Friday, 29 May 2020

Our trust, his act

This Sunday we will arrive at the great feast of Pentecost. It is, of coure, the feast of the Holy Spirit and, many would say, the birthday or baptism of the Church. Why not join us here at St Brigid's for Mass at 10.30 via our website 3churches.org.


The long season from Ash Wednesday through to Pentecost has been a journey of special difficulty this year with the lockdown running alongside. It'll be a while, I think, before all these things make any sense. So let's join the apostles and Our Lady together in spirit, together in prayer, and await what God the Father and His Son Jesus want to do with us all in this year of strangeness 2020. Open up your hearts, because I suspect there is plenty that is new coming down the line, the unexpected, maybe the different. 

 
One of my very favourite lines from Scripture is

Commit your life to the Lord, trust in him and he will act (Psalm 37) 

This was a big theme of my colleague and great preacher in Ottawa back in the 80s Fr Bob Bedard (left). But, he used to warn, be careful, because it is a dangerous prayer!  

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Jesus prays for us




Dawn over the Sea of Galilee 2009

"Father, I pray not only for these
but for those also
who through their words will believe in me"

These words from John 17 are part of today's Gospel. I think that they are some of the most profound and encouraging in Scripture. Why? Well, think about it. What could be more important than realising that Jesus, at the Last Supper, was praying for me and for you. We, hopefully, are some of 'those will believe in me'.  To use that word of today's English - amazing!
Here was Jesus the night before he died. He is giving what our Archbishop called on Sunday here his "parting address". He teaches the apostles at some length. And then something special happens - the teaching becomes praying, as he prays for the apostles sitting around him. Finally, in the passage which begins with these words, he looks to the future - to us - and prays for all his followers in that unknown land of what was to come
When we feel down, isolated, fearful or anything else, now or at any time, let's remember that not only did he promise to be with us "till the end of time" but that on that precious night before his death, he also prayed for you and for me.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Open - when and how?


WHEN WILL OUR CHURCHES BE OPEN ?

Archbishop George Stack



With the gradual loosening of lockdown regulations and the opening of more and more amenities, the question is inevitably asked “When will our churches be open?”.  As with the  many other challenges facing us in this pandemic, this is not an easy question to answer. 


The opening of parks and beaches, of garden centres and supermarkets car showrooms and other amenities is based on the concept of these being  “open spaces” of one kind or another.  Churches do not seem to be seen in the same category. I imagine this is because they are places where large groups of people come together, sit in close proximity to each other, often for one hour or more. Control of access,movement and social distancing will be part of the conditions laid down in the gradual return to  our churches whether for private prayer and public worship.

The Archbishops of England and Wales have been engaged with the relevant authorities on the necessity of opening our churches in the first instance for private prayer. Public worship will begin later. The essence of our coming together for Mass is that it is a communal gathering. We are blessed to have large congregations in many of our churches who sit very closely together. Under social distancing regulations which will undoubtedly be imposed, this will not be allowed to happen. People will need to sit apart with the consequent significant reduction in numbers being able to attend the same Mass together. Although the rate of infection has been reduced by between 60-70%, as a result of the lockdown restrictions,this does not mean it is completely eradicated. If the R number were to rise again there would likely be a second and equally dangerous wave of infection. Medical professionals are warning of this danger.

The government in Wales has devolved responsibility in matters of health and in the control of the pandemic in this country. It has not yet announced and relaxation of the many  restrictions with which we have become so familiar in recent months. The Catholic Church in Wales, like other Christian bodies and members of the ‘Faiths Forum’, is working on a common approach to government on these matters. The next meeting of the ‘Faiths Forum’ is on 3 June.If and when permission is given for our churches to open, they will be subject to strict health and safety conditions as are all public buildings. Amongst these will be the necessity to provide in churches:

1.Social distancing measures,seating arrangements,one way system,exits and entrances,clear signage,restricted times etc.,

2.Attendance management,qeueing,ticketing,online registration,stewarding etc.,

3.Staggering of attendance by age or vulnerability

4.Infection control issues such as Holy Water stoops, leaflets,hymn books,missals,newsletters,candles, all of which can harbour the virus.

