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I’m just back from Carfin Grotto. I’m over there regularly and I wondered if people knew just how beautiful it is. That’s why I’ve published this post.
Canon Taylor was the parish Priest of St Francis Xavier parish in Carfin, near Motherwell, Scotland. He led a visit of some parishioners to Lourdes early in 1920 and was inspired to build a replica of that shrine in Lanarkshire to give access to the many who could not go to Lourdes. With the help of many workers, out of work in the depression, he built a magnificent grotto which has become the National Shrine of Scotland.
The little grotto with statues of Saint Bernadette and Our Lady was the original part of tthe shrine which opened in late 1922. It has expanded greatly since then. There is the Saint Theresa Chapel which overlooks the site and has been a focus for pilgrimage masses and rallies for decades.
Another glass chapel was added in more recent times. The Glasgow Garden Festival was held on the banks of the Clyde in 1988 as a spur to regeneration of the old industrial areas of Glasgow. The site had a small glass chapel where visitors could go for a few moments of quiet reflection. After the Festival the site was being dismantled. The glass chapel had influenced many visitors and there was a demand for the chapel to be retained somewhere. In the end it was moved to Carfin and it now stands in the grounds of the grotto.
There is exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in this chapel every weekday.
The one o’clock mass is always well attended by people from Lanarkshire and beyond. The chapel has become a favourite with many who feel a special quality in the tiny chapel.
One area of the grotto has a memorial to the victims of the Irish Famines of the 1840s and the immigrants who came to Scotland to find work.
The memorial was opened by the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on behalf of the government and people of Ireland.
The Irish immigrants and their descendants have formed a large part of the Catholic population of Scotland.
Other immigrants from Europe who came to Scotland to work in the iron and steel industry as well as the Lanarkshire coal mines have made their mark on the catholic population. They have also made their mark in the grotto.
The shrine is a popular stopping place for visitors and has a new visitor centre and cafe where you can rest and enjoy a lunch or just a cup of tea.
The memorial to John Paul II marks the great love Scotland’s Catholics had for him.
A hidden gem in the grotto is the Chapel of the Angels. This is a tiny, underground chapel, unknown to many of the visitors. When you go there (and you must) you should find this little chapel and spend a few minutes there. A prayer would go down well too.
Strangers to Christianity often wonder at the symbolism we use. The cross is a reminder of Christ’s violent and ignominious death, a failure in human terms. Similarly, the way of the cross must seem strange to them. We follow the last steps of Jesus as He carries His cross to the place of execution. Why would we wish to remember that?
Of course, as Christians, we understand the significance of this event and we are charged to take up our cross and follow. The Stations of the Cross which we are familiar with originated in the Via Dolorosa followed by pilgrims to Jerusalem. They retraced the path Jesus followed to His crucifixion.
Today we are following a tradition which is reputed to have started with Saint Francis of Assisi who made this a devotion in churches. We don’t need to go to Jerusalem to retrace Our Lord’s last steps we can do it in our own parish. It is so much an accepted part of Catholic life that I have never given much thought to its origins or deeper meanings.
This time last year I was making my preparations for my attempt at the Camino, a testing pilgrimage. When I set off eventually I passed through Lourdes and had a passing thought about starting from there. The train moved off and the thought went. At the end of last year I returned to Lourdes for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a less strenuous pilgrimage.
On that feast day we had Mass in the grotto followed by The Stations in the underground basilica. We were led by Father John Ahern and his commentary had a lasting effect on me. The basilica was dark and cold on that December morning. Perhaps the strange surroundings led me to think again about the Stations as a pilgrimage.
That’s where I’m going this year. I’m going to take each station in turn and see what I find. I hope you can come along.
I start by looking at what we are told in the Gospels. All four evangelists agree that Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. They go to some length to show that Pilate was reluctant to do this. He said he could find no case against Jesus that merited death. The crowd applied pressure. They howled him down. They applied political threats. They claimed that Jesus’ claim to be a king was a threat to Caesar, Pilate’s boss.
Pilate reluctantly gave in and condemned Jesus to death. In Matthew’s gospel we learn that he washes his hands of Jesus’ blood. Matthew goes further to tell us that the people say “Let his blood be on us and our children.”
