We have made it through to Half Term and, despite a few hiccups, things seem to be going reasonably well. Therefore, I think we should offer a huge vote of thanks to the staff of our schools and to the children and students for all the effort they have put in to ensure that for the most part the return to school has been a success story. Enjoy the break.
Likewise, in our two churches we continue to fulfil the programme of eight Masses each week. I am truly indebted to all of you who so faithfully ensure that we follow all the protocols that have been laid down, thereby providing a safe environment for those who come. By celebrating most of the baptisms, Deacons Bernard and Greg are giving me tremendous support. Furthermore, Deacon Bernard and Bernard Kean continue to offer invaluable support in the funeral ministry.
This weekend at Bishop Eton and next weekend at St Mary’s we will celebrate with the last of this year’s First Communicants by having an extra Mass on the Saturday morning. Again, I want to thank our catechists and all those who are making these occasions possible.
A few months ago, I could not have imagined myself trying to extend my ministry as a parish priest with regular recordings that are made available through the wonders of modern technology, but I am finding these new opportunities truly rewarding. As well as the weekly message and the Sunday Mass, I have also enjoyed the opportunity to stay in touch with the children. The future landscape is hard to envisage and I am not sure quite how we will cope with Christmas, but we are in the safe hands of the Lord; we will consult and find a way.
Meanwhile, I am also aware of the continuing unsung acts of kindness across the community, where I know you are on the lookout for one another and doing what you can to support those in need. Members of the SVP continue to function and we will ensure that they have an opportunity to boost their funds before Christmas. Likewise, the Dementia Friendly Group (at St Mary's) have come up with wonderfully innovative ways of keeping in touch and Ann O’Neill has written up the story to be shared more widely, in response to requests from the Archdiocese for good news stories. A copy can be found on the website (click here). We are blessed to believe in THE GOOD NEWS, so let’s continue to make more and more good news stories.
At a loss ....
I am at something of a loss to know quite what to write as we approach another weekend. There appears to be a growing sense of unease as factions are developing about the best way to proceed in the face of the new wave of coronavirus cases. For example, in one breath you hear that there may be an extension to the school half-term, and this is almost immediately followed by a denial that such a proposition is viable at this juncture. At the same time, I continue to receive requests for prayer for those struggling to cope. During our shared prayer on Wednesday mornings with the Woolton Churches we have prayed for Beechside Nursing Home and responded to an impassioned plea from one of the hospital chaplains, concerned for the morale of the staff on the frontline. Then, yesterday afternoon I heard from Cheryl Mather, who manages Church View, the nursing home in which Fr Tony Johnson spent his last days. She asked for prayers, saying that they are having a rough time with lots of residents and staff positive with Covid. Naturally, I have assured her of our prayers and good wishes.
In my recorded message this week I mentioned Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard Rohr, the American Franciscan, both of whom I find inspirational, so let me quote directly from each of them.
Writing from the American perspective, Richard Rohr advises:
"Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this sad time must be first to restore the Divine Centre by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. If contemplation means anything, it means that we can “safeguard that little piece of you, God,” as Etty Hillesum describes it. What other power do we have now? All else is tearing us apart, inside and out, no matter who wins the election or who is on the Supreme Court. We cannot abide in such a place for any length of time or it will become our prison."
Speaking to the Synod of Roman Catholic Bishops in Rome some years ago, Rowan Williams said:
"Contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and distorted understanding that come from them… To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit."
FIND THAT LITTLE PIECE OF GOD IN YOU – HAPPY HUNTING
KEEPING OUR SPIRITS UP
One of my abiding memories of my days as a young missioner in the north east of England, was trying diplomatically to suggest to one of my confrères, a Lancastrian from Chorley, who was accompanying me on one of his first missions, that while the content of his preaching was very good, it might be useful if he could give it a bit more oomph and get it across to the congregation that a special event was taking place. To this he replied: “It’s hard to get excited if you’ve got nowt exciting to say!” Certainly I needed to learn the lesson that the Lord can use all our different gifts as and when he sees fit. On that same mission we had 162 people at the 6.30am Mass on the last Friday: the most I can ever remember!
