Wednesday, April 20, 2022

EVERLASTING JOY (Easter Monday 2022)

 


Everlasting Joy on their faces! This phrase from the Prophet Isaiah comes to mind as I reflect on Easter weekend. Maybe not everlasting but joy all the same, an abundance of it flowing out of the church on Easter Sunday. This is what I saw coming towards me as I stood outside after Mass. And, whatever doubts I might have about myself, I allow a rejoicing to rise in me. It is the rejoicing of a father witnessing the happiness of his family. It’s not about me but them, or more correctly it's about us together.

It's Easter Monday now. Eton Mess and a cappuccino in hazy sunshine by the sea. Kind, comforting food. A feeling of tired contentment. Having travelled to two funerals in the Manchester area in the space of five days has taken its toll. It’s about a 500-mile round trip. But of course, worth it! Pallottine Sister Hedwig whom I first met almost fifty years ago, Hedwig who went as a missionary to Tanzania at the age of 62, spending 23 years there!

And my cousin Mary Monson who came into our lives in a meaningful way six years ago, bringing healing to misunderstandings of family history. A brilliant solicitor, courageous and caring, who put herself out there for the underprivileged, the unjustly treated of this world, many of whom became her personal friends and attended the funeral. Of Mary the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 can be said, “Come blessed of my Father!” I had the privilege of anointing her a few weeks before her death. May they rest in peace.

Today, it is good to be out in the midst of beautiful ordinary humanity, people having a nice, good time before school returns.


Nothing is complete but we have emerged from the tomb, having had our first full Easter ceremonies in three years, beginning with the Chrism Mass in Arundel, one of the highlights of which is the renewal of our commitment as priests. You can hear our collective and personal intent in the resounding “I am” in answer to the questions asked by the Bishop. And at Communion time we have a musical anointing by the choir in the singing of ‘Soul of my Saviour’. It started as a gentle hum and, with my eyes closed, I thought it could be the sound of angels floating through the cathedral, descending upon the whole congregation, all of our voices rising lovingly upwards.

For our own Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I was in last-minute.com mode and only managed to get most of the people for the washing of the feet as they were walking in the door. The perfect love of Jesus in washing the feet of his apostles, this love has reverence at its core, the reverence that brings Jesus to His knees at the feet of His loved ones. This is the love that I aspire to now, here in this place. And I feel it and I know the lives of those whose feet I wash and kiss. Mine is also a repentant love; repentance for what is lacking in me as a priest. The lack that every priest is conscious of and sometimes burdened by. Burdened, because we want everyone to be well, content, happy and saved.

Holy Thursday is the night on which we accompany Jesus at the Altar of Repose, the Gethsemane of our time. It is a fiercely silent prayer that represents the fear, the distress, the shed blood and sweat of all who are raised up in intercession. “Let this cup pass!” For many the cup does not pass, as it did not pass for Jesus. The suffering continues.

Good Friday morning brought us down to St. Clement’s Church of England for the annual ecumenical Procession of Witness, a re-enactment of the Way of the Cross that makes its way up High Street into our church and then on to All Saints. I have an awkward relationship with this event, being uncomfortable with performance and the onlookers who sometimes find it an amusing spectacle. But it stirs something in me, an emotion and there is something very powerful about looking at the body laid out on the altar of All Saints. It is a powerful silence, the powerful silence of the tomb.


Deacon Duncan and me with Fr. Paul, Church of England Parish Priest at St. Clement's

In the afternoon we have the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. Simple. Clear. Honest. I decided that it was still too soon to have everyone in the congregation kiss the one Cross, so I kissed it myself on behalf of everyone and then held it as each person, most of the congregation came one by one to bow or kneel in reverence. Observing each one I prayed for them, for what God knows they need. It’s very moving to see the love and devotion in the faces of those who came forward, and there were many.

In the evening there was a beautiful Taizé service in St. Thomas of Canterbury for peace in Ukraine and it was a blessing to be able to sit at the back of the church, close my eyes and gracefully receive all that was offered there. To receive and not be in charge in any way.

Holy Saturday brings us back to the tomb which is with us all day long no matter what we are doing or where we go. In the morning the church filled with Polish families for their traditional blessing of baskets of food. Their priest couldn’t make it, so I stood in. I often feel diminished in the face of Polish Catholicism, falling so far short of its high standards but I love Polish people and it was a blessing to be among them for the while. We prayed again of course for Ukraine which touches them so closely.

The rest of the day was spent hearing confessions and visiting the elderly who can no longer come out to Mass. With them I encounter the depth of a life of faith well lived and suffering well borne, the smile upon their faces. All the while Deacon Duncan laboured in the physical preparation of the Sanctuary, something he does like no other and Angela prepared the beautiful flowers. The penitential colour and atmosphere of Lent give way, yield to the glory of the Resurrection.

One of the most striking figures of Saturday afternoon and evening was Maria from Hungary who came to pray in the empty church at 4pm and remained there up until the end of the Easter Vigil which ended at 10.00pm. She sent an email today telling me that she felt she was led to our church and prayed for us and for Hastings. Of special interest to me is this, My town in Hungary have an Irish connection, is in the cathedral a picture from Ireland many times ago, and on this picture is St. Mary with child.” I came in contact with a copy of this picture a few years ago and it hangs in my home in Galway.

Madonna of Ireland

The origin of the painting goes back to Bishop Lynch of Clonfert who had to flee Ireland during the time of Oliver Cromwell and settled in Gyer, Hungary in 1654, bringing the painting of the Madonna of Ireland with him. Before his death he gave the painting to the Bishop of Gyer, and it has hung in the cathedral there ever since.

Many years later on the feast of St. Patrick, Our Lady was seen to be sweating blood which dropped onto her child. In the archives of the Cathedral of Gyer, there is a document written in 1697 on parchment, relating this event. It is signed not only by the clergy and the laity who were present at the Mass, but by the mayor and the council men, by the governor, Lutheran and Calvanist preachers, a Rabbi – over one hundred signatures represent eyewitnesses to the miracle.” (https://www.roman-catholic-saints.com/our-lady-of-ireland.html)

The Easter Vigil immersed us in the Word of God, seven readings and Psalms from the Old Testament, plus the Epistle and Gospel. It is long, intense, exhausting, and powerful. Light entered the dimly lit church, filling it. Water blessed and sprinkled. A convert received and confirmed. Holy Communion received. Hymns sung by our lovely choir and the congregation. Tea and cake and happy conversation downstairs in the parish house.

And I could not sleep after it all, not until 5.00am. Sleepless nights are common enough in my life experience and, while I’m not good at praying through the night, I feel more and more that, in those waking hours, the Holy Spirit is praying in me for someone who needs it at the time.

So, next I’m off to Scotland for the anniversary of my friend Father Michael Clarke who died two years ago in the early months of lockdown when a public funeral was not possible. Back then we celebrated his funeral Mass in the sitting room of his home and buried him with his parents. This year is the first opportunity to have a public Mass in his memory. And from Scotland I will go home for the Confirmation of Laura, home to the hugs of my sisters and brother, nieces, and nephews and maybe a dog or two!

And the Madonna of Ireland will be there for me with new significance, perhaps a significance that I do not yet know or understand.

For I have come to see that there is much that we do not and cannot know or understand of God and what He is doing in the hidden tombs of our lives, our hearts, souls, and bodies.

Within the tomb of Jesus on Holy Saturday nobody knew what was going on in there, but something was going on that only God knows. In this there is great hope for the tomb of our time.

An abundance of chocolate!!!


 

 

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