The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

When thinking on the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind, I wonder. For many, it could be a vision of a barrier with a sign that reads, ‘beyond this point is mystery!’. Corpus Christi conjures up all sorts of theological concepts, intellectualism and dogma which can seem so challenging that we might easily glaze over. To engage with this might seem daunting, but there is another side to Corpus Christi, a human side, and it’s this side that I’d like to spend a moment exploring.

Our first reading today is a reading of remembrance, recalling events that have passed. It recalls how the rebellious chosen people had been treated by God in the desert. How he had cared for them, fed and watered them through miraculous means, manna from heaven and water from the rock. There is, however, a purpose for remembering these events. Because intertwined in the words of Moses is a message of hope, encouragement, thanksgiving, and above all a reminder that God is with them. As such, it makes the past present. It’s reminding people that God hasn’t abandoned them, he is still present in their lives and in history. ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord’. This is a statement of intent, of ongoing love and care, despite their waywardness and rebellion, they were loved then, and they are loved now.

Paul sheds light on who these wayward and rebellious people are in our second reading…us! He talks of our share in the one loaf due to our communion with, and as, the Body of Christ, and as such, we share in the same call as did the remnant of Israel. Make no mistake, we are descended from those who wandered in the desert, brothers and sisters in faith. This honour was won for us by the immolation of Christ’s body and the spilling of his blood and as such, Moses is speaking also to us. His words of memory, of hope, of encouragement and thanksgiving are for us also. As too is God’s statement of intent…we are loved.

This statement of intent is beautifully elaborated by our Lord himself in our Gospel. As he was trying to share his message of hope, how he must have rolled his eyes when challenged literally. Unphased, he goes on to deliver one of the most love fuelled passages in the whole of Scripture; ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him’. This is his promise to be with us always.

I suppose that what I’m getting at here, is that Corpus Christi has two sides; the heavy, theological, dogmatic, but ultimately mystery side, and the human side. Because there is always a human side…always. This is because God’s story is our story. God’s story is about us. Whenever we read Scripture, we are reading a life story about God’s people, us, and that is why it speaks to us so deeply today. But not only to us, also to all those who have gone before, and to all those who will came after, and as such, we are joined to them in a real, tangible way. When Moses speaks, he is speaking to us. When Paul speaks, he is speaking to us. When Christ speaks, he is speaking to us. The past becomes present and future because Christ is alive. He lives in our hearts, he lives in our community, he lives in our Sacraments, he lives in our Eucharist.

He is truly with us and always will be.

God Bless you all…Deacon Anthony

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

What is the Name of God? In the Ancient World, there were oodles to choose from. Some were very short, some were very long, some sounded mysterious, some elegant and beautiful; some frightening and cruel, some humourous. Whatever they were, they were names. These named gods would be called, pleaded with, begged, cajoled and bribed. The God of Israel, on the other hand, had no name, or at least not one known to the people. To know a name, was to have power over the named or it was a sign that you were superior; (look at how many times God changes the name of a person so as to symbolize their new vocation or a change of direction in their life).

 When Moses asks the Name of God, before the burning bush, the Lord’s response is not one of anger or fury but mystery. I am. That is all Moses needs to know at that time. He simply needs to realize that God is, God is being, God exists. God is the basis, the fount, the purpose, the means and the end of all things.

In our first reading today, Moses calls on God’s name a second time and this time God says a bit more. He calls himself, ‘Tenderness, compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness’. If, previously, He made clear He was the fount of all that is, here He shows how this is most perfectly lived out. That is a name to be proud of and, perhaps, not one we would be able to live up to. Yet God shows that this is His name by the way He responds to the Israelites.

This part of our reading records what happens just after the Israelites had turned away and betrayed His trust in them. They had moulded the Golden Calf and had begun its worship. They had replaced the God from whom all life comes and had decided to seek out a god they could control and worship as they wanted.

God had been declared as a jealous God, one who would punish any who disobeyed. Here, the Israelites have done so dramatically and yet the Lord does not respond with destruction, anger or rejection but love, patience and forgiveness. No wonder the Israelites find their wilderness experience such a life-changing, indeed history-changing, time. They were blended not only into a people but into a people who were intimately and everlastingly caught up in a relationship with a God who loves, hoping for love in return but not in the expectation or demand of it.

