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During the Covid lockdown period, Deacon John has been sharing his thoughts on a weekly basis.

24 September 2020

If you have ever seen the film ‘Groundhog Day’ in which the main character becomes trapped in a recurring daily time loop, you will perhaps see the similarity with the unfolding situation with the Covid19 pandemic across the United Kingdom. The replay button has been pressed; or, lets reboot the system to start over again, to use a computer analogy, as the rise in the number of people infected takes off again exponentially. Robert Fulghum, an American author said, “Patterns of repetition govern each day, week, year, and lifetime. 'Personal habits' is one term we use to describe the most common of these repeated patterns. But I say these habits are sacred because they give deliberate structure to our lives. Structure gives us a sense of security. And that sense of security is the ground of meaning.”
However, the current repetition of the Covid19 restrictions is not a repeated pattern that is likely to give deliberate structure or security to our lives, in fact, it is quite the opposite. This repeated pattern of restrictions to daily life will cause great dissent and impatience amongst quite a significant number of the population who may well be in accord with Barbara Cohen, another American author, “I’m an impatient person, I don’t like doing the same thing twice.” Yet Mother Teresa observes, “People are unrealistic, illogical and self-centred, love them anyway.”
Making sense of the world, as it is in this moment in time, is troublesome and difficult. Our familiar patterns of existence have been blown away, caught in a storm that has whisked them away from underneath us without a backward glance, and we don’t yet seem to have reached the eye of the storm. It’s a gloomy image of where the world seems to be at this time, and like this verse from Genesis it paints a gloomy image, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” [Genesis 1: 2]. Nevertheless, the Spirit of God hovering over the waters provokes a feeling of anticipation, that something good will happen, a sense that the gloom will be dispelled in due time. “Surely there is a future and your hope will not be cut off.” [Proverbs 23: 18].
The hope of mankind at the moment is in the frantic search, taking place in various centres of research around the world, to find a vaccine that will immunise us human beings from the Covid19 virus. Yet one feels a certain anxiousness that when a vaccine becomes available for global distribution, will it really work, has it been through a significantly rigorous trial period to be declared safe for use? So, uncertainty, insecurity, and a lack of structure remain with us for a while longer yet. “Life is a challenge; we must take it.” “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” Mother Teresa.

17 September 2020

Twenty-six weeks: half a year since lockdown started. A mere nanosecond or less in the timeline of the universe, and even less in the timeline of humanity. And as we know, the universe, the world, and mankind are a continuous, evolving, everchanging creation. Over the last six months huge changes have taken place in the economic and social structure of our society. Without question many of the changes in our social and working practices will be irreversible, not only because of the Corona Virus but because of climate change, which is taking place on a global scale. Individuals, environmental groups, and nations are ardently striving to persuade those who take the opposite view, of the urgent need to reverse the warming of planet Earth so as to avoid an even greater catastrophe than Covid19. Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist said, “We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inward at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.”
The Old Testament Book of Genesis relates how God created the world, God said, “let the earth produce vegetation: seed bearing plants and fruit trees… let the earth produce every kind of living creature in its own species…” on the sixth day God created Man and gave Man the fruits of the earth, and “God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good,” and on the seventh day God rested. [Gen 1: 11,24-31]. Mankind’s stewardship of planet Earth is spinning out of control, we are using the earth’s natural resources at an alarming rate and destroying the fragile balance of the earths ecosystems in the process. The ripple effect from this man-made imbalance in nature has already had a detrimental effect on every life form in existence. Pope St John Paul II said, “The earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.”
Over the years one of my pastimes has been woodwork. It is a satisfying feeling to make something which can be used in the home or garden, and even left for posterity. I have made numerous bookshelves, a baby’s cot for my children and a built-in wardrobe in a previous home. More recently I have made raised beds for the garden and greenhouse, and just the other week a small raised planter for the front garden with help from my grandson. I mention that particularly because we used recycled wood from Steptoe’s yard in St Cyrus, wood that would otherwise have probably been left to rot or be burned. In the words of that well-known advert, ‘Every little helps,’ in this case towards saving the planet. At the end of his most recent television program Sir David Attenborough said, it is still not too late for us to change the way we use our world so that we leave it in good shape as an inheritance for our grandchildren and great grandchildren and beyond.

10 September 2020

Over the weeks of lockdown, and since the easing of lockdown restrictions, the media has reported on many occasions about the delay or suspension of routine medical treatment. Because, it is claimed, the resources of the NHS are fully utilised in the fight against the Covid pandemic. There is no doubt that NHS staff have worked tirelessly in the care of those infected with the virus who have been hospitalised. However, it seems to have been at the expense of those with long term conditions or those who have a need for a diagnosis or treatment following a sudden deterioration in their health. GP’s seem to have pulled up the drawbridge! Consultations are by telephone and once referred to a Consultant at a hospital it is ‘out of their hands’. Likewise, if the hospital Consultant’s diagnosis is that the patient’s condition is ‘routine’ then nothing more can be done until the Government Health Secretary declares otherwise.
But the ripple effect of this state of affairs cause stress and anxiety to the close family and friends of the patient, they in a state of limbo, not knowing if the patients’ health will deteriorate further, or if, or when, the case will be followed up and what treatment may be necessary. Not knowing what the outcome might be, or not having any control over a stressful situation leaves one with a feeling of helplessness and imagining the worst of outcomes. In his letter to the Philippians St Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” [ Phil 4: 6]. God gives us the prescription for anxiety, which is prayer. Anxious or fearful moments confront each one of us from time to time, but prayer is one solution we can employ. By taking our fears and anxieties to God we are allowing Him to work in our lives and take control of our thoughts and emotions. St Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century Carmelite Nun, a Spanish mystic, theologian and religious reformer who was declared a Doctor (of Letters) of the Roman Catholic Church said, “If we begin to put our trust in human help, some of our Divine help will fail.”
Psalm 23 in the Old Testament is an example of depending on God. David, who was King of Israel and Judah around 1000 BC, acknowledges Gods goodness and protection in his life and comes to learn the comfort he finds in depending upon God to lead him through the numerous troubles that befall him throughout his life. “He refreshes my soul; He guides me along the right paths for his names’ sake”. [Psalm 23: 3]. We can’t control everything in our lives, sometimes we need to relax and have faith that things will work out. Let go a little and just let life happen. “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

