taken a sudden and strong notion for a slice of beef, a lamb shank, a chicken leg, or perhaps all three. He was right of course, we are never so hungry as on a fast day, no sooner do we begin to deprive ourselves of something than our longing for it grows stronger. Such is the way of temptation, and Lent had only just begun.
Earlier that day we had big crowds at each of the three Masses in the church as people came forward to be signed with ashes, and also a big number of people who came for ashes throughout the day, who were unable to attend any of the Masses. We also had a very nice service in the City of Glasgow College which was conducted by Brother Antony, as college chaplain, and I provided a bit of music. It was obviously appreciated by the students and staff who came, and I thought that the witness of the students and staff walking around the college for the rest of the day, with their ashes on their foreheads, was quite significant.
My most memorable experience of Lent was back in 1987 when I made a 30-day silent retreat at Manresa House in Dublin, named after the cave where, according to tradition, Saint Ignatius of Loyola shut himself up to pray and do penance from March 1522 to February 1523, and during which he wrote the Spiritual Exercises which formed the basis of my retreat. At the time I was doing a year-long formation course in preparation for working with our students and novices, and the retreat was part of the course.
There were 30 of us on the course from various Religious Orders, 20 women and 10 men, representing 15 different countries and cultures throughout the world. It had been a wonderful experience and the 30-day retreat came towards the end of the course. Because of the nature of the various elements of our programme, we had come to know each other very well, warts and all, and there had developed a great spirit of friendship and support among us. There had, of course, been occasional moments of humour to break the intensity as when, in the middle of our first group dynamic session, during which nobody had spoken, the silence was broken when a Sister from Pakistan, who had a bit of a tickly cough, asked the facilitator, “Do you mind if I take a tablet?”, to which he answered not a word. At the end of the session he left the room, again without speaking, and we all turned to this Sister and asked why she had made such a strange request as, with her broken English, we had, every single one of us, thought she had said, “Do you mind if I take up the carpet?” We laughed till we cried.
But, much as we had come to know each other well throughout the course in all the talking and sharing, I would say that we came to know each other even better in the quiet and the stillness of the 30-day silent retreat. We became very attuned to each other whether it was in the chapel quietly praying, or sitting at table sharing a meal with gentle music playing in the background, or just noticing each other walking in the grounds, or in the park next to the Retreat House, or on the long stretch of beach on the opposite side of the road. We seemed to intimately connect with each other’s moments of joy and sorrow, struggle and pain, without ever saying a word, because no words were needed. And God was palpably present in the silence as we moved towards a joyful celebration of Holy Week and Easter at the end of it all.
This Lent has begun on St. Valentine’s Day, and it will take us through to Easter Sunday, which is April Fools’ Day. St. Paul says, we are fools for Christ, but then he goes on to say, but we are so wise in Christ. So, we can acknowledge a certain foolishness, a touch of madness, that is built in to our believing in, and following of Christ, but we also celebrate its wisdom. Again, as St. Paul says: The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom and power of God. Happy Lent!
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 4th – 11th FEBRUARY
Early this morning I dropped off Father Gareth and Brother Antony to catch a train to Euston Station, from where they will head to the Passionist Retreat of St. Joseph’s at Highgate in North London. St. Joseph’s sits impressively at the top of Highgate Hill and has a magnificent dome. The story goes that during the 2nd World War the Ministry of Defence requested that the dome be covered so that it didn’t become a marker for the enemy, to which the rector replied that when they covered up the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral he would cover up the dome of St. Joseph’s. Neither were ever covered. St. Joseph’s wasn’t bombed but the dome of St. Paul’s did suffer some damage. Very near to the church is Highgate Cemetery where Karl Marx is buried, or, if you prefer, Jeremy Beadle is also buried there.
