We live in a country where the weather changes rapidly and often.
Many years ago I had an experience in India. I was working there in our seminary. I was involved in the organisation of one of the large feast days, where 6-8 thousand people would attend. It was the beginning of the rainy season and the planning meeting was scheduled for 5pm. At 4pm on the dot, the rain came down. Wow. It was torrential. The streets were like free flowing streams – a bit like in the many flooding scenes we have seen over the last months. Un-deterred, I headed of to the house of the Schoenstatt Sisters, where the meeting was to be held. I arrived around 4.55pm. I knocked on the door and a sister opened with a surprised look on her face. “Why are you here?” She asked. “I’ve come for the planning meeting”, I replied. Her answer has stayed with me until today. “But it is raining.”
For us, if we were to cancel meetings every time it rained – we would not get very much done.
There are many storms at the moment. We just need to switch on the news to see wildfires and floods. In the Church and in politics, there are so many cracks and issues, it can become overwhelming. Add on to that the heavy toll of the pandemic, and there is a danger that we will not find the energy to look for God’s plan as we move forward in our life as a community.
I am asking everyone to use a portion of the energy to be creative about our Parish life. To invest in it. To get involved and to bring ideas. So many things have changed and there is a longing to get back to normal. I want us too, long not for the past – but for a better future. Not only long for it, but, make it happen.
As we celebrate the feast of the Assumption – let’s ask Our Lady to raise our eyes to heaven, to raise our eyes to God and to have the courage and conviction to ask him where he wants us to go.
Even if this is not a question for you, it is a conversation you will be having.
I feel a little like the preacher that gets up in the pulpit and berates the congregation because no one comes to Church anymore. I know that you are the wrong audience for this in a way. On the other hand, it is a convention you may be drawn into with friends and family. It’s a conversation we all need to have.
The strangeness of the pandemic
The pandemic has impacted on different people in very different ways. As we have this conversation, I think a basic first rule of engagement is – don’t presume anything. I am amazed meeting with people coming back to Church over the last couple of weeks, some of them have no idea that we have been open or active over the last few months. Even with our over 500 live streams, reaching out and delivering to over 40 households – even then there are people we have not reached. You can imagine that some people felt abandoned by the Church. It is hard for some to comprehend that the Church would “bow” to the call to close. On the other hand, some have never been so connected to the Church than over this pandemic. It is a real mixed bag…
The lifting of the obligation
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Pope, and then our Bishops, announced the lifting of the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday. The obligation to attend mass will be re-introduced on the 1st Sunday of Advent. For some, this is an important fact and milestone. Not just important – but a bone of contention. For others, the fact of the obligation is now a bit of an academic question. How conscious people are today of that “obligation” to attend. Certainly, from modern experience, this does not seem to affect the behaviour of a majority. It remains a fact of our Church discipline and one again that must be approached as we move forward. There is an objective and a subjective side to all of these elements – both valid – and both needing to be addressed. I certainly would want people to come because they want to. On the other hand, we are a Church of conviction and belonging and not simply of convenience. A challenging concept.
The role of live-streaming
Our Church was live-streaming well before the pandemic. In the pandemic, we had to up our game massively and expand our capabilities. There is a valid ministry to those who for legitimate reasons cannot get to Church. Streaming was a lifeline to many during the pandemic and kept that connection to the community alive. The growth of the community through our online connection was also a reality. Many who joined us online though found it a great support, but it is certainly not the same as attending and receiving Holy communion. It was convenient, with lots of stories being banded about of the joy of attending mass in your slippers, a cup of tea in hand. There are big challenges here concerning the reality of what a sacred space is and how we understand “real presence”. The domestic Church is also a reality and something that, I believe, has been strengthened over this year. But what about our sense of belonging and accountability. We are called to be a “real” community, and that is challenged and strengthens in our encounter – not from a distance. Our horizons have certainly been expanded and challenged. Yet more challenges to look at with an open mind.
Research from University College London has shown that it takes 66 days to form a habit. I have not seen research as to how quickly habits can be lost. But I am convinced that over the last months’ many habits have been formed and some lost. We all need to check what has changed for us over these last months.
What has become important that needs to be reevaluated? What is important that has taken a back seat that needs to be revitalized?
As we come out of the pandemic, we have a fantastic opportunity to join with one another in “building” our Church again. We have experienced and learned so much about each other and our faith over these last months. One of the great lessons for me is the fact that things can change, and that the change although challenging is not necessarily a bad thing. We have found new ways of doing things and see the weaknesses in how we have managed things in the past. Let’s build on that.