3 September 2020

There has been much in the news recently concerning holidays abroad and the swiftly changing rules about having to quarantine or not when returning from various European countries as well as further afield. This has caused uncertainty amongst travellers as to whether to risk going abroad or not. To find solace in basking in the sunshine on a golden beach somewhere or stay in the UK and find pleasure in the wonderful scenery and abundant wildlife in many parts of these islands of Britain. Hermann Hesse a German-born Swiss poet and novelist, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946 said, “Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”
The lockdown has also caused many to question whether to go away at all, many will be feeling anxious about travelling on a train or a plane and suffering further anxiety about where to stay, a B&B or hotel or a self-contained apartment or holiday cottage, in order to minimise the risk of becoming infected with the virus. But the wellbeing that can be gained and enjoyed by taking a holiday can lift one’s spirit immensely. Even the anticipation of visiting and staying somewhere new, somewhere different, can give us a boost. In these unusual times there comes a moment when we yearn for a break, a change of scenery, so nurturing the spirit is just as important as nurturing the body. If you’ve seen the film ‘Gladiator’ you will remember that one of the main characters in it was Marcus Aurelius, who was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD and a Stoic philosopher, he said, “When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive to think to enjoy and to love.”
St Paul in his letter to the people of Galatia, which was a northern province of today’s Turkey wrote, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law. Since we are living in the Spirit let our behaviour be guided by the Spirit and let us not be conceited or provocative and envious of one another.” [Galatians 5: 22-23 & 25]. The apparent abandonment of moral responsibility in adhering to any form of social etiquette by many people, particularly younger people, since the restrictions were eased, has caused further local restrictions to be re-imposed. This in turn has exposed the selfish and arrogant attitudes of many. An Indian Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, who was a key figure in the introduction of the philosophies of Vedanta (one of the schools of Hindu philosophy) and Yoga to the western world said, “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you; none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”

27 August 2020

As we approach the end of the sixth month since lockdown was first implemented in the UK, because of the global change brought about by the Covid virus. There is no indication so far that things will ever be as they were before. The reality is that as time marches on, organisations that had been planning for a return to business before the end of the year are now realising the full extent of the pandemic on their future, and the staff who were placed on ‘furlough’ are reluctantly having to be made redundant. It’s a worrying time for the many individuals and families who find themselves in this position. But this enforced change in people’s lives can be an opportunity rather than a setback. Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese Philosopher and founder of Taoism said, “life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Change is actually an element of the natural law of the universe, which encompasses the world around us just as much as humanity itself. The annual cycle of the earth revolving around the sun brings the seasonal changes because the axis of the earth is lying at an angle. Then there are the longer cycles of change which brings about an ice age and then the opposite effect when the earth warms up, which is happening this very moment in the world of our time. Change is part of universal existence and is experienced by everyone when here on earth. John F. Kennedy, the most recent American President to be assassinated and die in office said, “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future.”
However, for those who find themselves unemployed because of the Covid virus it is of little consolation to hear these words. The travel sector of the economy as well as the hospitality and retail sectors appear to be the ones taking the brunt of the redundancies, and without a viable solution to combat the Covid 19 virus the majority of people still remain cautious about how they travel to their holiday destination and where they stay, if they decide to go on holiday at all. Competition for jobs in these sectors will be fierce without doubt. What is the alternative? There is always the possibility of retraining for a new career. Governments are offering grants and bursaries to those made redundant because of the virus who wish to retrain. In the words of Socrates, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
Jesus tells his listeners, in the Sermon on the Mount, to trust in providence, “I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear… Can any of you however much you worry, add one single second to your span of life?" [Matt 6: 25 & 27-28].

