Last Saturday our Passionist Young Team hosted a Quiz Night to raise funds for the Apostleship of the Sea, and also to put some funds aside for themselves to help pay for Day Retreats and nights out etc. Fancy Dress was essential and, if you were to walk around the tables, you would have found sailors; Arab sheiks; princesses; goths; cowboys; politicians; rock- stars; monsters; super-heroes; witches, and a blood-soaked surgeon with a saw sticking out of her head, to name but a few. If there were a prize it might have gone to Shrek and Princess Fiona, who really looked the part. I have to confess I hadn’t intended dressing up, but Father Gareth had bought a few bits and pieces and then was unable to be there as he has gone home to Merthyr Tydfil to be with his mum who is quite ill at this time – prayers please. I knew that everybody was going to miss him so in his honour I put on his costume which, I think, was meant to be a pirate. I had a three-cornered hat; a stripey-jumper; an eye patch with a skull-and-crossbones on it; a telescope, and a false beard and moustache which wouldn’t stay on. It was an effort anyway.
It had also been intended that Father Gareth be the quiz-master, so Brother Antony stepped into that breach. He also excelled in fancy-dress and might have given Shrek and Fiona a run for their money. He was covered in black from head to toe and every now and again, in between quiz rounds, he would change his mask. He started off as the grim reaper; then the Scream; and finally, a skeleton skull, before returning to the grim reaper. I think he may have had in mind the Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) which he had been discussing earlier with the young team in relation to Halloween. The Danse Macabre was originally inspired by the horrors of the middle ages, especially the Black Death. It is an artistic personification of death containing representatives from all walks of life dancing along to the grave, usually with a pope, an emperor, a king, a child, and a labourer. reminding people of the fragility of life and that death is no respecter of persons, it comes to everyone from all walks of life.
I was reminded of a road trip I took with Father Paul Francis over twenty years ago. With him as guide (Fr. Paul Francis didn’t drive at the time) I drove from Paris, where he was then based, down through the Burgundy region of France, where we visited a few Cistercian Abbeys, beginning with Citeaux, and also the occasional winery. We then made our way through Switzerland and over the Great St. Bernard Pass, stopping off at the monastery where they breed the St. Bernard dogs, and down into Aosta in Italy.
Our destination was Turin where we were to meet up with an Italian Passionist who had studied with us in Dublin. He didn’t drive either and, between the two of them, I found myself driving along the main thoroughfare in Turin in the wrong direction, being honked at by four lanes of irate Italian motorists. How we survived, except by the grace of God and the Holy Shroud, I’ll never know. For the return journey we came back by Mont Blanc and decided to take a couple of detours. The first was to Tours, where St. Martin of Tours was its famous third bishop, and which was now a stopping-point for pilgrims on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Our second detour was to Ars, the little town where St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, was parish priest in the early 19th century. Somewhere along the way, in a very remote rural area, Fr. Paul Francis had discovered that there was a little church where the interior walls were covered in frescoes of the Danse Macabre. We just had to pay a visit and it was a haunting, eerie experience that has stayed with me ever since. Let me seek solace in St. Paul (1 Corinthians: 55-57)
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law,
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.