When a new Bishop is installed in the Diocese, he takes a motto for his Episcopate usually chosen from Scripture. When Bishop John Crowley was installed in 1993 he took “Choose life!”; a fitting phrase for these extraordinary & ongoing times, as so many of us from doctors & nurses on the front line on Covid ICU wards to the elderly who live alone & suffer from underlying health problems & loneliness, & we have a number of such parishioners among us, they, & we somewhere in between these parameters, have to stand up to be counted & to take that promise to “choose life!” to face each day with courage & faith, putting our heart & soul into it for the gospel imperative of the Common Good, a spirituality which is at the heart of the European Union, grounded all those years ago on the precepts of the gospel, when thankfully so many of the founding individuals of the Union across Europe were Roman Catholics. Our gospel story this weekend is rooted in the second greatest gift we receive from God in this life; the first is the gift of life, the second is the gift of choice, of free will, to choose good & thereby life. The liminal moment in the gospel, & I like to think that in every gospel story there is a liminal, a potentially life changing moment, is when the two disciples, having seen their beloved Master crucified killed & buried, are disconsolately on their way back to their home village of Emmaus, hopeless bereft & about to face the scorn & derision of family & neighbours who had warned them 3yrs earlier not to be taken in by this wandering mendicant preacher..& on the walk home, a stranger gets into step & conversation with them, the Risen Christ in disguise, as so often he is in relation to us on a daily basis, especially in your homes & in my monastery in these difficult days of self-isolation. “in so far as you did this for your husband wife son or daughter, fellow monk..you did it for me, in loving service, or to me, if it was in anger or frustration, hurtful & wounding..” the liminal moment was when the three “drew near to the village to which they were going, he [ Jesus ] made as if to go on ; but they pressed him to stay with them” their choice to allow Jesus to walk on & out of their lives, or invite him in..to a lifetimes relationship of life love & truth;.”choose life” this weekend as you invite him, in the person of each & every one of your family, all of you suffering by now with some form of cabin fever, us monks with cloister fever, into your daily life, its struggles & its blessings. “are we blessed or are we blessed?” in our sheltered safe valley of plenty. Eugen Drewermann in his book “the Open Tomb” says.. “his contemporaries saw Jesus himself as Jeremiah returned to life. What did people do to Jeremiah? They threw him into a pit because he called for prayers that King Nebuchadnezzar might come & destroy the holy city of Jerusalem & the Temple along with it. That is just the kind of thing Jesus said ; “I will destroy the Temple”. He didn’t desire external religion, assured ritual, guaranteed formulae; he wanted living human beings, receptive to the Spirit & ready for life to begin. It is the eternal conflict between a religion of externals & a spirituality of experience, between priest & prophet, between the habitual repetition of the traditional information & the explosion of something really new. It is mortal combat. When was it any different?” & today, this weekend, not “I will destroy the Temple” but “I will walk with you, alongside you & your family, on a journey through these extraordinary times, in a time & for an indefinite time, where the Temple [our Churches of Our Lady & St Benedict’s Ampleforth & Our Lady & the Holy Angels in Gilling ] are not destroyed but locked, for understandable & lifesaving reasons. We are denied our sacred holy ground for the time being as we learn now to live differently as “Church” each of us temples of the presence of God..Emmanuel “God is with us” & then even better the Easter message of St John the beloved disciple Logos “God is in us”..as we meet daily not in a building, not in bread & wine but in person; mother father brother sister, elderly neighbour, new born baby in an ICU ward with coronavirus.. ..a time in kairos [divine ] time, as some of us fret impatiently in chronos [ clockwork ] time for an end to the lockdown, to the duration & quality of family time we will never ever experience again, if we “choose life”, choose the life & love of it, not criticise the predictability of it..”the explosion of something really new, a spirituality of experience” & “I was there”..Drewermann finishes.. “this may be the oldest symbol available to human beings; sitting together & sharing a meal [ see “the Supper at Emmaus “by Caravaggio enclosed with the bulletin. ] It may be this is the way we first became human, by sharing what we had gathered or captured with one another in order to be together, ancient experiences of solidarity & even of justice. One of the images Jesus used was that of a meal from which no one is excluded. He wanted to invite the outcasts, the people with whom others didn’t break bread. They broke rods over their backs instead [ or kept them in distant holding camps in Calais ] & lashed out at them to keep them away. Jesus wanted to invite them to the table of community under the heaven that belongs to all; & that, he said, is what God is like. The symbol will live, administered by priests but open to prophecy, to the life that is forever. A bread in which Jesus shows himself as never dead. That little bit of kindness will bring us close, that experience of our hearts on fire will set him before our eyes, & all the ways will turn back again, back from Emmaus to the place where our hearts had seemingly been destroyed, but in faith have been redeemed.” “choose life” indeed.
Last weekend I shared with you the sad news of the sudden death of a deeply loved groundsman of ours, Andrew Cornforth. Due to restrictions under the coronavirus pandemic, there will a short service of burial for his immediate family in Kirkbymoorside this Thursday at 1130am, & I would encourage as many of you as possible to pause at that time, wherever you find yourselves, & offer a prayer for the repose of Andrew’s soul, & for his wife Debbie & children, Ethan & Elsa. Once the lockdown restrictions are lifted, we will arrange for Mass to be celebrated in the Abbey Church for Andrew, with his family friends & his close colleagues, together with our Abbey & College staff, present. With this bulletin, I enclose Caravaggio’s work in praying & painting todays gospel into life, together with a fine piece of prose called “don’t be fooled” in which our need of one another is finally acknowledged & voiced [ a wonderful piece to read & pray with your family round your dining table], & a powerful article “Christianity at a time of sickness” written by Fr Tomas Halik, written as Lent began & with references to the pandemic. The spirituality he expounds will I hope feel familiar, so beautifully expressed..”a radical change from “being Christians” to a dynamic “becoming Christians”. Last weekend I raised with you two possibilities; to pair up a family with a person alone in the parish; & for our young people to be in touch through social media & to evangelise themselves. “choose life” I haven’t had any responses so far ; I would value some wise counsel from you please, & specially from the lonely.
..remember please to tell others of our Church food initiative set up by Rev Catherine Reid & myself with great help from Deb & Ray in the Village Shop; those in financial hardship can go in & quietly ask for a bag of food essentials all prepared for them; our two Churches [increasingly one Church] will source funds to meet the cost. Middlesbrough Food Bank remains open & in desperate need for help, now offered direct to them by cash transfer, or by cash in an envelope posted at St Benedict’s House please. Please keep each of these intentions & many more in your prayers.