STAYING THE COURSE
My sense is that the streamed Mass last weekend, with a special focus on those who would have been receiving their First Holy Communion at Bishop Eton, was received with much enthusiasm. Likewise, it would seem that many families also welcomed the opportunity to celebrate the special service in the homes, welcoming Jesus to “break bread” with them. This weekend the focus turns to St Mary’s, where twenty-four children would have been receiving their First Holy Communion. We will remember you and your families in the same way and hope and pray that you too will be able to rejoice together until the day when we can all come together again.
As I continue to appreciate the interaction that the social media is providing for us, my hope is that we will not be tempted to flag. This pandemic is reminding us of how much we need one another. The knowledge that we are supporting one another in prayer is very powerful, and, of course, this applies not only to the youngsters due for Holy Communion, but also, and in a very special way, to those who are mourning their loved ones as well as those who are suffering in whatever way.
Alongside our spiritual commitment to one another, I think it is important that we remain resolute in the joint effort to deal with Covid 19. I sense from what I see and from the media that for many people there may be a weakening of resolve. With that comes the danger of a resurgence of the virus, which could still infect many more people until we find a more definite solution. Let’s continue to pray for perseverance, that special Redemptorist virtue! Enjoy the Bank Holiday Weekend.
Please take note of the Pastoral Area initiative to keep the Novena to the Holy Spirit during these nine days, leading up to Pentecost next Sunday. The details are all on the websites.
Coping is the word that comes to mind as I try to share a thought with you this weekend. I suppose there are many times in our lives when all we can do is cope. Accordingly all the more important are those sustaining memories which help us live in hope during the coping times. I felt this very much when I learnt of the death of my nephew, Andrew, aged just 50. For some time Andrew has had to cope with a severely debilitating health condition and my heart went out to him when I saw him in March and realised how often he simply winced with pain during our conversation. This past week I thought of some of those wonderful times with Andrew, particularly when as a youngster I was able to take him to see his beloved Sunderland when they were playing in London and I was able to get down south; yes he supported uncle’s football team! One occasion stands out in particular: a 2-2 draw with Arsenal and I was able to secure a meeting with and the autograph of his favourite player after the game. He was so excited he couldn’t speak as we drove back to Swanley.
During this new phase of our struggles with Covid 19, I suspect that many of you are wondering how you are going to cope or exactly what you should be doing. I was delighted to hear Cardinal Vincent Nichols speaking determinedly about the need for the Government to respect the spiritual needs of the people. We wait in hope for the time when we can open the doors of our churches again, even though we will certainly have to put into place many safety measures.
Meanwhile, this weekend and over the next few weeks we will try and support the families of our children who would have been receiving their First Holy Communion at this time. Likewise, I want to reassure those of you waiting to have your children baptised and those of you who have had to postpone your weddings: we will do all we can to sort everything out as soon as we get the go-ahead.
If I may just return to the matter of finance: the Archdiocese has negotiated with the bank an excellent and easy to use scheme, whereby you may continue to contribute to the parish finances. If you wish to avail yourselves of this, please click here for full details.
KEEPING IN TOUCH:
In the autumn of 1973 I was invited to look after the Vocations’ Work in the London Province of the Redemptorists. My role was clearly defined by the vision of my predecessors, who had entitled the work: “Keep in Touch”. There are still among our parishioners those who can give testimony to the fact that from my base in Sunderland I did faithfully tour the country in the succeeding seven and a half years, keeping in touch with the youngsters who wanted to know more about our life and work. The Junior Seminary in Birmingham had closed a few years before and so the majority of those with whom I kept in touch were still at school, though we had some who had moved on to university and a few who at a mature age wondered whether the Lord was calling them to the religious life and/or the priesthood.