20 August 2020

Harvesting appears to be in full swing, the farmers are striving to get the corn and barley in as quickly as they can before the rain sets in, yet already the first signs of autumn are appearing. The Rowan tree just over the fence of my back garden is loaded with red berries enticing the birds to eat their fill in preparation for the potential famine during the winter months and the berries on the honeysuckle are just beginning to ripen.
The profusion of berries on various plants and shrubs used to be a sign that it was going to be a hard winter, but I don’t think we will be digging ourselves out of snow drifts this coming winter given the effect climate change is having across the globe. This Monday there was a thick fog along the Angus coastline, it could have been the Haar rolling in from the sea, but it gave the appearance of a late autumn day, cold and misty, ugh. Hal Borland, an American author, journalist, and naturalist said, “Two sounds of autumn are unmistakable, the hurrying rustle of crisp leaves blown along a street by a gusty wind and the gabble of a flock of migrating geese”.
Early autumn is the time when everything planted in the spring is more or less ready for harvesting and storing, cereals, vegetables, and fruit of every description. That’s how it was in times gone by, but nowadays with advanced techniques in modifying seed genetics and freezer storage it is possible to grow many varieties of fruit and vegetables right through the year, the seasons have become of little importance in the quest to feed the worlds ever growing population.
This extract from the book of Daniel reminds us that God is the author of the universe and we should be mindful of the cycle of the seasons and of life while we inhabit this planet,
“O all you, works of the lord, O bless the Lord. To him be highest glory and praise for ever.
And all you, breezes and winds, O bless the Lord.
And you frost and snow, O bless the Lord.
And you, all you, plants of the earth, O bless the Lord.
And you, children of men, O bless the Lord. To him be highest and glory and praise forever.”
Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go. The German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche said, “Notice that autumn is more the season of the soul than of nature”. While sitting here putting my thoughts for the week together, the sun has burst forth and brought warmth to the earth. Did I speak too soon about autumn? The vagaries of the weather in the British Isles seems impossible to second guess. I leave you with a quote from Winnie the Pooh, “It’s the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves!”

13 August 2020

This week the schools in Scotland are returning after a very extended break because of the lockdown caused by the Covid 19 virus. Many pupils returning to school, especially the younger ones, will be anxious about the inevitable changes that will be in place to minimise any likelihood of infection. Yet children are very adaptable, and no doubt will quickly embrace the changes with ease. There is much debate as to the effect on children and young people of not attending school for a long period of time and how it can affect their future. The climbdown of the Scottish Government regarding the grades that were initially awarded to senior pupils who should have taken their Highers and Advanced Higher exams in the last school year is an example of how the system is geared to success. Statistics and demographics were initially used to determine the grades rather than trusting the judgement of the individual teacher who knew each pupil and their abilities, rather than where they lived in the community. Was there a whiff of discrimination there? We await the results of the Scottish Government’s U turn in due course, will it turn out to be what the young people concerned are now expecting or not?
Life itself is an education. Once formal education is ended, the reality is, it is just the beginning of a person’s education in the lecture theatre of life. In the news last week there was a report of an Italian man in his 90’s graduating from university with a bachelor’s degree; an example to everyone that it’s never too late to learn and broaden the mind. St Paul writing to the Romans says, “Do not model your behaviour on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your mind transform you, that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and mature.” [Romans 12: 2].
There are also many families that had taken the decision to ‘home school’ their children for various reasons, long before the emergence of Corona Virus and lockdown. Education is an ongoing, continuous activity and does not end with an envelope full of certificates and degrees. When I enrolled at Robert Gordon University in 1990, (I was a mature student!) there were about forty students in the first year, at the beginning of third year there were less than half that number. Life choices and expectations change as one progresses through life; in the letter of St James he writes, “Well now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are off to this or that town; we are going to spend a year there, trading and make some money.’ You never know what will happen tomorrow: you are no more than a mist that appears for a little while and then disappears. Instead of this you should say, ‘If it is the Lord will, we shall still be alive to do this or that’.” [James 4: 13-15]

6 August 2020

Wednesday was a horrible day, rain all day. So, having been cooped up for a couple of days I decided to get out of the house for some fresh air, and inspiration. Over the last few months, I have been exploring parts of Montrose, where I live, that I hadn’t been to before. Heading over the bridge to Ferryden, a suburb of Montrose, on the south side of the South Esk river, I parked as near to the estuary of the river as I could, hoping to get some solitude. The South Esk estuary is also the entrance to Montrose harbour, and from where I parked, I could see a number of offshore supply vessels moored there, with heavy looking black clouds looming ominously to the west.
I was surprised to see so many people about, small family groups walking along the shoreline or others on bicycles heading out to Scurdieness Lighthouse. Perhaps, I thought, I shouldn’t be surprised, because it should be quite obvious from media reports that people are reluctant to go abroad for their holidays this year and so they are holidaying in this country or just staying at home. However, after a short walk I managed to find a spot to sit down beside the estuary for a moment or two of relative solitude, nobody within my space for three or four hundred meters, wonderful.
There are many examples in the Gospels of Jesus leaving the crowds just to be on his own, or to pray as well. In last Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus gets into a boat to be apart from the crowds, he has just heard that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been executed by Herod so understandably he wished to be alone. “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart” [Mt 14: 13]. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, before he is arrested, Jesus goes on beyond his disciples to be alone. “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed,” [Mt 26: 39]. Taking time, even for a moment or two, to be away from others and the routine of the home and the other concerns of daily life, to recharge our battery, metaphorically speaking, can invigorate the body and spirit. Although, the ever-increasing global population makes it ever more difficult to find that lonely place. C.S. Lewis said, “We live in a world starved for silence and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” The additional worries and anxieties brought on by the possibility of largescale unemployment, loss of earnings and ever-increasing competition for the smaller number of jobs available; all brought on by the Covid virus pandemic, means we need these moments of solitude more than ever.

