Another sunny day is God’s gift to us this morning.
We give thanks for this gift and for our gift of life.
We should do that everyday but we so often take things for granted.
Maybe one good thing to come out of our present crisis is simply not to take any of God’s gifts for granted.
Anyway we have days ahead in isolation or distancing OR BETTER, in retreat!
Time forced upon us, but time nevertheless that we can use to get some perspective.
We will all be great philosophers by the end of it!
I would like to remind you all to check the website: stjohnfisherbexley.org (note there is no”.uk” on the end – simply .org )
There you will get the link to this Sunday’s Bexley Parish Mass and also a weekly newsletter which I shall put together.
If anyone has anything they want to be included as the weeks go by then please let me know.
I am not great with this medium, as many of you will know, so be patient with me and I will try to improve.
Not many of you are on my email list.
The forms for updating lists were all ready to go out as the next parish priority!
Please make it your mission to keep in contact with everyone on your lists or in your address books.
Please make any replies to me come to my personal email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
So keep safe, be assured of my prayers (more than usual!!) and God Bless you.
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday March 31
Today it is a week since the isolation began in earnest.
To me it has seemed a long week. I think this is in part because so much routine has been removed. For me it is certainly not because of boredom – I seem to have been busier than ever, mainly because so many systems I take for granted have been removed. All diocesan employees have had to stop working (including our parish secretary), for one thing.
I spoke in the newsletter about the rhythm of the weekend, Friday to Sunday, but further to that I have had to make myself a daily (and weekly) schedule that is pinned to the wall and as I try to stick to these routines I hope that life will gain a more normal momentum and rhythm. I guess that many of you will have done something similar.
Times are difficult. Those with family at home have so much more interaction than you are used to whereas those, especially those on your own, are copying a younger generation and spending as much of the day on the phone as you can! We face different difficulties but similar fears. As His Holiness said on Friday, we should remember that Jesus is in the boat with us, riding out the storm at sea, and he will not let the boat capsize – even if he is taking his time to calm the storm!
I am glad though that so many of us in the parish are in contact with each other and in being so we are able to maintain a spiritual communion with each other and with God.
Our parish mass seems to have been a great focus of this for many of you. Peter Murphy, who runs the website tells me that there have been hundreds of viewings. I would like to thank him and remind you all to check the website: stjohnfisherbexley.org (note there is no”.uk” on the end – simply .org ) There you will get the link to this Sunday’s Bexley Parish Mass and also the weekly newsletter, and lots more besides.
I say mass each morning, usually at 8.30, for the published intention and spend time in prayer for the parish every day between 5 and 6. I urge you all to express in prayer your spiritual communion, maybe during these 2 daily events. I would gain great strength from the knowledge that many of us are in prayer together at least some of the time.
Please make it your mission to keep in contact with everyone on your lists or in your address books. If you are in contact with anyone not in receipt of these ramblings who would like to be, then please get the address to me.
Please make any replies to me come to my personal email address: email@example.com
So keep safe, be assured of my prayers and God Bless you.
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday April 07
“Social distancing, self-isolation”. A few months ago these would have been phrases that meant very little to any of us but now they describe the reality in which most of us live. Many in frontline occupations have a different reality of course, particularly healthcare workers – who are in all our prayers continuously. But isolation is where the rest of us are. Some of us are living alone while others are living in family units or in couples. Whatever situation we are in, the fact is that apart from exercising or shopping we are not getting out much!
I expect we are all reacting to this experience differently. Now I am not particularly well known for my sartorial elegance – my decisions regarding getting dressed each morning don’t amount to much more than choosing a jumper for the day! But these last two weeks have seen a little more decline, I’m afraid! The same jumper and the same tracksuit bottoms (latterly shorts) and pumps have sufficed. Others though, tell me that they have taken great care in dressing. Some who are working from home dress up as if they were going out to work, a discipline designed to stimulate the right mental attitude to their work. Others dress smartly to cheer themselves up. Anyway we are all allowed to react differently to isolation.
How about spiritually? How do you cope with it? There are many who are keeping close using the telephone or emails or through wider social media. There is television and radio too but at the end of the day all these fall away and we are left alone, alone that is, with God. And really, this is the heart of our Faith, the ultimate human experience. As we journey to Easter we see that while Jesus began the week with a huge crowd following or by his side as he entered Jerusalem, by Friday everyone had fallen back, melted away, and on the cross it was just him and his Father. His ultimate experience as a human being is the same as ours. This interface between God and us is what counts. We encounter God in so many ways but our encounter is our own. It is completely personal. It is what all the other practices of our religion will support and nourish. That meeting between God and us is what life is really about. So I think we should try to embrace the spirituality of solitude at this time. As we reach out in spiritual communion with the Lord and with each other, let us be aware of God’s real presence, not just in the Eucharist but in our hearts and in our minds. There in prayer we can grow with him.
And it doesn’t matter what we wear!
Please continue to make it your mission to keep in contact with everyone on your contact lists. If you are in contact with anyone not in receipt of these ramblings who would like to be, then please get the address to me. For any without email, why not print this off and drop it through their door during your daily exercise.
So keep safe, be assured of my prayers and God Bless you.
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday April 14
A strange day today; I was supposed to be officiating at a wedding and instead I was at the crematorium officiating at a funeral. I suppose that about sums up the change in the life of our country just now. But it won’t last forever. Some countries are looking to come out of lock-down though it does seem that our confinement is going to go on a while longer here in the UK. How does the time pass for you? Some of you are working in essential occupations as normally as you can – and ‘hats off’ to you if you are working within the NHS! Some are working from home and are probably as busy as ever. Some of you are living as a tight family unit in ways you never have done before which can be exasperating or at times extremely rewarding. Others have all of a sudden found that you have a lot of time on your hands but with limitations as to what you can do with it.
