Some time ago I had lunch in a local restaurant with Deacon Vincent McQuaid, the Catholic chaplain at Dr Gray’s. By pure coincidence, a woman I knew was there too with her friend. On their way out she told me that she had paid for our drinks. That was a very kind and generous gesture. It’s just a pity that I only had half a pint of alcohol-free beer… That gesture, unexpected and undeserved, was in line with today’s gospel: ‘If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, he will most certainly not lose his reward.’ In fact, she went much further, because it wasn’t just a glass of cold water (which was served free-of-charge in that restaurant anyway); and I’m certainly not ‘a little one’. I just wonder what her reward was, as I haven’t seen her since. Perhaps she won the lottery and now lives in a country where summer means summer…

I have to admit that this wasn’t the only act of kindness that has been shown towards me here. It happens every now and again in one form or another. Those acts of kindness often aren’t made simply because I’m a priest; it’s because most people I have met are kind and friendly and do this out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s important to me that I’ve been accepted in this community, and am even considered by some as ‘one of our own’. I feel at home here, to the slight irritation of my beloved Mum who lives a thousand miles away.

You may wonder why the heck I’m talking about myself rather than about Jesus… Perhaps that’s because in this parish I’m the sole literal illustration of his statement in today’s gospel: ‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me.’ The nearest active priests are in Elgin, Huntly and Peterhead. We priests find ourselves thinly spread, each serving at least a couple of parishes. We all try to do our best, but we are only human, limited by time and distance, with our limited talents, skills and capabilities. We are prone to make mistakes and errors, as is everyone else. Our ‘superpowers’ that we use to celebrate Mass and the other sacraments are considered neither ‘super’ nor ‘powers’ by many outside the Church. There’s no shortage of those out there who consider us to be redundant or even harmful. Undoubtedly many such perceptions are justified by the unpleasant attitudes or sinful actions of some of the clergy worldwide. People’s expectations of us are very high, and we priests often struggle to meet them.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not intent on using up my weekly allowance of moaning in this sermon. I’m really happy to be here and to be doing what I believe I was called to do. I’ve said all that to put your kindness and helpfulness into perspective. Neither I, nor any of my colleagues, could do much without your personal involvement and commitment. I’d like to testify that this parish community’s strength comes from you. It is each act of kindness towards others, of help to others, voluntary work, prayer or suffering – even if it’s apparently overlooked or going unnoticed – that makes this community so great. And all that is done for God’s sake. Today I’d like to thank each and every one of you for doing your bit for the parish. As for offering me a cup of cold water, you’ve gone much further than that, and made me feel at home. How? Here’s a clue: my visitors, looking at my collection of bottles full of the water of life, given to me by many of you, must wonder whether I’m an alcoholic…