30 July 2020

The return to some semblance of normality has stalled. Holiday destinations that were off the quarantine list are back on because of increasing numbers of new cases in particular areas of the holiday destinations. The predictions of when life may return to what we knew before the outbreak of the Covid virus is pushed back to an as yet unknown date. The temptation to become unsettled by the setback can perhaps cause a feeling of despair about the future. Suddenly our plans and expectations about what we want to be, where we want to be, are dashed, the unknown looms large on the horizon. Yet this is the precise time when we need to muster our resilience, our ability to recover from the setback, however great it may be. Elizabeth Edwards, an American author said, “resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before, you can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good”.
Sharing our feelings and emotions, talking to another person, can help to ease the helplessness which hits us when our plans, our expectations, suddenly disappear before our eyes. During my ministry at the Cathedral in Aberdeen I met many couples preparing for marriage. One of the main points I would emphasise to them was communication; talk to one another; let each other know how the other feels; communication is the key stone of a solid relationship. Lawrence ‘Al’ Siebert, an author and lecturer best known for his research on psychological resilience, said, that “During difficult times an important step towards resilience is being able to express your feelings in a healthy way. You can’t make feelings go away, but you can move through them.”
There are many examples of perseverance and resilience from the world of sporting endurance. Running a marathon, climbing the highest mountain in the world or trekking single handed to the North or South pole requires the athlete to have the mental strength in equal measure to their physical strength. Their sheer determination to achieve what they set out to do gets them there; mind over matter. The old Testament story of Job is another example; he loses his family and everything he owns and becomes ill as a result. He is harangued by his friends to blame God for all his misfortune, yet he resists their arguments, and steadfastly maintains his belief in God and eventually good fortune returns to him.
Societies that build resilience do not hide behind a wall of happy talk or try to minimize the danger. Resilience does not come from mindless optimism, or from people telling one another to be calm amid the turmoil. Resilience is built when people confront a threat realistically and discover that they have the resources to cope with it together. In his letter to the Romans St Paul says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer”. [Romans 12: 12].

23 July 2020

As the restrictions on our lives are gradually easing, the joy and happiness of meeting family and friends becomes a reality. After several months of traversing the emotional peaks and troughs and keeping in contact with our loved ones and friends only by phone or video calls: meeting together face to face is a cause of great joy. Grandparents can meet and hug their grandchildren; it’s been a long time coming. And with the re-emergence of being able to meet socially our thoughts turn to sharing a meal together for the first time for what seems an age. Being able to sit and talk and enjoy the moment is joy in itself. St John writing in his second letter says, “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” [2 John 1: 12].
Sharing a meal is also an analogy we often use for the celebration of the Eucharist meal, Mass in other words, which we are now able to re-join, joyfully, with our Christian family. Although, as with our immediate family, we are still subject to the rules regarding the number of family members that can come together and the continuance, for the time being, of social distancing. Effectively restricting, quite severely, the number of parishioners who can attend at any one time. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” [Galatians 5: 22-23].
Helen Keller was a remarkable and inspiring woman. Born in the USA in the 19th century, she became a prolific author, political activist, and lecturer. Yet, in early childhood she contracted an illness that left her blind and deaf. However, she went on to become the first ever deaf-blind person to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree. She attended Radcliffe College at the university of Harvard, graduating in 1904. She was outspoken in her convictions, a confirmed socialist she campaigned for women’s suffrage, Labour rights, and antimilitarism as well as many other similar causes. Even with such severe disabilities she led an active life, travelling extensively as far afield as Japan and New Zealand, clearly enjoying her many achievements. She is quoted as saying, “Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow”.
We can be thankful to God that we have made it through the dark days of the lockdown. The light of change is beginning to rise through the gloom as we appreciate once more the warmth and closeness of our family. “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.” [ Ecclesiastes 9: 7].

16 July 2020

During the weeks of ‘lockdown’ I have managed to keep myself occupied by continuing with my work for the diocesan office from home. I have remote access via the internet which allows me, in a virtual sense, to sit at my desk in the office, whilst in reality I am sitting at my desk at home. But that only takes up a relatively small amount of my time and not necessarily every day. Reading, gardening, walking and a resurgence in my interest in photography have also filled many hours. Also, I thought it would fill some time by writing about what I had done in my life so far and where I had lived at various times, as a record perhaps, for future generations of the family.
That led me down the road of researching my ancestry. So, not so much about me but about who went before me. I was interested to find out that my paternal grandfather was born in New Town, Stratford, in the district of West Ham, which, when he was born towards the end of the nineteenth century was in the County of Essex. Only becoming a part of Greater London in 1965. Whereas my maternal grandfather was born in Scalan in the Braes of Glenlivet, which housed the college where priests were trained clandestinely for Scotland. Over one hundred young men were trained for the priesthood there between 1717 and 1799, despite numerous attacks from soldiers of the crown.
Many families have documents, photographs, scrapbooks, and a whole range of other items and stories that provide a history of their past generations. They may never have regarded these things as part of a family archive, but by keeping them they form a sense of a family identity, of who we are and where we have come from. Our Christian heritage also forms a sense of family, of community, which goes back over two thousand years. When baptising infants and children during the early years of my ministry I would emphasise, to the parents and family at the baptism, this aspect of our Christian family; that it is as important to teach one’s children their Christian family history as it is one’s own family history. “So, we though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another”, [Romans 12: -5].
The family is the foundation stone of society, particularly our Christian society, and our example of living out our Christian family life should be a beacon of light to our neighbours. The strength of family bonds is so crucial when adversity strikes; the support and love of the family are there to ease the pain of an otherwise traumatic event and to rebuild hope out of disaster. The words of St Teresa of Calcutta, (Mother Teresa) tells us that, “The openness of out hearts and minds can be measured by how wide we draw the circle of what we call family.”