When the ‘lock-down’ started several weeks ago I thought I was going to have loads of time to do jobs that I have been saving up for years. In fact I have found that I am much busier than I expected but at least I do get to be in charge of my day. The diary has lost its power over me! I am the one in control, making decisions about what happens and what happens next. I have found that to be both energising and exhausting. Usually I don’t have to make many decisions about the day; I go where I am supposed to go and do what I am expected to do. Being in charge is a challenge I have had to take on.
But actually every day is a gift – in so many different ways. Each day when I wake up I thank God that I don’t have a temperature or a dry cough (so far, anyway). That’s a great start as far as I am concerned. It is true that there are less laughs than there normally are because there are less interactions with people and there is some loneliness, or aloneness but if this is part of God’s gift then I’ll take it, I’ll embrace it and not try and take it back to the “returns and refunds” department! That would be rude.
So I thank God for the day ahead and I plan how I am going to spend it, and I do mean “spend” it. Being given a day to spend is just like being given a sum of money to spend. It requires our active engagement to consider what is important to spend it on and what’s not. It may require a bit of imagination but I don’t want the day to just pass so that I can be one day closer to the end of our ‘lock-down’. Each day really is a gift from God and so we need to make something of each day and not bury it in the history of this crisis. So how do we choose to spend our day? Who do we spend it with or spend it on and in what ways? What about spending time with God or spending time on God, the Risen Lord? In what ways can we and do we do that in our day? We have great spending power with a whole day ahead.
So let’s none of us just pass the time. Let’s spend it!
Do keep safe and be assured of my prayers, Family, Friends and ‘Fisher members!
God Bless you.
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday April 21
Since lockdown began many people have made special efforts to keep in contact with each other. And I must say, the number of visual jokes I have seen on WhatsApp has been amazing. One that I saw before Easter was a picture of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper, except that Jesus was alone at the table and the apostles were all pictured separated round the screen edge as if on a conference meeting. No social gatherings indeed! I thought it quite amusing but also profoundly challenging.
That supper demanded intimacy and real physical communion. Today, there wouldn’t be a gathering. (Though arguably, Jesus and his close friends were already isolated together, like a large family and so it could have taken place.) But we have to manage differently. We talk about spiritual communion, a phrase none of us over-used in the past (!) Each morning when I say the parish mass I pause before Holy Communion to pray for those who are making their spiritual communion. At first I found the concept a little bizarre and quite difficult but I have come to sense its reality. How about you?
For me some light can be shed on it through an understanding of prayer. We do often pray for each other and for others, now more than ever before perhaps. I know people pray for me and that makes a huge difference to me. There have been times when that knowledge has seen me through the most difficult of situations. The importance was illustrated for me by a friend last week. She works as a nurse in an intensive care unit in a hospital. I do reassure her that I pray for her each day. She has described some of the very difficult situations that have arisen in the care she gives and the work she does. In a recent message she said that she can only express the love and compassion that is needed in her crucial role because she knows she is supported in prayer. She referred to a bible scene where the Israelites were doing battle with the Amalekites and while Moses held his arms up, the Israelites held the advantage but when he let his arms fall they began to lose. (Don’t ask ‘why’?!) Moses grew so weary he had Aaron and Hur standing each side of him holding his arms up till they won. (Exodus 17:11-12). Well she said that she feels so exhausted that she feels like Moses, only it’s our prayers that hold her arms up so that she can continue to do battle with this horrible virus. Now that’s what I call spiritual communion, through prayer! So be advised that your prayer counts.
So let me know if there is anyone you know who is ill at the moment and needs our prayer. I will lead our pray for those on the list by name at our Sunday Parish Mass.
God Bless you.
P.S. Do you receive the Southwark Spirituality Commission’s reflections? If you are registered you will have received a daily reflection during Advent and Lent and a weekly reflection during Easter. ‘Yours truly’ was on this weekend. A different speaker will be on each weekend with the Archbishop on for Pentecost.
Click on this link and then sign up: http://eepurl.com/dcNmsv
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday April 28
There is no getting away from it. These are bad days for many people for a variety of reasons. For some the virus has been a killer, for others it has been a very severe life-threatening illness, for others a nasty fortnight of fever and debilitation. Others live in fear of it, especially if they are vulnerable in any way to its severity. All of us will have to pay for the damage it has done to our economy and all of us are missing seeing each other and celebrating with each other. The list of damage can go on for a while, but…
But, there is always space to share in God’s redemption, always space for the flip side. In Eastertime we are especially aware that from darkness there can come light, from death there can come life. Without denying the pain and suffering that Corona is causing we can see in our own lives that there are some good things that are coming out of it. A few of you in correspondence have, like me, celebrated the season of Spring that we have been living through. I don’t think there has ever been a Spring where I have noticed so much. I am religious (!) about taking my daily exercise and it’s as if individual trees have become my friends as I have noticed them coming into blossom and leaf. Each one has done so quite separately from the rest. I have really enjoyed it like never before. As the bluebells came into flower I almost wanted to applaud. One of you wrote “an English spring has been described as one of the wonders of the world.” I concur with that in a whole new way this year. On one of my walks I was reflecting on the gospel of the multiplication of the loaves and on the 12 baskets full of excess that were collected. As I looked from tree to tree and valley to valley with the stunning yellow rape seed crops stretching for miles it occurred to me that God was showing me much more than I needed, that there was an abundance, more than 12 baskets full of excess scenery, as it were! That’s just the way God is. It was the abundance of the catch of fish up in Galilee that alerted the apostles to the presence of the risen Lord. Abundance is a sign, I think.
