I was listening to news reports this morning about an exhibition by Banksy, the renowned graffiti artist, which will run for three months, beginning this week, in GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art), in Glasgow, which is probably best known for the traffic cone on top of the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington outside. The cone on top of the Duke of Wellington’s head, perhaps initially considered an act of vandalism back in the 1980’s, when it first appeared, has now become a famous Glasgow landmark, reflecting the humour of the locals. It even appears on postcards of the city. There is, of course, a Passionist connection with the Duke of Wellington, as he was the uncle of the first rector of Mount Argus in Dublin, Father Paul Mary Packenham CP. While other family members were disowning him for becoming a Catholic, and, even more so, for becoming a Passionist, the Duke said to him, that if he was as good a monk as he was a soldier, he would do well. I have to confess that GOMA isn’t my favourite gallery in Glasgow, I’m a bit more of a traditionalist when it comes to art, but I imagine I will make the effort to get to this exhibition at some stage. Last week, however, I did pay one of my occasional visits to my very favourite gallery at Kelvingrove, just a stone’s throw from where I was born and grew up in Partick Bridge Street. I have mentioned before how a visit to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was a regular Sunday outing for us as kids, so it has a very special place in my heart. I visited my usual favourite exhibitions, but there was also a new, temporary exhibition on loan from the V&A on the fashion designer, Dame Mary Quant, who died recently. It’s not that I am all that interested in retro fashion, but I do consider the “Swinging Sixties”, during which she was a leading figure, as a time engraved in my memory, encompassing my years of teenage angst, and as a very special period of my life, especially in regard to my favourite music. I have often quoted the late, great, Leonard Cohen, who said that those who were around at that time didn’t really realise it was the sixties, we just thought it was “ordinary time”.
This weekend I will be celebrating my 40th anniversary as a Passionist priest. In these times of journeying towards a humbler church, and a humbler priesthood, I’m not planning any big celebration. I will simply wonder with amazement that, with all my weaknesses, I have made it this far. I will give thanks to God for family, friends, formators, and others who have helped me along the way; I will ask pardon for the many ways in which I have at times failed; and I will seek the grace of God to be able to give a little more for as long as I can. This same week will also see my 72nd birthday, so I’m not getting any younger. As the Passionists and the Archdiocese seek to find a creative and positive way forward in the present climate of shortage of priests, alongside many other challenging issues, not just here, but throughout the world; the likelihood is that more, rather than less, will be asked of us priests in our senior years, until we are no longer able. More and more we will require the ministry of committed laity and, indeed, that’s at least in part what this present Synodal Way journey is all about.
Forty years ago, after completing my diaconate year in Rome, I took a sleeper train to Paris and spent a week with our Passionist Community at St Joseph’s, Avenue Hoche, near to the Arc de Triumph, at our famous church where Oscar Wilde received conditional baptism and last rites on the eve of his death on the Feast of St. Andrew, 1900. It was my first time to visit St. Joseph’s, and my first time in Paris. I enjoyed the week, and then flew home to Glasgow, to be ordained by Cardinal Winning in St. Mungo’s on 18th June 1983, which was also my mother’s 64th birthday. The rest, as they say, is history. Father Justinian, of course, can add 20 years on to my journey, while Father Gareth and Father John are 30 years behind me, and, arguably, they are the ones who are facing the biggest challenge. Please pray for all of us.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.