9 July 2020

There is an atmosphere of change in the air, but it’s not necessarily a time to celebrate with gusto, just yet. Even though we are gradually easing out of the social restrictions brought about by the Corona virus lockdown, there remains a good deal of uncertainty around how, or if, life will ever be the same as it was. Yet the reality is that life has always been full of change and uncertainty. Stepping into a world previously unknown will always be difficult and frightening and exhausting. On a global scale the pandemic has not yet reached a peak, and in parts of England and Scotland localised lockdowns are springing up after only a short time of restrictions being eased.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus talks to his disciples, in a parable, about being ready for his return. He uses the analogy of reading the signs of the times. “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming’; and so, it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" [12: 54-56]. Essentially, he is ticking them off for not yet fully understanding who he is. And we know that even after his death and resurrection they struggled to understand the change he had brought about to their lives.
While modern technology gives us a greater accuracy for forecasting storms and earthquakes, our ability for discerning a potential spiritual storm within ourselves is not nearly as accurate. Our own spiritual state of readiness needs continuing improvement through prayer and meditation. St Teresa of Avila was the central figure of spiritual renewal and change in the Carmelite order in the 16th century. Taking on the laxity of the Carmelite order at that time, against the background of the Protestant Reformation and the Spanish Inquisition, she encountered numerous barriers and staunch opposition from within the order itself. Eventually she obtained permission from Rome and established a reformed monastery of Carmelites dedicated to St Joseph, in Avila.
Socrates said of change, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new”. This is what St Teresa did, she continued to promote her vision of change and established fourteen other reformed Carmelite monasteries during her lifetime. Her prayer book was found to contain a bookmark inscribed: Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you; All things pass: God never changes. Patience achieves all it strives for. Whoever has God lacks nothing, God alone suffices.

2 July 2020

Another month rolls by and we are in July, supposedly summer, but the weather over the last few days belies that fact. The feast of Our Lady of Aberdeen is not too far away but we will be unable to celebrate the Feast of the Diocese as we have in previous years. Churches will only be able to open for private prayer on 9th July. The transition to what we imagine the new normal appears to be dragging out, and the increase in Covid19 cases in certain areas is causing these localised ‘hotspots’ to return to lockdown conditions. Clearly the virus remains a significant threat to everyone. Yet the media seems to be whipping up a frenzy of encouraging people to fly away on holiday or visit restaurants, pubs, and places of entertainment to blow away the cobwebs of lockdown.
I recall a person who I met during my ministry who was seemingly in a desperate hurry to become a Catholic. Not in itself a reason to dismiss their desire for baptism, however, they were unwilling to accept a calm and discerning approach to the call of the Lord and insisted, no, demanded, that baptism should take place, in effect immediately. The point is that to move to becoming a baptised member of the Church and a child of God is analogous to taking the time to transition to a national state of society where the virus is under control and a new normality can be enjoyed, instead of rushing to fly away on holiday or visiting the local for a pint. These things cannot be hurried! St Francis de Sales is quoted as saying, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. What is anything in life compared to peace of soul?” In the gospel of Luke, Jesus visits the house of Martha and her sister Mary, the sisters of Lazarus. Mary sits near to Jesus and listens to his teaching through his words and conversation. Martha meanwhile is preparing food for their guests and is annoyed that Mary is not helping her. She says to Jesus, “Lord do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving by myself? Please tell her to help me.” But Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, yet few are needed. It is Mary who has chosen the better part.” [Lk 10: 34-42]. Jesus is saying that there is no need to hurry with anything. Only listening to the word of God and following their example as a way of life is all that is necessary.

25 June 2020

Last week we passed the longest day, 20th June, which is the official start of summer, and today was the perfect summers day, a cloudless sky with hot sunshine. It remined me of the long summer days during school holidays in my childhood. But back to this week: the world of consumerism and pleasure has got its way at last! A political balance has been struck between trying to keep the population safe from the Corona virus, so as to minimise the overall death toll, and maintaining the economy, with the livelihood of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people at stake. The politicians want the economy to get under way again, while the scientists are advising caution and warning of a potential second wave of the virus erupting if restrictions are lifted too quickly.
From Monday, July 4th, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, zoo’s and other places of entertainment and interest in England will be open for busines; in Scotland it is to be 15th July. Tourism, and the hospitality industry are projected as the essential ones to get the economy kickstarted again. No mention is made in the media of the many manufacturing and other essential industries, which support the economy, and have continued to work throughout the period of ‘lockdown’, even they are now in danger of sinking because of the long term changes resulting from the pandemic.
The sad thing is that the society that modern mankind has created cannot exist without the revenues from taxation and commerce pouring into the coffers of the country’s Treasury. Yet thanks to that society which we have created, the majority of the population in the UK live a moderately comfortable life. We must not forget however, those that rely on the state and charities to survive. The elderly, those with long term ill health, the unemployed and the homeless. “When you reap the harvest in your country, you will not reap to the very edges of your field, nor will you gather the gleanings of the harvest. You will leave them for the poor and the stranger.” [Leviticus 23: 22]. The effects of the ‘lockdown’ have produced a surge in the output of food banks and ‘soup kitchens’ across the country supporting those who are in the minority of society.
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, or how much money we have made, or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by, ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’ [Mt 25: 35]. Hungry not only for bread: but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing: but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks: but homeless because of rejection.” This quote from Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) reminds us of our responsibility to those less fortunate than ourselves, not only today but every day.