But during such times of changed reality there are many things, many truths that we notice in ways we have not done before. There are people or things that we value in ways we have not done before. What have you found during this time? It will be important not to forget these discoveries, these things we have noticed. I really hope I don’t return to the way I was and that society does not go back to ‘normal’. I hope that I and we can move forward from here and help create a new, improved ‘normal’!
God Bless you.
P.S. Do you receive the Southwark Spirituality Commission’s reflections? If you are registered you will have received a daily reflection during Advent and Lent and a weekly reflection during Easter. A different speaker will be on each weekend with the Archbishop on for Pentecost.
Click on this link and then sign up: http://eepurl.com/dcNmsv
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday May 05
I was on the phone to a friend the other day and I just mentioned in passing that I am not getting through much after-shave at the moment. Quick as a flash he responded: “And do you find that people stand a couple of yards away from you when you are out?” (!) Well, in truth nothing is as it normally is. While the traffic on the road remains light, the traffic on my phone continues to be much heavier than normal and particularly on WhatsApp, with numerous video clips. One that I received last week really brought consolation. It was of the Mladifest Medugorje Choir and Orchestra performing ‘Hosanna’ and I was quite inspired by it. Many of you will already have seen it, but if not then feel free to use this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUxZpLm5Sa0
The conductor begins alone but then brings in the drummer, then the pianist and then other instrumentalists, all performing on their own, in isolation. The first singer is from Italy, the next from Hong Kong, the next from Spain and so on. One by one the ensemble builds up and in the end there is a vast international array of performers, but none of them in the same room! It’s clever, the music is good and the overall effect is enjoyable but I had to reflect on what it was that stirred me.
I think it was the movement from isolation to unity. During these past weeks I have been occupied with managing the situation but the video touched a yearning deep inside to get together again, a yearning that I have necessarily set aside temporarily. Our coming together for mass and for other events, religious or otherwise, is a real joy that currently is missing. It is beginning to burst out. I drove past some houses yesterday and neighbours were on chairs in their front gardens 2 yards apart, trying to commune and communicate, trying to get together. Somewhere in our DNA it is written that we should not be alone, that we should unite with others whenever possible. Jesus understood this and even prayed about it:
‘May they all be one! Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you … May they be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me’ (John 17:21-23)
In both positive and negative ways this pandemic has taught us that the human race is one family and that when one part of the world is troubled, that is an issue for the rest of us. In future, the world needs to come together, and work together, not just to find a vaccine but to create a better world order where decisions are made with everyone else in the world kept in mind. We must applaud the wide international alliance currently committing to this. National self-interest has in the last decade held sway over the Church’s long held moral principle of acting in solidarity, with a preferential option towards the poorest of the world family. We might even give new and different life to an old slogan: “Better Together”.
Our prayer is of course that the virus will go away or be overcome, that it will not sweep away any more people, but in my view we can also pray that it will sweep away the movements of separatism, nationalism and isolation. That at least would give it a redeeming quality that we as Christians, should be looking for in all of this. God certainly calls us to unity. Maybe the virus will serve to remind us of this important truth.
Wishing you good health and every blessing,
P.S. Would you enjoy a time of prayer and reflection on next Sunday’s Gospel reading by Zoom? In these times of self-isolation, some may miss the company of others in prayer. If you are interested in joining an experimental online 30 mins of prayer next Saturday 9th May from 9.30 to 10.00am, using the modern online Zoom and the age old method of Lectio Divina, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and she will send you details of how to join.
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday May 12
This is my 8th Rambling. I never imagined that the lockdown would go on this long. But we have much to be thankful for and much I think, to celebrate or even congratulate ourselves for. We have adjusted and coped, we have found new ways of doing things and we have seen and noticed things in different ways. Even in matters of the Faith we have been able to appreciate God’s presence in so many ways – in the simple actions of many in doing good things for others, ringing people for a chat, doing shopping, and so on. Many have witnessed God’s hand in the wonderful Spring that we have been enjoying and we have recognised God’s presence in the love and care of those working in the NHS and in Care homes. Perhaps we have also appreciated more deeply his personal intimacy with us through prayer.
But there is no getting away from the fact that we miss our personal engagement with God’s presence in the sacraments of the Church. The spiritual communion that we participate in has enriched us and has given us new insights but it’s not the same as gathering at mass on Sunday! And now we are told that churches may not be open until July or even later. And even then, will be able to celebrate public masses? Just before lockdown we were restricted to opening for private prayer only and this may also be part of a staged return to normality. So it is possible that we will not be able to receive Holy Communion or celebrate other sacraments for some time yet.
This is desperately sad, though of course absolutely necessary. The fact is that the life of the Catholic Church is quite physical. Our sacraments usually involve physical contact. We like to gather, to see, to touch, to taste, and so on. Sharing Holy Communion is what we most look forward to, but the way back to this may not be straightforward and may require a little imagination by our Church leaders in regulating the process both safely and reverently. There will be obstacles to overcome before we once again gather for mass and receive Holy Communion but it is crucial that we do so.
