At Christmas I usually write a longer newsletter to our parishioners are friends, updating them on what has been happening in our Passionist world, specifically in Saint Mungo’s but also beyond, and outlining some prospects for the New Year. Here is my letter for Christmas 2007 (and, talking of a White Christmas, it’s just started snowing in Glasgow).
THE FRIENDS OF THE PASSIONISTS AT SAINT MUNGO’S
NEWSLETTER – CHRISTMAS 2007
Dreaming of a White Christmas
Every year, in the days leading up to Christmas, I meet someone who is ‘dreaming of a White Christmas’. For many people, students or new residents, who are spending their first Christmas in Scotland and who have come from warmer climates, the thought of snow at Christmas is very appealing. I must confess that I have reached the stage in life where I don’t look forward to Christmas snow with quite as much joy and anticipation as I did before. Years of shovelling snow off the roof of Saint Mungo’s Retreat have knocked that out of me. Yet even an old Scrooge like myself (Humbug!) can see the beauty of the symbolism of a ‘White Christmas’, where a blanket of freshness from heaven covers all the grime and dirt of everyday life.
The real freshness from heaven that we celebrate at Christmas, however, does not melt and disappear like snow. The grace of God offered to us in Jesus his Son continues to work in our world in all seasons and situations. Nor is it merely a blanket covering the reality of everyday life; it is a presence which seeks to transform that reality from within.
When we look into the crib, we see a newborn baby, but faith tells us that this baby’s birth changes everything. The angel told the shepherds: ‘Today a Saviour has been born for you; he is Christ the Lord.’ This baby will die on the Cross to save us from death and sin and, through his death, our world will never be the same again. The transforming grace of Christ is the real reason for celebrating at Christmas, because at Christmas we acknowledge the child in the manger as God-made-man: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us’.
Each of us is Special
Babies can be very demanding; when they want something from you, they let you know. The baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas wants something from each of us: he wants us to let him into our hearts and lives. Adults have learned many different ways of keeping people at a distance, but a child usually knows how to break through these defences. The child Jesus is no exception. He wants to be part of our life, indeed to be the central part of our life.
Each of us has received a special gift from God which is also a special call; it is our own personal vocation. People today are often obsessed with their own uniqueness and giftedness, but this uniqueness and giftedness are given to us by God, and given for a purpose. The task of each one of us is to listen to Christ and learn from him what our own personal vocation is, and then live it out joyfully and generously. Whether we live as single or married people, priests, religious or laity, we are invited by Jesus to the fulness of life and there is no perfect joy in this world without him.
Saint Charles of Mount Argus
During the past year, the Church highlighted the generous response to God’s call that we see in the life of Saint Charles of Mount Argus. The canonisation of Saint Charles, celebrated on a wet Sunday in June of this year, was a moment of celebration but also of reflection on what it means for people to live out their personal vocation. Here is how Pope Benedict XVI described the life and ministry of Saint Charles: ‘During his many years of priestly ministry in England and Ireland, the people flocked to him to seek out his wise counsel, his compassionate care and his healing touch. In the sick and the suffering he recognized the face of the Crucified Christ, to whom he had a lifelong devotion. He drank deeply from the rivers of living water that poured forth from the side of the Pierced One, and in the power of the Spirit he bore witness before the world to the Father’s love.’
On Saturday, 5 January we will celebrate the Feast of Saint Charles of Mount Argus for the first time since his canonisation. To mark that event, we will have a special concelebrated Mass at 12.15, followed by Blessing with the Relic of Saint Charles. At the Mass, we will inaugurate a weekly Novena in honour of Saint Charles, at which we will pray for the intentions of all present, but in particular for the sick and the suffering, to whom Saint Charles was always so devoted. This weekly Novena on Saturdays at the 12.15 Mass will replace the monthly Thursday Holy Hour in honour of Saint Charles.
On the Friday before Christmas, we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Ordination of two members of our community, Father Eustace and Father Justinian. The presence of a huge crowd of the two jubilarians’ friends and family members at the Mass and the reception afterwards made this a real festive occasion. Fathers Justinian and Eustace wish to thank all those who celebrated with them and all those who worked to make the celebration such a success.
