Well, it looks like we are in for at least another 6 weeks of lockdown without public worship. Whether we return in time for Easter or after Easter remains to be seen, although, if returning for Easter means we are restricted to 20 people, that would, in itself, be difficult. As always, it’s in the hands of God, and God is always there, wherever we are, and not just in church. On Wednesday of this week, I watched a short video of an Anglican bishop walking through an ancient wood near Canterbury and, as he weaved his way, staff in hand, through age-old trees, treading his way carefully along an overgrown path, he said that, in these times of turbulence, it’s good to get close to something rooted. I was reminded of my 3 years spent in Minsteracres, the Passionist Retreat Centre in Northumberland, where I was enamoured by the ancient redwood trees that lined the avenues, privileged to be walking among them every day, feeling small, yet blessed. I also remembered St. Anne’s Park in Dublin, during a 30-day retreat in nearby Manressa in 1987, hosting really ancient trees with roots visible on the river banks. The famous words of St. Augustine came to me as, pondering his tardy conversion, he said “Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new.” Getting close to something rooted, something ever ancient, ever new, it seems to me, is also about getting closer to God, and how truly and urgently we need to get closer to God in these turbulent times.
We had cause in our community recently, with the upcoming Passionist Provincial Chapter in mind, to reflect on how we had been affected by the pandemic, both individually and as a group. Without breaking the confidence of our deeper conversations, when we began to talk about the experience of these past months, it was certainly turbulent. On March 18th last year Fr. Lawrence died. On March 19th the churches closed after the Morning Masses. (We had been scheduled to have Confirmations that same night - the children were prepared, Archbishop Tartaglia, sadly now deceased, was in waiting, but it didn’t happen). On March 20th Fr. Gareth was walking in town when he received a phone call from his mum which prompted him to make his way to Central Station and catch the first train to Cardiff, just in the clothes he was standing up in. It would be more than 6 months before we would see him again. That, for us, was the triduum that set the tone for the months ahead. Fr. Lawrence was buried on March 27th with only 10 people in attendance, 8 family members, plus myself and Fr. Antony. We still await the chance to celebrate his life and ministry more appropriately for the many who would have wished to attend. Back at home, Fr. Antony, only 3 months ordained, converted Fr. Lawrence’s room into an oratory, our existing oratory being far too small for purpose, and set up the streaming service that has sustained us, and many others, to this day, even during the periods of limited return to public worship in church. His daily lockdown walks took him past the nearby home of his mother where he would talk to her from the garden and assure himself that she was okay. In mid-July he became an uncle again and his joy affected all of us. Prior to this, in late May, Fr Justinian had been taken into hospital, just a few days after my brother had been taken in, for the 6th time in less than a year, and, in both instances, there was the sadness of not being able to visit because of Covid-19. Fr Justinian was the first of us to require a Covid-19 test during his hospital stay, and, since coming home, the daily visits from his carers have become a normal part of our community routine. Since then, Fr. Antony has required a number of Covid-19 tests as he undertook a new ministry, in collaboration with Deacon Joe and the Apostleship of the Sea, to celebrate Mass on board ships that were docked in various ports on the Clyde, unable to set sail, and so to provide some much-needed pastoral care for Catholic crew members. Since Fr Gareth’s return, larger than life, in early October, he and Fr Antony have replaced, what used to be their nightly swims, with nightly walks, brothers in arms. That just scratches the surface, but it may give a flavour, and I think you know enough about my experience through these logs. So, as always, protect yourselves, protect your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.