Time for Reflection

– in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd November 2022.

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Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Good afternoon. The first item of business is time for reflection. Our time for reflection leader today is Monsignor John A Hughes, parish priest at St Joseph’s, Helensburgh and former rector of the Pontifical Scots College in Rome.

Monsignor John A Hughes (Parish Priest, St Joseph’s, Helensburgh):

First, thank you for allowing me to share this moment with you and special thanks to Jackie Baillie for nominating me to have this moment of reflection.

We might be forgiven for thinking that the business of the fourth estate is somewhat dominated by discord. The media seem to make much of disharmony and to give perhaps disproportionate airspace and volume to any jarring notes. Holding differing opinions, diverging on points of view and perhaps even being in sharp contrast on deeply held principles will frequently characterise general discourse. However, with mutual respect and a genuine willingness to listen, dissonance need not be the inevitable outcome.

Tragically, discord is not limited to debate. Our brows are almost permanently furrowed as we flinch when learning of continued strife in Ukraine and in other troubled countries. Nearer home, disharmony can seem to be the stamp punctuating much political and social intercourse. The fourth estate might vindicate its claim that much is indeed out of joint.

On this day, 22 November, the Christian community celebrates the feast of St Cecilia. She has, for some centuries, been associated with harmony, concord and music, however strangely that association came about—probably due to a mistranslation or to carelessness in manuscript copying. The earliest English reference to Cecilia, in the work of Chaucer, associates her with blindness, the Latin word for which is “caecitas” and gives us the name Cecilia. That paradigm shift from a connection with blindness to the patronage of harmony might not be such a huge leap of faith. Having a place for insight and a sense of vision might do a lot to avert disharmony and discord.

Interestingly, the oldest purpose-built concert hall in Scotland, and the second-oldest in the United Kingdom, was named for Cecilia here in Edinburgh’s Niddry Street. Her day was marked here in Edinburgh as far back as 1696. I would like to think that in our commonsense Scottish psyche—which I think is reflected in the layout of this place—there is an instinct and desire to look for concord, to work for harmony and to be in tune with the most cherished desires of our people.

There is no shortage of poetry and musical compositions for this day, including works by Pope, Dryden, Purcell, Jeremiah Clarke and Handel. More recently, W H Auden’s “Anthem for St. Cecilia’s Day”, dedicated to Benjamin Britten, prays:

“Cecilia, appear in visions ... appear and inspire ... come down and startle ... mortals with immortal fire”

I pray that the energy and efforts of all who labour here may be inspirational for our country and will fire individuals and groups to live and work in harmony in our great country.

Thank you.

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Monsignor Hughes.