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

Sacred Triduum

We are just entering into the most important days in the Church’s Year in which we celebrate the three days which are the climax of the Lord’s Ministry culminating in His sharing His last meal with His friends and commissioning them to continue His ministry of service and healing, His Passion and sacrificial Death for all the world, including those who condemned Him and His glorious triumph through His Rising to New Life.

There are many ways in which people will be marking these days and as families and individuals you will no doubt have your own means of prayer and reflection. Nevertheless the beautiful triptych of the Liturgy will be celebrated in Our Lady and St Patrick’s and you would be more than welcome to join with Fr Mark and other parishioners as we pray this lovely service together.

Maundy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. 730pm

Good Friday. A Liturgy of the Passion. 3pm

Holy Saturday. The Easter Vigil. 8pm

Easter Sunday. Easter Mass. 10am

Please note, if you are hoping to join for the Vigil then it would be great if you could read the Vigil of Readings before hand. See below.

Gn.1:1-2:2; Gn.22:1-18; Ex.14:15-15:1; Is.54:5-14;Is.55:1-11; Bar.3:9-15, 32-4:4 Ez. 36:16-28

The Holy Father

Here is a translation of the Holy Father’s Homily at the Holy Hour earlier today in Rome

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, 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 lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7)

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Our first reading today is a comfort for two types of people; those who never seem to learn from their past experiences but keep making the same mistake and those who are overlooked and ignored. Samuel, even after his having chosen Saul on the back of his physical magnificence and had seen this choice ‘go to the bad’ still homes in on Eliab, seeing, in his height and musculature, the next King. Yet the comfort is, even when he keeps making this same mistake, God does not give up on him and continues to use him until finally the penny drops and Samuel, listening to God, makes the right decision and chooses the ‘runt of the litter’, David. This same David who becomes such a force and pivot in the history of Israel and indeed our salvation that it is from the House of David that the Messiah comes.

 Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind is another wonderful example of the Lord’s at work. His gentle encouragement and healing of the man enables him to not only gain his independence but gain a confidence and self respect which someone in his situation in C1st Palestine would probably not normally have had. He speaks before the Jewish Authorities with confidence and courage, he defends Christ against his attackers and is belittled and rejected for his pains.

Compare him to the three other ‘types’ we encounter in the story. Firstly the observers of the newly healed man. They do not want to face up to the reality of the situation, this would necessarily involve them making changes in their own lives. If this man now seeing is the one who was blind and begging then something amazing must have happened and that would demand a response. So they obfuscate or argue about details rather than looking deeply at the thing.  As CS Lewis once put it, they spend their time straining out fernseeds and swallowing elephants. 

 Secondly we have the Authorities, arrogant and in control. When something happens which does not tie in with their normal way of thinking, their accepted view of the world…then rather than reflecting on what it might have to say, allowing it to speak to them and transform them and make them look at their place in the world or their understanding of that world, they attack .  Can that be me? Losing the argument  I shout, or insult or belittle and thus miss the lesson there may be waiting for me

 The third type are the parents, not indifferent or disinterested, not arrogant and controlling but afraid. Unwilling to raise their heads above the parapet. Instead of standing up with their son they leave him to fend for himself, casting him adrift. ‘He is old enough, let him speak for himself’. This is the coward’s way. All his life he would have relied upon their support and help and suddenly he is left to speak for himself and defend a man he knows nothing about before people who would be far more articulate and powerful than himself. Is this my way sometimes, preferring to keep quiet and unnoticed whilst injustice grows ?

All his life he will have been overlooked and dismissed yet he rises to the occasion magnificently. He is the ‘runt of the litter’ writ large and yet shows himself to be a man of courage, nobility and, at the end, faith and that is rewarded. The Lord Jesus very rarely reveals His fullness to anyone and yet here, in the climax of the story He does just that.  

The Lord Jesus came, in part, so that we might see the world, our role and those around us more clearly. Through His grace, it is our choice whose example we will follow. The indifferent bystander, the arrogant bully, the coward or the person of courage although, if you are like me, it could well be an assortment of all four but whatever and whichever one it is…remember Samuel. He kept getting his choice wrong but God simply gave him another chance and finally, because Samuel kept trying to listen…he got it right.

Over these weeks and perhaps months there will be all kinds of opportunities to help and encourage each other, to be alert to the most vulnerable and needy. With God’s help we will not miss those opportunities but will respond with the generosity and joy with which He responds to us.

God bless you and all whom you love and indeed all who love you.

FIRST HOLY COMMUNION – PRAYER STATIONS

On Saturday 18 March at their third preparation session for First Holy Communion the children, with their catechists, created some beautiful and thoughtful ‘prayer stations’ based around the sacraments.

Sarah Barreto writes: “Our FHC session last week focused on the Glory of God. We heard then acted out the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, then we all talked about our own wow moments and the hidden glory of God. Next we discussed the importance of the sacraments in our lives as Catholics. Fr Mark and the catechists for FHC prepared some beautiful prayers stations about the sacraments for our session on Saturday. The children certainly gained a lot from the experience and I think the adults did too”.