For very many years now my younger brother has ventured out, every Saturday afternoon, to an expanse of waste ground, bearing carrier bags of scraps to feed the birds. I have only accompanied him on a few occasions, and each time I was amused by the fact that, when we arrived at the chosen spot, there was not a bird in sight anywhere, neither on the ground nor in the sky, but that as soon as he would scatter the first scraps the birds would immediately appear from everywhere – crows, blackbirds, seagulls, pigeons, and various other smaller birds – until he was surrounded by literally hundreds of them. I think that the wrong brother was called Francis because I was in no doubt that they recognised him and knew him. This was affirmed for me by the fact that, at the height of the snow a few weeks ago, at our Passionist Community house in Bishopbriggs, we decided to scatter some scraps in our back garden, thinking that it would be a kindness to the birds at such a time, as they may have been finding food difficult to come by. The scraps were there for days and not a bird came near.
This bird-talk brings to mind one of my favourite true stories which many of you may remember. It was back in the late summer, early autumn of 2007, that a seagull began to appear at the R.S. McColl shop in Aberdeen where, as in most seaside towns, seagulls are not the most popular of God’s creatures. As the story goes, this bird would apparently hide around the corner and wait for the shop to open in the morning. When there was no one else in the shop and the assistant was at the till the bird would saunter in, pick up a packet of Spicy
Doritos, and saunter back out again. This became a daily event, with the gull always using the same routine and always choosing Spicy Doritos above all else. The shopkeeper began to get a bit frustrated and instructed the assistant to close the door over after opening up to prevent the bird from getting in. By this stage however the seagull, nicknamed Sam, had become a firm favourite with the locals, and they decided to club together to leave a fund behind the counter to pay for Sam’s Spicy Doritos, and so the door was left open.
Sam soon came to the attention of the media. Journalists and television crews appeared from all over. Sam didn’t let them down. Undeterred by all the attention he continued with his shoplifting escapade on a daily basis and, pursued by the cameras, it was discovered that he was unselfishly carrying the Spicy Doritos to a nearby spot where he would peck the packet open and share them with his friends. Sam persisted with his early morning visits to R.S. McColl’s for his Spicy Doritos for some time to come, no doubt unaware that for very many people, in that particular year, he beat politicians, film stars, football players, television
celebrities, heroes and the like, to be the Scottish News Personality of the Year, and well deserved it was too. If anyone knows whatever became of Sam, please let me know.
As we enter into Holy Week we might ponder the legends of two birds associated with Christ’s Passion. The first is the goldfinch, known for eating thistles and thorns, which in Christian art refers to Jesus’ crown of thorns. That’s why the child Jesus is sometimes depicted in art holding a goldfinch, foreshadowing his Passion and death on the cross. And then of course there is the robin, the legend saying that the robin's breast is red because, when Jesus was on the road to Calvary, a robin plucked a thorn from Christ's head where the crown of thorns had pierced, and a drop of Jesus' blood fell on the robin's breast, turning it red.
This will be the last log until after Easter so, let me finish with a quote from St. Francis:
My brother and sister birds, you should greatly praise your Creator, and love Him always. He gave you feathers to wear, wings to fly, and whatever you need. God made you noble among His creatures and gave you a home in the purity of the air so that though you neither sow nor reap, He nevertheless protects, feeds and clothes you without your least care.