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.