In the last few weeks I’ve gone through a lot of Lemsips and a lot of Strepsils trying to get rid of a cold and a cough. Thankfully it’s mostly gone, although a little bit of the cough lingers on. I’ve also felt desperately tired at times as there has really been a lot of things going on, so I’ve been on vitamins too. Not that any of it did much good, it just seemed to take its course no matter what, and others have told me the same. It did, however, spark a memory from over thirty years ago when I was based in St. Mungo’s and taking my turn doing duty.
A day’s duty is quite different now from what it was then. Now if I’m on duty I’ll come in from Bishopbriggs to arrive at the church for 9am. The church will already have been opened so I’ll make my way to the office and do some deskwork before starting to hear confessions from 10.30-12.00. The priest on duty generally celebrates the 12.15pm Mass, after which there might be a bit of lunch. After that there may be people to see, people to visit, or more deskwork. Confessions begin again from 4.30-5.30 and, sometime after that, the church is closed unless there is a service on. If there are no meetings of parish groups, or any other commitments, I can then make my way back to Bishopbriggs. The phone is switched through to the priest on duty and he takes any calls that come in from closing time until the next morning’s opening time. The following will give you an idea of how different it used to be.
On this particular day in the early 1980’s I was on duty, and I was just going constantly from morning till night. I opened the Church at 6.30am to find a scrupulous penitent seeking Confession before the early Mass. It was the Thursday before a First Friday and so Confessions throughout the day were very demanding. Callers were regular at the door, the listening was intense, and I barely had time to eat my meals. This continued throughout the whole day until 9.00pm, which was when the day’s duty finished. At that point I just wanted to close the door behind me, relax in front of the telly, say a few prayers, and then go to bed with a good book.
Just before lock-up time the doorbell went again and my heart sank. I opened it to see a regular and familiar face. He was a character I could at times enjoy. I knew he was going to give me a long and entertaining story with an Oscar winning performance and then ask for a few pounds at the end of it. This night however I was just too tired. He had barely started the story when I held up my hand and said, “I’m too tired Jimmy, how much do you want?” He looked at me, smiled and said, “A fiver.” I’ll give you £2”, I said. “Could you make it £3”, he replied. “Fine”, I said, and got him the money. Off he went happy as can be.
I locked the place up, again longing for rest, but I had barely reached the recreation room when the bell went again. I couldn’t believe it. I opened up once more, and there was my friend who had just left. He looked at me sympathetically, handed me a Lemsip, and said, “Here Father, take this and get to your bed, you look a bit rough”. I have to say I roared laughing and went to bed in great form. There seemed to be many such incidents like that in St. Mungo’s back then. Perhaps these selected words from a lovely song speak volumes:
Stranger, standing at my door, you disturb me in the night: you have needs I can’t ignore, you have eyes that speak your plight. Do I know you, nameless face?
I am fearful of your claim, yet I cannot turn away. Stranger with the unknown name, are you angel come to stay? You are messenger and guest, you, the Christ, I can’t ignore, you my own compassion’s test, stranger, standing at my door. you, the Christ, I can’t ignore. you, the Christ, I can’t ignore.