This love, given without condition, is expressed even more amazingly in the person of Jesus. Sent into the world, not to condemn or put it on trial or catch it out but so as to enable it to encounter, once again, this God who loves. Without measure, without demand, Jesus expresses the perfect love of the Father, communicated clearly on the Cross. Whilst dying, He invites, He forgives, He heals and He brings into relationship. He speaks not one word of anger, revenge, hate or rejection. In His words from the Cross, He takes the Name of God and makes it clear it is His own not by calling Himself by it, but by putting it into practice.

In Christ, God the Father is well pleased, and Christ wants nothing more than to enable the Father’s will. What is that will ? That all the world might be saved? How can this be brought about? By the simple matter of ‘believing in the Name of God’s only Son’.

For humanity to be saved it, it’s all in that Name. Tenderness, Compassion, Kindness and Faithfulness. Can you believe in a God who is called this ? If you can, what does this demand of you?

Leap forward 50 days or so from the horror of the Cross and His ragtag team of cowards and deserters, hiding in a locked room, are graced with the same Name, bestowed on them by God breathing His power and warmth and transformation. Suddenly these frightened men and women become proclaimers of the Name not by their words but their actions. Persecuted and beaten and humiliated and killed, they do not speak words of hate but of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. Stephen, the first martyr, echoes Jesus’ own  words at his death ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’. He spoke this, we are told, in the power of the Holy Spirit. God drawing Stephen up into the very communication of God Himself.

This is what we are invited into, the communion with God and with each other. God is the source of everything, God is the destination for everything and God is the means of getting there. We may find it hard to believe in a God who is kind, forgiving, compassionate and patient because we struggle to live them out ourselves but the history of humanity’s relationship with God is full of our mistakes, our doubts, our betrayals and yet running alongside is His healing, His belief in us, His fidelity. Thank God for God, that’s what I say.

Pentecost

This Pentecost Sunday is a strange day, even stranger than our present usual strange days. This is because our readings are full of gatherings, something denied to us at this time; the gathering of many people to hear the Word of God in their own tongue, the gathering each of us as the Body of Christ, and the gathering of the disciples in a room to witness the Risen Lord. The excitement of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enthusing us into action, seems slightly ironic at this time when we are dispersed, unable to gather together and witness to this monumental event to the world.

Or can we?

Another irony that is not lost on me is that only two weeks ago I talked about God being found in the ‘gentle breeze’ and how we can witness to our faith through the strength of gentleness. And yet today, we hear of God’s presence in a ‘powerful wind’ and ‘tongues of fire’, a presence so significant that the noise attracted a great assembly. So clearly God can work through the powerful wind and the gentle breeze. It might be tempting to think that this could be considered contradictory in nature, but our second reading, I think, puts this into perspective.

The image of the ‘Body of Christ’ is so powerful because it’s easy to understand. We can all grasp the concept that a nose can smell, an ear can hear etc., so as a teaching aide, it’s an easy entry into collaboration, cooperation, and being open to recognise the skills of others…especially skills that we ourselves might not have. This is one of the supreme strengths of the Church. We have the humility to understand that others can do things better than we can. But on the other hand, we also recognise that we too have skills that others don’t. From there, it’s a short step to recognising that if we get together, free from envy and self-interest, then, as a body, there is nothing we can’t achieve.

Accepting this opens the door to discernment; what skill do I have, how is the Lord calling me to use that skill? Now I know that humility prevents some people from accepting that they have a skill…but you do! If you want to know what it is, then to find out is supremely simple…ask someone. It’s that easy. The answer might not be what you expect. It could perhaps confirm a deep-felt suspicion, or it might be something totally surprising. Whichever; you have a skill.

And how we use those skills is where the wind of the Spirit comes in. You might, for example, need the powerful wind if you are Called to be an apologist, an activist, even a missionary. This might help you, as an individual, to make the most of your skills in a turbulent and hostile world. But you might need the gentle breeze if your skill is prayer, accompanying the lonely, the dying, and the elderly. Of course, we need both at times, but the Body of Christ allows us to be both ministers and to accept ministry from others.

