This last week has been quite alarming. Let me explain. Last Wednesday night I went out for a stroll to take my mind off a certain football match. It was a bitterly cold night but very clear and there was a beautiful Lenten moon in the sky. I was well wrapped up and enjoying the walk immensely. About two miles out from home I received a phone call from Father Gareth, and, almost simultaneously, a text from one of the teachers in St. Mungo’s Primary who was leaving a meeting, both telling me that the intruder alarm was going off at the church. I had a brisk walk back to the house to collect the car, and drove into the church. Even as I approached, I could hear the alarm bell sounding. Thankfully, we don’t have any nearby neighbours to annoy at such times. The reason for the alarm going off was a bit of a mystery. I pressed the usual buttons and nothing happened. Then, however, it suddenly stopped. Whether it was anything I had done, or it just stopped sounding, I didn’t know, but it was lovely to hear the silence. The next day I tried to contact the alarm company for an engineer call-out, as there was clearly a fault. To cut a long story short, we seemed to be caught in the limbo of a takeover of our alarm company by a bigger company, and I kept running into a brick wall, as the takeover company were denying our existence. This persisted for a couple of days, but at least the alarm was still silent. Of course, all of this was happening while my trusted maintenance man was on holiday. Last Friday evening I arrived home, intending to take a little rest before our usual Friday night community meal. I was no sooner in the door, coat still on, when I received a phone call to tell me, once again, that the alarm was sounding. In I went once again, to follow the same procedure, pushing buttons forlornly until, for no apparent reason, the alarm went silent. It remained silent until the following Tuesday. I arrived back from a meeting in Clyde Street, and immediately became aware of the alarm sounding again. My maintenance man was back from his holiday, but, between the two of us, we couldn’t silence the alarm. With the bit between my teeth, I got back on to the alarm company until, perseveringly, our existence, and our maintenance contract, was acknowledged. An emergency call-out was logged and, within a couple of hours, an engineer arrived and resolved the problem. At times such as these that the disadvantage of living 5 miles away from the church becomes more acute, but still, we dream that we might resolve that someday too.
The devastating effects of Tropical Storm Freddy in Malawi these past days, brought to mind, for me, another alarming experience from some years back. I was vice-Provincial at the time, and I had to go out to Malawi, and to the capital, Blantyre, to attend the ordination of a young Passionist who would become a part of our St. Patrick’s Province overseas mission, at that time centred in Botswana, South Africa and Zambia (now part of a pan-African configuration of Passionists). I had to fly from Edinburgh to Heathrow; Heathrow to Nairobi, Nairobi to Blantyre. Unfortunately, the flight from Heathrow to Nairobi was delayed, and I missed the connection to Blantyre. There would be no flight now until the following morning, the day of the ordination. Those travelling on, just myself and a family of four, were to be put up in a hotel in Nairobi overnight, which involved a lot of paperwork, but, eventually, we got there. We had most of the day still to pass and I was invited by the family to join them on a visit to the Nairobi National Park, Giraffe Centre and Karen Blixen Museum, which wasn’t too far away. On the trip there I discovered that the mother of the family was the daughter of a former Celtic full back, whom I remembered well from my younger days. We had an enjoyable day together. I went to bed that night, very tired, and with a very early start to get to the airport. However, at 2 o’clock in the morning, I was awoken by the fire alarm going off. We all had to assemble outside the hotel until it was deemed a false alarm. After I got back into bed, I never slept a wink. I got the flight from Nairobi to Blantyre, via Addis Ababa, and arrived an hour or so before the ordination was due to begin. I managed to dumb my bag where I was staying and hailed a taxi to the church. I arrived too late, the Mass having just begun. It was an outdoor Mass in searing heat. I decided just to attend as part of the big congregation and found myself a sheltered spot in the shade. But then the bishop noticed me, and after much whispering on the sanctuary, I was invited up to join the concelebrants, but still in my civilian clothes. I felt a bit awkward, and also uncomfortable, as I was now sitting in an unshaded seat. Eventually, the very long ordination Mass was over, and I lived to tell the tale. I’m happy to say that the first Mass of the new priest, the following day, went much more smoothly.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.