The month of November began with a little bit of drama. After the celebration of the 10 a.m. Mass for the Solemnity of All Saints, I headed out to a local post office to carry out a couple of transactions, one for the Passionists and one for my brother. I was delighted, on entering, to find the place empty, as I thought my transactions might take a little time, and I don’t like keeping any customers behind me waiting. However, half-way through the first of my transactions the security alarm began to sound. There was no drama as the person attending to me seemed to realise immediately that the panic button had been pressed by mistake by a youngster on work experience. The only concern now was how to get it turned off. Having experienced, many times, our security alarm going off at the old house in St. Mungo’s for no apparent reason, and not having a clue how to silence it, I had the greatest sympathy with the assistant. She was doing a great balancing act of still trying to attend to me, while at the same time calling her boss and, on another phone, calling the security alarm company. I had great sympathy also with the young person on work experience who, although seemingly unperturbed about the whole thing, must have been very embarrassed. In the meantime, a number of other customers had arrived, and some neighbouring shopkeepers also came in, to ask if the alarm could not be turned off. It really was quite deafening. Then the police arrived. As I was the person standing at the counter, I was a wee bit concerned that I might come under suspicion and immediately be clapped in irons, but the assistant quickly put the officer’s mind at rest that it was all just a mistake. Still, he had to come through and take details. My transactions were taking even longer than I imagined. How the assistant kept her cool, her concentration, and her count, was beyond me. She was obviously well equipped, and well able to handle such situations. Eventually, after I got everything done, I thanked her, and sympathised with her profusely. As I made my way out, I received a few menacing looks from some of the other customers who may also have thought that I was somehow to blame. I tried to look suitably apologetic, but I was glad to get out and back to the church.
On the Feast of All Souls, I was recalling a time when I was secretary to, what was then called, the North European Conference of Passionists. It involved going to an annual meeting in one of the membership countries, taking the minutes, and writing up a report. These meetings would last 3 or 4 days, but there was always a half-day free when the host province would bring the members out for some cultural experience. The one that stands out most in my mind was when we went to Warsaw in Poland. In France we had been taken to a beautiful vineyard; in Germany we went to a beer garden during Oktoberfest; in England (Minsteracres in Northumberland) we visited Hadrian’s Wall; and in the Netherlands we were brought to Maastricht where the European Union Treaty was signed in 1992. In Poland they brought us to a cemetery! It was the eve of All Souls, in other words it was still All Saints’ Day, but it was after dark. When we arrived at the cemetery, we were given lamps, which we then placed on the graves of deceased Passionists. But it wasn’t just us. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in this cemetery placing lamps on their loved ones’ graves. The overall effect was powerful, beautiful and poignant. It brought to mind those beautiful prayers and readings that we associate with funerals, that speak about the darkness of death giving way to the bright light of eternal life; and that death is not a door into some kind of eternal darkness, but simply a dark door we must pass through into the light of God’s love. To see all these lamps shining out in the darkness made that all seem very real. So, as much as I enjoyed the fruits of the vineyard; the beer steins of Oktoberfest; the ancient Hadrian’s Wall (built, of course, to keep out the lawless barbarians of Scotland – so much for that!); and the historic Maastricht – the cemetery in Warsaw will be the experience I will always most remember.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.