FATHER Frank's Log is taking a break until the New Year. We hope you enjoy reading the Archives of 2017.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 17th – 24th DECEMBER
Where our Passionist community lives in Bishopbriggs, there is a wood behind our house. One of the advantages of this wood is that it is home to a rare breed of frogs, which means that nothing can be built on their habitat, which is a pond just beyond our garden fence. This wood is also home to a family of deer. When I first arrived in October 2016, the other members of the community informed me that I would see these deer regularly, especially as my bedroom window overlooked the wood. Fourteen months later I still hadn’t seen a single deer. They were more elusive than God and, unlike God, I had begun to doubt their existence.
Then, just the other week, I was on call on Friday night for the Royal Infirmary. At 2.30 in the morning I was awakened by the sound of the hospital pager which, understandably, emits a very loud bleep. After praising God for calling me at this hour, I phoned the hospital, and was put through to a nurse who told me what the situation was, where I was to go, and who I was to attend to. I quickly got dressed and took the oils and the host from our little oratory in the house and tried to tiptoe down the stairs and out to the car without waking the whole household.
My habit on such occasions is to park in the yard at St. Mungo’s and walk over the footbridge to the Royal. I arrived at the hospital within about half an hour of being woken, and made my way to Ward 65 where an old lady, originally from Donegal, was nearing her final breath. A good number of the family were gathered. They were obviously a family of faith and we gathered round the bed to say the prayers, and to give her the Sacrament of Anointing, although, being unconscious, she was unable to receive the Eucharist. After chatting for a while with the family, I then left them to begin to make my way back to Bishopbriggs.
My first task was to find my way out of the hospital – which is not as easy as you might think. Walking through the Royal Infirmary in the wee hours of the morning is a strange experience. Once you leave the wards and enter the corridors the place seems absolutely deserted, and of course the Royal is now so vast. For security reasons the external doors are locked and there are usually only one or two discreet doors to exit onto the street, but of course I couldn’t find them. At one stage I passed a security station where there was a half-drunk cup of tea on a desk and a transistor radio playing quietly, but my shouts of “hello, is anybody there”, met only with silence. I wandered the corridors calling out the same thing until, by sheer chance, I came upon a door where it seemed something was being delivered or removed in a white van, and I was able to escape to freedom.
It was a very frosty night and I drove slowly and carefully. About 4 o’clock in the morning I turned into our estate and, just as I turned off the main avenue, a deer sprang out of one of the gardens and ran on ahead of me. I stopped the car to watch, and soon it was joined by another deer, springing out of another garden. I continued to drive slowly forward and they both followed a path before me until I turned into our car port and they continued on ahead. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.
I sat for a moment and smiled. They were lovely to see, and now I fully expect to be driving home after Midnight Mass this Christmas and see at least six of them, this time in the sky, pulling a sleigh, with a big man sitting in a red suit, laughing all the way, and arriving at a stable in Bethlehem to deliver the first of his gifts to a child in swaddling clothes. Have a very blessed Christmas. The log will return in a couple of weeks’ time. Meanwhile, here is Santa’s Christmas prayer:
On Christmas Eve the other night I saw the most amazing sight, for there beneath the Christmas tree was Santa kneeling on his knee. His countenance was different than that all-familiar, jolly grin; his head was bowed, and hand to breast, and slightly tucked into his vest. For there in a Nativity was Jesus and His family, and as I heard him start to pray, I listened close to what he’d say. “Lord, you know that you’re the reason, I take pleasure in this season. I don’t want to take your place, but just reflect your wondrous grace. I hope you’ll help them understand, I’m just an ordinary man, who found a way to do your will, by finding kids with needs to fill. But all those centuries ago, there was no way for me to know, that they would make so much of me, and all the gifts beneath the tree. They think I have some hidden power, granted at the midnight hour. But it is my love for you, inspiring all the things I do. So, let them give you all the glory, for you’re the One True Christmas Story.”
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 10th – 17th DECEMBER
I was kindly invited out for a pre-Christmas meal this week in a city centre restaurant. We arrived and got ourselves settled in a lovely booth. We selected our starters and main courses and ordered some wine. The starters came and looked delicious, but when we were about half way through the fire alarm went off. For a time, nobody moved, the whole restaurant just kept on eating, presuming it to be a false alarm that would be switched off at any minute. But then the staff came around and asked us to make our way outside into St. Vincent Street. So, off we went, very calmly, no rush or panic at all. The mood outside was jocular, although we were wondering if we were going to be able to continue our meal or not. Then three fire engines arrived and out piled a host of firemen, and into the restaurant through what I presumed was the service entrance. After about 20 minutes they re-emerged through the front door of the restaurant, and before too long we were invited back into the restaurant where we had fresh starters brought to the table and the offer of a free drink at the end of the meal. It was all very painless, although we never did find out what caused the alarm to go off.
