Earlier today I came back from the post office and, as I parked the car in the yard, I noticed the door open from the yard into the church hall area. As that would be the quickest route to my office I slipped in and thought no more about it. As I sat having a cup of tea with two of my Passionist colleagues, Father Paul Francis and Brother Antony, we became aware of a bit of a stramash outside. Then we heard the unmistakeable cooing of pigeons. As it turned out, two pigeons had found their way in through the open yard door and, as most of you probably know, once pigeons find their way in to somewhere, they are not so easy to encourage out again, and are very likely to leave their calling card. We just sat drinking our tea, knowing that more capable people than us were dealing with it.
It wasn’t my first experience of this. The new monastery at Mount Argus in Dublin has a beautiful atrium, but with an awful lot of glass panels. One very warm day, when one of the panels was open for air, a pigeon found its way in, and it was heart-breaking to see the poor bird frantically flying, again and again, into every panel except the one that was open. I think I had heard somewhere that they will never go back out the same way they came in.
That would explain a previous encounter I had when I was parish priest at St. Gabriel’s in Prestonpans in the late 1990’s. St. Gabriel’s was one of the first churches in Scotland built after Vatican II with the post-Vatican II liturgy in mind. There was only one way in and out of the church, and that was through the front doors. The walls swept around in a curved arc towards the sanctuary over which, at first, there hung a figure of the Risen Christ. The good Catholics of Prestonpans, however, yearned for a traditional Crucified Christ, and this was provided thanks to a kindly bequest, the Resurrection Cross finding a new home in a side-chapel. I’m not too sure what the architect would have thought of this, I doubt that he would have been too happy, but the people were happy, and thought that this was a much more fitting image to have in a church ministered to by the Passionists. The only windows were of stained glass, very high up. They were more like narrow slits and were never opened.
On this particular day a pigeon found its way in through the front door and perched itself on a ledge high above the sanctuary. Now and again it would take flight around the church and then futilely crash into one of the narrow stained-glass windows in an attempt to get out, but no amount of shooing would encourage it towards the front doors from which it had entered. There was an evening Mass to be celebrated later and I wondered what would happen. Then a lady appeared in the church to say a few prayers. When she saw what was happening, she said that her son was a pigeon fancier and that she would ask him to come along and advise us. Half an hour later her son appeared with his pal, a very long ladder, and a blanket. The pal held the ladder while he climbed up, carrying the blanket. Within seconds he had the pigeon wrapped in the blanket, climbed down the ladder, went outside and unrolled the blanket, thereby setting the pigeon free to fly happily on its way. There is no better solution to anything, other than someone who actually knows what they’re doing.
Getting back to St. Mungo’s earlier today. Together with Brother Antony, I had to make my way carefully out, past what looked like a lot of feathers, and other stuff, to celebrate Mass in the Glasgow Caledonian University. When we returned, an hour or so later, the pigeons were gone, and the place was beautifully cleaned up. I got the impression, however, that I shouldn’t ask too many questions as to how this was achieved, and I unreservedly took the hint.
It took me back to my student days when my class came to St. Mungo’s to help out in the Holy Week Ceremonies. This was when Father Michael Doogan was rector and parish priest, and Father Paul Francis was the vicar. For the Easter Vigil Father Michael, who liked a bit of liturgical drama and symbolism, had set two white doves, which of course belong to the same bird family as pigeons, in a cage on the sanctuary. Thankfully they didn’t escape, and the Vigil passed peacefully.
And when the days for their purification, according to the law of Moses, were completed, they brought Him (Jesus) up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons. (Luke 2:22-24)