Last week saw the resignation of the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock. One of the astonishing thing for me was the general consensus – he resigned for breaching social distancing rules. Where I accept that this is true, I still find it difficult.
How focused are we on the rule of man and how much do we integrate the rule of God in our lives, our Church and our society.
Social distancing aside, we were seeing 2 marriages, including 6 children, being broken.
Of course there can be many things in the story that I am not aware of and this is not about judging anyone – just the perspective with which we look at these things as a society.
There has been certain “laws” of the Church put to one side for the time of the pandemic. The Bishops removed the obligation to attend mass on a Sunday.
When are lives now get busier and things open up – what dose it mean to us to be “obliged” to be a part of the Eucharistic community of the Chruch.
Dose the Church and my community come in 1st or last place – perhaps in between.
Going to be important how we look at things as we move forward.
As it slowly dawned on us that the COVID crisis was beyond anything that we could have imagined, we found ourselves in a very strong position. For a number of years we had already been streaming our Masses for the sick on Friday and Mass on Sunday. The equipment was in place and we had a certain amount of experience. That setup was to develop over the months to give us a good solid internet connection to the Church and the quality of the live streams were worked on.
I include in this team those who are involved in the technical side of our live transmissions, but also those who look after the sacristy, the flower arranging, the coordinators of the readers and ministers, the publicising and communication of times and events, all those involved in the actual celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments and times of prayer in our Church.
It has been great to be able to reach out through the year and build a parish community that goes way beyond our borders. Not only is the make up of our liturgy important but also the inclusion of others through social media, taking on their prayers and intentions, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and mourning the dead.
There is plenty of discussion at the moment about whether we should cease streaming – get back to the “real” thing. For me the question is how can we improve our worship of God – the style, the music, the decoration, the preaching – all aspects. Eucharist and community belong together. It is my belief that without a strong community celebrating – the Eucharist does not reach its full realisation. I really want to get people back into Church – but there is so much we can learn through this year of distance and streaming as to how we can connect the community at large.
I really thank God for the Tech – but above all thank him for the people who put that tech to good use.
We are in the Easter season- a season of joy and of hope. We are not celebrating Easter alone – we are an Easter People…. I wanted over the next few weeks to express my gratitude to the various groups and officeholders, and point to lessons learned as we come out of the pandemic….
In order for us to safely return to our celebrations in Chruch as a community a lot of work was needed. It was no longer just a case of opening the doors – but now with limits – with the need to protect – much more was demanded. I am really grateful that Tony Griffin was able to assemble a great team to cover this task. The task came with an added extra – not only were stewards responsible for getting people in and out of Chruch safely – they needed to do the sanitising and wiping down of all the areas people came in contact with – doors, handles, benches, baskets and more… It was great to see a new generation becoming involved in this work too…
We are and always have been a welcoming community. For me, the development of the work of the stewards has done a lot to enhance not only the intention of being welcoming but also the experience of this.
I do hope that we will soon not have to be as “protective” of our space, but I do hope that this team of stewards – and others too – will develop the role of welcome in many different ways….
Gratitude is an important attitude. Scientifically it is known to enhance well being if nothing else. In our consumer, throw away age, we can take things for granted. It can become really hairy when we not only take things for granted – but when we take people for granted.
We started our recognition and learning last week with a group of volunteers that is very visible. What is important to note is that there are many groups that work invisibly to make sure that we can come to Church safely week after week. I would like to pick out one of those groups today.
A great team has been working extremely hard in the background. As you can imagine, with COVID there has been a great need for enhanced cleaning in our Churches. In fact we have had to clean after every use. I am so grateful that we have not closed un-necessarily on any days that we were allowed by law to be open. This is due to the fact that we had a great team that covers these extra events and keeps us going. Thanks go especially to Susan Boddy and all those who worked along side her over those weeks and months….
There are many people who do their part to support our parish whom you will never see. From experience, I know that many people volunteer for the great and the grand tasks and offices. But without these important, seemingly menial, tasks being taken up quietly in the background – we would literally grind to a halt. It’s amazing how much needs to happen in order for us to function….
Thank you all!
I would like to encourage everyone who comes to our Church to find. Little “hidden” task that they can help out with. It all adds up to the complete picture of who we are.
There is great need for listening at this time as we come out of Lockdown. When we listen we learn. But things should not stop there. When we learn things, when we find truth, there is an imperative to now make necessary changes, there is a challenge to grow.