I look back on those years as very fulfilling and happy years. We had some wonderful retreats/holidays in places as far apart as Plymouth and the Isle of Skye and one memorable pilgrimage to Rome for the Canonisation of St John Neumann. (To learn more about this Redemptorist Saint click here)
GOOD WILL ABOUNDS
In my recorded message on Thursday I referred to the remarkable gift of visors from St Hilda’s School and the wonderfully encouraging message that accompanied them. I want to thank Roy Bellmon, chair of our SVP at St Mary’s and Deputy Head of St Hilda’s and the Head Teacher, Mrs Jo Code, for being so thoughtful. We have been able to make really good use of them in furnishing the carers who come to the monastery and some of the staff at Christopher Grange, where Fr Gabby continues to make good progress.
These acts of kindness seem to be abounding – our thanks also to those who have brought us masks and sanitizers – for I believe they are another demonstration of how St Paul’s words come true: “We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him” Romans 8.28).
Have you noticed that even on radio and television people seem more willing to say not just that they are keeping others in mind and wishing them well, but even praying for them?
That said, while the debate grows as to how and when we should come out of ‘lock down’ I have noticed that the main emphasis is on when and in what numbers we will be able to go to pubs and restaurants and sporting fixtures, but little or no mention of churches and places of worship.
Let’s hope that when all this is over, we will not forget some of the very important lessons we can be learning while it is on! Have a good and safe week.
For those of you who haven't seen this week's message it has been embedded here.
I have mentioned before that Redemptorist, when they commit themselves to the service of our Lord, not only take the usual vows of religious life – Poverty, Chastity and Obedience – but, for good measure, add a vow and oath of Perseverance. Well our commitment to persevere is certainly being put to the test at present in a wholly new and unexpected way… and, of course, I realise that this applies not only to us but to the whole nation and the whole world.
There is something very appealing about the person who sticks at it and even goes the extra mile, which is what makes ninety-nine year old Captain Tom Moore such an appealing hero at present. It is a good news story that has captured the heart of the nation and seemingly of the wider world, judging by the blanket coverage his walking up and down the back garden is receiving. No doubt many of you have felt moved to contribute to the NHS because of Tom and so have we in the monastery.
I hope the contribution we are also making in our two parishes by staying united in prayer is also lifting the spirits and helping us persevere. Thank you again for all the good wishes and encouraging sentiments as well as the Easter greetings and gifts to our Redemptorist family. Our Mass this weekend will provide us with another opportunity to think about how Christ can break down any barriers that separate us and send his Spirit into our hearts and homes. Stay peaceful and safe and pray for the gift of perseverance!
This message comes with the love and prayers of Fr Andrew and all the Redemptorist Community. We want to thank you for all your prayers and good wishes as well as for the many gifts left at the front door of the monastery.
MAY THE JOY AND HOPE OF EASTER
FILL YOUR HOMES
As I write these few words on Holy Saturday morning, another beautifully calm sunny morning, I feel a peace filled with hope that the Feast of the Resurrection will provide us all with an opportunity to deepen our faith in the power of Christ’s loving presence, even in the midst of this dreadful virus that has crippled the whole world.
Some years ago, Bishop Tom Wright, the former Bishop of Durham and a renowned Scripture scholar, wrote an article on Holy Saturday in ‘The Times’ and it simply captured my imagination. It is powerful and it is challenging, but it is also inspirational.
His strapline is: “Christians must keep their nerve: the Resurrection isn’t a metaphor, it’s a physical fact.” I kept a copy of it (Easter Revised) and am asking our wonderful secretaries to make it available alongside this weekend’s bulletin on the website. If you can find time to read it I think you will find it was time well spent. CLICK HERE to read a copy.
In the midst of all the uncertainty and the accompanying anxiety we have arrived at Holy Week. It will be a very different Holy Week for all of us, but my hope and prayer is that it will bring great blessings on us and deepen our sense of community, as we unite all the suffering of this crisis with the sufferings of Our Lord.