The practice of our Faith in this way is fundamental and it derives from God’s choice to communicate with us not just by word but literally through the Word enfleshed in Jesus. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us”. Before Jesus was born, communication between God and humanity was distanced – by more than 2 metres! There might be clouds or visions and even Moses stood back from the burning bush. But in Jesus, God became really, truly human. As we consider during this Easter time, the reality of Jesus, risen from the dead, we have to face what the disciples had to face. He was physically present. He was able to cook and to eat breakfast with them. They could touch his wounds if they wanted to. His appearance was altered and not everyone recognised him at first, but he was really there and it is this truth that is at the heart of the sacramental life of the Church.
We might usefully ponder the importance of physical contact, even in our normal lives. Most of us miss it in one way or another. I heard of grandparents giving grandchildren a hug but with a plastic shower curtain between them! I think social distancing conflicts with something deep down in our nature, and in the life of the Church. We will and must find our way back into contact with each other in society and in the Church.
This Thursday, following an initiative from Pope Francis “believers of all religions and people of goodwill are invited to spiritually unite themselves in a day of prayer, fasting and works of charity to implore the ‘divine’ to help humanity in overcoming the pandemic caused by coronavirus”. This is an important message to share with anyone you know and of course to participate in yourself.
Finally, from a letter this week to you from our bishops: “On that first Easter day, the disciples were in lockdown and the doors were closed. In their isolation the Lord Jesus came among them and said ‘Peace be with you.’ May the peace of the risen Lord reign in our hearts and homes as we look forward to the day we can enter church again and gather around the altar to offer together the Sacrifice of Praise” – and, let me add, to offer each other a physical sign of that peace.
Wishing you good health and every blessing,
Online (or on the phone) prayer and reflection on Sunday’s Gospel.
Join with others in prayer for 30 mins on Saturday 16th May from 9.30 to 10.00am,
email email@example.com and she will send you details of how to join.
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday May 19
Something I’ve been reminded of during these last 8 weeks is that one of the more interesting things to observe in life is oneself. There has been much to do and keep busy with but the pace of life has definitely been slower and there has been more time for reflection and time to listen to one’s own feelings. It may be a sign of madness but I have frequently caught myself saying to myself, about myself, things like ‘What the heck did you do that for?’, or ‘now that was very interesting; why did you feel that?’
Last week for instance, with the slight easing of Lockdown I rang a friend of mine whom I have met on occasional Thursdays (my day off) for 38 years or so. I invited him to meet up in Knole Park for a socially distanced walk. It seemed a very straightforward thing to do but when I woke up on Thursday I was all over the place. I recognised that I was anxious and I concluded that this was natural. I was going to be driving much further afield than for some time and I was going to be spending time with someone I hadn’t seen since before Lockdown! Would that feel awkward and would I feel safe or would I feel exposed?
But I also found myself dressing up smartly for the first time in weeks. It was as if I was a teenager on a date! I was actually excited at the prospect of meeting up with someone. I wondered aloud where the ‘dressing up smart’ motivation came from, when on other days, when it was ‘only God’, who was there, I didn’t bother. “Only God?”, I heard myself say! “But it is only God who matters”, I responded emphatically. Ghanaians and some other West Africans have a national symbol that you may have seen on some of the mass vestments I wear. It is the Gye Nyame (pronounced jean yarmy) It means precisely that: (nothing) Except God (matters). And this is clearly important to recognise and keep in mind all day long, especially in Lockdown. It is only God that really matters. So my own action and reaction prompted me to reflect on and affirm an important truth in my life. We have much to learn in Lockdown about ourselves but also much to learn from ourselves and from our own reactions to what goes on. So yes, I did recognise that Jesus walked with my friend and I and I do see Jesus acting through others but I also need to know that he is with me all day long, and that this really matters.
Anyway I anticipate more of the same – anxiety and excitement – as we emerge a little more from Lockdown. I find it a little disturbing that I am as comfortable as I am in the controlled environment that I have had to create during these weeks so I recognise now that there will be reluctance and anxiety in emerging from Lockdown, but also real excitement in leaving the much of the virtual world behind and embracing the real world once more, with God delighting in it all. And I do hope that all the kindness we have seen, all the bravery and all the desire to maintain and build community will not be put back in a cupboard when it does happen.
Wishing you good health and every blessing,
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday May 26
You may have heard rumours about an epidemic in this country and I can now confirm that it is official. We are being overrun by joggers and cyclists – or is it overcycled by cyclists? I was speaking with the owner of a bicycle shop who agreed that business is at unprecedented levels. Anyway an epicentre seems to be in Eynsford where I go walking quite a lot. They all look very colourful, wrapped up in latex and they look very, very fit. Mind you, during lockdown I reckon I must have walked something approaching 400 miles in my afternoon walks. And yes, I have got quite fit and I think I have lost a little weight. Without the usual pressures in my week I think I have been able to eat more sensibly and always at the same times each day. My prayer time too has been easier to manage. Yes there have been lots of good things for me in this time which I don’t want to lose when the restrictions are lifted. But things are changing already, at least for some. I had to do an errand today that took me to Bexleyheath. Well I was quite disturbed seeing so many shops open with crowds of people making little effort at keeping apart. The return to ‘normality’ has begun – there at least.