In the present downbeat climate, I continually thank God for the gift of humour. I find a good way of getting the news is to read the political sketch writers. Their ability to put a humorous slant on even the most serious issues can help to keep things in perspective. Alongside that, there are also some wonderfully prophetic voices in our world today. As well as Pope Francis, there is the American Franciscan, Richard Rohr, who is well worth looking out for. I am grateful to those of you who share with me little nuggets of wisdom from such people: we need to keep looking for opportunities to build one another up. Hope is a great gift from God. It is different from optimism, which can be false. Hope is built on the sure foundation of faith in Jesus, the Son of God, whose promises will be fulfilled. Let’s continue to look for those signs of God’s presence, which I firmly believe are there when we see the connections and realise that they are not just co-incidences. Happy hunting!
Next Sunday is Synod Sunday and reminds us that as an Archdiocese we are still on the road together towards this momentous event. Perhaps, we might see its postponement as a prophetic opportunity, giving us more time to listen to one another and read the “signs of the times” before making the necessary decisions that will help us to be “the Church God wants us to be”. If the events of recent months have helped you to clarify your thinking about the shape of the Church in the future, please remember to share your ideas with our Synod representatives, whose details are on the websites.
(The Bishop Eton Synod Rep can be contacted on )
At my De La Salle College in south London, unless you could produce a doctor’s note, declaring that you were in danger of death, you were compelled to take part in the inter-house cross country run every year. I was never a sprinter, but, probably because of a certain cussed side to my nature, I could keep going. As a consequence I used to be chosen for the school cross country team. At the end of the course we had a steep climb up a muddy footpath. At the top of the hill Bro Damian, who was responsible for this particular school activity, would usually stand and shout words of encouragement or rebuke as you passed by. I have a vivid recollection of an occasion when, completely shattered, I was crawling up the hill to be greeted with the cry “keep going, Buckles, keep going!” During my life I have often revisited that occasion and heard Bro Damian’s cry echoing in my ears and one such occasion is now!
The disappointment that, after all our efforts, Liverpool has now been earmarked as a hotspot, requiring special measures, has not been welcome news. Nevertheless, as I suggested in my broadcast message on Thursday, there are many signs of God’s grace at work among us and there are prayer techniques available to enable us to keep that perspective.
Therefore, may I encourage you all “to keep going”. I hope the quiet times at 7 o’clock in the evening and the recorded Masses will continue to provide that sense of unity and mutual support, which can provide us with a solid base on which to build for the future.
We will eventually be able to rebuild our communities and hopefully will be the stronger and more fruitful for this time of pain and reflection.
We will continue with the limited provision of Masses, but we are being advised that home visits with Holy Communion should remain suspended for the time being. Of course, the one exception to this is when someone is in danger of death.
Finally, please note that at Bishop Eton we are scheduling two more First Communion Masses for the 23 remaining candidates and they will be on the 10th and 24th of this month. Also, let’s thank God for the Su family, baptised at Bishop Eton last Sunday and for Matthew Davies and Michael Griffiths who will be received into the Church at St Mary’s this Sunday; Michael’s son, Daniel, will also be Confirmed with them.
NEXT FRIDAY IS THE CAFOD HARVEST FAST DAY: PLEASE NOTE HOW YOU MAY CONTRIBUTE THIS YEAR WITHOUT THE USUAL ENVELOPES. (Click here for details)
NB: TUESDAY’S MASS AT ST MARY’S WILL NOW BE AT 6.00PM, NOT 7.00PM.
ANOTHER SIX MONTHS!
For my few thoughts this week, I will just reiterate some of what I shared in my Thursday Message on YouTube. The prospect of another six months of restrictions and uncertainty is a daunting prospect. At the same time I suspect that for most of us it has come as no surprise that we are going to have to grapple with this wretched virus for some time to come. Likewise, once we have accepted that this is the reality, it may be easier to cope psychologically.
I have shared with you before that Perseverance is a special virtue when it comes to the Redemptorists. On taking our Final Vows we add an Oath of Perseverance to remind us that it is important never to give up. I made my Final Vows on October 16th 1968, so 6 months added to 52 years doesn’t sound so daunting. One of the great blessings of religious life is the mutual support we are able to give one another and that has been truly significant during the past six months. I hope you are experiencing the same in your own families, even if at times you can only communicate virtually through social media. I would like to extend this concept of mutual support to the wider community of the family of the Church and particularly our two parishes of Bishop Eton and St Mary’s. In recent months huge efforts have been made to ensure that everyone is remembered. I am especially grateful to the SVP and to friends and neighbours for the way you have tried to ensure that those living alone are not forgotten. If you have any concerns on this front, please do feel free to contact our parish offices and we will do what we can to respond.
