I was looking at a further, perhaps final, chapter in Sr Joan Chittister’s book “the Time is Now” we have been sharing since we began to celebrate Mass again in Our Lady & St Benedict’s Ampleforth on 11/12 July 2020, & pondered on “tradition”. It reminded me of a nugget of gold I discovered some weeks ago when a term now trivialised & denigrated had once been sacred & holy, & revisiting it this last week, coincidentally or otherwise, it surfaced for me in a chapter on the Visitation, this weekend’s chosen gospel, itself almost a substitute text when the scriptural context of the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady is absent, as its context & development & spirituality emerge from tradition..& the term once sacred & holy is “gossip”..idle tittle-tattle shared usually by women or monks about trifling matters, but in original usage it meant variously “a sponsor at baptism” or “a woman friend who comes to attend a birth” or “one who is sib-in-God, that is “spiritually related”, sib-in-God loosened & “lost” into God-sip “gossip”. Elizabeth & Mary, indeed good gossips, witnesses to the Word & bearers of the Word. Later tradition lost their real selves as prophets, foremothers of women as prophets, as they were domesticated into passive & submissive handmaidens, a pious text, a beautiful tale of Visitation of two women thanking God for their pregnancies, & important as that is, it is so much more, a subversive story of women’s solidarity in their suffering, three months together of “good gossip” imagine!, of women’s power in their prophecy, of women’s recognition of the “visitation of God” who brings down the powerful & lifts up the lowly, “from generation to generation” in “tradition”. So to Sr Joan .. “we begin to understand the vision that drove prophets before us to relinquish the standard future, to risk the journey of faith so that others could also live. We can see now what drove their impatience to give the world gifts the world never dreamed would come. The question finally emerges loud & clear “what are we not doing now that the Tradition, the charism, the first call of Jesus to follow him really demands that we do?” believe it or not, that is precisely the moment when the resistance sets in. The prophet loves the Tradition, but the prophet now sees the demands of the Tradition in new & exacting ways, & as it did for the biblical prophets, the coming of the vision costs. Ironically, almost invariably, the institution the prophet loves enough to want it to go on living up to its own message, but differently now, rejects the call to new questions, the potential for greater vision; cuts it off, silences it, casts it out. How many churches divide in the face of a call to change? Church councils & committees ignore the issues of declining parishioners, new needs, even the discussion of new ideas..completely. Nothing could be more painful, more likely to break the prophet’s heart, more likely to distort the prophecy itself than to be separated from the very clay that shaped her. The prophet must reject the rejections. To stay in the system while the system itself comes to see a new way of fulfilling the promise to be faithful gives a new kind of depth, of glue, to its growth.”
Last weekend, due to no one coming for a 4pm Mass a fortnight ago we only had two weekend Masses. Sat 6pm Vigil & Sunday 10am with 28 in total [30 the previous weekend]. As parishioners return from holidays & others gain some confidence to venture out again to Mass, we will re-instate our 4pm Mass as soon as necessary. Please could I remind you that it is important to book in beforehand if at all possible, & face masks are now mandatory at all Masses. Our advice to those over 70yrs of age & those with underlying health problems, is to stay away from Mass for the time being, much as it is painful to state this & for you to read it. I have spoken again this week with Karen Harrington, our Matron at the Monastery Infirmary, who has given the Community & indeed our Parish much wise counsel throughout the pandemic, & she confirms it is best & safest practice to discourage those over 70yrs of age & those with health problems from coming back to Mass yet. Last month I shared with you my own thoughts in relation to our Benedictine charter. “It may feel to some of them that they are locked out; far from it, for St Benedict as in the Gospel imperative, those in the extremes of age [young & old] are to receive special treatment. ”their frailty should always be given consideration” &” they should receive loving consideration” Ch 37 of the Rule.” Whilst the young seem to have mild symptoms of the virus, the elderly are particularly at risk, & would be placing themselves at critical risk if they were to come to Church & mix, albeit under social distancing & sanitising best practice, with others whose lifestyle & working practices heighten the possibility of them being carriers of the virus. Whilst we congratulated our young for their home-learning, it is fitting we should express our profound gratitude to the elderly for their home-praying. The “Marys” for us “Marthas”, congratulated by Our Lord for “taking the better part.”
In our 21wks of lockdown I have only mentioned our Parish finances once, to alert you to the situation of a serious loss of income. Please could I put to you simply our present situation? Before lockdown, at our weekend Masses, you would contribute some £150 per week, the majority through the plate collection & some through Offertory envelopes. In the first 16wks of lockdown when there were no Masses we “lost” some £2400 in income, & in the 5wks since we re-opened for Mass, with much reduced attendances we have received a total of £149 [av £30 per weekend instead of a usual £150] resulting in a further “loss” of £600, an overall “loss” since 20 March 2020 of £3,000, which, given current lower attendances for the foreseeable future, increases by £120 each weekend. This next Wednesday we will have our water supplies tested at all three Churches to ensure we are fully compliant with guarding you against legionella, & the cost for the inspection report & recommendations will be in the region of £1,000. Three of our outside lights in the graveyard have again been vandalised in recent months, & given the regularity of damage & resultant repair costs, we will be looking to take out the existing lighting columns & installing shorter ones which should decrease the risk of vandalism. The cost will be considerable. Sadly, it is the sort of wanton & ongoing destruction one would expect in some districts of Leeds, but not in our Village, by individuals who perhaps hold the Catholic Church, the Parish or me responsible for some aspect of deep disappointment or hurt caused to them or their loved ones. Please do pray for them, that they may find some form of peace or closure.
As the economic situation worsens, & many who were being furloughed find that their work is in jeopardy, could I remind you of our Food Initiative in the Village, where it is possible to approach Ray & Deb in the Village Shop, & quietly ask for a bag of food essentials which will be delivered to your door. This has been working well since the lockdown began, & it could be more of us in the Village, particularly now the school holidays are under way & there are no school lunches, will find the initiative helpful.
The St Vincent de Paul Society [SVP] both nationally & at our Parish Conference level are offering additional support to the elderly & disadvantaged during the Covid crisis, with a national emergency fund as well local help; they are gently doing great work; you can gain more information from the national website, www.svp.org.uk from our Parish website, or direct through Mary Borrett firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to those of you who continue to make cash donations through the Parish Office towards supporting the Middlesbrough Food Bank. As a result of that generosity & the collection taken at the Abbey at a recent 11.30am Sunday Mass, we were able to send up to Teeside the sum of £383.05. Please keep the beneficiaries, as well as those volunteers who continue, in spite of risks to their own wellbeing, to staff Food Banks through the crisis, in your prayers.
I would remind our parishioners in Our Lady & the Holy Angels in Gilling, that whilst our Church there necessarily remains closed due to its small size being unable to meet the social distancing stipulations & still accommodate the expected numbers at a regular fortnightly Sat Vigil Mass, they are warmly welcome to join us here, especially in this in-between time for all of us, as we all find it different strange & somewhat difficult. We are poorer for your distance from us, poorer spiritually emotionally & relationally. With my love & prayers. Fr Bede