When I got home I reflected on the experience and why it disturbed me. I think that part of it was the speed and excitement of all the activity. It was close to frantic. This fast pace has been noticeably absent from my life of late. I have been able to measure my activity, my conversations and my quiet time with much more control. As a result I have been able to enjoy the calm of everything around me especially in these sunny days and longer evenings. And most importantly, I have been able to feel delight in the centre of my being. That delight is something that I think God places deep down in our soul and we see it or feel it only when we dive deep within. I think this delight is shared with God. He takes great delight in each of us. Sometimes I can only imagine that when he thinks about me he must feel embarrassed at what he has created but in truth when I am really in touch with my inner being I can see that he is after all, absolutely delighted, yes, absolutely delighted! A phrase that comes to me from my previous days as a youth worker is that “God does not create junk”. After a hard day’s work of creation which includes me, he looks down and says “Behold, it is very good – not a bad effort actually”.
So Delight is very sweet but it doesn’t have to be Turkish. It is one thing that I don’t want to leave behind. Nor do I want to gather up those pounds that I have lost during my better lifestyle, in part by avoiding Turkish Delight and other such confectionary. In fact I am going to think carefully about what I have appreciated during these weeks and make a list. It is just too easy to forget, otherwise. I am too concentrated on the things I want to return to like a decent restaurant, a sociable coffee and of course, Sunday Mass. Maybe you already have a list. If not, give some thought to putting one together. A list of good things in lockdown may give you some comfort especially if it takes longer than you’d like for us to get back to normal.
Wishing you good health and every blessing,
P.S. The symbols on my African mass vestment continue to intrigue. The one in the middle is the Gye Nyame that I mentioned last week. The one at the top is called Afena and it pictures ceremonial swords. A retiring warrior has a royal sword to take to his peace in recognition of his gallantry. I guess Jesus was a great warrior in his own way, waging battle with the forces of evil and defeating Satan decisively.
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday June 2
During the week a kind parishioner made me a lovely curry. As I enjoyed it at home – the chicken curry and the pilau rice, I smiled at my familiar and oft quoted memory of a talk on the mass given by a colleague from India. In mass we listen to scripture, God’s Word and then we celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist. He described the mass as ‘Word and Sacrament, like curry and rice’. Each has its own taste and nutritional value, but they are better together! In each, Jesus is truly present. (In Word and Sacrament, I mean, not curry and rice!) From the earliest days the disciples met to hear the teaching of the apostles (their gospel) and for the breaking of bread. (Acts 2:42) But now, that wonderful balance has been disturbed. We miss the weekly reception of the sacrament. Some miss it daily! Have we therefore spent more time with scripture, altering the focus of our meal a little, with less curry and more rice? I think that this has been true for me.
Now I am very blessed in that I am at mass every day! But always before consuming the sacrament I say a prayer for those joining in a spiritual communion. Afterwards there is a prayer the priest says: ‘What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity’. Like many of the newly translated prayers in mass there are a lot of words and they are not always in a helpful order so I usually supplement the prayer with one of my own which is ‘And Lord, I wish you a safe onward journey’. My prayer is about wanting that real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist in which I believe, to become a real presence deeper down in my soul and in my heart, so that it can be savoured and enjoyed there before being expressed through the words and deeds of the day ahead. That is the digestive process.
So can I make the same prayer about the scripture that is proclaimed? ‘‘And Lord, I wish you a safe onward journey’. That scripture needs to be digested no less than the Eucharist. The balance of our religious diet has been altered but the Lord does not starve us of life, his life. Many are taking more trouble in digesting the scripture at this time, getting as much nourishment as we can from it. It might also be said that many of us are also taking extra food supplements, like Ramblings, Pray As You Go, online services, novenas, rosaries and so on! When lockdown began we realised that we had to take shopping for food more seriously. I think the same has been true of our spiritual diet. And this is going to continue for a while longer.
If you read the Pilgrim which I sent at the weekend you will be aware that the bishops are lobbying government to allow us to reopen our churches. They argue that the right to worship is being withheld when the right to go shopping is honoured! However, the move is to get the churches open for private worship only. Nothing (as yet) is being said about opening for services and in particular for the Sunday Mass which has been at the heart of our religious practice. It will follow, but when?
So for now, more rice, less curry, more reflection on scripture and only spiritual communion.
Wishing you good food (!), good health and every blessing,
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday June 9
Last week someone sent me a beautiful video clip re-telling a famous old fable or parable about a king who received a gift of two peregrine falcons. He handed them over to his falconer and soon the first was in flight majestically soaring to the heights but the other stayed firmly on the branch where it had first been put. The king was disappointed by this and tried all means and hired every expert to get the bird to fly but it wouldn’t move. Finally he called in a local farmer. Next day he saw the bird gracing the skies in flight. He asked the farmer how he did it and the wise old farmer told him: “Easy, I cut off the branch it was perched on.”
The story speaks loudly to me at this time. Back in March I was quite comfortable in my life in St. John Fisher. There was a long list of things that needed to be done but together we were slowly working through it. Then the virus came, which was a bit scary, but then lockdown came and that really knocked me off my perch, or rather, it took away the safety of the branch I was perched on! I suppose that this branch for me was normal parish life. The experience has been very tough for many but each of our situations has been different. For me, the first impact was the panic to get things in place as best we could to support the parish community and the spiritual lives of its members, but if I am honest I quite enjoyed much of that ministry and also reorienting my life pattern to match, and I definitely benefitted from the need to refocus my activity and my thinking. There was much to be done and I was, well, flying. In many ways I have been enjoyed the weeks that have passed. The sunny weather helps but there has been a freshness about the response in our Christian Faith to life in lockdown. Prayer resources have poured out of everywhere. People have reflected humbly in the face of such serious adversity and there has been a crisp, sharp new focus to the self-awareness and spirituality that many have discovered or deepened. It seems a bit odd but in some ways I have been more free in lockdown than when previously locked down under the routines and rigours of normal parish life. We have all had to explore what it is that is important for us and what it is that is not. That is part of the flight of the falcon. Freedom is in the skies.
