The 4th of October was the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, my own name saint. In the Passionists, as I am sure is the case in most religious orders, there is a tradition of celebrating the Rector’s feast day as a Gaudeamus – a day of joy, which usually means a decent meal and maybe a glass of wine. Older members of the community recall that in the past it meant two pittances, in other words two desserts. Historically, a pittance was a pious bequest to a religious house to provide extra food and wine at particular festivals, or on the anniversary of the benefactor's death, but over time it had come to mean a simple treat, such as a dessert, over and above the usual fayre. Normally, there was a pittance only on Thursdays and Sundays, but on special occasions there would be two pittances, a rare treat indeed.
As the 4th of October approached, and me being the Rector of St. Mungo’s, I was teasing the community as to what they were going to do for the Rector’s feast. There was a football match on television that night, beginning at 6pm, so we agreed that we would have a meal that we could bring into the sitting room and eat while watching the match together. That morning I celebrated the 10 o’clock Mass. Father Gareth was on duty and so I busied myself in the office until lunch time, after which I decided to give myself the afternoon off and go home for a rest. Brother Antony had the car and the plan was that, on the way home, we would do shopping for the meal, a simple pasta, and get petrol in the car which was beeping loudly at us and flashing a red light to let us know it was thirsty. Brother Antony, our number one cook, would then begin preparing the meal while I relaxed in my room.
At first everything went according to plan. We got the shopping and then filled the car with petrol at a self-service pump. The first blip was that the machine did not print out the receipt that I would need for our auditors. As Brother Antony drove me to the supermarket to find an assistant to ask about the receipt he noticed a strange sound and a pull on the car. I got out to find the front passenger side tyre as flat as a pancake. We found somewhere to park and I went in to sort out the receipt for the petrol. When I returned, Brother Antony informed me that the tyre wouldn’t take any air, so we spent the next twenty minutes or more putting on the spare tyre. I say “we”, but I really mean Brother Antony as, amazingly, I have never had to change a tyre in my life and, with a bit of a bad back, I didn’t fancy starting now.
We completed the journey home and took the shopping out of the car, but then, instead of me going up to rest, I took the car to get what I presumed would be a new tyre, as the old one looked beyond repair. I was told I would have to wait about 40 minutes before they could look at it, so I left it with them and walked into the village where I spent some time sitting, quietly praying in St. Matthew’s, to a backdrop of nice classical music that was being piped through the sound system. I returned just as they were starting to look at the car. As it turned out I ended up having to get two new tyres and two new springs to balance the wheels as one had snapped. I had to leave the car with them and get the bus home, returning the following afternoon to collect it and departing with my wallet a good bit lighter than when I started.
My Gaudeamus hadn’t turned out to be the day of joy that was intended. Brother Antony did produce a lovely meal, with a starter that we ate around the table before bringing our pasta into the sitting room; but then the match turned out to be a disaster as well, with our team producing a poor performance and being on the wrong side of a heavy defeat. I may not have received the stigmata that Francis received, but I did feel as if I had received a few wounds.
Stigmata Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, we praise you and adore you. Like Francis, we are amazed that you held nothing back from us in pouring yourself out for us so totally through your holy wounds on the cross. We ask you to breathe forth your Holy Spirit into us and set our hearts on fire, so that, with the Spirit’s help, we might respond more fully to you. Amen.