Father Gareth’s return has freed up a little bit of space, even for the ordinary things. Last Saturday I was to celebrate a wedding in the afternoon, so I came into the church early, parked the car in the church yard, and headed into town to do some chores, one of which was to buy razor blades for my Gillette razor. Razor blades are one of those items where there is far too much choice. I usually find myself gazing at a wide array of options in the store, trying to remember what type of razor I actually have as, even though the blades are meant to be interchangeable, I am one of those people with slight (I think) OCD, who has to get the right blades to match the right razor, otherwise it will really annoy me. For a while I tried an electric razor. That was when I was Rector and Parish Priest at Mount Argus in Dublin, and a very much-loved priest on the parish team was leaving to go to Holy Cross in Belfast. Some people clubbed together and presented him with a very nice, and quite expensive, electric razor, which he surreptitiously passed on to me as he had never had anything other than a wet shave in his whole life, and he had no intention of changing then. I started to use the electric razor now and again, on occasions when I was feeling too tired, or too lazy, to have a wet shave, but it never really felt the same, and so I use it even more occasionally now.
In my late teens and early twenties, I went through my beard phase. This was at the time when I was playing double bass in a folk group, playing at being an accountant by day, and plying my musical trade in clubs and pubs around the country by night, and a beard for a folk musician was almost compulsory – just for the men, of course. During this period my older brother got married and I was his best man. I had a quite horrendous beard at that time, very bushy but shaved away at the chin. The only evidence remaining of this is in some wedding photographs gleefully and sadistically held on to by my sister-in-law. I have vowed to find them some day and destroy them. I still had a beard when I joined the Passionists. Myself and a fellow Scot, wearing identical green puffer jackets, and sporting lots of face hair, arrived at the Passionist Monastery of Saint Gabriel’s, the Graan, in Enniskillen to begin our postulancy on the 4th of October 1975. We were three days late in arriving, through no fault of our own, and when we walked in the door our four new classmates, two from Belfast, one from County Clare, and one from Nigeria, and all a few years younger than us, gazed in amazement at us, as if we had just dropped in from another planet, and looked terrified. The Passionist who was to be our Postulancy Director for the year was none too impressed either. After a while, they all realised we were quite normal, and we settled down to our introductory spiritual year together. About five months later, during Lent, I decided to shave my beard off. I had been sporting a beard for about 6 years at this stage, and so I felt very exposed around the face when it was no longer there. Three days after I shaved it off, one of the older Passionists, who vary rarely spoke during meals, a carry-over from the days when Passionists were not allowed to speak at meal times, suddenly burst out and demanded to know who this stranger was who had been in his midst for days, and to whom he hadn’t yet been introduced. It took a wee while for everybody to realise he was talking about me. He just hadn’t recognised me. I’ve been cleanshaven now for 44 years, and I doubt I will ever grow a beard again.
It's funny how we always imagine Jesus with a beard, a reasonable assumption given the times and culture he lived in, even though there is no description of what Jesus looked like in the Gospels, beard or no beard. The evangelists had much more important things to write about. And yet, one of my favourite images of Jesus is in Caravaggio’s famous painting of the Supper at Emmaus, which hangs in the National Gallery in London. In this wonderful painting Jesus is cleanshaven, and I find it a quite beautiful and captivating image, almost wanting to jump out of my seat with the disciples Jesus had met on the road, at the moment of recognition. Going back to last Saturday, I ended up buying a new razor, a Harry, not a Gillette, which has only one type of blade, much cheaper than the others, and so life may be less confusing in the future, at least when it comes to buying razor blades.
Out at Bishopbriggs we are all doing okay. Father Gareth has settled back seamlessly; Father Justinian is keeping disgustingly well; Father Antony had a, thankfully negative, Covid-19 test to enable him to accompany Deacon Joe on to a boat to celebrate Mass with the crew and to hear Confessions; and I made the Sports pages of the Sunday Mail – I can’t complain, because I don’t ask big brother when I occasionally mention him in the Log, so he probably feels free to do the same. So, more than ever; do all you can to protect yourselves, to protect your loved ones, and to protect Christ in your lives.