Earlier this year, we also celebrated Father Hubert’s Diamond Jubilee of Ordination, and Father Marius quietly marked fifty-five years in the priesthood. Because of these anniversaries, and in anticipation of Father Anthony’s Golden Jubilee in 2008, our Saint Mungo’s Calendar for this year carries a photograph of the Passionist Community of Saint Mungo’s, rather than the usual photograph of the church.
Welcoming New Vocations
These anniversaries are joyful moments but they are also reminders to us that we are all getting older. On the other hand, the average age of our community has gone down this year with the arrival of Gareth Thomas, who began his formation programme with the Passionists in September this year. Gareth lives at Saint Mungo’s, while attending classes at the National Seminary, Scotus College, Bearsden. He is no stranger to Townhead, having lived in the parish for a year before joining the Passionists. Please remember Gareth in your prayers as he continues his journey towards religious profession and ordination, as well as praying for the other young men who have taken part in our vocation retreats during the past year.
No religious community can continue to flourish without new members. For this reason I remind you, our friends, once again of the importance of daily prayer for vocations. In the past, parents often prayed that one of their children would have a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. I suspect that today some parents (and even grandparents), if they pray for vocations at all, pray that they will be given to someone else’s family. It would be sad to think that any Catholic would seek to discourage their child or grandchild from pursuing a religious or priestly vocation, especially as this is the happiest and most fulfilling life possible for those who are called to it by God.
In 2008 we will continue our series of Passionist Religious Life Weekends, weekend retreats for young men who are interested in knowing more about the Passionist Community and its life and mission. These retreats are usually held in Ireland, at our monastery in Crossgar, County Down. I invite anyone interested in taking part in one of these weekends to contact me or another member of the Passionist Community.
Passionist Spirituality for All
Over the past two years we have also been looking at ways of sharing our Passionist spirituality and charism with others. Last year, a group of laypeople from Saint Mungo’s took part in a Passionist Spirituality Institute in Ireland. Since then, the group has been meeting regularly under the name of Passionist Companions. Later this year, we hope to offer to a wider circle of our friends the opportunity to be part of a Passionist Companions group, learning how to live the Passionist spirit in their daily lives.
Another means of sharing our Passionist spirituality and charism with others is through publications. This year, we set up our own publishing wing under the name Ovada Books. As well as books on our Passionist saints and the spirituality of the Passion, Ovada Books publishes a spirituality newsletter twice a year; the first issue of the Ovada Newsletter is now available free at the church door.
Saint Mungo’s Academy and the Marist Brothers
The year 2008 marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the coming of the Marist Brothers to Glasgow and the founding of Saint Mungo’s Academy. For most of that time, from 1858 to 1973, both the Academy and the Brothers’ House were located in this parish; in fact, the Marist Brothers and the Passionists lived for many years as next-door-neighbours. As well as the Academy’s anniversary Mass in Saint Andrew’s Cathedral on 17 January, there will be two events in Saint Mungo’s to mark this special year. On Friday, 6 June we will welcome the Marist Brothers to Saint Mungo’s for a Mass for the Feast of their Founder, Saint Marcellin Champagnat, and on Monday, 25 August there will be Mass for the Academy’s Former Pupils Association to mark the actual anniversary day of the founding of Saint Mungo’s Academy.
As a former pupil myself, I am delighted that we are able to celebrate this special anniversary and to honour the bond of friendship between Saint Mungo’s Parish and the Academy, the Passionists and the Marist Brothers.
Facing the Future
Next year Pope Benedict will celebrate the World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. The group of ten delegates who will go from Saint Mungo’s to the World Youth Day, and to the Passionist Youth Event in Melbourne which precedes it, will carry with them the hopes of our community at it faces the future. Although Saint Mungo’s is still weighed down by debt after the Church Restoration, we have other riches, even if we don’t have money. The faith, hope and love with which you, our friends, support and encourage us is our greatest treasure. We are conscious of all that you do for us and we remember you always in our Masses and prayers.
Father Paul Francis C.P.