18 June 2020

The reaction to ‘lockdown’ has been evident during the past week. From the continuing protest marches drawing attention to ‘Black lives matter’, to an all-night ‘rave’ in Manchester, followed by the queues of people waiting for the shops to open to get some ‘retail therapy’. All the people involved in these events have completely ignored the social distancing rules imposed by the Government to protect lives, putting themselves and many others at a higher risk of being infected or of spreading the corona virus. It hasn’t gone away! An example which highlights just that, is that yesterday New Zealand reported two confirmed cases of the virus after more than three weeks of being virus free. The confirmed cases were two people who had travelled from London to visit a dying relative and the New Zealand Immigration Authority gave them an exemption from the full 14 days of isolation which is usually mandatory.
The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realise how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” How often have you been tempted to give up and go ‘with the flow’ or turn back from a course of action that you know in the end will give you a sense of satisfaction. Almost twenty years ago we climbed Ben Nevis. It was a beautiful, cloudless, spring day in May. The snow line was still about a third of the way down the mountain. It seemed to have taken a considerable time to reach the snow line; at which point the temptation to start the decent was increased as time was getting on. But we persevered and reached the summit of the highest peak in the British Isles an achievement long remembered. Chuck Yeager, an American Air Force pilot; the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound on 14 October 1947, is quoted as saying, “You do what you can for as long as you can, and when you finally can’t, you do the next best thing. You back up but you don’t give up.” Amazingly he celebrated his 97th birthday in February this year.
As the weeks tick by and our impatience to be back to normal overflows, it is precisely at this moment that we cannot afford to relax the measures, we are taking personally, to avoid contracting the corona virus. St Paul writing to the Romans said, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”, [Romans 5:3-5]. Even though a new addition to the treatment for those in the most severe condition, with a known drug, was announced this week, we cannot be complacent, because the daily death toll from the corona virus in the UK, as I write, is still in the hundreds!

11 June 2020

With a suddenness that leaves us wondering, the Coronavirus has been knocked off centre stage by the media circus because of the death of an African American whilst being arrested in the street by a police officer in Minneapolis. Filmed on a smart phone, it is incontrovertible proof of the man’s last moments on earth. The event has ignited protests across the globe, highlighting racism and racial inequality between peoples of different colour and ethnic origins, as well as to the indigenous people of the Americas and Australasia. In the British Isles the focus of the protests has mainly centred on the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The vast majority of those who were enslaved and transported in the transatlantic slave trade during that period were people from the West African countries who had been captured and enslaved and then sold to the slave traders by other West Africans people.
The history of slavery spans many nationalities, cultures, and religions, from ancient times to the present day. We can think of the Israelites in slavery to the Egyptians, the Vikings who enslaved the people they captured when foraying out to other lands and basically taking what they wanted from defeated people. Or the Roman empire, which relied on slavery to an extent for its army, the building of its infrastructure and as servants in the homes of the powerful and wealthy.
Slavery or human trafficking exists today just as it has during the history of mankind. In his address to the members of the Diplomatic Corp to the Holy See in January 2019, Pope Francis said, “Concern for those who are most vulnerable impels us also to reflect on another serious problem of our time, namely the condition of workers. Unless adequately protected, work ceases to be a means of human self-realisation and becomes a modern form of slavery.” William Wilberforce who was instrumental in abolishing the slave trade in the British Empire said, “you may choose to look the other way. But you can never say you did not know” In the gospel of Mark Jesus is asked by one of the Scribes, “What commandment is the first of all? Jesus answered, “The first is to love God with all your soul, with all you mind and with all your strength. The second is this, to love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12: 28-31]. The love of God comes first and the love of one’s neighbour is grounded in the love of God. In America there was a civil war in the 19th century in an attempt to end the slavery of black people. A civil rights movement in the 20th century in an attempt to obtain basic human rights and equality for black people, which included the right to vote. And in the 21st Century a black President. Yet racism, because of the colour of a person’s skin, remains an emotive issue not only in America, but around the world.

4 June 2020

Before the lockdown came into force, I was fortunate enough to visit a garden centre and get some tomato plants and one or two other plants for the flower border. The tomatoes are well established in the green house now and we are looking forward to tasting some home-grown tomatoes in due course. The unusually warm sunny weather has meant that the ground gets very dry in no time and watering in the cool of the evening has become a regular necessity.
Now that garden centres have been allowed to open again, I am looking forward to visiting my local garden centre when, I hope, the madness of queuing for hours has abated. Will there be any plants left I wonder, that are worth having, and will there be any compost or bags of soil left on the outside pallets. Tending a garden and watching the plants grow and produce their fruit, whether vegetables, fruit or the spectrum of colours that flowering plants blossom into is a relaxing way to spend time and meditate on the wonder of the seasons and of God’s creation. Alfred Austin, a Yorkshire man, who was a poet, novelist, and dramatist, was the English Poet Laureate from 1896 until his death in 1913, he said about gardening, “The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, the heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body but the soul,” and an old Chinese proverb says, “life begins the day you start a garden.” Gardening can add years to your life and life to your years.
In the parable of the sower and the seeds, Jesus is talking to a rural community that lived off the land, where sowing good seed was absolutely necessary for survival. The mere act of sowing brought great hope to the sower in the anticipation of a fruitful harvest. “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold." [Mark 4:3-9].
The point of the parable is that a seed cannot mature to its full potential of producing healthy grain or fruit without the proper conditions, such as a good nutrient soil, enough water, and an adequate amount of sunshine. The seed in the parable is the word of God which has the power to transform and change each one of us. The fruit of that seed is in understanding the will of God and having the strength and freedom to live life according to His word. Yet the seed has to germinate and grow in the right conditions to produce the fruit, that Jesus the sower is looking for in anticipation of a fruitful harvest.