5. PPE materials, sanitiser,deep cleaning materials, surface cleaning materials etc.,

6.Liturgical issues, distribution of Holy Communion, frequency of Mass, devotions, organisation of Memorial Masses, care of the bereaved.

7.Two or three volunteers (under the age of seventy) to implement these policies in order to keep churches open  at specific times.The safeguarding if clergy over the age of 70 and those with underlying health issues will obviously be a priority.

8.In the first instance, large, strategically placed churches would be opened. Whether large or small, churches would need to ensure compliance with the above requisites.
9.The diocese is engaged with [various agencies] in order to acquire the necessary equipment outlined above at competitive prices.

10.Needless to say, all these arrangements will cost significant amounts of money at a time when parishes have been deprived of income for almost three months. Parishioners are encouraged to make a Standing Order for their offerings in order to maintain their churches during these difficult times recognising that this will not be possible for those who are struggling financially.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Crosby, Stills, Nash - and Bede

Today is the feast of St Bede, usually known as the Venerable Bede. He is one of the great saints of Britain and therefore patron of my seminary in Rome, named the Beda after his name in Latin and Italian. He lived about 672-735, and spent the whole of that life in the North-East. he became a monk in the double monastery of St Peter near present day Sunderland and St Paul in Jarrow. We visited Jarrow on our September Pilgrimage in 2018. He was a man of great holiness (therefore "vdenerable") and learning, but he is especialy celebrated for his historical writing. "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" is an absolute classic, and is indeed still our main source of knowledge about the period from the Romans to his time. Phenomenal - and all from his cell, and he never travelled further than York it seems. So, St Bede pray for Britain, for the Beda in Rome and all past students - us "Beda Boys".  This is a view of the seminary garden.
 

Now, how's this for contrast. This Bank Holiday weekend I found a few sites on Youtube where younger people discover and are filmed reacting to classics of popular music from the late sixties and seventies, such as the Who, Queen's early years, Yes etc. I've enjoyed seeeing their reactions to some of these great classics, and it takes me back to my enjoyment of them then and ever since. So here is one of those songs that was part of the soundtrack of the second half of my teenage years - the great Crosby, Stills and Nash and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"(1969).

Sunday, 24 May 2020

A mixed Sunday

Grrrrr  Problems problems. We're still having problems with our live streaming. First I had to get superfibre to be able to do it, Then the vision was good but the sound wishy washy. Now this morning we sort of lost the Archbishop's sound when he was at the altar. Hmmmm... Anyway, other than the sound our morning Mass went fine. Archbishop was on time. I nearly forgot to turn on the streaming 15 or 20 minutes before the start  as we were chatting (with appropriate social distanceing of course)  pre-Mass. We couldn't persuade him to have a socially-distanced cup of tea either, so off he went. 


Andy cooked a lovely chicken dinner for us, with melon before and trifle after plus "real" Italian coffee. Then this afternoon we watched a Chris Tarrant programme about travelling by train through the Baltic republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We didn't see much of the towns as it was mainly about the trains. In fact, when they showed the huge docks at Klaipeda, Lithuania's third city, where my Lithuanian great-grandfather came from, they didn't even tell you it was Klaipeda! Hmph... (old quayside right)

Tomorrow it's a Bank Holiday. Will we all notice the difference if we do not go out to work? Anyway, enjoy!

Friday, 22 May 2020

Ascension II

If we think about the Ascension from the point of view of the Apostles, then one of the words that comes to mind is 'separation'.  They had already felt the pain of separation the first time on Good Friday. For Peter it was all too much as he caved in under pressure, denied he even knew Jesus, and then cried his eyes out in the streets of Jerusalem (right). This was then replaced with the joy of Easter, as they welcomed Our Lord into their midst, gave him fish to eat and enjoyed a fish breakfast that he had cooked for them on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. But now they had to handle a second separation, and this time it was more emphatic as Jesus 'was lifted up', and left their sight.

We are used to handling separations in life. We know the kids will have to go off to school, then leave home, perhaps move away, even across the world. We know that relationships sometimes fail and lead to separation. And we even know that death awaits at some point. These are all painful, but perhaps it's helped a little by the fact that that we are indeed aware, as we say, that 'these things happen'.