The last time I had that kind of experience was on my way to Malawi to represent our Provincial at the ordination of a young Malawian Passionist, Patrick Mphepo. I flew to London Heathrow and was scheduled to transfer on to a flight to Nairobi, Kenya, where I would pick up a connection to Blantyre in Malawi, named after Blantyre in South Lanarkshire, birthplace of David Livingstone. Unfortunately, the flight from Heathrow to Nairobi was delayed and by the time we landed I had missed my flight to Blantyre. There was no flight then until the next morning which meant we had to go through customs and security to be put up in a hotel near the airport for the night. On the minibus taking us to the hotel I got talking to a lovely family, the mother of which just happened to be the daughter of the former Celtic player, Ian Young, whom I saw playing many times in the early 1960’s.
We had a big chunk of the day still to kill, so I joined the family on a trip to the Giraffe Centre, created by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, where the children, and adults, delighted in ascending high platforms and have the gentle giraffes come and eat of our hands; and then on to the Karen Blixen Museum at the place named after her. She was the author of the book Out of Africa, her own autobiography, later made into a film starring Meryl Streep. We returned to the hotel and had a meal together, and then to bed as we had a very early start next morning and would have to go through all the security procedures again. Unfortunately, at 2 o’clock in the morning, the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the hotel. After about an hour we were allowed back in again but sleep proved elusive as I was afraid of oversleeping and missing the flight again. This proved wise as the alarm call I had booked at the hotel never came. Eventually I got to Blantyre and went straight to the cathedral. The Mass had already started so I decided just to sit quietly in the congregation and greet the young newly ordained Passionist afterwards. At least I would be able to concelebrate his first mass at his home village the next day. However, the ordaining bishop spotted me and called me forward to sit on the sanctuary with the rest of the priests, which I had to do in secular clothing, feeling rather uncomfortable. A feast followed and later that night I slept like a log. The next day I was collected and taken to the village where Fr. Patrick’s first Mass was being held. This time I was able to vest and concelebrate properly, along with Fr. Terence, whom many will remember from St. Mungo’s. Fr. Terence had travelled down with some students from Zambia, where he was staying at the time. So, all in all, despite missed flights and fire alarms, I enjoyed the trip immensely, and I have great memories of the days that followed, and of the beautiful country and people of Malawi.
I suppose we could look at the Season of Advent as a kind of alarm call. Certainly, it’s a wake-up call, and a timely warning to get our lives in order so as to be ready, in each and every moment, to meet Christ face to face, when He comes again. Alarms go off for a reason, and it’s best to heed them.
Here are a few Advent thoughts from Pope St. John Paul ll.
“It is necessary to understand that the whole of our life must be an ‘advent,’ a vigilant awaiting of the final coming of Christ. To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously”.
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 3rd – 10th DECEMBER
I worked in the Olivetti factory in Queenslie from 1970-1975, at which time I left to join the Passionists. I was a cost accountant and I worked with a great group of people in the office, including our boss who, as an accountant and as a human being was top class. I had only been there a few months when myself and this boss had to go into town for some meeting or other, my memory of where it was and what it was about is a bit vague. What I remember clearly is the journey back when we went to Queen Street Station to catch a train. We were cutting it fine and at the end had to run along the platform as the train was getting ready to pull out. As we ran, I was aware of my boss dropping something which then seemed to bounce back up off the platform and straight into his hand without him breaking stride. When we leaped onto the train and took seats opposite each other, trying to catch our breath, I looked up and saw him inserting his glass eye back into its socket. Until that moment I hadn’t realized that he wore a glass eye, and I understood then what he had dropped and caught on the platform. Ever since it has given me a new understanding of the phrase “catching your eye”.
Thinking about “catching your eye”, when I was living in Dublin, one of my rituals whenever I returned home was to go for a walk around the west end where I was born and grew up, and also to saunter down Clydeside to the docks where my father had worked as a time keeper for the Anchor Line shipping company. The west end of Glasgow remains one of my favourite places. Just before I left St. Mungo’s in 1986 I gave a solo mission in St. Simon’s, Partick, the parish where I had served on the altar for years as a child, and just about everyone who came to the mission regaled me with stories and memories that I treasure to this day.
At one of the mission sessions a man caught my eye and seemed to observe me suspiciously throughout. He approached me afterwards and interrogated me; then, having firmly
established my lineage and making a comment or two on my preaching; he proceeded to ask about my mother, then retired, my older brother Hugh, who at that time was writing for The Scotsman, and finally about my younger brother Patrick, who was working for National
Savings. He then held my eye for a bit longer, before saying, “Aye, Ah kent yir faither”.
