Fr John’s Letter – 13th June 2020

Dear Parishioners of St Jerome’s and St Anne’s 

‘Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

I read a news article yesterday entitled ‘How our country has changed after 80 days of lockdown’. A piece could also be written on ‘how the Church has changed’ or more interestingly, ‘how we have changed’. So I want to share some thoughts about how the last 84 days since our churches were closed have affected us. It is a personal perspective, of course, but I hope it might resonate with some of you. Perhaps we might obtain a deeper insight into today’s beautiful Feast: ‘The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ’.

Time and again during these difficult days, we have been reminded of the crucial importance of ‘connectedness’ ; to ourselves, to each other, to nature and our environment, to God. The recent demonstrations and civil unrest surrounding the tragic death of George Floyd show us how quickly disintegration can take place. To say that we need to feel a deep sense of being connected, of not feeling that we are alone, is an understatement.

The restrictions we have been living under for so long are now lifting. I don’t sense that there will be a great rush back to the streets. There is still uncertainty and nervousness. Many are having to return to work. But, on reflection, I think that the most challenging days could still be ahead of us. I am not speaking of ‘second waves’, but of the reality that is now beginning to emerge. Most things look the same as they did before the pandemic struck. But the reality behind these appearances has changed. Even if we don’t understand this, we can at least sense it.

There is no shortage of speculation about what this new reality will look like. Suffice to say that we will all need time to adjust. But it seems to me that we have arrived at a deeply significant crossroads. We are being offered a choice. We can move into a mentality of ‘picking up the pieces’, of trying to retrieve what we can. Some of that will be necessary. But the alternative is far more inspiring. We come to realise that the pieces we see around us are exactly that; just pieces. They have gone. Now we are offered something new. A new way of doing things, a new approach to our lives.

This something ‘new’ is not primarily a list of things we need to ‘do’. It goes deeper. It touches on the very heart of our existence; our relationship with God, our image of God, our understanding of God. Where has God been in the last 84 days? Remote? Disinterested? Locked in the church? Most certainly not! He has been in the very stuff of these days, in the fear, the anxiety, the confusion, the tragedy. In each passing moment, He has been whispering to us, inviting us to a deeper connection with Him and with one another.

The Spirit of God has been moving in extraordinary ways in these days. Every human being and every created thing belongs to Him. God is not limited by pandemics or by locked churches. He is knocking at my door in those thoughts that linger in my mind, that ringing phone, those emails, that elderly person sitting at their window, those people passing on the street looking for a friendly smile. He has led us all into an 84 day retreat of reflection!

Our first instinct might now be; well, let’s start planning, let’s look to the future and start imagining and getting things into place. Let’s get ‘busy’. This has certainly been my first reaction and the time will come when it will be necessary.  But here is the heart of the challenge I mentioned earlier. We take a long time as human beings to absorb, learn, listen. God knows this. 84 days is not long in the grand scheme of things. But it has been long enough to make us stop and think!

Could it be that God is inviting us to value the present moment, today? Could it be that the purpose of these days is to help us see and treasure our connectedness to everything around us, our place in it, our being with each other, our deep connection to God? How easy it would be to get lost again in the avalanche of busyness and planning! Surely this is the heart of the crossroads moment; to recover again what lies at the heart of my life, my belief, my relationships; or more precisely, Who?

It is this realisation of our deep connectedness that brings new perspectives and possibilities, of my place in things, of the realisation that I am loved, treasured, precious that gives me new heart and makes me smile. It is that reassurance of my profound connection to all around me that helps me to see others as brothers and sisters, not as enemies or as a threat. It is God, who is at the heart of every person and every created thing, who offers me a new way of seeing, hearing and loving. If we can sense this, or simply just desire it, then these 84 days will not have been wasted.

The churches remain locked. But the Church is alive in us! The Spirit of God is teaching us through so many examples of selflessness and service, that we belong to each other and to all created things. Above all, the Holy Spirit is leading us to Jesus, ‘the pioneer of our faith’. At the heart of the Eucharist of Jesus lies this profound promise of eternal connectedness to God and to one another. His body and blood were handed over for love of each one of us, to help us see that we are one body in Him. Not little islands, not isolated, but connected in every way.

Just think of what those future celebrations of the Eucharist of Jesus in our communities could be like with newly opened eyes, ears, hearts! Let us make good use of these days to learn, listen and ponder. Then surely, the new paths that God is showing us will be seen more clearly. May it be so!

God bless you all!

Father John