I ask myself though, have I found a new normal? Have I settled on a new branch? Maybe I have, because the idea of opening the church again brought a little anxiety at first. I was worried about what we would have to do to keep everybody safe and (selfishly) how much my life pattern will have to change again. Once the announcement was made though, the excitement began and the planning got underway in earnest. I am happy for my safe perch to be cut away again and I am enjoying taking to flight once more. The opening for private prayer is just a first step though. The real excitement will be in opening up for public services which will have to follow in time to come. We just need to take the first steps slowly and carefully and make as few mistakes as possible so that we can safely reach what lies beyond, the gathering for Sunday Mass, which we value so much. But having said that, it is not the final goal. These weeks of enforced flight will surely have reminded us of the truths of Pope Francis’ references to the church. He has described the church as a ‘field hospital’ or even a ‘filling station’ where we go on Sundays for what we need in order to live our lives with God elsewhere, with families, in marriage, at work, in school, in our own homes, wherever.
We really are made to be free. When lockdown ends, let us not get locked down in other ways.
Wishing you good health, a good flight (!) and every blessing,
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday June 16
The Day Our Church Reopened
We spent time predicting what would happen, we spent more time planning what should happen and yet more time preparing for what might happen but yesterday morning I was very anxious and worried, particularly when I saw the long queues of people. Numbers were always going to be an issue and whether or not we could manage the process safely would be a great test for us. But the queues were of course for Primark and other shops on the first day of reopening and only a small number came to church on the first occasion we were allowed to reopen, in fact pretty much the number we predicted, fifteen!
We had divided the church in half and only allocated 20 spaces on either side. The plan is to use the left side on Monday and Friday so that it self-quarantines in between. The right side is then available for Wednesdays. If necessary we can use the whole church with a capacity of 40 (households) and then clean before reopening. But if social distancing is reduced to 1 metre instead of 2, the capacity will be more than doubled. We are ready for this eventuality but there have just been so many different factors that we have had to consider – lots of predicting, lots of planning, lots of preparing. But was it really worth it, all that effort? After all, many churches have not even tried to open.
Well, yes it was worth it. There was a great calm and peace in the church. It felt entirely safe and comfortable. The stewards had put a sign up saying ‘Welcome Home’ and that seemed entirely appropriate; it was a bit emotional. Also, while praying privately it was nevertheless reassuring to be there alongside others. And more than that: Several commented in a similar vein, that watching on a screen is not the same experience as being in Church before the Blessed Sacrament there on the altar. I felt the same way myself, but it is difficult to say why. The ‘real presence’ is different from the ‘virtual presence’. Of course, Jesus is really present with each one of us throughout the day, generously giving and sharing his life with us but he was also at great pains (literally) to give himself to us sacramentally. As restrictions have eased I have begun to meet with people again. Several have made comments such as: ‘How good it is to see you in the flesh as opposed to merely on a screen’. One or two have even kindly noticed: ‘Well done, you’ve lost a bit of weight since I last saw you!’ The fact is that it is different and ‘real’ is better than ‘virtual’.
Furthermore, we can wish each other well, all through the day but when we get to shake hands or give a hug the communication is fuller and deeper. I really look forward to the day that this is possible again. Likewise, praying in church, even in the real presence of the sacrament, is not the same as receiving the sacrament in Holy Communion. Yesterday was ‘One small step for man’(!), though much bigger than I had predicted, but it remains just a step on the way to gathering physically for Sunday Mass and sharing in Holy Communion with each other and with the Lord. And I really look forward to that day as well. Many have felt really deprived without the sacraments and yearn for their restoration. Today that moment feels closer and on your behalf I offer thanks to all those who have worked so hard to make it happen and to get St. John Fisher open again.
Yesterday opened the door to the church but not yet to the full practice of our religion. I for one, now feel impatient. Bring it on!
Wishing you good health, and every blessing,
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday June 23
Do you know what, I’m still disturbed by the images I saw last week of people queuing from 3 in the morning to get into shops opening for the first time? This has nothing to do with the fact that there were no such queues outside churches that opened on the same day – honestly! I would get it though, if people were starving and were queuing for food, but to queue for fashion items? But perhaps it was more than that. Perhaps it was a yearning to do something considered ‘normal’ like choosing something and buying it. Perhaps this participation in consumerism is really important in what we think of as ‘normal’ society. But I wonder that if this consumerism is at the centre of our society, whether or not this is the ‘normal’ society that we really want to get back to.
I feel that we are probably more fatigued by the restrictions of lockdown than we are by the threat of the virus and we yearn to regain our freedom, but we don’t have to go back to where we came from. There is a chance to put the building blocks back in a different way. Many of you will be listening to the BBC’s Rethink series that began this week, where people comment on how we might rethink the way we live after the virus and after lockdown. Pope Francis himself contributed to it on Monday. Now, for some time he has been calling for the creation of a world economy that is more human and which values us as being more than consumers or even earners, a world economy that will, in particular, face up to the issues of people in poverty in the world. Back in March I was struck when he said that the virus had “exposed our vulnerability and uncovered the false certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and our priorities. We have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and were lured away from what is important. We didn’t listen to the cry of the poor and we didn’t listen to the cry of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.”
