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Monday, 25 September 2017

A Stateside Summer


This summer, I was delighted to be asked by my bishop and the Vocations Director to take part in a pastoral placement in the USA.

When I found out about the placement a few months ago, I was excited. Being in the States would be great, but experiencing the Church in another part of the world would be even better. However, one week before I left for America, I felt really nervous about the prospect; I didn't know anyone at the parish, the archdiocese or the state of Minnesota.

I arrived in Minneapolis at the end of July. I was greeted by the pastor of the parish where I would be based - Our Lady of the Lake (OLL), Mound, Minnesota. Fr Tony O'Neill, a native Scot, brought me to my new home and assured me that no one would think anything of it if, having arrived at the rectory around 11pm, I didn't make it up for the Holy Hour that he and the other priest in the house, Fr Nathan LaLiberte, met for every morning at 6.30am.

My first experience of the people of Minnesota was at 8.30am Sunday Mass the next morning. Fr Tony introduced me after Mass and immediately the people welcomed me and began to try to trick me into speaking for longer, just so they could hear more of my accent. Invitations to dinner followed soon after.

After the second Sunday morning Mass, and more attempts to get me to recite lines from Shrek, Fr Tony and I met formally to discuss how the placement would play out. He described the life of the Companions of Christ, a priestly fraternity of diocesan priests of which he is the Moderator, and together we brainstormed about what kind of pastoral activities I would be involved in over the next five weeks.

I would be involved in marriage and funeral preparation meetings, serving at Mass, various 'Companions' events, meetings with parish staff and other such parish activities. I would also spend some time at Fr Nathan's parish, St Maximilian Kolbe in Delano, and at a larger parish, Our Lady of Grace (OLG) in Edina, shadowing other Companions and experiencing life in one of the biggest parishes in the archdiocese. I would also MC for the Archbishop at a Mass in Delano, where he would dedicate a new altar.

Fr Tony and Fr Nathan recognised that it would be odd to travel all the way to the USA and not enjoy some free time. We agreed that I could travel to Chicago for a few days since I had always wanted to see it and some of my classmates from Rome live there and had invited me across. There were also plenty of opportunities to socialise with parishioners and staff from the various parishes where I was based.

One of the biggest differences between the Church in Scotland and the Church in Minnesota is the school system; our Catholic schools are state schools, but their schools are attached to particular parishes and are ultimately the responsibility of the pastors there. This allows the priest to have a more direct impact on the way the school is run and staffed, but it certainly takes up a lot of his time on a weekly basis, even during the summer break; along with his principal and other staff, he must work hard to encourage new families to register at the school.

Another huge difference is how parishes are run day-to-day. My
experience of parish life in Scotland has taught me how reliant we are on volunteers: RCIA, preparation for the sacraments and other important work is often the responsibility of good volunteers who are interested in the life of their parishes. However, in the States, much of this important work is done by paid members of staff. I spoke to several people in Minnesota about this difference in approach, and the responses I got from them were mixed. Some would like to see a return to a volunteer-based evangelisation while others see the importance in employing a staff, which generally results in more uniformity and ensures the priest that the people doing the work won't run out of time to do it.

Certainly, my faith in the importance of an active laity has been renewed. The people of OLL, St Max and OLG have an obvious love for their parishes and their priests. In this respect, there is no difference between the Church in America and the Church in Scotland. However, there are perhaps more opportunities Stateside for them to live out this love. My placement in the USA has given me plenty of food for thought about how we can give similar opportunities to the Catholics (indeed, all Christians) of Scotland.

One day after my return to Scotland, I was able to attend the National Pilgrimage to Carfin, where the bishops consecrated our country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Perhaps, there has never been a time when we have needed this more. I am sure Our Lady will bless us and our Church in the years ahead. We need some American enthusiasm in living out our faith.

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.