So who is guilty of Jesus’ death? The debate resurfaces from time to time. In recent years the Mel Gibson film “The Passion of The Christ” caused furore and accusations of anti-Semitism. Were the Jews to blame or was it the Romans? It is an interesting debate, but I think it misses the point. I was always taught that Jesus died for our sins. He died to redeem us. If there is any blame going then some of it must, surely come my way.
The focus of this station is not on who is to blame. We are asked to look at this situation and imagine what we would have done if we had been there. If I was one of the crowd would I have cried out “Crucify him!” just like the others? It might have proved to be a dangerous thing to do.
If I had been in Pontius Pilate’s place how would I have reacted? Pilate was a powerful man. He had a Roman army at his disposal. He could have sorted out the crowd easily. Pilate was governor to calm down Jerusalem. He didn’t want to stir up crowds. He knew Jesus was innocent and a victim of jealousy. Would I have acted differently? Would I stand up for truth in the face of displeasing my ruler and probably losing my job?
Well, that was then and this is today. It would be easy to say I would have been a man of principle and would have stood for justice. What would I do in a similar situation today? There are innocent people suffering and dying in unjust situations. In Africa there are poor farmers who will remain poor no matter how hard they work because the price of the tea or coffee they grow is decided by the dealers in the rich countries. I buy that tea and coffee. When am I standing up against injustice?
Asylum seekers in our country face inhuman treatment sometimes. I read today of an eighty four year old man in a detention centre for asylum seekers who died in handcuffs. Doctors had declared him to be unfit for detention or deportation but he died, having been in handcuffs for almost five hours. When did I stand up and speak out against inhuman treatment of people in my country?
Some might cite the abortion scandal in our country as another example of killing the innocent while we ignore it. In the light of these things I’m not sure that I could claim to act any differently than Pilate or the crowd who condemned Jesus. Perhaps that’s the point of the first station. It invites us to look, not at Pilate and the crowd, but at ourselves.
The Way of the Cross is a pilgrimage of sorts and it should enable me to see things in a different light. It should enable me to see myself more clearly, let me see who I really am. I think I must take stock and decide whether I want to be one of the crowd or stand up for justice.
Fortunately there are ways of taking action now that may not have been available in the past. If I want to take action against injustice I can join one of the many groups or organisations that combat injustice. I can become a campaigner with Justice and Peace or help organisations that work to help the poor like Mission Matters or Aid to the Church in need. I could volunteer to work for the poor with the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul.
There are lots of ways I could stand up for justice. One of the most effective ways is, of course, through prayer. Prayer must not be seen as an easy way out. Real prayer is not a quick Hail Mary for the poor. Real prayer for justice must be regular and unceasing. There are lots of prayer options for me. Perhaps I could look back to where I started, in Lourdes. The wee shops opposite the grotto are loaded down with rosaries, and for good reason. Regularly praying the rosary (not the mad dash through the decades) could provide me with an effective and powerful means to stand out from the crowd.
Just as importantly, I must become more observant. I should be able to spot injustice, be it at work, at home or in the public arena. I must become prepared to do something about it.
Well, that was the Year of Faith. It’s over now and we can move on. Before we do I’d like to just look back on the year to see what it did for me, and possibly you. The Year of Faith was launched with some fanfare and lots of resources were set in place for us, much of that online. There were events and celebrations before it all went into the background.
So, when I look back, did it help me in my personal journey of faith? I looked into where my faith came from. That was easy; it came from my parents, my grandparents and the faith community I was born into. The faith was passed down to me, a bit like an Olympic torch (or should I say a Commonwealth Games Baton?). Now it’s up to me as a parent and, was a while ago, as a teacher to pass that same torch, that flame of faith on to others.
I found lots of resources online. I got a daily email from Read the Catechism in a Year’ and ‘Daily Catholic Quotes’. Between the avalanche of stuff that poured through my computer screen and the coverage in the Scottish Catholic Observer I was well resourced.