In short, the strongest of ministries and the gentlest of ministries are a tension that is vital to the mission of the Church. Jesus says in our Gospel, ‘Peace be with you’, and then shows the disciples the wounds in his hands and his side; signs, perhaps, of both the gentle breeze and the powerful wind working as one.

What I’m saying is that we are the Church. We are part of the Body of Christ, each using our own personal skills for each other, the glory of the Kingdom, and the glory of God’s name. And that, of course, spills over into the world. We are not a ‘clique’, a private members club or an exclusive gathering of ‘pious’ people. No, far from it, we are a fallen people, redeemed by God, and recognise that this gift is for everyone, regardless of race, gender, creed and anything else…we welcome all people, everywhere.

That is the Spirit of Pentecost in action. We might be separated by distance, unable to meet together, but we are united in the Spirit. We are one in the Body of Christ and it is this oneness, even in isolation, that binds us together.

So, whatever you’re doing in isolation, however you’re expressing your faith…keep doing it. Do it in the knowledge that others are doing what you can’t and that you are doing what others can’t. And do it also in the knowledge that what you’re doing, no matter how small or private, will still, somehow, spill over into the world. That is the nature of the Spirit working in us, the Spirit of Pentecost.

God bless you all.

Deacon Anthony

Ascension

I will be preaching tomorrow so I thought I would share a poem for Ascension.

No shouts of joy were heard on Olivet.

No trumpets fanfared Risen One’s adieu.

His friends stood trembling, wondering where He was,

And rushed in terror, locked and barred the door.

Ascension Day in context, loss not joy;

No triumph issued from this bruised elect.

Their hopes stood dashed; and rudderless, adrift,

They felt bereft, a horrored disconnect.

If Triumph, trumpet blast or joyous shout,

Is heard at all this day, it issues down.

God sees what lies ahead but knows the grief,

At present, of these frightened fisherman.

The ever wounded One unlocks the gate

And enters, in His robes of Victimhood.

The ring, the sandal, that He set aside,

Are now returned, washed in His martyr’s blood.

The chorus gathers volume. Rank on rank

The choirs proclaim His rising from the tomb.

They carol out the Song with which, in time,

The Holy Spirit’s power will flood a room.

Laudato Si

Laudato Si’ Week 5th Anniversary – 16-24 May 2020

This year is the 5th Anniversary of Laudato Si’. Laudato Si’ tells us that “everything is connected” and tragically, the current health catastrophe has much in common with the ecological catastrophe. Both are global emergencies that will affect many people, both directly and indirectly. Despite the current situation, there are still lots of ways we can take action to mark this anniversary, sharing the common prayer and celebrating what we have achieved in our homes, schools and parishes.

CAFOD and Caritas Plymouth have produced a summary of resources for anyone interested in exploring further the message of Laudato Si’.  A note will be posted on the Plymouth Diocese website next week.  During the week itself we will be sharing reflections and examples of how our Diocese is taking action via our Diocesan Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/plymouthdiocese/  Please let Deborah know if your parish would like to share anything caritas@prcdtr.org.uk.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

When I look through the readings on any given day, there is always a word, or a phrase, in each reading which pops out at me and starts a thought process, seemingly at random. And it’s these ‘random’ thoughts that I’d like to share with you today.

Our first reading, from Acts, features Philip, one of the first seven deacons. Far from being ordained by the Apostles to ‘wait on table’, here Philip is catechising, preaching and baptising, just as he did with the Ethiopian Eunuch. Then, at some later time, the Apostles ‘confirmed’ the new members, just as our Bishop does today. So, although this reading actually says something about the ministerial role of the ordained clergy, it also reminds us of something else.

Two weeks ago, when we were remembering especially those who are discerning, or have followed, their vocation to the religious life, I pointed out that by virtue of our baptism we all have a share in the common priesthood. So too here. Priests are ordained deacon before priest and bishops still wear a dalmatic, the deacon’s vestment, on solemn occasions under their priestly vestment, the chasuble. This is to remind them that they are servants (the root of diakonia), because a deacon is ordained as a servant, albeit with particular duties. But of course, this is the vocation of every Christian. So through our baptism, we not only share in the common priesthood, but we also share in the common diaconate. This reading is a reminder to us that we, as disciples of Christ, are called to serve…to serve God, to serve each other, and to serve all people to the glory of God’s name. And we can do that by embracing the common diaconate within each one of us.

