I am writing this Log the day after St. Patrick’s Day, which is the feast day of our Passionist Province. In the Passionist world we are divided into provinces, and the provinces are grouped together into what we call Configurations. The Passionists of Scotland and Ireland and Paris, France; are collectively known as St. Patrick’s Province, and we are part of the Configuration of Charles Houben, which also includes England, Wales, Sweden; Poland; the Czech Republic; Ukraine; the Netherlands; North Germany, Bavaria and Austria. Charles Houben is of course better known to us as Saint Charles of Mount Argus.
On the eve of the feast the members of St. Patrick’s Province gathered together to celebrate a time of prayer via Zoom. While not perfect, Zoom is at least one way we can connect with each other, both to pray, but also to chat informally and discover how we are all doing. For some older men this had been their first time to connect in this way, and they were amazed at the technology that enabled them to see and to speak to their Passionist brethren in all of the different province locations. When I left the meeting on Tuesday, I had been particularly moved by one of our men who has literally been to death’s dark door and back. Early on in the pandemic he was diagnosed with Covid-19 in a very severe way. He spent a long time in hospital, and for much of that time he was in an induced coma. Eventually he improved, thanks to the skills of his medical team, and was able to return home, but is still very frail.
I think this particular character might best be described, over the many years that I’ve known him, as an eccentric genius, and a free spirit. Someone once suggested that he should call his website www.catchmeifyoucan.com. He is a brilliant scripture scholar and was one of my lecturers during my student days. I remember a Christmas oral exam as part of a course called Inspiration and Canon. There were 21 theses to study in relation to this course, and when each of our class entered the exam room, he had laid out 21 rolled up pieces of paper on the table, each with a number written on them, connecting to a particular thesis. We had to choose 3 of these to be questioned on, after which he produced a bottle of wine and a glass, and offered us a Christmas drink – you just never knew what to expect! Another priest told me that he had invited him out for a drive and a walk one day. On the way back he suggested going for a cup of tea, but, as he had no money, he brought him to a blood donor centre where they got a cup of tea alright, but only after surrendering a pint of the red stuff. He is also a brilliant linguist and, when I went to Rome in 1982 to complete my studies, he was there providing simultaneous translation for our General Chapter. The evening before the canonization of Maximillian Kolbe, he brought me with him as he bluffed his way into a press conference with the man for whom Kolbe had sacrificed his life, saying that he was there to translate from Polish to English, even though he didn’t actually speak Polish, but he would give it a try. I was, needless to say, mortified. He established a very successful and popular pre-Marriage course in Dublin, putting together a great lay team. He later asked me, during the early years of my priesthood, to look after it for a few months while he went to give some scripture lectures in Africa. He came back 2 years later, having extended his tour to include North America. That gives a taste of the kind of character he is. He would often have driven me mad, especially when I was rector of Mount Argus, but I was never able to stay annoyed with him, as he was totally a man without guile. What struck me at our prayer Zoom was how accepting he was of his present situation, as he expressed his gratitude to be a Passionist, and for his Passionist brethren; thanking God for the many opportunities he had in life, but now graciously accepting the cup of suffering that he saw as a kind of purification. In looking back, I am appreciative of the rich tapestry of talents he brings to our Congregation.
We are fine in Bishopbriggs. Today, 18th March, we celebrate Fr Laurence’s 1st Anniversary.
So, as ever, protect yourselves, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.