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Monday, 5 June 2017

That Time Again...

During the exam sessions, procrastination can be a real problem. To combat that, I thought I would update my blog...

The last few months have been very busy at the Pontifical Scots College. Looking back, I realise now that I forgot to post anything on here about my second encounter with the Holy Father. Suffice to say that the community of the Scots College was given the honour of serving at the Easter Vigil in the Vatican. Everyone was involved somehow; I was the Pope's microphone bearer. The experience  was incredible. Having now attended the 'mother of all vigils' in the heart of the Church, St Peter's Basilica has been totally transformed for me, not least of all because I met Pope Francis inches from Michelangelo's Pietà.

It is strange to think that that was almost two months ago. Since then, I've been home for a break during Easter week; I have, sadly, been home a second time for the funeral of a dear family friend; and I've been involved in the preparation of a new issue of the Scots College Magazine. This issue (coming to a parish near you) will be the first in four years and is full of articles from the community, alumni, friends and professors.

Life in the College has been pretty hectic since we arrived back one week after Easter. Four men were instituted as lectors at a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Cushley; three men were admitted as candidates for Holy Orders at a Mass celebrated by Bishop Tighe from the Vatican; Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Holy See made a formal visit; the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States delivered a talk about his work.

And now, at the beginning of June, we have arrived once more at the end of a semester and the beginning of another exam session. This time, I will sit six exams and submit two papers. The courses I've been taking this semester include Canon Law, Prophetic and Apocalyptic Literature, and Sexual Ethics. I sat my first exam on 5th June and I will sit my last exam two weeks later, on 19th June.

After the exams, I won't waste any time getting home. I return to Scotland on 20th June, ten days ahead of the priestly ordinations of two of my friends from the College. Bernard Mournian will be ordained in Hamilton at 2pm and Jonathan Whitworth will be ordained in Greenock at 7pm. As you can imagine, the entire community at the College looks forward to priestly ordinations; they are, after all, the reason why we are in the Eternal City in the first place.

My summer is shaping up to be a good one. I will travel to Spain and Portugal for a pilgrimage-holiday in July, visiting Salamanca and Fatima. I have never been to Fatima and, given the special 100th anniversary year since Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children, I thought that this year was the year to visit.

In August, I will begin my pastoral placement. Normally, this would mean moving into a parish house somewhere in the Diocese of Paisley. However, this year, Bishop Keenan and the Vocations Director have arranged for me to travel to the USA, to the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. I can't wait to experience a completely different side of the Church.

I think that's all for now. Consider the blog duly updated and the seminarian duly distracted from the pressure of exams. Please remember to pray for me and for everyone at the College and in Rome who are sitting exams this month.

God bless.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Lazarus and the Rich Man

The Gospel of St Luke, 16:19-31
Jesus said to the Pharisees: ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 
‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.” 
‘The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them.” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”’

There was a rich man and there was a beggar named Lazarus. One wore fine purple robes; one wore rags and was covered in sores.
This is one of only two or three Gospel stories that I remember hearing in primary school. I think the idea of hell and a man covered in sores both frightened and fascinated the 8-year-old me.

In this parable, Jesus tries to emphasise how those who cling to this world have their priorities wrong. The rich man had more than he needed, but he never helped Lazarus, who wanted nothing more than the crumbs that fell from his table. In the end, the rich man dies and is sent to Hades, where he suffers and wants nothing more than a drop of water to ease his suffering.
On the other hand, Lazarus suffers in life. The fact that he wants nothing more than the crumbs from the rich man’s table tells us that he is not clinging to the life of this world. If he was, then he would want more than crumbs. In the end, Lazarus is welcomed into eternal happiness in the bosom of Abraham.

Something unusual about this parable is that Jesus gives us the name of one of the characters. If we think about the parable of the Prodigal Son, or of the Good Shepherd, for example, none of the characters are named. I think this shows the real affection that Jesus has for all the Lazaruses of this world.
It is important to remember that the rich man was probably not an entirely wicked man. When he is talking with Abraham, and realises that his father in faith cannot help him, he asks him to send Lazarus to his brothers to tell them to change their ways so that they will not suffer like he is suffering. He has compassion for others.