The reason for Father Gareth and Brother Antony’s trip is to take part in a gathering of young Passionists from our Province, the others being Father Frank (Trias) who is based in Minsteracres Retreat Centre in County Durham; Brother Conor who is based in Crossgar in County Down, Northern Ireland; and Brother Aidan who is based in Highgate itself – so, two Scots; two from Northern Ireland, and one Welshman. Such gatherings are invaluable as young Passionists from our part of the world are few and far between, and it’s good that they meet from time to time to encourage and support each other, and to continue their growth and development in Passionist Religious Life.
These five men are spread throughout a few years of formation, whereas when I entered in 1975 there were six in my class alone, which in itself was small compared to times past. Of the six, two were from Glasgow, two were from Belfast, one was from Nigeria, and, at first, I thought the other might have been from Sweden or Holland or somewhere like that, as he spoke very quickly in a kind of sing-song accent, and I couldn’t understand a word he said, but it turned out he was a lovely guy from County Clare in the West of Ireland. Till the day he left I still couldn’t understand him.
After a year of postulancy at the Graan in Enniskillen, we moved to Mount Argus in Dublin to begin formal studies, and there were 21 of us on the student corridor, a motley collection of religious all-sorts. In the monastery itself, between priests, brothers and students, there were over eighty men. Between the student corridor and the community chapel, where we all gathered for community prayer and Eucharist, there was a passageway referred to as the race-track. This was because on any given morning you would find two or three students who had overslept, racing along with seconds to go for the start of Morning Prayer, trying to escape the steely gaze they would receive from the student director, if prayers had already been intoned before they got there.
Most of us studied at Milltown Park, a Jesuit institute about five miles from Mount Argus. Our mode of transport was bicycles. Many of these bicycles were from a store of abandoned, lost or stolen bicycles in the keep of An Garda Síochána, the Irish police. One of our Passionists in Mount Argus was chaplain to the police and so, once it was deemed that certain bikes were never being reclaimed, we were able to acquire them for the students. By the state of most of these bicycles we could see why they were abandoned or “lost”, and that stealing them was probably deemed by the thieves to be a mistake in the first place. It was quite a sight to see us all heading out of a morning to class.
We would return early in the afternoon for a bit of lunch and then gather in the recreation to relax for a while, before we got down to study in our rooms. Part of our recreation together was the “neglected record slot” whereby someone would dig out an old 78, 45 or 33rpm disc that had been left behind by previous generations of students and play it full blast on the turntable. It would then be awarded roses or raspberries – but mostly raspberries. We had a small snooker table too that we enjoyed, and quite a few excellent footballers who lived for getting out onto the pitch at the back of the monastery, and for playing in the seminary league on a Saturday, which, more often than not, we would win. Needless to say, we had our tensions among us too, but, all in all, it was good to have each other, and I admire our present crop of young Passionists who have to travel at times a lonelier road. So, hopefully, our five young Passionists will have a great few days together and come back the better for it.
Jesus. give the light of your Holy Spirit to those young people who have received the grace of a Passionist vocation. Inspire them to give their lives, keeping the Memory of your Passion alive in their own hearts, and in the hearts of others. Amen.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 28th JANUARY – 4th FEBRUARY
Apart from Father Gareth, who was in Wales visiting his mum anyway, our Passionist Community in Glasgow are all Scots, and so we four Scots settled down last Thursday week to celebrate Burns’ Night with some lovely haggis, neeps and tatties. Being the only drinker in the community I was also able to enjoy a wee dram of 15-year-old Glenfiddich with it, a generous gift to the community; malt whisky being reputedly the perfect complement for haggis. Of course, if Father Gareth had been there, he would have tried to make a case for Rabbie Burns being Welsh, and would probably have tortured us by reciting the Address to a Haggis in his mock Scots accent, which is truly cringe-worthy.
When I was at primary school at St. Peter’s in Partick, from 1956-63, I won a book of Burns’ poetry at a poetry recital competition. Ironically, it was for reciting a poem that wasn’t by Burns at all. It was a poem called The Sair Finger by Walter Wingate, a schoolteacher and poet from Dalry in Ayrshire, who died 100 years ago this year, about a wean wi’ a skelf in his pinkie – for non-Scots readers that means a child with a splinter in his little finger.