In our second reading, Peter talks of witness. He’s not talking about apologetics, defending the faith, he’s talking about personal witness to the truth that has been given us through the gift of faith. And what I love about this reading is that it’s so gentle. It is not up to us to convince people, it is up to us to sow the seed. The rest is a conversation between them and God. Here, we are being asked to pass on our personal faith with respect and courtesy, witnessing to our Saviour in the gentlest of ways.

Our Gospel reading speaks of keeping Christ’s commandments, not once, but twice. But what are Christ’s commandments? My copy of the code of canon law has 1752 laws…but although Jesus left us many teachings, his two commandments were to love God and to love each other. From these two commandments the whole of the Christian life flows. In fact, if humanity kept these laws there would be no need for any others.

I said at the beginning that these were seemingly random thoughts that entered my head as I was reading our Scripture readings for today. But as I thought about it, I remembered a documentary that I watched some time ago about the Bible; how it was written and constructed. A researcher, who claimed no faith, pointed out that the unity of message and the way that the Bible references itself throughout the ages it was written over, was nothing short of a miracle (and he was aware of the connotations of what he was saying). The reason for that of course, is that although it was indeed written over many centuries through different sources, it has only one author…God. Armed with that, I looked at my random thoughts again.

So I’ve talked about embracing our common diaconate, giving personal witness to our faith, and keeping the commandments that Christ has given us.

How do we embrace our common diaconate? By giving personal witness to our faith and by seeking to keep Christ’s commandments. How do we give personal witness to our faith? By embracing our common diaconate and seeking to keep Christ’s commandments. How do we keep Christ’s commandments? By embracing our common diaconate and giving personal witness to our faith.

Scripture is one, it’s whole, it’s complete; just as God is. And this completeness extends to us, both corporately and as individuals, because we are part of Scripture. Holy Scripture was written for us and as such, our response becomes an inextricable part of it. And none of what we are called to do is onerous, it is simply a natural extension to the gift of faith. The key is gentleness. Just as God was found in the gentle breeze, so are His words of life. We are called to stand in that gentle breeze, to soak in it and witness to it. And in doing so, we can stand in wonder that such immense power is wielded so gently and so beautifully.

With every blessing, Deacon Anthony x

Fifth Sunday of Easter

A few days ago I saw two cartoons which made me smile. The first was a little boy asking his mum ‘Am I adopted’ and the frayed mum, after weeks of home schooling, saying ‘I doubt it, I only put the advert in yesterday’. And the other is the same question being asked by a boy to his dad. And the father, rather cruelly, says ‘don’t be ridiculous, why would I have chosen you’. Now neither of these are in any way noble or holy but they struck a chord with today’s second reading in which Peter tells us that we are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart.

It is the chosen nature that struck me.  I have told you before how when I was about 13 I wanted to be an only child and when I was 16, I hoped I had been adopted, but not from the point of view of having been chosen, but because that way I might find I was related by birth to other people. Now don’t get me wrong I am not proud of this rather stupid and brattish sentiment but it does point out something important….being adopted brings you, by the choice of the adopter, into a new and untested relationship. All sorts of opportunities and possibilities are presented. In the relationship that we are invited into with the father, this is the case for each and every one of us. We are His adopted/chosen sons and daughters.

However, Peter goes beyond that. Not just chosen, we are made into a royal priesthood. In the Ancient world, those two statuses, Priest and King, were at the very top of any pecking order and here, his listeners are told, they enjoy that position. Many of them in their lives would have been anything but influential or significant or important in the eyes of society and yet the new relationship they are invited in to with God opens out a previously unimagined vista. But it is not about taking on the royal and priestly robes of oppression and ancient power; it is about emulating the king who served, the priest who sacrificed Himself.

 These same people are consecrated, they are made holy by the action of God. Again, many, if not most, would have been in situations where they were seen as unclean or lowly or sinners and yet here, by God’s action, they are transformed. It does not matter what others might say or think or assume….God has said and thought and decided something different.