How often do we see ourselves one way, while others see us in a different light? How often, in Lent for example, do we tell ourselves that we are good men because we pray more, and go to Mass, and fast from chocolate or alcohol or sugar? We might even give more money to charity. How often do we come across a Lazarus – someone who truly suffers and really needs our help? How often do we ignore these people?
I think Jesus wants us to look down on the rich man, but only because He wants us to see him in ourselves. Just because we pray and go to Mass and fast doesn’t mean that we have everything sorted out. Far from it.

Lent is a time for us to give priority to God and our neighbour, as Jesus did on Good Friday. These weeks before Easter give us an opportunity to prepare for Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. That means we should prepare to follow Him to Calvary, and He certainly did not go there dressed in purple robes. He went there in rags and covered in sores.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Two Months Down...

Like most of you, I can't quite believe that we are almost in March already. This year is already flying by. This seems like a good time to reflect on what's been happening in Rome in the first months of 2017...

The return to Rome after the Christmas holidays is rarely a happy one, especially because the exam session is just around the corner. Suitcases are usually packed with books and papers that have gathered dust for two weeks; seminarians are remarkably optimistic – every year, I am sure that I will study in the week between Christmas and New Year…
After the break, the first semester at the Pontifical Universities and Institutes resumes for another two weeks. The last day of class is marked in Rome by the annual Scots College Burns Supper when friends make the journey out to the Via Cassia to celebrate all things Scottish (including haggis, tablet and whisky, of course). Special thanks must go to Macsween of Edinburgh – the company this year became the first sponsor of the Burns Supper, providing us with around 50lbs of Scotland’s national dish. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Iain MacGillivray; the Clan Commander travelled to Rome so that he could play the bagpipes for our guests and deliver Burns’ ‘Address to a Haggis’.

With the end of the Burns Supper comes the beginning of the exam session. Seminarians, deacons and postgraduate priests lock themselves away for most of the three-week period in libraries and bedrooms. Seminarians studying philosophy (those in their first two years of formation) study for exams like ‘Social Ethics’, ‘Philosophy of Nature’ and ‘Metaphysics’. Students of theology (usually those in their final five years of formation) study for exams like ‘Fundamental Theology’, ‘Theological Morals’, ‘Wisdom Literature’ and ‘Ecclesiology’. As well as all of that, students must also prepare for exams in Latin, Hebrew and Greek.
The exams in the Pontifical Universities and Institutes are almost always oral exams. This means that a student must sit in front of a professor for around fifteen minutes, prepared to speak about whatever areas of the course the professor feels like asking about. Without a doubt, an oral exam is a tense quarter of an hour but the benefits can be felt when, after no more than twenty minutes, the student is free (even if only for a little while).

Typically, every seminarian must sit six or more exams. Some are easier than others and the preparations for some of them can even be enjoyable. However, there are of course some exams that the seminarian would rather not think about. Procrastination rears its head from time to time. A seminarian's bedroom is never as clean as it is during the exam session...
When he has finished with his exams, and if there is time before the second semester begins, the seminarian can enjoy some free time. He can do this in Rome or anywhere else in Europe (except the UK). Most of us spent a few days travelling. One major advantage of living in the Eternal City is that it serves as a great hub for cheap travel to other European cities.
I spent a few days in Prague with some of my Scots College brothers, and then I travelled to Dublin to celebrate my cousin's birthday (obligatory tour of the Guinness brewery included). I came back from Dublin to find out that the prayers of the people back home had certainly been answered with respect to my exams.
The second semester began at the Pontifical Gregorian University on 20th February. The courses I have in the second semester are:
  • Prophets and Apocalyptic Literature
  • The Criteria of Communion with God in the First Letter of John
  • Sexual Ethics
  • Sacraments II: Penance, Marriage, Holy Orders and Sacrament of the Sick
  • The Clash Between the Woman and the Dragon in Revelation
  • Canon Law II
  • Church History II
With Lent around the corner, it will be no time at all until Easter. Please remember to keep the Pontifical Scots College community in your prayers.
God bless.