The Homily for the Funeral of Canon Angus John Macqueen

By Bishop Brian McGee St Michael’s, Ardkenneth, South Uist 14th February 2019

Hope is a basic characteristic of the Christian Faith. Christianity began with a handful of followers in a small province in the eastern end of the Mediterranean, part of the Roman Empire which was pagan and often hostile. Yet within three centuries, it had spread widely and even the Emperor himself was Christian. Why, when the odds of success seemed negligible, was it so successful? Because Christianity offered people hope! We all need hope in life, to know that our life has a meaning, a purpose, that we are loved, that we have a future. The first disciples knew Jesus: they heard and saw him and especially after the Resurrection knew that he was God. Jesus was their hope. They now moved out into the world and witnessed to Christ through their preaching, their worship, their lifestyle and their charity. Those who were sufficiently open, inspired by these disciples, also sought to encounter Christ and they too came to know Christ as their hope. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor; male or female; free or slave; Jewish or foreign – people were attracted to Christ because he brought hope!

Centuries later the order of the Roman Empire in Western Europe and North Africa collapsed under the invasions of pagan tribes. This is often described as the Dark Ages. Yet as time passed the pagans mingled with Christians – and despite all their worldly power – recognised that they lacked the inner meaning and hope which the Christians had. The Christians – though their faith and lifestyle – pointed to Christ. The pagans searched and found Christ, their hope.

The same thing happened here too. In the west of Scotland, the Faith flourished in our Celtic culture but when the Norse invaded they sought to destroy the Church. It seemed the end but once again as the pagans mingled – despite all their power and riches – they recognised their lives were empty and when the lifestyle of their Christian neighbours pointed to Christ, they too searched and found hope.

And so throughout the centuries people on this island have – in good times and bad – found their hope in Christ. And do we still not to so today? How often in times of sickness, bereavement or other struggles have we found hope and comfort in Christ? How often have we wondered how we could have coped without our faith?

The Readings for Canon Angus John’s funeral today exude the theme of hope. In our First Reading (Isaiah 25:6-9) the people of Israel speak of the disaster which has fallen upon them which, they acknowledge, was caused by their sin. Yet God is their hope! Referring to heaven (the holy mountain), God will feed people with the best of food, remove mourning and shame and destroy death. God’s mercy is superabundant since it is for “all people” and not just a few. Yet we will not only experience God’s love as a group but personally since he will wipe away the tears from our cheek. The passage concludes with joyful shouts – We hoped that God would save us and he did! We rejoice that we were right to hope in God!

In our Gospel (John 6:51-58) Jesus declares that he alone is our hope. “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.” We can’t fail to notice the metaphor of food in the scriptures today or the link with Angus John. We all know that the Canon was famous for his love of food and his excellent cooking, his fishing, his foraging along the seashore or in the woods, his hospitality. Yet it would be an injustice to limit the Canon’s achievements to the kitchen.

Just before the Gospel passage, Jesus had miraculously fed the multitude with five loaves and two fish. The next day the people were hungry again and so came looking for more. Jesus told them that the loaves would only fill them temporarily but that he offered food of a different nature and quality which would not feed the body but the soul. The people responded by talking about the mana in the desert. Yes, replied Jesus, but those who had eaten the manna in the desert were now dead but that he offered spiritual food that unites us to God, strengthens us and brings us to Eternal Life. That is Hope! Jesus alone is our hope! The Canon knew this in his heart and spent his life drawing hope from Christ and then pointing to Christ that others might benefit from the hope which Christ alone brings.

Yet let us pray for Canon Angus John. The Readings speak to us of God’s mercy for the sinner and Angus John, like us, was a weak sinner and so we confidently pray for mercy.

We also ask the Lord to reward him. Born on 10th November 1923 to John and Kate MacQueen he was baptised here in St Michael’s. While attending Iochdar School he heard the voice of the Lord calling him and so he journeyed to St Mary’s College, Blairs for Secondary School. Due to the Second World War, he continued his Senior Seminary Studies at Blairs before also attending St Peter’s, Bearsden and then in England Mill Hill, Allen Hall and Ware. During the war, he also served in the army. The Canon’s road to the priesthood was not easy but he was determined and eventually he was ordained in St Columba’s Cathedral, Oban on 21st July 1951.

Angus John served the People of God as an assistant priest in Dunoon, Castlebay, Morar (latterly as Administrator) then as Parish Priest of Eriskay, Castlebay, Glencoe, Rothesay, Arran, Bornish and finally Northbay. He was also a Canon of the Cathedral Chapter and Dean in the Western Isles. He retired from active ministry in 2012 aged eighty-eight. He continued living at St Barr’s until 2015 when he moved into St Brendan’s Home in Castlebay. In all of these places, Canon Angus ministered among people and pointed to Christ and so gave countless people hope.

The Canon described when a soldier he was the only person in the entire barracks who went to Sunday Mass. Imagine that, the only one out of hundreds. He recalled that he became the butt of many jokes and yet his upbringing had instilled in him a deep faith. Angus’ witness as a young man in his early twenties was heroic but I cannot but wonder what unseen good it also achieved. How many other young Catholic men who knew that they should have gone to Mass but were too afraid – but were later, on reflection, inspired by Angus’ example? How many who had utterly rejected Christ scoffed at Angus but perhaps years later, on remembering his witness, were helped to open their hearts to Christ. Like the early Christians, Angus pointed to Christ and God alone knows what good was achieved.

Pope Francis encourages an outward-looking Church. The temptation is to become insular, especially in trying times. Yet this call to being outgoing is not new. It was certainly a pattern of Angus John’s priesthood. We are all aware of his passions: Gaelic language and culture, cooking, hospitality, poetry. Through these and other pursuits he befriended many people within and beyond the Church.  In so many ways he used his humanity, his interests to reach out to people across society. He effortlessly merged culture and faith; his baking of the struan cake at Michaelmas is but one small example. As a young priest, I remember watching him in Lourdes on a Gaelic television programme and, even though I didn’t know him, being moved by his natural faith. Angus John had a great gift of communing with all sorts of people in many ways but to everyone, he remained a priest who pointed to Christ our hope.

Let us also pray for Angus John’s family and friends who mourn for him today. They loved him and will naturally miss him. I also thank Peter Boyd for his selfless care of the Canon and to Fr John Paul for his pastoral care of him. Let us pray that as the Canon drew hope from Christ so, even in your sadness, will you.

Finally, let us all remember that as we journey through life that Christ is our hope. Let us deepen our bonds with the Lord and let us bear witness to him that others may know and love him too.

Our brother Angus John trusted in Christ as his hope. May he now be rejoicing in his presence!