They are made into a people. This too is of immense importance. A people are only called as such when they are united and have a common heritage. The wonder of God is that He has taken a ragtag bunch of misfits and beggars, of losers and cowards, of the rejected and the lost, I could go on but you get my drift, and He has blended them, moulded them into a people. A gathering of people who look the same way, who look to the same goal and are inspired by the same power.

However, this union only makes sense if those within it understand that they have been given this amazing transforming grace not for themselves , not to gather and close themselves off. The setting apart is not to isolate but to enable. They are set apart, you could say, so that they have room to breathe and stretch their lungs so as to fully and worthily and clearly proclaim the source from which they draw their hope and joy and mission.

And what is that source. It is the One who declares Himself ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life’. So what would be His ‘Way’? Well, how do we see Him moving through His public ministry? He is always intent on welcoming the lost and discarded. He is always ready with a word of encouragement and forgiveness and love. He goes out of His way to enable the isolated to feel welcome and give them a sense of belonging.

And His ‘Truth’? Nobody is outside the reach of God; nobody should feel their lives are worthless; it is never too late.

And His ‘Life’? Well that one is impossible to encapsulate into a sentence or two. Over the last few days we may well have been thinking about relatives near or long distant past to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. We may have tried to recall them or find out more about them. After all, their lives, their actions and sacrifices, had a profound effect on where and who we are now. Well, if that is true of those men and women from 75 years ago whose memories live in other’s hearts how much more is there from the one who lived and died 2,000 years ago but, if we allow Him, we know can be more alive and more powerful in us than any fallen or forgotten hero’s memory.

We are chosen not because of us but because of Him. To return to my jokes at the beginning. To the first ‘Am I adopted’ ? God might say: ‘Always, and it is my joy that you are.’ And to the second, He might say: ‘Always, for I could not be happy without you’. Not quite so funny I grant you, but I hope, so much more true.

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is also designated ‘world day of prayer for vocations’, and we’re encouraged to remember in our prayers those who have followed their call to vocation, most obviously priests, deacons and religious, as well as those presently discerning God’s call to them. Of course, it’s absolutely right to pray for, and give thanks to God for, our priests, who literally offer life itself through He who died and rose again for love of us; for deacons, who serve in so many ways and often in ways unseen; and for our religious who I believe have saved the world on numerous occasions through their life of prayer and witness.

          But I want to talk about the vocation of the ‘common’ priesthood that Lumen Gentium, one of the major documents from Vatican II, talks of. The priesthood that, albeit in their own proper ways, is a common sharing in the priesthood of Christ between ordained, religious and lay faithful. We all have a sharing in this by virtue of our baptism, so it’s a responsibility that we must take seriously. But how?

          Today’s readings, as you might expect, offer some guidance, not only to the ministerial priesthood, but also to the rest of us desperately trying to live up to our common sharing in Christ’s priestly vocation.

          Our first reading from Acts, I find very interesting. Not only because it tells of the early Church (which Vatican II was endeavouring to move closer to) but also because of the detail that it goes into. When asked ‘what must we do’, Peter said; ‘you must repent’ and ‘you must be baptised’. So, two things. The first was not unlike John the Baptist’s message, preaching a baptism of repentance. But it has been elevated by adhering to Christ’s command at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel…’go, make disciples of all people and baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’. Make no mistake, this isn’t simply a baptism of repentance, but much deeper, more a commitment of discipleship. Because in these two actions we’re being asked to firstly; not simply repent of the times we’ve failed, but to recognise those times, to be sorry from our hearts, and to commit to trying to eradicate them in the future. Secondly, once we accept the need for forgiveness, to recognise that there is only one person who can make that happen and in response to this, to declare in public, in the early Church’s case by the act of baptism, that we accept this.

          In those days, of course, adult baptism was the norm and baptism was very much a public act of commitment. Today, when most are baptised in infancy, we publicly commit in many ways; through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through gathering in church, and simply by the way we try to live our lives. Regardless of how we do it, we are publicly committing to Christ through our recognition that He alone can save us through his boundless mercy. So, here we have one of the ways that we share in the common priesthood, put simply, we have accepted the gift of faith.