28 May 2020

Pandemic! What Pandemic? The news pictures from last weekend of beaches in England awash with people clearly not observing social distancing, with hardly room to move from what I could see, makes me wonder how many people are taking, what clearly is a Pandemic, seriously. Yet during my walks people I pass are always very conscious of maintaining the two metre gap from others, and if there is not enough space to afford that, one or other of us will stop and let the other pass before moving on.
It is perhaps understandable that people who live in an inner city or urban environment, and who are living in lockdown in a densely populated area desperately want to get away from the perceived claustrophobia of it all and experience the sun and the sea air. The statistics show the devastation which the Virus has caused so far and continues to do so. On the other hand, the graphs are showing a downward trend, yet people are still dying.
I’ve mentioned patience before, but it has to be the key to staying safe. However, impatience and an overruling desire to return to what was considered to be normal seems to have taken control of a great many people, and it is what will prolong the course of the virus indefinitely. Humanity’s thirst for consumable products, whether food or clothing or toys or electronic gadgets seems unquenchable. Has the lockdown proved too much for some? Do many people feel like it has been a period of ‘cold turkey’ and now more than ever it is back to spending?
During his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus says to the gathered crowd, “I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor your body and what you are to wear. Surely life is more than food and the body more than clothing! look at the birds of the air: they neither sow or reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you so anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they never toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these”. [Matt 6: 25-29].
In the United Kingdom we have to realise that our world is changing. For example, the changes in social etiquette, in terms of wearing face masks and personal hygiene, will be with us for a long time, if not forever, and will determine how we go about our daily lives. The Japanese began wearing face masks in the early 20th century, at the time of the Spanish Flu pandemic, which resurged in the industrial post World War Two era and has continued ever since. They are much more aware of personal hygiene and conscious of not giving others their colds and flu. They don’t shake hands or embrace others in public. The common greeting is a courteous bow to one another.

21 May 2020

Patience seems to be wearing thin for many even though lockdown remains in place for another week at least, here in Scotland. I have noticed a marked increase in the number of cars going about when I am out for a walk. The queues outside supermarkets with social distancing have diminished to nothing at times. Does that mean that people are shopping more often than once a week, rather than just the once as instructed by the government?
With the closure of churches and places of worship there is the temptation to become impatient and dissatisfied with the Church authorities. Demanding that the opportunity to worship and receive the sacraments is a right that must continue without disruption. On the other hand, there is also the temptation that faith will wane, and some will fall away from worshiping altogether.
Rights entitle a person to a sense of freedom, to act or not to act in certain ways. However, even the most rudimentary human communities had rules prescribing that some were entitled to tell others what they must do. In our current modern society rights dominate our understanding of what is permissible. They structure our democratic way of life and shape our morality. So, to accept a set of rights is to approve the distribution of freedoms given and to acknowledge the authority which lays down those rights.
In the same way all the major religions have rights and freedoms. The structure of each one is based on the laws and the moral standards which the authority of the particular religion has derived from their Holy books, laid down over time. These rights include the freedom to abide by the rules and moral standards set, or not. However, with the gift of faith and by abiding by the rules, the believer will, with patience and hope be led towards achieving the goal of meeting God in eternity.
Today is the Feast of the Ascension when Jesus leaves his disciples, having appeared to them at various times during the forty days since his resurrection, and is assumed into heaven. He promises them he will return but does not say when. The disciples believed that it would be very soon, within days, weeks, or months even, but certainly in their lifetime. But as time went on and He had not returned they must have become impatient and disappointed. Did their faith begin to wane at the creeping realisation that it wasn’t going to happen when they wanted? No, because His departure marked the end of His physical presence in the world, but it also marked the beginning of his presence in quite a different way. “I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you for ever” [John 14:16], “the spirit of truth… he will be my witness” [John 15: 26]. On Sunday 31 May this year Christian Churches will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, onto the Apostles.

14 May 2020

During the weeks of lockdown there has clearly been a sizable proportion of the programmes on the television which are repeats from previous years. This is obviously because the staff of the BBC and other television companies are either on Furlough or working from home just like everyone else, and current episodes of soaps or new drama series cannot be filmed because of the lockdown and social distancing rules. The choice of what to watch can be somewhat limited, although if you are lucky enough to have Sky, Netflix or iPlayer there is a wider choice of viewing.
Looking through the channels during the week we came across a film called ‘The Good Pope’ it was a film about the life of Pope St John XXIII, from his very early life as the son of a small farmer, and one of thirteen children, to his election as Pope and his inspiration and vision to convoke the Second Vatican Council. Yet in the film, it portrayed how the hierarchy of the Vatican, at the time, were strongly opposed to his idea to begin with. After the death of Pope Pius XII, the ‘power brokers’ of the Vatican thought that Cardinal Roncalli would be an interim holder of the See of Peter, a safe pair of hands, not rocking the boat, keeping it warm for the next one that they would choose in due course. They were totally caught off balance with his announcement to convoke the council.
Similarly, when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister at the start of World War Two, he wasn’t the first choice, even from within his own party, but he was the choice of Parliament as a whole and was asked by King George VI to form a government. He also was strongly opposed, particularly by his war cabinet in the very early days of his Premiership, they were more in favour of negotiating a peace agreement with Hitler than defending the freedom and sovereignty of Great Britain. However, his utter determination and inspiration to fight for freedom began with the successful evacuation of 300,000 British troops from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940.
Supreme power, whether received through a democratic process or not, will always face opposition. Jesus faced strong opposition from the Jews and in the end total rejection through his death on the cross, “this is the stone, which you, the builders rejected but has become the cornerstone”, [Acts 4: 11]. There is much opposition and criticism of the way the government has and is managing the current crisis in public health caused by the corona virus. Now that the prospect of unlocking the lockdown is upon us there is further opposition and criticism being voiced. Very few aspire to, or crave supreme power, in the case of Pope St John XXIII he shouldered it with grace and humility, realising his vision of bringing the Universal Church into the modern world. Winston Churchill, on the other hand, believed it was his destiny from his earliest days to lead the country, yet he achieved his goal of maintaining the freedom and sovereignty of the British Isles and the British people.

