An image comes to mind, the image of a day in Oban thirty-five and a half years ago. Two young men lie prostrate in prayer before the altar of St. Columba’s Cathedral.
Around them the clergy and the Faithful of the diocese respond to the Litany of the Saints. One young man is John Angus, the other is myself. We went our different ways, his initially more pastoral than mine. Over the years we met from time to time, and now, on behalf of the bishop and my brother priests, it is my duty to preach at his Funeral Mass.
In his will, Father John Angus requested that this Mass be simple, that the hymns be the familiar hymns you know so well, and that the homily be on the priesthood and vocations to the priesthood.
What can I say about priesthood? Will I go once more to the documents of the Second Vatican Council? Will I give an abstract reflection on the Catholic priesthood? How can I be abstract when we lay a good and faithful priest to rest?
Another image comes to mind. It is of John Angus standing alongside his fellow priests at the Chrism Mass in Oban. So often he was there, answering the questions put to us by the bishop, questions directed at the heart of every priest as we prepared to enter the paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Let us remind ourselves of these questions.
“At your ordination you accepted the reponsibilities of the priesthood out of love for the Lord Jesus and his Church.
Are you resolved to unite yourselves more closely to Christ and to try to become more like him in joyfully sacrificing your own pleasure and ambition to bring his peace and love to your brothers and sisters?
To which Father John Angus answered: “I AM”.
Are you resolved to be faithful ministers of the mysteries of God, to celebrate the Eucharist and the other liturgical services with sincere devotion?
Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church, by teaching the Christian faith without thinking of your own profit, solely for the well-being of the people you were sent to serve?
To which Father John Angus again answered: “I AM”.
Such is priesthood, and I entrust to you, the People of God, the recognition of Father John Angus in these words and in the faithful self-offering of his response: I AM.
But today I would ask you to remember him in all the frailty of his humanity, the humanity he shared with you and me. Like any other faithful Catholic, John Angus often knelt before a priest and, in humility and truth confessed his sins.
Today he would ask you to call upon God’s mercy and pray for the eternal peace of his soul. He had been close to death once before and had experienced an extraordinary peace. Pray that that be simply the foretaste of his eternal peace.
He would ask you to remember him above all at the altar of God, the altar where he led you in worship, the altar where he too was nourished by his Saviour, the Bread of Life, where he too received the promise of this morning’s Gospel:
“Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54)
Remember him you will. Pray for him you will. and let thanksgiving always be part of that prayer. give thanks for wherever he served, give thanks especially for his years here in the parishes of Daliburgh, Garrynamonie and Eriskay.
In his own inimitable way, he loved this community. It was here among your loved ones that he wanted to be laid to rest. What more beautiful compliment could a priest give a parish community? And give thanks for the very special contentment in the final years of his life.
Finally, he asks us to pray for vocations to the priesthood. A last image comes to mind, an image for the future. It is of a young man lying prostrate before the altar of St. Peter’s in Daliburgh. It is the day of his ordination to the priesthood.
Is that young man or that boy among you today? Is he here in your parish, about to hear the call of God?
It is the only posterity that John Angus can have. By the grace of God, will you grant him that?