Just a week after the close of our Novena to Our Lady of Sorrows, I was reading an article in this week’s Scottish Catholic Observer about Father Gary Donegan, the Passionist from Newtownbutler, who was the preacher at last year’s Novena. Father Gary had apparently gone up to Dublin for the replay of the All Ireland football final between Dublin and Kerry, which was won for the 5th year in a row by Dublin. (By the way, in Ireland they always say up to Dublin, because it’s the capital, even though geographically Father Gary actually went down to Dublin). He had parked his car in a relatively quiet part of the city, but when he returned to get it, he discovered that his car had been broken into and that, along with a number of other items; a coat; a pair of cuff-links, and a new pair of trainers; his holy oil stock had been stolen. A stock is the name for the container that holy oils are kept in – the Oil of the Sick; the Oil of Catechumens, and the Oil of Chrism. The stock had been given as a gift for his priestly ordination, twenty eight years ago, and having worked in Northern Ireland throughout most of that time, he had used especially the Oil of the Sick to anoint many people in tragic situations, as well as beloved members of his own family; so the loss of the oil stock was much more traumatic than any of the other items. Father Gary has launched an emotional appeal to get it back, and let’s pray that he does.
I was thinking about things that I still had that were given to me for my priestly ordination, and three things came to mind. One is a stole, white on the one side, red on the other, with the Passionist sign on both sides. This had been given to me by Father Norbert Dorsey, an American Passionist (and later a bishop) who had led me through my preparatory retreat in Rome before coming home to St. Mungo’s for ordination, and had presented me with the stole at the end. It has remained a treasured possession to this day. I also still have the vestments that I wore to celebrate my first Mass in St. Mungo’s on Sunday 19th June, 1983, the day after my ordination. The vestments were given to me by my cousins and were made by the Poor Clare’s in Bothwell. They are the purest of white with a Celtic Cross in gold and red, on both the chasuble and the stole. The third item I still possess is a beautiful portable Mass Kit, in a very fine, solid case, that was given to me by my brother Hugh and his family. Over the years I have celebrated many Masses in houses, halls, hospitals, and other informal locations using this kit. It has accompanied me to Lourdes and to Munstergeleen, the birth place of St. Charles of Mount Argus, and has enabled me to celebrate Mass with pilgrim groups in special places that were off the beaten track. It came with me to the Ozanam Centre in the Bridgegate for a special retreat night with the St. Vincent de Paul Society last year. At the present time myself, Father Gareth and Deacon Antony, are using it to celebrate Masses in the City of Glasgow College, and in the Caledonian University, where Deacon Antony carries out chaplaincy duties for staff and students. Thirty-six years on, while the lining of the case is slightly worse for wear, the case itself and the sacred vessels it contains, are as good as new and, like Father Gary’s oil stock, it is probably the item I would least want to lose.
As a Passionist, I have had to move house over the years, I think fourteen times, so I am not able to be a hoarder, but there are some things we all hold on to, not just for sentimental value, but for much more than that. They touch in to people and memories that are very, very deep, and to moments where God was present in a very powerful way. If I lost them, or if they were stolen, God would still be present, I know that, but I would miss them all the same.
St. Anthony, who received from God the special power of restoring lost things, grant that we may find anything lost that is precious, or at least restore to us peace and tranquillity of mind, and to this favour, we ask another: that we may always remain in possession of the true Good that is God. Let us rather lose all things than lose God, our Supreme Good. Let us never suffer the loss of our greatest treasure, eternal life with God. Amen.