On the subject of the social media and virtual living, I have had to learn quickly. The encouraging response to the recorded Masses and messages have energised me to continue to look for ways of ensuring that we hold our communities together in love and mutual concern and care. I have now extended this reaching out by recording short messages for our primary schools and again the response has been encouragingly positive.
Please remember that during the coming winter months, while we will continue to provide the limited provision of public Masses, the main way in which we can stay united is by praying for one another and begging the Lord to deepen our awareness of his abiding presence. I see the 7.00pm prayer time in our homes (and remember we Redemptorists have changed our timetable so that we can be united with you in prayer at that time) as a wonderful way of giving us that sense of unity. Furthermore, I will continue to record the Sunday Mass each weekend so that all who wish may have an opportunity of sharing in a Eucharistic celebration.
As an addendum, I am conscious that, with the weather turning colder, new challenges will arise in the church buildings as we try to keep the air circulating and at the same time ensure that we don’t freeze to death! Keep smiling.
Coronavirus is not going away easily and it seems that in the near future we may be asked to make still more sacrifices. I sincerely hope that these will not affect our freedom to keep the present limited timetable of Masses available.
Indeed, during the Zoom meetings with my European confrères this week, it became apparent that in some places on the continent they are now able to leave their churches open for private prayer as well as for the occasional liturgies. I hope we will soon be in a position to do the same, but, as yet, we have not received any directive that his will be possible without a team of people to keep the church cleansed at all times.
On the bright side, we can rejoice that so many of our children have now made their First Holy Communion and that in the next couple of weeks those who have been waiting since Easter will be able to be baptised and/or received into full communion with us.
I renew my thanks to all our catechists and administrators who have worked so hard to ensure that we have been able to move on so successfully.
May I just reiterate what I said last week and assure you that I will try and have a conversation with our finance teams as soon as possible:
Finance is another of the mountains I am aware of and It is heartening that many people are concerned about the situation after almost six months without regular collections. Kindly some of you have sent cheques or planned giving envelopes to the Monastery and a number of you have switched to standing orders with the bank. I am very grateful for all of this. The challenge remains as to how to proceed. Those of you who Gift Aid your contributions will soon be receiving a letter to confirm the amount you gave during the last financial year, the end of which almost coincided with the Lockdown.
Meanwhile, I can only suggest that if you wish and are able to bring your contributions up to date, that you send a cheque (with all the necessary details) and we will continue to keep accurate records. At the same time I see no point in resuming collections at the Sunday or even the Weekday Masses until such time as we can return to something closer to normality and enlist our counting teams again.
THE FUTURE FOR THE REDEMPTORISTS:
During the coming week each morning I will be involved in Zoom Meetings with my Redemptorist confrères across northern Europe as we plan a path for the future. There is no denying the fact that for all of us the challenges are enormous. The common pattern of a serious lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious life mean that continually we are having to reassess the options. It is comparable to the process taking place in the wider Church and most notably in the Synod process in our own Archdiocese. While Covid 19 can hardly be viewed as a positive, in a perverse and paradoxical way, it has forced all of us to stop and analyse our priorities.
As I mentioned in my last Thursday message, when I met for prayer at Strawberry Field on Wednesday, we focused on the need to spread good news and Kip Crooks from St Peter’s Woolton introduced the notion of synergy. Essentially the word speaks to us of the value of working together and like Kip I sought a spiritual connotation and found this:
“A distinctive element in the Orthodox understanding of how the Holy Spirit works deification within us is the doctrine of ‘synergy’ – ‘working together’. This working together is the collaboration of God’s grace and a person’s will.”
Please pray with me for that gift of the Holy Spirit in our Redemptorist meetings this week and in all that we continue to strive for in our parishes at this time.
Finance is another of the mountains I am aware of and It is heartening that many people are concerned about the situation after almost six months without regular collections. Kindly some of you have sent cheques or planned giving envelopes to the Monastery and a number of you have switched to standing orders with the bank. I am very grateful for all of this. The challenge remains as to how to proceed.
Those of you who Gift Aid your contributions will soon be receiving a letter to confirm the amount you gave during the last financial year, the end of which almost coincided with the Lockdown. Meanwhile, I can only suggest that if you wish and are able to bring your contributions up to date, that you send a cheque (with all the necessary details) and we will continue to keep accurate records.
At the same time I see no point in resuming collections at the Sunday or even the Weekday Masses until such time as we can return to something closer to normality and enlist our counting teams again.
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