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The wisdom (and humour) of Bishop Francis Moncrieff.

2014 March 12
by Gordon Reid


This supposed daily blog is proving harder than I thought. But I have just been rereading some notes I made of my very first retreat, which was held  at the Convent of the Sisters of St Peter at Walkerburn, Peeblesshire, in February 1962. It was for university students and was conducted by Bishop Francis Moncrieff, the Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Bishop Francis was tall, thin, aristocratic-looking and seemed austere. But he had a wonderful sense of humour. Soon after Vatican II, he was seated in the sanctuary of the RC Cathedral in Glasgow at a Mass for Christian Unity. Seated beside him was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Glasgow, and when the congregation came to the (newly restored) “Kiss of Peace”, the Moderator looked down at all the people hugging and kissing, and said to Francis “Whatever is going on?”. Francis looked down his long aristocratic nose and drawled “Oh, I suppose someone has scored a goal”. (I suppose you have to know Glasgow’s fanatical rivalry between Catholic Celtic and Protestant Rangers soccer teams to get the full force of this remark).

At ay rate, (as preachers always say when they have strayed from their topic) Bishop Francis was a deeply spiritual man and here are some wise words from the notes I made at that Retreat.

“If we look at our Lord’s story of the rich young man who wanted to know what he should do to inherit eternal life, we notice that in the man’s list of the commandments he kept, he omitted one – “Thou shalt not covet”. Our Lord saw this and pointed it out by telling him to go and sell all he owned. This was too much for him, and he went away. He was rich and had a lot to give up, but when it comes to us, we may find that the less a man has, the harder he finds to part with it, and so seemingly smaller sacrifices may prove just as difficult. We all start with the vision of doing great things for God, but the rich young man is not the only young man in the Gospels who fell, not because of great riches, but for thirty pieces of silver.”

“The perfect example of intercessory prayer is that of our Lady at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. She merely brought the situation before our Lord and left him to deal with it. She offered no suggestions as to how he should go about it. No one could have dreamt of the way in which our Lord actually did act. That is what is meant by praying in the name of, and through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“The answer to prayer is not always “Yes” or “No” but mostly something like “Not immediately”. Often it is a long-term policy of God’s at work …. This fact opens wide vistas before us. “Cast your bread upon the waters, and ye shall find it after many days” refers to the practice of the Egyptians, who scattered the seed on the river Nile, knowing it would, in the floods, be carried over a wide stretch of the river banks, take root and grow. It is the same in the case of us and our prayers. In due time we shall find the answer”.

One Response leave one →
  1. Dave Milne permalink
    December 13, 2015

    I remember once, as a chorister at St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, having to leave evensong hurriedly mid-service due to a severe and unexpected nosebleed ; on my way to the toilets I encountered Bishop Moncrief who kindly suggested that I lie down on the linen kist in front of the vestry and put my head back. While he was checking I was ok, an old lady came walking by to seemingly encounter a chorister with blood staining his surplice over his heart and the tall Bishop bending praying over him. As she let out a little scream, a wicked smile spread over his face – it was one of life’s funniest moments.

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