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Monday, 9 January 2017

A Scottish Christmas, Roman Icicles and Winter Exams

Happy New Year!

The seminarians, deacons and postgraduate priests returned to the Pontifical Scots College and an unusually cold Rome this week after the Christmas break.

I am sure that you have seen pictures of some of Rome's most beautiful and recognisable fountains covered in icicles this week. It is hard to believe that it was warmer when I left Scotland than when I arrived in Italy.

My Christmas holiday was great. Unlike our unfortunate American counterparts, the Scottish seminarians are free to go home for Christmas and the New Year celebrations.

I returned to Port Glasgow on Thursday 22nd December and that same night, I was present at a presentation, during which my granda received a medal marking his fifty years of service as a Knight of St Columba.

Other highlights included Christmas celebrations in the parish and with my family and friends, and bringing in the New Year at the now-annual Hogmanay party at home (this year, there were around 40 guests who joined us).

Being involved in parish life is a big part of the Christmas holiday for a seminarian. I was fortunate enough to be able to serve at the packed Christmas Vigil Mass and Morning Mass, as well as being asked to read at Mass almost every day over the holidays. The Rector of the Pontifical Scots College made sure to remind us before we departed for Scotland that being involved in parish life is not only good, but important, as it allows the parish community to see how a seminarian is progressing. This is, of course, particularly important for seminarians who study abroad.

Now that we are back in Rome and lectures have resumed at the various Pontifical Universities and Institutes, we have two more weeks of the first semester to battle through. At the end of the semester, we are faced with the next batch of exams, most of which are oral. These involve a fifteen minute discussion with the professors about their courses, and while some are relatively painless, others cause real headaches!

Please continue to pray for the community at the Pontifical Scots College. May God bless you and yours in 2017.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

A Man of Hope

After a few weeks off from homily class, I was asked this week to (try to) preach on the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent (Year A). Before my reflection, it would be useful to look at the Gospel reading:

Matthew 3:1-12In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Recently, I went to the cinema to see the new Tom Hanks film, Sully, which is based on the story of Captain Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson river in New York in 2009.

Without giving away any spoilers, what becomes obvious very quickly is that Sully is a man of hope and trust. After many years of experience in the air, he knows not to give up when the unthinkable happens; he decides to land the aircraft on the water despite every manual telling him that he should have attempted to make it back to the airport; he trusts that his decision is the best one for the passengers and crew on board.

As a result, he is hailed as a hero by most. Strangers approach him and hug him, kiss him on the cheek, buy him drinks and even name cocktails after him. At first glance, it would seem that people are attracted to Sully because of his heroic act, or even his sharp pilot’s uniform, but in fact, people are attracted to him because he is a man of hope.

The same is true of John the Baptist. Matthew tells us in today’s Gospel that “Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him”. They certainly didn’t flock to him because of the way he was dressed; camel-hair garments aren’t exactly attractive. Neither did they come to him because of what he was preaching; who wants to be told to repent and convert?

In fact, the people from the Jordan district come to John the Baptist because he is a man of faith - someone who believes in something, hopes, and hope is something that attracts us.

John the Baptist went out into the wilderness and his hope brought others to him. Today, we as Catholics are called to go out into the wilderness too. That doesn’t mean that we should sell all our belongings and move to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It does mean, however, that we should go to the places that we might consider most hostile towards our message – the hearts of those who do not believe in Christ.

If we are to be people of hope, what is it that we should hope for? Our First Reading today can help us answer that question. Isaiah talks about the mountain of the Lord, where calf and lion, cow and bear, child and snake live together in peace. This image of the mountain is very different from the image of the wilderness we are used to. Isaiah tells us what hope can do. If we can bring hope into the wilderness of someone’s life, then God can transform it into a fertile land where peace and faith is the order of the day.

Now, it cannot just be the job of the priests and bishop to be people of hope. Just as Sully needed the cooperation of his First Officer, crew, passengers and first responders, so too the bishop needs his priests, deacons, religious and laity to be people of hope, who bring the message of Jesus Christ to the diocese, country and world, preparing everyone for Jesus’ Second Coming.

That is why the Church in her wisdom gives us the season of Advent each year; if we are to prepare others for Jesus’ coming, both as a child in Bethlehem, and in glory at the end of time, then we ourselves must first be prepared. The readings at Mass each day in Advent help us to prepare ourselves, so that we too can make His paths straight.

If we truly believe in Christ and His Good News, then we truly hope for His Second Coming; and if we truly hope for His Second Coming, then we have a duty to make sure that people are ready to receive Him.

Friday, 4 November 2016

A Duty and a Privilege

Last week, for homily class, I was asked to preach on the readings for the feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, the Apostles. Before I share my thoughts with you, let’s have a look at the Gospel passage:

Gospel: Luke 6:12-16
Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came, he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’: Simon whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor.

Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, Jude and Judas: the Twelve. Except for Judas, these men would bring the Good News to the ends of the earth. We proudly call ourselves members of the apostolic Church, and yet, if we are honest, do we ever find ourselves thinking about these men?
True, as Catholics, we often talk about Peter when thinking about the pope; as Scots, we think often about his brother Andrew; as Catholics who go to Mass regularly, we might even find ourselves thinking about John and Matthew the evangelists.  However, do we ever think about each of these men as members of an all-important community?

Last week, I watched the relatively new film ‘Risen’, starring Joseph Fiennes. The film follows the story of Pontius Pilate’s tribune, the soldier tasked with finding the apparently stolen body of Jesus. What I found most enjoyable – if not a little surprising – was not that the film remains faithful to the Gospel message (Jesus does indeed rise from the dead), but that for the first time, I was confronted with the very human community of the apostles. These men, and the wider community of early disciples, are confronted with persecution from the moment that the discovery of an empty tomb is made. They face imprisonment and more, and yet they are not afraid. From the time that they encounter Jesus, no earthly power can deter them from spreading the Good News of the Resurrection.

It made me think. We are confronted with the Risen Christ daily in the Eucharist; are we as joyful in our faith as these earliest Christians were? If not, then why not? Our society is no doubt different, but it is no more hostile to the Gospel than that of the apostles. The Successor of Peter said as much to the seminarians of the Pontifical Scots College in April of this year, at a private audience in the Vatican.

Like those men whom Jesus called apostles, Christ has called us, and He has sent us out. We have a responsibility to bring Him to the world in our daily lives. This responsibility, however, cannot be understood as something that weighs down on us. To be effective evangelists, we must live in that joy of the Gospel that Simon, Jude and the other apostles experienced.

Christ is risen, and He lives. It is our duty and our privilege to go out and tell the world.