That's what's different about this virus problem. We are not used to this degree of separation, within families, work, leisure... church. I find those pictures of mums or dads working in vulnerable situations who cannot kiss and hug their kids very moving. The desire to establish new ways of communication, especially via the internet, is fascinating and  a real blessing. We only started streaming Sunday Mass at St Brigid this week, but already that video has been seen about 550 times.


The separation of the Ascension was difficult, but 10 days later, at Pentecost, we, the Church, would start the task of living new ways of togetherness, together with Jesus, together with one another. People are telling me how much they miss the Mass. And it's not just the sacrament of Communion with Jesus that they are missing. They are missing one another, the community, the fellowship, call it what you will. Oh yes, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing in instituting the Eucharist. Its grace and power enable us to express, to put into words and actions, our needs for God and one another, until that day when we arrive at the place where there is absolutely no separation - at all, ever     

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Ascension

Today has been the feast of the Ascension. We live streamed our second Mass, celebrated beautifully by Fr Andy, with me doing the readings and intercessions. It says on YouTube that we have had over 120 views, which is great.
It always impresses me that when Jesus appeared to the Apostles on Easter evening, he showed them his hands and his side, in other words his wounds. We might have expected his wounds to have disappeared now he was risen, but no. THen if we move forward to the Ascension, we can assume that he still had those wounds, and that he has gone to heaven with them. The wounds, the signs of suffering, of pain and brokenness, of humanity, have been taken up into the divine realm, not left behind or shrugged off. 
I once distinguished between wounds and scars in a homily, suggesting that those of Our Lord are better described as scars, as they are no longer bloody. He does not take his suffering itself into heaven, but the effect on his humanity. 
This evenng I watched a difficult documentary about the comedian Tony Slattery. The wounds and pains of life were very, very evident. The source of some of the wounds emerged with hardly watchable candour. We can carry such deep wounds and scars in our lives. But the Ascension, it seems to me, has something to say about it. Change can be made, resurrection can happen, and we can rise, ascend from the place where we think we are tied down. It does not always mean that our scars will disappear any more than those of Jesus disappeared. We can ascend with him, not only into the next life, but here on earth as well.   

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Cardiff born...

To Western Cemetery this morning for a funeral.  These are very difficult with the 10 persons limit, and if anything the emotions of the families are even more exposed. Please remember the bereaved in your prayers.

Anyway - I suggested to Andy that we make our way back from the cemetery via the Llandaff route, and I have to admit we took some other diversions too.  First we dived into Ely rather than come straight down Cowbridge Road West. This was my stamping ground 1979-1981 and 1988-97, and holds many, many memories. That's St Francis church on the left. We went down Grand Avenue, up to the bullring and down Stanway Road to St Clares (so sad). Next we diverted off Western Avenue to Llandaff and over the bridge to Whitchurch. Finally we headed home via Maes-y-coed Road. 

It's unusual to be serving as a priest in your own city, let alone, as I am, in the parish where
you were ordained. However, I'm very happy about it as I must own up to being a great fan of Cardiff. Big enough to have all the facilities, it's small enough to get around so quickly and also to get out into the country so easily.  On the whole the people are lovely. It struck me as very green this morning too, with lots of treelined streets, (Heathwood Road, right) parks and riverside areas.

Yes, I enjoyed our little jaunt this morning around the city - my city.

Monday, 18 May 2020

St John Paul II b.1920

18th May 1920 Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice Poland. He would be elected as Pope John Paul II in 1978, and is now canonised. This made me think back to September 1990 and our first September Pilgrimage. 
It all started because an elderly parishioner in my former parish of St Francis in Ely, Cardiff, said that he would like to see the Pope befofe he died. Well, he did, in the Audience Hall of the Vatican. I told the folks to line up against the rail down the middle aisle becaue I knew the Pope would walk along there, and that's what he did. The Pope saw our group and came to ask me where we were from as I took his hand. He was not as tall as I thought he would be, but strongly built with a wonderful caring and wise smile. He made you feel that the world was a little better, that God was a little closer. After I told him we were from Cardiff, Bernard, the chap who'd wanted to meet him said he was from Ely, while his mate Joe said he was from Heol-y-Castell, as if the Holy Father was familiar with the streets of Ely! Well, indeed, that's how John Paul made you feel.
St John Paul II pray for us, our Church and our world.