Much later in life, when I was a deacon in Rome, I had an unexpected and unusual request to recite a lot of Burns’ poetry. It was during one of the breaks from university and I was invited by one of my Italian Passionist colleagues to spend a few days with him at the Passionist Retreat near to city of Verona, which was his home community. Now, while Verona has more to connect it with William Shakespeare, with Romeo and Juliet, The Two gentlemen of Verona, and The Taming of the Shrew all being set there, it was Rabbie Burns who had most captivated an old Passionist priest in the community for many years and, when he heard that I was a Scot, he produced his collection of Burns’ poetry, and also a tape recorder, and had me spending hours each day reciting the poems so that he could listen to them being read in a Scots accent. Having lost my accent to a large extent, and sounding more Irish than Scots, I had to really work at it and lay it on thick. He seemed very pleased with the outcome anyway.
I know that the Scots poet Liz Lochhead recently described Burns as the Harvey Weinstien of his day, and I wouldn’t be qualified to comment on that, but I think it is also true to say that Burns influenced some extraordinary people. Abraham Lincoln for example could quote Burns’ poetry by heart and drew on Burns’ passion for social justice and the equality of human beings, often reflected in his works, when campaigning for the emancipation of slavery. Burns is also said to have inspired Martin Luther King in his I have a dream speech. Winston Churchill was another admirer, and when Bob Dylan was asked to name the lyric that had most inspired him he quoted directly from Burns’ My Love is like a red, red rose.
It has been suggested at times that Burns was anti-Catholic, but I think the most informed view is that, certainly in his poems, he was mostly critical of the Kirk, and that he was simply anti-hypocrisy in any religion, and we could all go along with that. I was going to finish with an extract from one of Burns’ poems, or perhaps one of his songs, but I know you’re really all longing to read The Sair Finger – so here it is:
You've hurt your finger? Puir wee man! Your pinkie? Deary me!
Noo, juist you haud it that wey till I get my specs and see!
My, so it is - and there's the skelf! Noo, dinna greet nae mair.
See there - my needle's gotten't out! I'm sure that wasna sair?
And noo, to make it hale the morn, Put on a wee bit saw,
And tie a Bonnie hankie roun't, Noo, there na - rin awa'!
Your finger sair ana'? Ye rogue, You're only lettin' on.
Weel, weel, then - see noo, there ye are, Row'd up the same as John!
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 21st – 28th JANUARY
Last Friday I decided to attend the closing of the St. Mungo Festival at the City of Glasgow College, where Brother Antony is the Catholic chaplain. Apart from himself, nobody else in the college seemed to know very much about it and, just before 4 p.m., when it was due to begin, there was a snow blizzard blowing outside and the college website was reporting that the college was closed and that all the staff had been sent home. Brother Antony suggested that he would go along and check it out while I continued to work in the office, and he would phone me to let me know what was happening. When he arrived at the college he was told that there was no one inside except the janitor, but he went in anyway, only to find a table set with food and drink, and a few people gathered waiting for the event. He phoned me and suggested that I should come in by the back entrance to the college, the blizzard having by then eased a little. When I got to the back entrance there was a lady coming out who informed me that the college was closed and that there was no one there except the janitor. Of course, I knew better, and I went in to find everything as Brother Antony had reported. Between the weather and the confusion there were very few people there, just a few staff members, a handful of students who, in noble student tradition, seemed to be there for the free food and drink, and then those of us who were genuinely interested in St. Mungo.
