Fr Andrew’s blog – March

Tuesday, 31st March, 2020

Today is the last day of the month; how far we have come in those short few weeks. But if that seems a long way, today is also the last day of the first quarter of the year – we really have come a long way. To ‘come a long way’ is generally a positive phrase meaning a lot has been achieved. We may not have achieved much but we have come from a state of blissful ignorance to a state of considerable uncertainty and some worry about what the next few weeks or months will bring. When I was a boy there was a hymn we used to sing which I didn’t understand: Lord, for tomorrow and is needs, I do not pray. I used to think, ‘Why Not pray?’ I suppose the point of the hymn was that the future is not yet real, only the present is actually real and we have to think, pray and live day by day. If that is true then the last verse of that hymn may have a message for us; So, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray; but keep me, guide, love me, Lord, just for today.’ Of, course, tomorrow will be another ‘today’.

Monday, 30th March, 2020

Monday of the Fifth week of Lent sees the longest first reading at mass in the whole liturgical year: the story of Susanna and the Elders as found in the Book of Daniel Chapter 13. I remember being told of an old monk saying mass in Latin who having read it, turned to his server – who was anxious to get off to his breakfast and probably didn’t know much Latin – and said, ‘it is such a beautiful story I’ll read it again.’  We have this story because it sort of connects with the gospel which is the story of the woman caught in adultery. Neither story is actually about adultery. Susanna’s story is about justice and the woman’s story about unconditional forgiveness. Susanna was accused of adultery by two lascivious men because she refused their advances – shades of #MeToo! In the gospel, where Jesus writes on the ground, the focus is on the hypocrisy of the accusers baying for punishment until Jesus makes them – and each of us – think: ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let them be the first to throw a stone.’ The Susanna story is a great story with Daniel playing Poirot / Miss Marple getting at the truth.

Sunday, 29th March, 2020

On Friday I joined the livestreaming of the Pope’s special prayer service from St Peter’s. It was strange to see him alone in St Peter’s Square and to see St Peter’s itself empty. I once had the privilege of being in St Peter’s when it was completely empty. Some years ago I was cantor at a Papal mass which was being held outside in the square. I had to wear robes provided by the Vatican and was taken inside and walked through the empty St Peter’s to find my robes which happened to be laid out on a table directly in front of Michelangelo’s famous Pieta. I was left completely alone there for ten minutes – a very special occasion. Today, I will again be in an empty church as I shall say mass alone. The church will be empty of the physical presence of our normal congregation but not empty in spirit or fraternal charity. As I look out on the empty pews I will have in my mind’s eye the faces of those who I would regularly see.

Among the hymns we would have sung today is All ye who seek a comfort sure in trouble or distress. These are words that will strike a chord with many today and on this Passion Sunday the words of the second verse are also very apposite: Jesus, who gave himself for you upon the cross to die, opens to you his sacred heart; oh! to that heart draw nigh.

Saturday, 28th March 2020

Some weeks ago I booked my car in for an MOT and a service; this was due to happen next week and the MOT runs out at the end of the week. Yesterday the garage phoned to say they now can’t do this and I will have to rebook ‘once this is all over’. The Government has extended the validity of MOTs by six months so there is no great panic and fortunately the service is not desperate either. Cars are not the only thing that need to be checked over from time to time. We occasionally need a spiritual MOT and the remaining two weeks of Lent are as good a time as any for that. This year, however, we do not have access to the usual means: the church is closed, there is no opportunity to attend mass in person, visit the Blessed Sacrament or easily get to confession or a service of reconciliation. But the renewal of the interior life can be done interiorly, through, prayer, meditation and spiritual reading. In busy lives, fitting this in can be a challenge. I suspect, though, that one thing many of us have at the moment is time: the challenge is to use it fruitfully.

If you missed it, Pilgrimage: The Road to Istanbul on BBC2 last night had some thoughtful moments about the importance and relevance of faith – as well as some scenes of lovely countryside. Available on iplayer.

Bishop Philip phoned yesterday to see how we are all doing here in Westbourne and sends his blessing.

