I’m wearing vestments that were made for my predecessor Fr. Seamus who was a much, much bigger man than me by a long shot, so there’s no way I can fill them as he did. There is no way that I can fill the space occupied by him when he was Parish Priest. But all the same the vestments fit me in a different kind of way. Something of Seamus remains here but things are not the same. His death brought an unexpected change and I have become part of that change. When I was his novice master I never dreamed that he would die before me, never thought that I would succeed him.
On the front and back of my chausible is the Pallottine seal with the motto “Caritas Christi Urget Nos” (The Love of Christ Urges us on). This seal is testament to our communal calling, the mission given to each of us personally and together as community.
The emotion of his passing is still strong! He is very much missed and was greatly loved here in Hastings. He touched people’s lives for the better. People tell me all the time, though I don’t think they expect me to do things as he did and I’m not putting myself under pressure to be like him. At 62 you realize that you can’t be what you’re not. I know my limitations, my unworthiness. I know that at some levels of my life I am not fit for this. But I also know the gifts that God has given me. Shankill has shown them to me, taught me how to use them.
Deacon Duncan knows I don’t care for the glory of the big occasion and in the lead-up to my induction as Parish Priest I was fairly apprehensive. I would have preferred if it could have been done in the privacy of the Bishop’s office. But Bishop Richard likes to do it in public with the parish present and Duncan is delighted because he too knows that it’s needed.
They are right of course. Becoming Parish Priest is not a private matter between the Bishop and myself. I belong to the People; we belong to each other in this ministry.
The priests of the Deanery are present as well as Fr. Luke from the Anglican Communion. Canon Tom in neighbouring St. Leonards has been a true friend to me since I came here and I felt we would be companions but it is not to be! He is being moved to a part of the diocese that is about 3 hours away from here. So, on that front God seems to be saying, “do not cling!” Only in God!
Before Mass I was asked if other Pallottines would be present or any of my family. They are not – not because they would not come, it just didn’t happen. And I conclude that in this moment the People of Hastings are both my community and my family. That is not to deny either my family or community. It’s somehow necessary that I do not cling to them, depend on them. I must stand up straight in Jesus in this community. He is the centre around whom we gather.
When I was on the Pallottine retreat for a couple of days while meditating on the woman taken in adultery from John 8, I felt myself being drawn into the person of Jesus and twice it is said of him that “He stood up straight” and I see in this the call for me to stand up straight in Jesus.
And as we come near to the time of beginning, I find myself at peace. A fine crowd has turned out and the procession enters the church to the beautiful sound of the hymn “Servant King” which I heard for the first time here in Hastings a few weeks ago:
“From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live
This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King”
It’s not only the choir who sing it beautifully but the whole congregation. I also asked to have the hymn, “For You Are My God” (based on Psalm 16) as the Responsorial Psalm which the choir had to learn it caught on, like an anointing. We also had some very uplifting classical Latin Hymns.
We kept the readings of the day – the first being about the rebuilding of the Temple and the gospel was the short piece where Herod is wondering who Jesus really is. There is reference to the beheading of John the Baptist which felt a little bit challenging! But the last sentence is what mattered, “He was anxious to see Jesus!”
Bishop Richard Moth confessed to his love for Canon Law and you can see the Canon Lawyer in him. He likes things done properly. But he was also very kind and fatherly towards me in the midst of the solemnity of the induction itself. And it is very solemn, awe inspiring, daunting! I’m left in no doubt as to the sacred responsibility entrusted to me, a responsibility to which I make a public commitment.
It’s almost like being ordained all over again. Anointed is what I feel. Not power, not position but an anointing like the anointing of Jesus Himself. And in the midst of this I thought of my parents and Maura looking down from heaven as witnesses.
What I feel from the People is the warmest of welcomes, a sense of true delight in them. The experience is for me like a bookend. The leaving of Shankill was like a bookend on the shelf of my life and this induction into Hastings is a bookend on that same shelf and my life is somehow held between the two. Two extraordinary blessings.
After Mass we went to the hall for food. Those who prepared it did a fabulous job and worked so hard and the atmosphere was full of joy!
When I got back to my room so filled with grace I sat for a long time and even when I went to bed I couldn’t sleep. And at one point in the midst of my wakefulness I realised that we took no photos at all! Me of all people not to have photos of such a moment in my life! The only image remaining, the only image that matters is the one imprinted in our minds, hearts and souls.
P.S One of the singers in the gallery took this one photo! Thank you!
– Father Eamonn Monson SAC (https://eamonnmonson.blogspot.co.uk/)