Homily for 60th Anniversary Mass of Canon Angus John MacQueen

The story of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb very early in the morning fits in very well with Canon Angus – he has always had the habit of being up early and out and ready to get the first bit of news on the go. He would probably have beaten Mary Magdalene to the tomb if he had been around on that first Easter Sunday and I am sure he wouldn’t have been slow either to pass on the news to others of what he had seen and heard. Another Gospel story where you could imagine Canon Angus being part is in the Christmas story as one of the shepherds, who heard the angels’ message and went to the manger to see the child and then became the messengers of what they had heard and then seen for themselves  “Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” They were more than happy to share the news of great joy with all who would listen to them.

It is a part of every priest’s ministry to be a herald of the Good News – that Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour, was born, and having died on the cross to save us all from our sins, rose again to give us all the hope of eternal life in Him. Our ministry as heralds takes its shape each year from the Church’s liturgical celebration of the great events in Jesus’ life, and the joy of celebrating these great feasts gives us a great sense of who we are and what we have been called to do, and our enthusiasm for our mission is renewed each year as we proclaim and preach on the Christmas and Easter Gospels.

As we know Canon Angus has had a long and fruitful ministry – in Dunoon, Oban, Morar, Eriskay, Castlebay, Glencoe, Rothesay, Bornish and Northbay – and I think we can see that he has maintained his enthusiasm for being a priest through all these years and that enthusiasm has come from his own belief in the Lord and in the mysteries of the Lord’s life, death and resurrection, and the continuous celebration of these mysteries in the communities he has served. We thank God therefore for this joyful service given with freedom and happiness, and always with a spark of humour and insight which has been much appreciated and loved by his parishioners.

I think it is true that Canon Angus has enjoyed good health through most of his life – perhaps because he is up early and follows a healthy and well-ordered regime – but he has had to struggle at times in other ways and has been somebody who persevered and kept going even when life was more difficult and the way ahead was not so clear. His path to the priesthood as a young man was marked by this struggle, and he has often regaled us with the stories of his time in the various seminaries and his demise and reappearance (perhaps even resurrection).

It was a great achievement for him to get to the finishing line and to be ordained a priest in 1951 – in my sermon at the Mass at Scalan a couple of weeks ago I said that it is never easy for young, or not so young, men to become priests because there are often adverse circumstances which make things hard. It is very necessary, therefore, to appreciate this and to pray for those who come forward to be priests, especially in today’s more secularised environment, and to encourage them when they do find the courage to respond to the Lord’s call. It is very good for us to celebrate the priesthood today of somebody who has given such a long life to the priestly ministry, and may still last a few years yet, and to continually pray for his well-being and that of all the priests we know (even bishops as well).

Do we need priests? Well the Mary Magdalenes, the shepherds, the faithful of Christ through the ages, have always needed the presence of the apostle in their community, and that is why the priest is a man, called by the Lord and chosen by the Church, to sustain the People of God in their Christian faith. He does so, having been ordained for the ministry and blessed with the power of the Holy Spirit, by preaching and teaching the Gospel, celebrating the Eucharist and administering the Lord’s sacraments, and by shepherding and caring for the flock entrusted to him.

It is a wonderful vocation and fulfilling in so many ways – made more special also through the commitment to a celibate life, whereby the priest gives all his love and loving service to the Lord and his people. To sustain us in this ministry we need to be men of prayer, who know the Lord’s presence and speak to him in the intimacy of our hearts – the sense of living in the presence of God and being close to him in all that we do and say appears to grow stronger as we get older, and I would think that would be an advantage of knowing Canon Angus at this stage. He is getting frailer, he can’t do all the things he did when he was younger, but he is strong in the Lord and he can offer a strong sense of peace and serenity as he continues to carry out his priestly duties.

