Last night, I had the great privilege of participating in the all-night Lenten Vigil at St Gerard’s Church, in nearby Bellshill. The event had been planned and publicised for some time, inviting members of other local parishes to come and take part. It was a very special vigil, taking place in this time of Lent in the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy – and so, not surprisingly, the theme of ‘mercy’ was very evident throughout.
The evening began with the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. At this, the homily was given by Father Robert Kane, one of the six Priests in Scotland designated by our Holy Father Pope Francis as ‘Missionaries Of Mercy’. These Priests were chosen in part because of their ability to preach effectively on this subject.
Those taking part had been asked well beforehand to bring along a blanket, the purpose of which would become apparent. In the homily, Fr Kane spoke about the story of Noah and his ‘cloak of mercy’, provided by his sons to cover his shame. Fr Kane talked about the human experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and how in entering the Confessional, we – like Noah – are covered with shame to one degree or another. He then spoke about the parable of the Prodigal Son, referring to it instead as the parable of the Loving Father. He illustrated this by showing Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son – and commenting on the sizes of the hands of the father in the image; one masculine, large and strong (“a man’s hand”), while the other is a little smaller, more gentle and tactile (“a nurse’s hand”). And in that image, he showed us a second ‘cloak of mercy’, placed over the Prodigal Son by that loving father.
Returning to the theme of Confession, he said that when we kneel and confess our weakness, frailty, sinfulness – all things which damage our relationship with the Lord – that He immediately wraps us in His ‘cloak of mercy’ and in doing so, restores His relationship with us. Fr Kane added to this by reminding us of the communal aspect of the damage our sins do, noting that it was for this reason that the father in the parable killed the fatted calf and invited the entire village to feast – for the sins of the sons had touched and affected all.
Fr Kane made one other crucial point – that in loving us enough to give His life for us, the Lord does not wait till we are already perfect – He does it whilst we are still sinners.
I have to say this was one of the most exceptional homilies I have ever heard and I see why Fr Kane was chosen as a Missionary of Mercy.
Following Mass, Priests made themselves available – like the father in the parable waiting for that errant son to return – in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And as each person left the Confessional, they invited another person to place their blanket – their own, visible ‘cloak of mercy’ – upon them as a symbol of the mercy which had been given by the Lord through His Priest and which touches all the community. This was a beautiful and deeply evocative symbolic gesture.
The Blessed Sacrament was exposed upon the Altar for the adoration of those present and remained so until Mass the following morning. At times, there was gentle music, at other times, silence. And at regular intervals, there were recited the prayers of the Holy Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, with Night Pray from the Liturgy of the Hours, and Stations of the Cross at midnight. And all the while, the souls present adored the Lord in the Sacrament of His love and presence. Very thoughtfully, hospitality was provided throughout the night in the form of tea, coffee, sandwiches and biscuits.
This was a quite exceptional night, one I will not forget quickly; and in the same way I am certain that night follows day, so too am I certain that the Lord was infinitely generous in His mercy and grace to the souls there in His presence. This night will have brought down a flood of graces upon this parish and it’s people.
Thanks are due to Father McGoldrick for arranging the vigil; to those Priests who concelebrated Mass and heard confessions; and to all those kind people of the parish of St Gerard’s who prayed, sang, lit candles, covered each other in a cloak of mercy and welcomed the stranger into their midst.