For the past couple of years, we had more or less abandoned morning coffee at the Passionist community house in Bishopbriggs, excepting the occasional mug of instant. Two of us prefer tea anyway, while the other two drink nether tea nor coffee. However, Brother Conor, a senior Passionist student from Northern Ireland, has arrived to spend a few months with us to gain pastoral experience before his diaconate ordination later in the year. Conor’s formation director in Ireland was a bit of a coffee connoisseur, and Conor also spent the last few years studying theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, USA, where morning coffee was a non-negotiable. So, proper percolated morning coffee is now back on the agenda.
Last Monday morning, I came downstairs for breakfast and, catching the aroma of the coffee, I was immediately transported back in time to the first cup of coffee I ever drank. I can tell you that this was on October 5th 1975, when I was aged 24. Why do I remember this? Well, that was the year I joined the Passionists. I arrived to begin my postulancy at The Graan monastery in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, on October 4th, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi. I had travelled over from Glasgow with another Scot, and on that first evening we met Father Bernard, our Postulancy Director, our four fellow postulants, three from Ireland and one from Nigeria, and the rest of the Passionist community. I was shown to my cell (room) and retired for the night. The next morning a bell woke us very early for Lauds (Morning Prayer) and Mass, after which we made our way to the refectory (dining room) for breakfast. I will never forget the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee that awaited us. It was impossible to resist, and so, for the first time in my life, I drank a mug of coffee.
That wasn’t the only first for me that year. Our daily Horarium (timetable) was very much mapped out to cover every minute of the day; community prayer times; personal meditation; class and study times, meal times, and recreation times in the evening, after Vespers (Evening Prayer) and supper, when the only television we were permitted to watch was the 9 o’clock news on RTE, and football highlights on Saturday night. After praying Compline (Night Prayer) we would retire to bed in greater silence, preparing to begin the routine again next day. But there were also work times. St Gabriel’s Retreat, as the Graan was properly called, had extensive grounds and also a farm attached. As Postulants we had our tasks in relation to these. For the first time, for example, I planted trees along the avenue, and every time I have visited the Graan over the past 48 years, I always have a look to see how my trees are doing. I also had to assist the farm manager at the birth of a calf. That was definitely a first for me, and it was a breech birth. I also had to help bring in the hay in the summertime. The summer of 1976 was excessively hot, and working in the fields in the baking sun was absolutely exhausting, and not something a lad who grew up in a top floor tenement in Partick, and then Drumchapel, had ever experienced before. So, these were all some of the firsts for me.
But there was also a last experience. One day the cook had to go home as she wasn’t feeling well, so we postulants were asked to serve up the supper which she had apparently left prepared in the fridge. The supper was tongue and salad. Now, I had often eaten beef tongue growing up, but it had never occurred to me that tongue was actually a real cow’s tongue. When I opened the fridge that evening there was a head staring out at me, with a big long tongue drooling out of it, waiting to be sliced. I nearly fainted on the spot. Fortunately, one of the other postulants was from a farming background and he knew what to do. I had salad, bread and butter, and to this day I have never eaten tongue again, and I never will.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.