          Our second reading, from Peter, is a lesson in humility…and yes, I struggle with this one; bearing punishment unjustly. I really struggle not to defend myself at times when I know I’m innocent of the charge. But, occasionally I manage it. And when I do, I always chalk it up as a victory to Christ! This might seem a tad churlish, as there are many more exacting ways to offer humility, but this one particularly, for me, touched a nerve. The point is though, think of a way in which humility touches a nerve for you, and that is what we’re called to do. Humility is sharing in our common priesthood.

          And what about our Gospel from John. The beautiful image of Christ the Good Shepherd. As members of the common priesthood, we are called to know him and to follow him. But I know that some of us have occasional doubts and swing between firm faith and something a little less positive.

Looking back to our first reading, we’re told that Peter used ‘many arguments’ and that these arguments were accepted by many. The catechism tells us that we can ‘prove’ God through various ‘ways’, and it seems that Peter’s listeners were won over through arguments that appealed to the ‘head’. I have often said to people, don’t try to reason God with your head because you never will. You can’t prove God to yourself simply be reason. Instead, think with your heart. Does this mean I’m at odds with the catechism? No…(a sigh of relief all around). Peter’s listeners heard the arguments, but the Spirit was at work in them, guiding their thoughts, opening their hearts to accept the gift of faith. If we listen with our hearts, we will know the voice of Jesus, giving us the freedom to follow him knowing that it is He. We won’t be seduced by an imposter, a thief, or a brigand. To share in the common priesthood, we are called to open our hearts, listen, to allow our hearts to be informed and to ignore the imposter in our head.

I suppose what I’m arguing for is that to share in our common priesthood involves a number of things, perhaps different things for different people. But heartfelt repentance, public commitment, humility, and listening with our hearts, has to be in the mix somewhere. Yes, thank God for our priests…we need them, love them (even the grumpy ones), and offer our humble thanks for their ministry of selflessness and love. But thank God also for the gift of faith which allows us to share in the priesthood of Christ as a witness to his mercy, his compassion, and his love for all of humankind. And that’s a message that an awful lot of people need to hear right now.

With my love and my prayers. May God bless you all…and keep safe. Deacon Anthony

Pastoral Message from Bishop Mark

Pastoral Message to the Diocese: “Let us be like Christ the Servant”

Dear friends,

You will recall when I wrote before Easter, that I described this period we are living through as “a long Good Friday”.  That is still so true, in so many ways.  I have also been struck, over these past days, at how much each of us is having to live the Paschal Mystery, participating in a very real way in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Today, I would like to share some thoughts with you on how we have been invited into sharing in the Lord’s experience of His Last Supper with His disciples.  At first, this may appear odd, since we are still unable to celebrate the Eucharist publicly, and we are not even able, yet, to visit our Churches to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.  Hopefully, it will not be long before we are able to do so.

You know that on Maundy Thursday, alongside remembering the gifts of the Eucharist and the gift of the Priesthood, the Lord also gives us a very profound example of loving service.  The Gospel for that night is from John 13, where Jesus humbles himself to wash His disciples’ feet. We experience Him as Christ the Servant in a very beautiful way.  Having washed their feet, he says, “I have given you an example for you to copy what I have done”.  We know that message is for us, too.

This Gospel, of the washing of the disciple’s feet, is being fulfilled many times over, in these days.  Again, and again we hear the stories of people caring for others.  On a personal note, my brothers and I are extremely grateful for the loving care and treatment my mother received in hospital these past weeks whilst battling Covid19.  I also wish to thank all of you for your concern and prayers.  Mum was discharged to my brother’s home earlier today.  As she left the ward, all the hospital staff cheered and clapped, exclaiming, “Mary is going home”.  Every patient who returns home is celebrated in this touching manner.  For me, it is a real experience of the power of prayer, as things looked very dark some days.  She now requires ongoing support at home and a team of carers are assisting with that.  I am conscious that it is doctors, nurses, cleaners, carers, the Catholic Chaplain, and support staff, who are presenting the face of Christ the Servant to our family in these days.  I know it is the same for many of us. 

I want to give thanks, too, for the many acts of loving service that are taking place in our Diocese, carried out by so many, in so many different situations.  I would like to highlight the following as examples of the various ways in which priests and parishioners are modelling Christ the Servant.