As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed it. In the college there are three visual interpretations relating to St Mungo, and the closing event was an opportunity to see and find out more about them. The first was a sculpture that some people will remember used to sit at the bottom of Buchanan Street called “The Spirit of St. Kentigern”. It was loved and hated in equal measure at the time, but few people really knew what it was meant to be. It was eventually removed and placed in storage, but was now rescued, restored, installed on an impressive new plinth, and placed at one of the college entrances. The second piece, called St. Mungo’s Cave, reminded me of a labyrinth. It was a wooden construction that represented the skyline St. Mungo would have seen on his journey from his birthplace of Culross in Fife, to what later became Glasgow, the city that he founded on the banks of the Clyde by the Molendinar Burn. The final piece, which we didn’t actually get to see, except as a projected image, was a more traditional statue of St. Mungo being carved in Portland stone, which will eventually find a home in the garden area next to the college, visible from Cathedral Street.
The presentation of these pieces was nicely and simply done, condensed because of the bad weather and the smallness of the group, and was rounded off by one of our St. Mungo’s musicians, Vincent Mellon, playing and singing his own composition, Molendinar Song, which he had also sung at the 12 noon Mass the Sunday before, at the celebration of the Feast of St. Mungo, along with another of his compositions, Let Glasgow Flourish.
In the course of the evening I got talking to a few people including a lovely lady who lectured in the hairdressing department at the college. Once we had solved the problems of the world she told me that I would be a welcome visitor to the hairdressing department at any time. I was delighted with this but when I told it to Brother Antony he just laughed and asked what good would that be to me. He said the same to my new friend who simply said that she could give the top of my head a nice polish. I might just give that a try some day.
I’m sure Vincent, who could tell you every place in this great city where the famous Glasgow Coat of Arms can be found, won’t mind me ending with the chorus of Let Glasgow Flourish:
Let Glasgow flourish by God’s word and the praising of His name;
To be a light to all the world, and throughout the world the same.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 14th – 21st JANUARY
A couple of weeks ago Father Gareth organised a simple lunch for one of the Passionist Young Team who was returning home to India. She was, of course, looking forward to seeing her family; she showed us some photographs of them, and of her church back home, but she was very sad to be leaving Glasgow, and to be leaving St. Mungo’s and the Passionist Young Team, which had come to mean a lot to her as a community of faith and friendship.
A few days later she was at Mass in St. Mungo’s for the last time and as I bid farewell to her again I caught a snippet of a conversation she was having with two ladies of the parish. I couldn’t possibly hazard a guess at these ladies ages, but let’s just say they weren’t members of the Young Team. I understood from what I heard that this girl was going back with these ladies for a post-Mass cup of tea, and that this had been a not uncommon occurrence since who knows when. Sometimes the cup of tea stretched to fish and chips, which had become a favourite meal for our Indian friend, and I imagine not one she would be getting too often back in Kerala.
I suppose what struck me most was that there was, in the parish, this simple act of kindness going on quietly in the background, and I wondered just how many more such hidden acts of kindness were going on in the parish that I was totally unaware of. Of course, there is absolutely no reason that I should be aware of them, parish priest or not, but still it delighted me to know that our parish as a family of faith, friendship and compassion, was alive and active, and known only to the God who sees all good things done in secret and blesses them.
It reminded me of a time when one of our old Passionists died, and in the aftermath of his funeral a story emerged that no one, except a very few people, knew about. It seems he went out one night to visit a house in the parish (not St. Mungo’s). He rang the doorbell and waited, quite a long time, for it to be answered. It turned out that he had gone to the wrong house and it was an old protestant lady who eventually opened the door. She apologised for taking so long and explained to him that at a fixed time every night she had to put eye drops in and she found it very difficult to do.
Afterwards, a local teacher who went for a walk most nights with this priest, wondered why at a certain time he started to excuse himself and leave. It turned out that, ever since that chance meeting, he had been going around to this old lady’s house every night and putting the drops in her eyes. Eventually the lady died, and not long after that the priest died too, and it was only then that the story of this quiet, hidden kindness came out into the open. I still feel very moved every time I tell that story.
In Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, the troubled Blanche famously says “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” There is an echo of this in the mysterious story in the Old Testament, from the Book of Genesis, where Abraham receives three strangers as he camps by the Oak of Mamre. He serves them a meal, and as the conversation progresses he seems to be talking directly to God. This story was later captured in a famous Russian Icon where these visitors are depicted as angels, and as a metaphor for the three persons of the Blessed Trinity.