Some of the other Resurrection stories in the Gospels feature fish and Jesus sharing a meal of bread and fish with his disciples. Canon Angus would certainly fit in there also as he has always loved fish. When he was younger he loved fishing itself and had his own boat and creels. In later years he has been restricted to cooking and eating the fish, but that has been done with fine hospitality and no little effort, and those of us who have dined with him have enjoyed the food he prepares and his company and we are indeed grateful for his culinary skills and generosity. The generous sharing of food has been part of his life from his childhood days in Baile Gharhaidh, and he has always seemed at his happiest preparing a meal for a good number in the house, or a great number in the hall or outside on the machair. Thank you, Canon Angus, for having learnt this style of living from your parents and having given us so much enjoyment in eating with you – the Lord is with us in the ordinary things of life and when we share food and conversation we grow in friendship and compassion for one another.

Another aspect of his early family life which Canon Angus often speaks of was the praying together in the house each evening – I think it was usually the rosary and its accompanying prayers which wre recited each evening by family and visitors. If visiting a neighbouring Protestant household time would be set aside there also for a shared reading of the Bible.

Being brought up with this background of prayer would have helped his sense of God’s call to the priesthood and also given him a love for Mary and saints as their help was invoked for all the needs of those praying. Fr. Angus has held this devotion to Our Lady, especially through his annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, and he has also  been a promoter of the local Celtic saints, especially those associated with South Uist and Barra – Michael the Archangel and St. Bride, St Brendan and St. Barr. He has carried a strong sense of the presence of the saints with us in this world, while giving us the hope and the desire for the eternal life, in which our hope of resurrection will be fulfilled.

The daily celebration of the Eucharist is another essential part of the priest’s spiritual life, and the privilege of offering the sacrifice of the Mass and welcoming the Lord each day in Holy Communion has been something which has sustained and blessed him as a priest through all these years. It is the gift also which the priest brings to the faithful and the communities he serves – the celebration of the Mass in happy times and sad ones, bringing the people the consolation of the Lord’s presence, especially when tragedy and difficulties occur. Through 60 years of priesthood, and especially in his years here in Barra, Canon Angus has witnessed and experienced these trials with you and brought the Lord’s compassion and comfort to those who have been bereaved. Another poignant reason therefore to join with Canon Angus today in thanking the Lord for these years of priestly ministry among you. May Our Blessed Lady, St Barr and St Brendan, continue to protect him also and keep him close to the Lord.

I mentioned earlier that Canon Angus has always enjoyed the company of others, especially at his table, so it is really good that so many of you have managed to come today to celebrate his 60th anniversary with him – his fellow priests, his family (who have enjoyed so much coming to visit him over the years), and his parishioners from Northbay and Castlebay, Eriskay and Bornish and perhaps from further afield. We enjoy gathering together for these special occasions, and our worship of God is joyous and uplifting. It is good also that we can sing and pray to God in different tongues, and it is lovely to hear Gaelic being used as well – another part of Canon Angus’ life and very much part of the identity he promoted in his film-star days. He is not so keen now on being filmed, but we remember him fondly from his earlier appearances and recognise his own unique contribution to Gaelic and the local history and tradition. He carries a lot of knowledge and it has always been good to listen and learn something from his storeroom of things both old and new.

As he has grown older some have remarked that he has become smaller – not any less significant I  might add. Perhaps the words of John the Baptist are being fulfilled in him in a spiritual way – “he must increase, I must decrease – or St. Paul’s phrase – “life to me, of course is Christ”. There is a sense then for all of us who trust and hope in the Lord that as we grow older the presence of Christ’s grows stronger within us, as we hopefully mature in our understanding of knowing him as our Lord and Saviour, who ultimately will carry us from life in this world into eternity. In that sense we are like the Celtic monks looking out beyond the horizon to “Tir nan Og” longing to be taken there and to enjoy the promises held out to us in the unknown – promises given to us by Christ himself. Some of St. Paul’s words from Philippians offer this mature perspective on human life and its eternal potential:

“I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus the Lord….I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God and based on faith. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead.”

We don’t wish this to happen just yet for Canon Angus, but I am sure that is the spirit in which he has lived and will continue to live his remaining days on this earth - full of hope in Christ, faithful in his prayer and ministry, and happy to have served the Lord well and to have truly brought the Good News to those who have needed it most. We thank God for all he has done and we pray that the Lord will indeed keep him strong as a happy and inspiring witness to our ancient Catholic faith.   

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