On Monday he said that we should grasp the opportunity to slow down our rate of production and of consumption and to live more in harmony with the natural world around us. We have the chance not to go back to where we were, he said. In lockdown, it seems to me that so many of us have had a reconnection with the natural world around us. As we get back to ‘normal’ we should bring that with us. I personally am challenged to manage the way of living that I return to, what to keep doing and what to resist doing. I am not the world’s greatest consumer and even at birthdays and Christmas I struggle to suggest to anyone anything I might need so consumerism isn’t big for me but there are other issues that I can address. I will not use spare time to go for a walk. I will use priority time to go for a walk! I will not squeeze in time for reflection and prayer. I will spend time in reflection and prayer. I will value any opportunity I get to talk with people and try to make each conversation worthwhile. I will try to keep on noticing things: birdsong, the wind in the trees, the expressions on the faces of those whom I pass on the road, the sirens of emergency vehicles, and so on. There is so much that I have noticed in lockdown that I don’t want to get back to ignoring.
A colleague in a meeting I was at today said that the lockdown needed to be longer for us to really learn anything. I beg to differ. I think that those who are open to learn have had enough time. Those who are not open to learn will never have enough time. For me the future has to be dominated by God’s creation of me, of us, and of the world around us, and in consequence, our relationship with him, our Creator. We shall see how I get on!
Wishing you good health, and every blessing,
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday June 30
“STAY HOME, PROTECT THE N.H.S., SAVE LIVES”
This was the slogan that spearheaded the government’s strategy to deal with Coronavirus through the use of lockdown. I am sure we will all remember it for years to come so it was certainly successful as a slogan, but from the start something about it jarred with me. It expressed admirable sentiments. We were to stay at home for the safety of others and so that we would not further burden the NHS by getting ill. But there was something missing, I felt. I think that many others felt that too, at least sub-consciously because we found ourselves offering the greeting “Stay safe” when we communicated with others. We wanted to wish good health to and for each other because of who we are. The slogan did not tell me to stay at home because I am important and so is my health. It told me to stay at home because I could be a nuisance and a danger to others who really are important. As I sat indoors quietly I had to wait for God to tell me that I was cherished by Him and so this was an equally good reason to stay at home.
It seems to be the nature of the beast though, and in many ways the idea is very positive and laudable. We have seen it reflected in the use of face coverings. Months ago when I saw people wearing masks I thought they were a bit paranoid about their health. In actual fact, face coverings do little to enhance your own health. What they do is inhibit your vapours from doing possible damage to others, should you be a carrier of the virus. The masks do little for your health or comfort but quite a bit, it seems, for others. So ‘love your neighbour’, as Jesus would say.
It is a difficulty for me though, because I feel quite disempowered. I am not free at the moment to take a number of actions based only on my own willingness to take risks. I know there is a risk in crossing a road but I am the one taking it and so that is okay, normally. It would be different if I were hiking up a mountain in dangerous weather because if I got into trouble I would be putting the well-being of mountain rescuers at risk, and I shouldn’t do that. Just now every decision we make seems to require us to consider so many other people. During these past weeks I have agreed to visit a few people in their homes in order to give them the Sacrament of the Sick, the oft-called “Last rites”. I have had to do so with careful judgement, not because of the risk of me catching something but because of the risk that I might pass something on!
So while I prefer to construct the world around ME, I have been forced to construct it around others, which is of course not a bad thing at all. And it prompts me to mention the opportunity to open our church for services again and notably for mass. I brought the matter to our parish council and we, together, decided to open for masses starting next Monday, the 6th July. Before lockdown on Monday, Wednesday and Friday we had mass at 10.00 with exposition and private prayer for the half hour beforehand (from 9.30) and that is what we will return to. However with everyone making verbal responses and so on, as well as a probable increase in numbers we will require everyone attending to have facial coverings (scarves or masks) and distance 1 metre apart as opposed to the current 2 metres with no facial covering. Our stewards will supervise the entry, the seating, the communion procession and the exit. Anything we have not anticipated will be seen during the week and we will be confident then to open for Sunday masses the following weekend. It won’t feel like normal and there will be many changes to our practice but what we do, we do for others and for their safety!
There is no resumption of our Sunday duty. We are still free to stay at home and participate in the virtual mass via the website or attend mass during the week if we want to. Indeed I would encourage many who gravitate to our busy 10.30 mass on Sundays to attend a different one if possible, at least for the time being. We will put more detail in the newsletter at the weekend and there will be detailed instructions at each mass. It may feel odd, but it will be wonderful!
Wishing you good health, and every blessing – because each of you IS important (!),
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday July 07
I remember it well. It was 1972 – the 4th of March, my mother’s birthday. My brother and I incurred displeasure at home that day because we went off to Wembley to watch Stoke City and Chelsea play in the League Cup Final. It was the first time that I actually went to a match at Wembley, instead of watching on TV. Terry Conroy put Stoke ahead. The great Chelsea side fought back and Peter Osgood equalised. But George Eastham secured victory for Stoke with the winning goal in the second half. I remember so much about that day 48 years ago, while more famous matches that I have watched on TV pale into insignificance by comparison. I am not one for shouting at the telly. If you are not there, you are not there! Actually being there and actually being part of the vast crowd of 100,000 people is quite different. It was a marvellous, unforgettable experience.