Let’s look at growth…
I have always subscribed to the description of growth by the author Robin Sharma. He repeats again and again: Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end. It is not an easy process and we are bound to get things wrong. There is a need for flexibility and experimentation. If we want to bring about change there must be an openness and willingness. Things will go against the grain, things will go wrong. Some things will have to go back to how they were before change started, but some things will be new and exciting.
This growth is not an abstract theory or dream, it is something real, but the “we” will only change if the ”I” can make the changes first. Changing my life and ways is the only way to help others to change too. One thing is certain, although it often does not seem this way, change in one person changes the whole of a community.
Soon we will celebrate Good Friday. That day we remember the sacrifice that God is prepared to make to bring about change in a world he created.
This pandemic has show how capable we are of change in our society. We can work from home, we can school from home, we can deliver food to a neighbour, we can make sacrifices for the good of others, we can volunteer, we can get the help we need from a food bank started by someone from another faith… I could go on…
Let’s not let things go back to “normal”, let’s keep and develop the good changes that we have learnt to live with as we help each other up and out of lockdown.
I don’t know about you – but life has been very different for me over the last year. Drastically different. This has meant that there were many new lessons, challenges and opportunities to learn from. Everyone is going through things and it has been apparent how challenging this has been for all.
We live in a world that judges quickly, in binary terms and despite our diversity we shield ourselves from one another by keeping “ourselves to ourselves”. This pandemic and its isolation has highlighted how much we need each other. Also look and see how many examples there are in our community of how help and support has come from some unexpected places. It came because some people can “really” listen.
In order to learn we must listen. Listen to our own hearts and to each other. I am talking here about real listening. Not the background noise of Social Media, TV and radio, but the real listening one person to another, of one community to another. We need to come out from behind our phones, screens, and homes, look each other in the eyes and really listen.
We will soon be in Holy Week – Easter. In this week we celebrate a Triduum – three major feasts. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It was at the first of these feasts that we are challenged by Jesus to lead lives of service. He washed his Disciples feet. An important example as we move out of this pandemic. Can we break a cycle of selfishness and self-centredness that plagues our world.
For many the goal is to move on from the turmoil and tragedy and put it behind them. For me there is a need to identify and understand the lessons of this pandemic. One lesson being that we need to learn to really listen to one another if we want a blessed world for all.
We have started off on our journey through Lent. Not sure how you are getting on – there is so much out there to try and to do – it can be a bit daunting.
If you are wondering want you can do – or if you just want a little suggestion you don’t have to think about and search for – take time to look at our Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/stvincentsbolton) – there are plenty of insights and impulses to keep you going through these days of Lent.
We’ve also had the “Roadmap” from the Prime Minister which will see us moving forward out of lockdown. Despite the announcements there is still much uncertainty.
That’s the way of progress – a map – but a certain amount of uncertainty.
This is where faith comes in. We have to journey – we have to follow the path that is laid out before us. The goal is not in question – what we experience on the way is.
Like on our faith journey, so too on this way out of the pandemic, we need to step out in faith and learn the lessons God is placing in our path. Use the time to think about yourself and your priorities. Where does Church, and, where does God fit into the picture of your life? What are you going to focus on as the restrictions are eased? What has this past year taught you that means certain things from the past have no place in your life any more….
One of the things I always associate with the beginning of Lent is the coming of Spring. There is a real move from darkness to light. The daffodils and snowdrops appear all around the Church grounds and there is a sense of optimism for the weeks and months ahead. Hopefully, another sign of hope and optimism will come on Monday 22nd, when the Prime Minister lays out his plan for us to come out of lockdown.
As with all looking forward a great deal of effort is needed. There is a promise made – but to reach its fulfilment each one of us has to put the effort in and apply ourselves, so that the opportunities that arise from this new life don’t just pass us by.
I think Lent is a time not to be harsh and bullish, but to live out the gentleness that comes from the Good Shepherd. Step back, think, relax, pray. We have been through so much this last year – bring that before God. Cry for those whom we have lost and have been badly affected by all that has been going on. Acknowledge how things have been difficult for you and for me and place everything into Gods hands…
Then… Ask God to guide you to the new life he wishes to give you in the weeks and months ahead. Does he want you to take time to heal, or pick up on a new challenge. After a long time of being “Church at Home”, is it time to visit our holy places again?
Respond to God challenging you to grow.
Fr Andrew Pastore SI St Vincent de Paul 40 Newbrook Road Over Hulton, Bolton BL5 1ER
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