I found that faith was not just about believing in God but it was much more. My faith is a power in my life and it is up to me to be open to this wonderful gift. It is something that I have to nurture and grow for my good and for the community of faith as a whole. I need to see if I can get my faith to be as big as a mustard seed. Now growing things was never my strong point as anyone who looks at my garden will tell you. So how can I nourish my faith?
The answer to that is, again, simple. The sacraments exist to do just that. It’s up to me to make more use of the sacraments and to avoid falling into the trap of treating them as routine. When I made my First Communion it was a big thing. All smartly dressed, cleaned and polished. This was Jesus coming to me. Why should First Communion be taken more seriously than the second, third or five hundredth communion? I must strive to regain that sense of awe that I had for the sacraments as a child. I need to remember just how wonderful they are.
Our new Holy Father has been a great guide and inspiration. He has reminded me of the need to concentrate on the fundamentals of Christ’s teaching and not to get bogged down in the rules. The rules are important but we must never let them get in the way of the essential message ‘love thy neighbour’. That’s another thing I’ve realised this year. My faith is not just about me. It is about how I behave towards other people. Is my focus on myself or am I thinking of others? Christ’s focus was always on others. I think that is a clear message for all of us.
Now, things have changed over the years in the Church. I can remember when we had parish retreats, class retreats and even evening retreats. These gave us opportunities to step aside from the ‘production line’ that is daily life and take time to spend in contemplation. I experienced retreats where we were expertly guided to find that peace where God’s message for us becomes clearer. These don’t seem to be so popular today. There is a need in all of us for a guided retreat.
I recently came across a book by a Jesuit priest which attempts to guide us through a DIY retreat. The book is called ‘Together on Retreat’ written by Fr. James Martin SJ. I bought it as an e-book on my Kindle. I’ve just started using it and I’m finding it very helpful. It’s a bit like having an expert in your pocket to help with your spiritual life.
The basis of the retreat is, of course, prayer. Father Martin started off by describing some different approaches to prayer. Let’s face it, if I want to get on better with God then I need to converse with Him. Not just recite prayers, but open up to Him about how I find myself at that moment and look out for His answer. A few months ago I mentioned my problems of being distracted in Mass. Fr. Martin gave me a deeper insight into why that might be. He pointed out that sometimes God pops thoughts into your head, not as a distraction, but to draw your attention to some issue you need to deal with. My attitude to distractions has changed for the better.
As part of my journey of faith I decided on a real journey. I went to France to start my personal pilgrimage, walking the Camino. I started my journey by train, travelling to London, on to Paris and then overnight to Bayonne and up to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On the overnight train I met a German who was doing his journey in stages. He alighted in Lourdes to continue on foot. I considered getting off there myself, but didn’t. I only managed to walk three days before having to give up with back problems.
I did learn a lot about myself and my faith on the journey. As I write this I’m preparing to go off again, this time to Lourdes for the 8th December celebration. Strangely enough, my flight takes me into Bilbao to continue by bus to Lourdes. I passed through Bilbao on my way home from the Camino. Now I’m going in reverse to Lourdes. Perhaps that is where I should have been going in the first place. This time I will not be alone. My wife is coming along to keep me out of trouble.
That has taught me another lesson, it is never finished when you think it is. My pilgrimage will go on. In the same way the year of Faith will go on. That year was just to get us started. We are all on our Journey of Faith. I recently came across a pastoral letter from the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Rt. Rev Kieran Conry, He was reflecting on what we might have achieved in this Year of Faith. In it I found this wonderful quote.
There we have it in a nutshell, our journey of faith is not a journey to a place. It is a journey that must take us beyond ourselves and lead us to place ourselves entirely at God’s disposal, to do with as He wishes. We must take our free will and choose, freely, to place it at God’s feet. Jesus put himself entirely at the service of the Father. We must, in our various ways, do the same.
The year of Faith is not the end; it is the beginning of the life of Faith. There can be no going back now. I’ll be following ‘Read The Gospels in a Year’ see the link below.
Note: Fr. Martin’s Book ‘Together on Retreat’ is available on Kindle from Amazon.
Read The Gospels in a Year – sign up at http://flocknote.com/gospel