As I write this week, our Novena to Our Lady of Sorrows is well under way. It has been good to see old, familiar faces, devotees of this Novena over many years, returning to our church, after only being able to celebrate it online last year. I was thinking back to the Novena in 2016 when, at the closing Mass, which I attended because I was at home on vacation, Father Jim Sweeney, the Provincial of the Passionists in Scotland and Ireland, introduced me as the new rector and parish priest of St. Mungo’s. That seems so long ago now but, here we are, in post-Chapter mode once again. The Provincial and his council are at present considering new appointments and I wonder if, at the close of this year’s Novena, next Wednesday, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we will be announcing any changes to the present Passionist team.
Change is part of the life of a religious. Since I joined the Passionists in 1975 I have moved communities 15 times, sometimes it was back to places I had been before, only this time to take up a different role; but most times it was to new places where I had never lived before. There is a belief that moving home is one of the most stressful things a person can experience and often that was what I felt, but, after a time, you settle in and put down new roots, even if knowing that, in time, you may be pulling them up again. Some changes have certainly been more difficult than others, but always, they have been challenging and grace-filled.
In the earlier years of our Passionist Congregation, the religious were permitted to have very little in their cells – as their rooms were then called. And even within the monastery itself, men would be asked to move cells from time to time. This was so as to encourage a spirit of detachment. For example, in the old monastery at Mount Argus in Dublin, the cell of Father Charles was turned into a little museum after his cause for canonization was introduced. But this was only the cell that he happened to be living in when he died. Throughout his many years in Mount Argus, he had lived in different cells. I imagine it must have been much easier for the religious to move, not just from cell to cell, but from monastery to monastery, when they had so little in the way of goods to bring with them. Times have changed, of course, and we are permitted to have more than we used to have. Like many people, depending on varied personality types, there can be a tendency to accumulate stuff, and that can make the process of moving even more stressful. To bring or not to bring, that is the question?
For me, books have always been the problem. I have never accumulated much of anything else, except perhaps documents connected with various roles I’ve held, but I have never been one for accumulating clothes, shoes, or nick-nacks. However, as a voracious reader of just about anything and everything, deciding what books to bring and what to leave behind has always been painful. The best thing about having had to move 15 times over the years is that this cull has been periodic. If I had never moved I might, by this stage, have been unable to navigate my cell for books, as indeed is the case in my brother’s house. Also a voracious reader, he has books piled high in just about every room where, remarkably, he seems to know exactly where each one is and, if I were ever to move one when I’m in tidy-up mode, he won’t be long in noticing, and asking me where I put it. One of the small pleasures of his enforced retirement, due to ill-health, is that he is returning to read books that he first enjoyed many years ago, and finding the pleasure in them once again. When I moved from Dublin 5 years ago, I brought just enough books to fit in the bookshelves that were already in the room, and, with the help of my Kindle, I have managed to restrict the number of books to the space available – so, I am ready to move for the 16th time, if necessary. Although, my guess is, that I won’t be asked to move this time around, and, at aged 90, I doubt if Father Justinian will be asked to move. That leaves the dynamic duo, Father Gareth and Father Antony. It would be so sad to lose either of them, but we will need to wait and see. Watch this space!
So, as ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.