Friday, 27th March 2020

Commentators have noted that we currently battling with two crises: the health one and a financial one. Yesterday, the Chancellor addressed the second by outlining the assistance package he was offering to the self-employed, many of whom will be under some considerable financial stress at this time. As so often with announcements people hear what they want to hear and not what is actually being said and overlook the little prepositions. Much reporting focusses on the 80% support but doesn’t always mention the up to £2,500 a month bit.  Those earning over £30K per annum won’t get 80% and they may well still be in difficulty as they may already have over-extended themselves. With Jesus there is no up to, from or only. What he says is what he says: ‘Your sins are forgiven’, Your faith has made you well, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. He does not say, ‘These sins are forgiven but not those’, ‘Your faith has made you well but only for the next three months’, or ‘love this neighbour but not that one’.

Thursday, 26th March 2020

The news has a tendency to focus on the bad and we may well get quite a lot of bad news ahead. It also tends to favour reporting bad behaviour rather than good. So it was particularly uplifting to have the good news that, within hours of being asked, over 400,000 people have responded to the request for volunteers to help to those in particular need. Many of those in need will be isolated and lonely and others, who lead active lives now find themselves in forced inactivity. The words of a psalm may be relevant here:

‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 45 v.11)

This line is often cited as a way in to a contemplative frame of mind. In stillness and in quietness of both mind and soul we are invited to move closer to the presence of God within. Lines quoted from scripture are, however, often taken out of context and their meaning can be distorted. This line is actually not about contemplation as a spiritual exercise but about looking to God for help. The first line of the psalm reads, ‘God is for us a refuge and strength, a helper close at hand in time of distress.’The ‘distress’ the psalmist was talking about was actually a war but the sentiment seems particularly apt at this present time (which in many respects resembles a time of war). Whether it was originally intended or not, the concept of a spiritual stillness that will bring us closer to God is also much needed at this time. God, is of course, always close to us but we may not always be close to him.

Wednesday, 25th March 2020

Today is the feast of the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel broke the news to Mary that God had chosen her to bear a son and name him Jesus. The Incarnation, where the Word became flesh, is central to our Christian faith. So central, in fact, that the words of the Angel are remembered in the prayer The Angelus said throughout the world every day. It is a prayer that also gives due honour to Mary, the Mother of the Lord and Mother of the Church.

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
    Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee;
    Blessed art thou among women,
    And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
    Holy Mary, Mother of God,
    Pray for us sinners,
    Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
    Hail Mary, …
V. And the Word was made Flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
    Hail Mary, …
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, 24th March 2020

We have all seen and, doubtless experienced the sad scenes of supermarkets where shelves have been stripped bare. There has clearly been some unnecessary panic buying but even non-panic buying can lead to these shortages. A family of four facing the prospect of self-isolation for fourteen days will need quite a lot of food. The supermarkets are doing their best and yesterday (mid-morning at any rate) Marks and Spencer was reasonably well-stocked. In all of this I have been reminded of what I used to say when I was a Housemaster and boys would come into my study for a night-time cup of cocoa and a grab pieces of toast or biscuits: ‘There’s enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed!’

I am also reminded of the story in 1 Kings 17: 7 – 16 where Elijah, at a time of a great drought was sent by the Lord to a widow. She had scarcely enough food for one last meal for herself and her son but God said: Jar of meal shall not be spent, jug of oil shall not be emptied before the day when Yahweh sends rain on the face of the earth. The widow, her son and Elijah ate and the provisions did not run out.

Monday, 23rd March 2020

A virtual Church?

To those of us of a certain age the word ‘virtual’ used to mean ‘not real’ or at best ‘not quite real’. There is, of course, much about the internet and our digital world that is not quite real. Computer generated imaging as used in films can produce very realistic scenery and action that is not actually real. At this time of crisis the Church will have to operate in a different way or, as some have said, become a ‘Virtual Church’. However, for the Church to move online, or to become ‘virtual’ does not make it unreal. It is just ‘online. As online banking is not virtual but real – real money moves – so too with online church connectedness – it is real. And because the online world is, like the Church itself, universal we may in our physical isolation paradoxically find ourselves more intimately and spiritually connected more than before.

As the Church –  that’s all of us – finds its feet in this new world the opening prayer of today’s mass seems particularly appropriate:

O God, who renew the world through mysteries beyond all telling, grant, we pray that your Church may be guided by your eternal design and not be deprived of your help in this present age. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.