I will not try and offer too many ideas here, but will make some suggestions when I record the Palm Sunday Mass. I want each of you to work out with your families what is possible and what is best for you. I am really impressed with the wealth of material that is being made available to help us and you can see that our websites are full of suggestions and good ideas. I thank all of you who continue to look for ways in which we can support each other during this challenging time and a special ‘thank you’ to Margie Zilnyk, whose technical expertise has been invaluable and made it possible for me to broadcast the Sunday Mass and my short messages.
I have been heartened by the enormous number of positive responses and by the way we really do seem to be holding one another in prayer, love and concern.
May the Lord bless us in a special way during the coming week so that next weekend we will be able to celebrate Easter with great joy because Easter is the Feast of Feasts.
The youtube video of this week's Mass will be emdedded on the website as soon as it is available. If you subscribe to the Parish youtube channel (anyone with a google account can subscribe) you should be informed once the video has been uploaded.
HOW ARE YOU COPING?
I feel privileged to be able to share some thoughts with you this weekend, and I am particularly looking forward to being able to offer Mass for you all, a celebration, which, because of the wonders of modern technology, can hopefully reach into most of your homes.
The first duty of a parish priest is to offer the Eucharist for the people of the parish, which is why every weekend, in both Bishop Eton and St Mary’s, that has always been the first intention on the list of Masses.
Like so many things in this present crisis, during the past week the significance of this privilege has come home to me and captured my imagination. The bonds that are being forged through our efforts to be united in prayer at 7.00pm each evening and through my message from our Redemptorist oratory about the plan to celebrate a broadcast Mass each weekend have touched my heart.
I am constantly wondering how you are coping with all the constraints that have been placed on you. I realise how challenging all this must be, particularly for those of you with young children and, of course, those of you isolated and living alone.
Indeed, I am conscious of how blessed I am to live in a relatively large community, enjoying the friendship and support of my confrères, all of whom are equally concerned for you, as we are for our own families and the world at large.
Alongside all this, we are bound to be anxious. The prospect of this virus invading our elderly and frail community is almost unthinkable, but it leads us back to reflecting on the power of God’s word in the scriptures.
I will share some thoughts with you during the Mass, but for now I suggest that the question posed to Martha in the Gospel this Sunday will concentrate our minds: “I am the resurrection and the life… do you believe this?”
Archbishop Malcolm sent a gentle message to his priests, inviting us to contact him or those he has delegated to care for the clergy, if any of us feel in need. May I, in my turn, assure you that if you feel that we can be of help, you do not hesitate to call us? Because we are all over seventy, we are not at liberty to go out visiting, but I will be happy to chat on the phone, and the younger priests in the Pastoral Area, have promised to help out in any way they can. Meanwhile, let us pray for one another that this whole experience will help to deepen our faith in the Lord and in the power of his Spirit, strengthening and uniting us in his love.
The youtube video of the Mass will be emdedded on the website as soon as it is available. If you subscribe to the Parish youtube channel (anyone with a google account can subscribe) you should be informed once the video has been uploaded.
“Why is God allowing this to happen?”
This week even some of the younger children have asked me the question:
“Why is God allowing this to happen?”
Down through the centuries human beings have asked the same question in the face of suffering and turmoil. As I pray the psalms day by day in the Divine Office I hear over and over again echoes of the same question.
So how did I answer the children?
All I could do was to ask them a question in return:
“Are you loving people?” With some coaxing they agreed that they are, so I then asked them: “Can anyone force you to love?” Without hesitation they said: “No.”
And therein lays the problem: we are free to love and we are free not to love. The story of The Fall in Genesis reminds us of the temptation to eat of a fruit that will make us gods. Human beings continue to be tempted to live and act as gods, selfishly convinced that they are in charge. The emptying of the shelves in the shops is a classic example of how selfish we can become. By contrast there are so many people seeking to reach out and support others during the crisis.
Let’s all be among this latter group and if you are in need or can offer help, then you are free to use our parish office as a kind of hub. With local authority and other ‘ad hoc’ groups there is a lot going on and we want to be part of it.
Page 1 of 45