Last Saturday night I left the church, after celebrating the Vigil Mass, to go to a birthday party. The previous Tuesday my older brother, the doyen of Scottish sports’ journalists, had turned 70, and it struck me that I’m not too far behind him. His birthday was well publicised on the radio, all in good humour, and he had already celebrated with his beloved wife, and with some media and sports people. Saturday night was especially for family.
We were to gather in my niece’s house and when I arrived, thinking I would be the last, it turned out that in fact I was the first. Timing isn’t one of our family’s best suits. Before too long, however, the gang started to arrive and the first part of the night was dominated by the six grandchildren, who hadn’t all been together in one place for quite some time, as two of them live with their parents in Brighton. Chaos reigned amid the excitement as children ran from room to room, games were played, and then the grandchildren’s food was distributed and devoured. Eventually the table was cleared and the junior revelry moved to another room, which then allowed the adult food to be dished out – by this stage I was ravenous.
Like many family’s nowadays, even though we are not very numerous, we have, between the generations; vegetarians, vegans and carnivores, so the food was quite varied. As the dishes were laid on the table, I was reminded of St. Peter’s vision in the Acts of the Apostles, of a sheet lowered down from heaven that gave him an insight into foods clean and unclean, paving the way for a more benign acceptance of Gentiles into the church, inviting inclusion and acceptance in God’s name, without anyone having to change their eating habits. My thoughts returning to the party, we all began with gorgeous butternut squash and chilli soup; perfect for a bitterly cold night; there then followed chicken curry or vegetable curry; chilli con carne or chilli sans carne; beef lasagne or vegetable lasagne; there was plenty for the vegans and vegetarians, and we carnivores just tried everything, as is our wont. All of it was delicious, and all of it was home made. There was beer and wine but I was on the 7-Up.
At this stage the birthday boy pulled rank with regard to the music. It was his party and now it was time for Tony Bennett. The mix and match playlist was discarded, and on went one of the doyen’s favourites, whom he had gone to see many times. The grandchildren looked bemused as he insisted that they listen to this great man, whose real name, he told them, was Anthony Benedetto. Perhaps, as Tony Bennett is now 93, it helped him to feel still young.
Time was moving on and, as I had an early start at St. Mungo’s the next day, I made the difficult and painful decision to skip dessert. As I made my farewells and headed for the door two meringues topped with all sorts of delicious looking stuff were put in a container and thrust into my hand by my two nieces. These were devoured within minutes of my arriving home to Bishopbriggs, and they tasted as good as they looked.
Early in the week I encountered one of our volunteers talking to our receptionist. She was recounting how one of her male relatives was giving out about my brother because of something he had said on Super Scoreboard. She then said that when she told her relative that his brother was the parish priest of St. Mungo’s he decided he might not be so bad after all. It struck me that the profession my brother has been in for almost 50 years now, and the role that he plays, sets him up for all kinds of flack, and that’s just accepted, but the real person is the doting husband, father and grandfather, who is never more in his element than when surrounded by the family, he loving them, and they loving him. Ad multos annos, big brother!
The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit… (Romans 14:17)