October is the church’s Mission Month, which automatically makes us think of the foreign missions, and foreign missionaries, those who serve Christ by becoming, what we often refer to, as green martyrs, leaving their own land to spread the Gospel in far-away places. For us, as Passionists, while we do have foreign missions in many places, being in over 60 countries throughout the world, the idea of Mission can have a different connotation, and we can tend to talk of missioners, rather than missionaries. When we were founded in the church by Saint Paul of the Cross, 300 years ago, our main apostolate was the preaching of parish missions. The founder and his companions would travel around the country, often walking barefoot, and with a preference for the poorest of places, preaching these missions, and teaching people to meditate on the Passion of Christ as a work of infinite love. He preached hundreds of these missions in the course of his lifetime and so, while he never left his native Italy, he was a true missioner, and it’s an apostolate we Passionists have tried to sustain in some way ever since.
When I was ordained in 1983, as well as being appointed vocations director for Scotland, a position to which Father Antony has just been appointed, I was also installed as part of a three-man mission team, along with Father John Mary and Father Paul Francis. There were a number of other mission teams appointed throughout the province at the same time. We preached many missions in Scotland and beyond, and one of the earliest of those was in the parish of St. Michael’s, Moodiesburn. It was a most enjoyable mission. Only two preachers were needed, so it was just myself and Father Paul Francis. The parish priest, Father Michael, was a delightful character, and exceptionally jovial, kind and generous. The children in the parish absolutely adored him. I remember that his housekeeper had put him on a diet and so, every morning, he would get up early and make a big fry-up. After devouring it, he would open all the windows to disperse the smell, and remove all evidence before the housekeeper came in. She pretended to be fooled by it, but I think she knew rightly what he was up to. When I returned to St. Mungo’s in 2016, one of the regulars at Mass here told me that he could remember that mission very well, even to the point of recounting some of the stories we told, and this was over 30 years later. That same gentleman died recently, and his funeral is taking place from St Michael’s, Moodiesburn, this week. Father Antony will represent us.
Not all of our experiences were as positive as St. Michael’s, in the sense that sometimes we were put up in poor conditions and, on more than one occasion, we had to drape the bed clothes over a radiator to get the damp out of them before we could try for a night’s sleep. But then again, I’m sure even those conditions were luxurious compared to St. Paul of the Cross’s missionary travels in his own time, and, of course, Jesus himself spoke of not having anywhere to lay his head, so who were we to complain? Our experience of the people, on the other hand, was always very positive. There was a great hunger for the Word of God, and, as well as the mission sermons, there was always a meditation on the Passion of Christ, what we called a fervorino, staying true to the conviction of St. Paul of the Cross that, to remember and to meditate on the Passion of Christ was a powerful remedy for every ill, and that there is something in the Passion of Christ that touches into everybody’s life experience. How true!
Father Gareth is home, at present, with his mum in Merthyr Tydfill, from where he returns next week, to start preparing for his move to Holy Cross, Ardoyne. We’re still getting used to the idea of his departure, but we also look forwarded to welcoming Father John soon after.
So, as always, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.