Reaching out to the Isolated and most vulnerable

Caritas Plymouth has developed a short guide for parishes to support social action and offer some top tips for keeping volunteers and communities safe.  Some of the very good things that they point to:

  • Parishes have compiled lists of parishioners who may find isolation difficult to cope with and are linking them up with those willing to provide befriending.
  • Parish volunteers, in some areas, have set up rotas to call vulnerable people on a regular basis, some providing shopping or other practical support for those who are self-isolating.
  • Priests are actively encouraging parishioners who are not self-isolating to volunteer locally. Those who are isolating are being encouraged to offer phone support.
  • Parishioners are being asked to remember others in their prayers, and to support other charities e.g. through donations to foodbanks, charities supporting the homeless, or seafarers.
  • Some parishes have made their grounds available for families living without gardens, to provide a safe space to take their daily exercise.
  • Some parish groups have sent cards to all Care Homes in the parish area, thanking them for what they are doing, and letting them know we are praying for them.
  • First communion children have been invited to make rainbows, to be posted in windows or sent to local care homes.
  • Direct support is provided to vulnerable groups (including seafarers, refugees, homeless and the elderly) through key partner charities including the SVP, the Catholic Children’s Society (Plymouth), St Petroc’s and Stella Maris.
  • Our parishioners are taking action in their local communities. Many are key workers undertaking the vital roles that keep others safe and well, others are volunteering in their local communities to operate helplines, shop for others, deliver medicines or offer befriending services.

Any parishes wanting any further advice or support are invited to contact caritas@prcdtr.org.uk

Young people and schools 

  • Our Catholic schools continue to provide support for the children of Key Workers and/or vulnerable children and provide inspiration and encouragement.
  • 32 Plymouth CAST schools are currently open across the Diocese. On Monday this week, over 300 children of key workers and vulnerable children were being cared for in our schools.
  • Schools have created rainbow banners to thank the NHS, and those supporting the sick and dying.
  • Some Catholic schools are organizing their own food collections and taking food to vulnerable families.  School deliveries are being undertaken by teachers as part of the process of ensuring that children get the support they need at this time.  
  • Primary school children have written letters to older people who are self- isolating in a number of our parishes and have started to receive responses.
  • Resources for the religious formation of our children and young adults are available online at the Diocesan website under the title “Spiritual Life …(then)…. Sharing the Faith”.
  • Young people are sharing messages of inspiration and encouragement via our Diocesan Facebook page, with short video messages and artwork as well as preparing children’s liturgies and sharing them online.

Proclaiming and Celebrating the Faith

  • There has been an amazing growth in the use of social media to experience Mass online, and to pray through live streaming and YouTube.  Thousands of people have been supported and encouraged through these messages of hope with more people attending ‘virtual’ masses than we anticipated.  We must hold on to some of this presence in online platforms, after ‘lockdown’ has been lifted.
  • Some parishes are using Zoom and Skype to ‘gather’ and share experience and to talk about their faith.
  • Pastoral care continues and in some creative ways – including opportunities for the Sacrament of Penance (whilst respecting social distancing using the car park).
  • Priests are ministering to the dying in hospitals, Care Homes and private houses, offering encounters in the sacraments and praying, for and on behalf of others. 
  • Priests are celebrating Masses every day in their parish church, without a congregation.  Several of them have written to me about this experience, and how they are very much doing this for their parish, for the Church and for our world at this time.  One wrote: “When I open my arms to say “The Lord be with you” I find I am saying it to all my friends and relations near and far, to all the people for whom, as a priest, I have been ordained to pray.  The fact there is no congregation present whom normally one is either speaking to directly or trying to draw into the communal prayer of the Mass, means that the dynamic becomes intensely personal.  The Word of God is being spoken to me alone – what is it saying to me, here and now?  The prayers of the Mass which I utter are my prayers which I must pray in faith, hope and love.  Of course, this is also true in every celebration at which others are present, but when one is alone, there is no hiding away:  one is metaphorically naked before God as Jesus was literally on the Cross – my words really have to be his words “This is my body….”  It is helpful for me to know that the Church – through the Pope and the Bishops – is asking me to celebrate in these days on behalf of the people.  “With you I am a Christian, for you I am a priest” as Augustine said.  So, I am fulfilling one of my priestly ministries, not just for my own benefit, but for others – not least to pray for an ending to this plague and a return to the coming together of God’s people around a communal altar.
  • Each week parishioners are connected through email and letters from their parish priests
  • Through social media, the Diocesan Evangelisation Team are helping people in their homes, to have some formation on how to connect and communicate with confidence, conversations about faith, with friends, family or in everyday encounters.  More people can do so by registering their interest at the following link – info@genesismission.co.uk  

I am sure that there are many other examples of loving service which you have experienced locally.  Let us thank God for them all.