Now, as we all know in Scotland, when someone tells you he kent yir faither, you know you are being advised, in no uncertain terms, not to get above your station, not to form any high
opinions about yourself, and not to forget the humble roots you came from. It’s a national trait to have a certain ambivalence towards anyone who does reasonably well for themselves. On the one hand you might feel quite proud of the local boy or girl who did well, but on the other hand you have to be suspicious of them until you satisfy yourself they’ve remained humble and ordinary. The only reply I could think of to make to my interrogator, on behalf of myself and my brothers, was “Aye, Ah know ye did”. I hope that satisfied him.
One of the ways I like to think about God is that God is always trying to catch my eye. God is in all things if only I would notice. I think of Moses on the hillside noticing the burning bush, and when he approaches it he takes off his sandals because he realises that he is standing on Holy Ground, that he is in the presence of the living God. How often am I standing on Holy Ground without even realising? I think too of that wonderful description of prayer as “looking at God, looking at me, lovingly” God catching my eye, me catching God’s eye, in a gaze of love. How often in the Gospels does Jesus open eyes that we might see? And, of course, our God is the God who guards us as the pupil of his eye. In the words of an old hymn:
O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Saviour, and life more abundant and free! Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace
FATHER FRANK’S LOG: 26th NOVEMBER – 3rd DECEMBER
In this month of November, as well as remembering my deceased loved ones, I found myself also remembering the death of a much-loved fictional character. Over the years I was a huge fan of the television series Inspector Morse. I would never miss an episode and I can remember, during the years 1996-2000, when I was parish priest in Prestonpans, that I enjoyed nothing better than staying home on a Wednesday night, making a big mug of tea and a sandwich, and settling down from 8-10 p.m. to watch Inspector Morse on ITV, watching out for the cameo appearances of the author of the books, Colin Dexter, who, like Alfred Hitchcock, liked to put in a brief personal appearance in each episode. I liked everything about the series - the stories, the setting, the pace, the music, and the characters. Also, the acting was wonderful.
Just to show how sad I am, I once traveled to Oxford and spent a week, as part of my summer holiday, visiting some of the haunts connected with the series. I had a pint of real ale, Morse’s favourite tipple, in the Turf Bar; the Eagle and Child, and the Bear Inn – not all on one day of course! I perused the world-famous Blackwell’s Book Store on Broad Street. I visited the Asmolean Museum, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Bodelian Library, and the Oxford Union. I walked and relaxed in the Botanic Gardens, and at that stage I could have told you which episodes each of these places featured in. “Get a life!” I hear you say, but I had a really enjoyable time.
I even remember the date Morse died. On Wednesday 15th November, 2000, having just revealed that his first name, a well-kept secret to the end, was in fact Endeavour, we saw Morse collapse outside the Oxford University Church, while inside they were singing Faures Requiem. What made it even sadder was that he didn’t have his browbeaten but loyal sidekick, Sergeant Lewis, with him. “Get Lewis for me”, he said, as he was carried into the ambulance. But Lewis never got there in time, Morse never got to say what he wanted to say, and, in the end, he had to call Chief Superintendent Strange over and simply say, “Thank Lewis for me” - and that was that, those were his last words.
There have been a couple of spin-off series that I have enjoyed as well- Lewis and Endeavour – but they couldn’t quite live up to the original. The actor who played Morse so wonderfully, John Thaw, died only 15 months or so after his on-screen death, aged just 60.
I like being able to connect with the actual settings for books I read, or television series I watch, and of course that applies even more so to the settings for the Gospels. I have only ever made one trip to the Holy Land but it will remain always with me as a sacred and special memory. To visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; to walk around Nazareth; to dip my feet in the River Jordan near to where Jesus was Baptized; to go out into the desert where Jesus was tempted; to enjoy a glass of wine in Cana; to go out in a boat on the Lake of Genessaret; to visit the ruins of Simon Peter’s house at Capernaum; to celebrate Mass on the Hill of the Beatitudes; to go up Mount Tabor, the setting for the Transfiguration; to look over Jerusalem from the place where Jesus wept; to enter the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus in Bethany; to be in the room where the Last Supper was celebrated and the Eucharist instituted; to pray in the garden of Olives; to go down into the dungeon where Jesus was kept overnight by Caiphus; to walk the Via Dolorosa; to stand on the site of Calvary; to kneel in the Holy Sepulcher; and to go up the hill from where Jesus’ Ascended into heaven, hearing an echo of Jesus’ last words before He returned to the Father, and to feel a part of His final commission to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth. Oxford was good – but the Holy land was incomparable, and no matter how tenuous the exact authenticity of some of these sites may be, they still brought the Gospel story alive, and I truly felt I was walking in the footsteps of the Lord.
You all know this poem about walking in the footsteps of the Lord:
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?” The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you”