Let’s take to heart this verse from the Letter to the Hebrews which often accompanies this famous icon where it simply says:
“Never forget to show kindness to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels, without knowing it”.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 7th – 14th JANUARY
Today (Thursday 11th January) I offered the 12.15 p.m. Mass with two Passionists who have recently celebrated their diamond jubilees of priesthood; Father Justinian McGread CP from St. Mungo’s community here in Glasgow, and Father Ralph Egan CP from our community at Mount Argus in Dublin. They were ordained on 21st December 1957 along with seven others, all of whom have now gone to God. One of them was Father Eustace, well known to all at St. Mungo’s, and much missed. Father Justinian and Father Ralph each had their own celebration in Glasgow and Dublin respectively, but when Fr. Ralph came over for a visit to Glasgow with his sister it provided the opportunity to have a simple celebration with both of them.
I was thinking back to when I first met each of them. Back in 1969 I was a youth leader at my parish of St. Laurence’s in Drumchapel and we took a group of young people down from the parish to the Passionist Retreat House at Coodham in Ayrshire. Father Justinian was one of the Passionists based there at the time. After a little while I was invited by the Passionists on to the organising team for both the Youth Retreats and the Young Adult Retreats. I remember that our planning meetings used to take place over a weekend down at Skelmorlie, in a house on the sea-front that was owned by some Religious Sisters. I would finish work on the Friday evening and then meet up with some other members of the team. We would get the train to Wemyss Bay and a bus along to the house. When we arrived, Father Justinian would always be there to welcome us with a huge pot of Spaghetti Bolognese and some nice crusty bread, and I used to look forward to it immensely. Father Justinian’s spaghetti became legendary, so you can imagine my delight on coming back to Glasgow at the end of 2016, and coming to live in community with Father Justinian for the very first time, to discover that, nearly 50 years on, he was still making his spaghetti, and I now look forward, every Saturday night, to arriving home from the Vigil Mass in St. Mungo’s, and sitting down to my favourite meal.
I first met Father Ralph in1976. I had joined the Passionists in 1975 and spent my postulancy year at the Graan in Enniskillen. Part of my involvement with the retreats at Coodham was around music and, when I arrived at the Graan, I was asked by the rector, Father Ignatius, to set up a music group for one of the Sunday Masses and also to provide music for the Graan prayer group. Also, my postulancy director, Father Bernard, had me travelling around the countryside with him to provide music at various prayer meetings in halls and homes, sometimes in very remote places indeed. Prayer groups were very popular at the time.
In September 1976 I moved to Mount Argus in Dublin to begin philosophy studies. Although the Passionists had been in Mount Argus since 1856, it only in fact became a parish in 1974, and Father Ralph was appointed as the first ever parish priest. Once again, on my arrival, he asked me if I could set up a folk group in the parish for what was then the 1 p.m. Mass on a Sunday. I put a notice in the parish bulletin for interested members, but it wasn’t specific enough as to who was eligible, so come the night of the first rehearsal I had 40 people there, ranging in age from 14-36. It was a bit chaotic, but somehow, we managed, and we played for the first time at the Mass on the 1st Sunday of Advent 1976. The folk group lasted in some shape or form for 40 years and only disbanded in the autumn of 2016. Father Ralph returned for a second spell as parish priest from 1996-2000, when he was also rector, and in January of 2001, we swapped jobs, he taking over as rector and parish priest in Prestonpans, and me taking over as rector and parish priest in Mount Argus, where I remained until coming back to St. Mungo’s in 2016. I have lived in community with Father Ralph a few times over the years and he has always been very pleasant company and a faithful and committed priest.
Loving God, may those to whom Fr Justinian and Fr Ralph have ministered for 60 years, appreciate, affirm, support, and celebrate their gift of service, and pray for them always.
FATHER FRANK KEEVINS C.P.