In this period, leading to the Feast of Pentecost, we recall the experience of Our Lady and the disciples waiting in the Upper Room for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It looks as though ‘lockdown’ will go on for us, for several weeks yet.  May we unite ourselves to that experience of the Early Church, so that the Holy Spirit may be freshly poured out upon us all, leading us ‘outwards’ in the mission of the Lord.  Let us each be like Christ the Servant.

Pray for me.

Yours devotedly

Rt Rev Mark O’Toole

Bishop of Plymouth

Third Sunday of Easter

Perhaps one of the most well known of the Resurrection appearances. Cleopas and the other disciple, fleeing from Jerusalem at the very first opportunity, suddenly meet a stranger who enters into conversation with them and opens out their shattered and depressed minds to new possibilities. Together, they reflect on the scriptures, they console and encourage each other and then, in the breaking of the bread, they encounter their Risen Lord and in the strength of that, they turn round and immediately head back the 7 miles to the very place from which they had been escaping.

Three things always strike me about this story. Firstly, once again we come up against one simple phrase which, to me, sums up the whole story. ‘He made as if to go on’. As they come close to Emmaus, the place of safety and rest, the two disciples of the, as they think, dead Jesus show that his message has begun to take root in them. They pressed him to stay, they had, at least in a small way, understood the table fellowship, the hospitality of their master. What would have happened if they had not. If they had said goodbye and gone down into the town and left the stranger to walk along the high road and out of their lives. Two things perhaps, they would never have known that the Lord had risen and secondly, they therefore would not have gone back and encouraged their brothers and sisters. For the sake of a nail, a kingdom was lost !!

Small, seemingly insignificant actions, words and thoughts can have profound effects, far more far reaching than would be imagined when looking at the actual word or action. Cleopas and the other disciple, and I always wonder why one is named and one is not but I have no wise explanation, are enabled to be the catalyst for a rebirth in faith of the other disciples. That would not have happened, if they had not invited the stranger to stay. It’s good to remind ourselves of the effects our actions can have, maybe not as powerful as this one but then who are we to judge. We can’t see the full picture.

Secondly, although they had begun to imbibe his practical teaching about table fellowship and welcome they still had no understanding of everything else they had been told by him. Even when the women returned with the news of Resurrection they could not and would not understand it. They were still running away. It does not matter how much someone is told, it doesn’t matter how many facts are thrown down, or shown or shared. For something to be accepted it has to be understood at a deep level. For our experience of God to be real it has to be our experience, other people telling me what I ought to believe or should believe does not make me any more likely to believe it. This seems a very important thought when we are seeking to find ways of sharing faith and enabling other people to come to know Christ. Cleopas was not helped by being just given facts, his heart burned within him because the facts were being explained and opened out in a way that he could grasp. Thirdly, ‘yes it is true, the Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon’. Go on, search the Gospels, try and find this appearance to Simon. It isn’t there. We have no record, in any of the Gospels, of an individual appearance to Simon. I love this little fact. It doesn’t make me doubt or question it makes me rejoice. If they did not record this one, what other ones did they not record? Just as John says that he does not record everything the Lord said and did because all the books in the world could not hold it…and I love that hyperbole….so we evidently do not have all the Resurrection appearances. God is not controlled by us, we cannot ‘contain’ Him. He chose to enter fully into our condition and became a human being but He is also far above and beyond our little grasp. That is the Mystery of God for me; not what I don’t know about Him, because I’ll get to know all of that in His good time, no, for me, the Mystery of God is why He bothers with us in the first place. He is so far above, so fully beyond and yet has chosen to come so close and to remain so. It is the personal nature of this unrecorded appearance which makes my heart glow. Why did He do this? What did He say at this time to His thrice failed friend? Whatever it was, Peter became the Apostle, leader and preacher that Jesus always knew he would be and we hear his first sermon today.