At the end of 1999, and the beginning of 2000, I welcomed in the New Year, and the New Millennium, at St. Gabriel’s Church Hall in Prestonpans, where I was parish priest at the time. A great number of parishioners gathered in the hall from 11.00 p.m. We celebrated a prayer service to take us up to midnight and, once the bells had rung, we celebrated in the traditional way. Shortly after that I was transferred to Dublin, and ever since then I have greeted the New Year in with family, initially at the house of my older brother and his wife, and then, in more recent years, at the house of the older of my two nieces.
Part of the thinking was that, seeing as how I was in Dublin and not able to be with the family around Christmas, this was the occasion when the clan could all gather and celebrate together, with me included, and, even though I am now back home in Scotland this past three Christmases, the tradition persists. Scotch broth and steak pie are consumed in abundance. Now, of course, there have to be vegetarian and vegan versions on offer as well. After dessert, glasses are filled, and we would normally head into another room to join Jackie Bird, Phil Cunningham and Ally Bain, and then the lone piper on Castle Mound in Edinburgh for the final reflective moments, before the bells and the fireworks resound, then hugs and handshakes and kisses to greet the year, and arms linked for Auld Lang Syne. Followers of this log may remember that last year, three beautiful desserts were dropped and left splattered on the pavement by my younger niece’s husband and, while the fault lay more with the bags than with him (or so he says), he wasn’t entrusted with the task this year, just in case.
The transition from 2019 to 2020 was, however, slightly different to previous years, and not just because there was no Jackie Bird. For many of the family 2019 had been a difficult year due to sickness and bereavement. For a variety of reasons some well kent faces were missing. Among those missing was my older niece’s brother-in-law, a fellow priest in the Archdiocese of Glasgow, who drew the short straw and was on call throughout the night for the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, I was lucky as I was on call on the 30th. Also missing was my younger brother who, after a lengthy period of sickness during the latter part of 2019, is, for the time being at least, housebound. This meant that, half an hour before the bells, I left the celebrations, and went to be with him to raise a glass of Irn Bru to greet 2020. In many ways I enjoyed the quieter crossing of the threshold as I had found 2019 quite difficult for myself. I was asleep on the couch by one o’clock, and up in the morning to head for St. Mungo’s to celebrate the Mass of Mary, Mother of God, always a beautiful way to start a year.
What had been a difficult year had ended on a good note anyway, with the successful and beautiful completion of the refurbishment in St. Mungo’s which, it would seem, people are delighted with; and also, the ordination of Father Antony Connelly. I was celebrating Mass in St. Roch’s the other day, and the lady who runs the repository there held up the latest edition of the Flourish, the Archdiocesan monthly newspaper, and said, “it shouldn’t be called the Flourish this month, it should be called the St. Mungo’s Gazette!” And true enough, there is ample coverage of both the refurbishment and the ordination for which we are grateful.
What 2020 will bring, nobody knows. 2019 was the 150th anniversary of St. Mungo’s Church, and 2020 is the 300th anniversary of the Passionists. The St. Mungo’s Jubilee brought many blessings, light dispelling darkness, and I have no doubt that the Passionist Jubilee will bring the same, and so I offer the same little poem extract I offered at this time last year:
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than any light, and safer than any known way.” So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night...