Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

February 3, 2010


Years ago, I visited friends on the island of Canna, four square miles of earth in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. John Campbell, Laird of Canna, and his wife, Meg, were both accomplished students of the flora, fauna, and folklore of Scotland. In their library, I found the journal of Father Allen MacDonald, parish priest of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. He recorded communion calls he made across the barren windswept landscape and by boat through roiled seas to smaller islands for sick calls and funerals. In these middle 1800s, there was no telephone or telegraph. Communication between islands was carried out via a system of fire signals. So different from our times, there were no newspapers, television, or computers, no Facebooks, no Tweeters. Father Allen undoubtedly possessed a spirituality, unencumbered by these technical distractions, which occupy much of our waking hours. His spirituality must have developed a closeness to God in the silences of his life and the closeness to nature felt in the winds and waves around him. It was the spirituality of the parish priest, sharing the hurt and pain of his people in their sicknesses and separations from loved ones in death. He knew them in their happy times, the First Communions of the children, the social quality of Sunday Mass, and the tempos of their Celtic dances and songs at their weddings. His people were fisher folk, alienated from their lands by the sheep herds on the fertile fields of the absentee landlords. Father Allen stirred up the Protestant landlords and the government to make improvements for the largely Catholic people. A series of docks and jetties were built under his influence to protect the ships from the frequently raging seas and thus insure the people's livelihood.

Father Allan's spiritual life drew from his silent converse with a God made even more mysterious yet closer by the absense of the distractions that assail us - the wonders of technology, conflicts in politics, and the never fully resolved tensions that prove that our Church is alive and always, always in need of reform by the participation of all classes and ranks of the faithful.

Father Allan MacDonald proposes a challenge: to join him on a windswept island away from the distractions provided by the old and new technologies and to seek our God amid the sea birds and fishing ships and, eminently, amid gracious relationships with our fellow men and women. It is a challenge, especially to retirees, those who await the weaver "who severs the last thread".