I can’t imagine what it is like for footballers these days to play in empty stadia as fans are denied the opportunity to play their part in the “beautiful game”. Some enterprising firms have produced (and sold) cardboard cut-outs of fans to be placed in their seats in the grounds but it is at best, a whimsical gimic. So it is different for players and different for fans. And I must admit, that as I began saying mass in our empty church those several months ago, I tried to imagine the faces that would normally greet me from the pews. I found it quite difficult saying mass with no congregation. I had to concentrate very hard. It was very easy to get distracted.
The virtual mass that we have had to get used to, has though, been a wonderful consolation in difficult times. I am sure we have all learned a great deal from living with this experience. We at least have gained an insight into the lives of those whom we describe as ‘housebound’ and I hope that it in the years to come the church’s ministry to the housebound will be greatly improved as a result. There is no doubt that in recent years digital technology has brought many people closer to God. The modern world has much to be proud of as well as to be concerned about. The virtual mass will have to be part of many people’s Sunday experience for some time to come, so we must be grateful to all those who make it possible. That being said, it’s just not the real thing!
So what a joy it was to celebrate our first public mass in church yesterday. ‘In the name of the Father’, I began, ‘and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. “AMEN” was the reply from so many real people. I quite literally jumped and several people giggled. It was so different from merely pausing for the few seconds that I imagine it takes for people to say ‘amen’ at home. We felt together. We all shared the joy of taking part in a “live” event, I think. Indeed, several expressed deep emotion in the return to the Eucharist. At ‘Holy Communion time’ while there was great reverence there were very many smiles on people’s faces. It is essentially God’s activity that is at the heart of mass, but we contribute to the event as well. No cardboard cut-out is sufficient. I am sure that there was a smile on God’s face too, as God’s great gift of Holy Communion was landed on people’s outstretched hands once more. For me, while I have had the privilege of saying mass all through these dark days, saying the mass with people again was a very much fuller experience, somehow much more natural and true to the essence of the celebration. Even the many new procedures we introduced for safety and health (!) were not any kind of distraction. So July 6th 2020, will be another day I remember for many years to come. And I am now looking forward to the complete resumption of services instead of worrying about what precautions have to be put in place first!
We did see a few improvements that we can make for tomorrow’s mass but I feel confident now about celebrating the Sunday masses at the weekend. There will be more people then and so we will be distancing at 1 metre+ but requiring everyone to bring and wear a facial covering. The Sunday obligation has not been restored though, so no one should do anything they are not yet comfortable with. We have plenty of time to adjust and we can afford to be patient, but we are at last going in the right direction. I am not so sure about Stoke City Football Club though.
Wishing you good health, and every blessing,
Fr Doug’s Ramblings Tuesday July 14
It was a great thrill to see parishioners once more at the Sunday masses last weekend. Attendance was a fraction of what it was before lockdown of course but we predicted that and indeed relied upon it. It meant that everyone could participate in the mass in a spirit of prayer without being distracted by safety issues which were all taken care of by the stewards. Huge thanks to all of them. Some of those who attended commented on the church itself, about how good it was to be in it in reality instead of watching it on screen. Several noted how impressive the banners are ‘in real life’.
This notion of reality kept coming up. In one conversation I caught myself about to compare the restored ‘real mass’ to the previous ‘virtual mass’. The fact is though, that I have been saying ‘real masses’ all along. It is the participation of parishioners that has been virtual. In that prayer of St. Alphonsus that we have got used to, we say: ‘My Jesus, I believe that You are present in this Most Holy Sacrament…. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come spiritually into my soul.’ Well those who came to the masses at the weekend did welcome the Lord sacramentally into their souls. This was an emotional and important spiritual event for many.
It has a lot to do with the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. But the big change for me, and therefore what impacted upon me was the real presence of the congregation. I wasn’t measuring gaps in the liturgy for people to make the responses at home, as I do in our broadcast mass. The communication of the mass went to and fro in the normal way. And that real presence of the people is sacramental too, because it is a real presence of God in the people. The joy was not just in the mass but in the little conversations that took place afterwards in the area outside the church. In many instances I didn’t quite know what to say. We have got out of the habit of chit chatting, but it will return soon I am sure. For the first time I really did miss the opportunity to shake hands with people and communicate a simple warmth and welcome in that way.
But that real presence of God is a reality not just in our gathering – “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I also” – but also in our mission. We have a responsibility to act in God’s name and bring his word to others. Hopefully this is a word of love – a word of peace, of understanding, of consolation, of reconciliation and of support. It is a Word but it is a deed as well. “Preach the Gospel”, St. Francis said, “Use words (only) if necessary!”
So in mass there is a significant greeting: “May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our Father and the fellowship (communion) of the Holy Spirit be with you now and forever”. God’s real presence isn’t just up there on the altar. It is in each one of us.
Whether you are parishioners of St. John Fisher or not, I do encourage you to return to (your) church but only when you feel it is safe for you to do so, and not necessarily on a Sunday. We are blessed in our church with a good deal of space so we can cope with double the numbers who attended last weekend, provided the 1 metre+ social distancing rules are left in place. In fact we were able to use the 2 metre distancing rules where there is no compulsory wearing of a facial covering. But if you do come to John Fisher, you need to bring a facial covering in case numbers necessitate wearing them. (No coverings necessary for under-11s)
Finally, Ramblings were born in a time of abnormality and insecurity seventeen weeks ago when we were all feeling a bit lost and confused. As we are now coming out of lockdown I feel that it is time to suspend them. I have enjoyed writing them and I hope you have enjoyed reading them and at least consoling yourselves in the knowledge that you couldn’t be more confused than I was.
Wishing you good health, and every blessing,
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