7 May 2020

This time last year I travelled to Spain, to attend the graduation of my grandson from flight school in Jerez and afterwards visiting Cordoba and Toledo. It was a memorable time in each location, enjoying the different experiences of a celebration with family members at the graduation, visiting the historic places in Cordoba and Toledo, tasting the food and wine of the different regions and traveling from Madrid to Jerez by high speed train, things that a year ago were considered normal features of twenty first century society. What a difference a year makes. My grandson having started on what he thought was an exciting and lifelong career finds himself driving a delivery van for a major supermarket until he is able, we hope, to get back to the cockpit of a passenger plane. There will be many others of his generation who graduated from university or completed an apprenticeship at the end of last year and now find themselves at a standstill in what they had anticipated was their secure future. The generations of people living in the UK since the Second World War have lived in relative stability and security. The standard of living for most people has improved enormously since the ending of the war in Europe seventy-five years ago, as too, has the general heath of the population. Longevity has increased over the years and one can speculate on the possibility of living longer than one’s parents, provided ill health or a fatal accident doesn’t change that statistic.
Suddenly all that has changed, the fear that the virus brings is the fear of change, it has shortened our horizon, it has introduced the ‘fear and flee’ reaction in many of us, all of a sudden our foreseeable future, in terms of the effect the change has brought, is reduced to months, across all ages. Even living in such an advanced technological society as we do there is no potential defence against the virus for at least a year, probably longer, so we have been reduced to utilising similar methods of protection as the population of the world did in the fourteenth century, during the time of the Plague, of small communities being in isolation, of keeping others at a safe distance, and for some, wearing a face covering to potentially reduce transmission of the virus.
The world of the Apostles changed dramatically too, after the coming of the Holy Spirit. They had all met together to celebrate the Jewish ‘Feast of Weeks’ or ‘Shavuot’; which is counted seven weeks from the second day of Passover. Pentecost in the Christian liturgical calendar is counted fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus The Apostles had closed the door of the room they were in because they were fearful of being found by the Jewish authorities, “when suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a violent wind which filled the entire house in which they were sitting… They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages as the Spirit gave them” [Acts 2: 1-4]. Change is inevitable, however old we are we should be thankful for the period of security and stability we have experienced in our lives and look forward with hope and resolve to whatever the future my hold for us.

30 April 2020

Next Monday we will have been in ‘Lockdown’ for forty days. There are a number of well-known references in the Old and New Testament to the number forty. There is the forty years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness on their journey to the promised land. The forty days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai in prayer and fasting and where God then gives him the Ten Commandments. The forty days that Elijah spent in the wilderness journeying to the mountain of God, and the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his mission of salvation, which God the Father had sent him to carryout. And there is the forty days of lent each year, which this year had not quite finished before the social restrictions came into force.
To many of us the weeks and days of ‘Lockdown’ may have indeed felt like being in a wilderness, coming to terms with not having many of the things we took for granted before the virus changed everything. Being unable to go out to the shopping mall and browse the shops, or to meet our friends for lunch or dinner, or just to go where and when we like when we want to. Being in a virtual wilderness is certainly a challenge to our mental ability to accept and embrace the significant changes to our lives that have been imposed in order for each one of us to be safe, to keep the potential of being infected by the virus at bay.
Today I decided I should go for a walk, I hadn’t been out for a couple of days, and telling myself I needed to exercise I ventured outside the door, it was almost like winter, so back in for a fleece and winter jacket and woolly hat, my muscles and joints saying, you don’t really have to do this. But the mind took control and overruled the complaints and off I walked. Once into the rhythm of the walking, the complaining of the muscles and joints fade away and the mind can soar to clarity of thought. Ranging from observing the landscape and wildlife around to higher thoughts of a spiritual dimension, to meditation as the body relaxes and the walking becomes metronomic.
How did Moses, Elijah or Jesus summon up the mental strength to survive their forty days of isolation? They had no one to look after them or bring them food. Their strength of mind is an example to all of us in this present crisis, an example to show us that we can get through it with resolute determination once we overcome that initial mental hurdle, of wanting to say “I can’t do it.” In the end Jesus had to summon up the mental strength to face death on the cross, even though in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before, he wanted to say he couldn’t do it, “if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I would have it.” [Mt 26: 39-40].

25 April 2020

As we go into a further period of lockdown and social distancing one of the issues being reported over the last week has been the country’s state of readiness to combat the Corona virus. The 2016 exercise carried out by Imperial College London and involving the NHS, was to assess how prepared the country was to deal with a respiratory virus pandemic on the scale we are currently experiencing. The decisions made at the time on the outcome of that exercise has been the subject of much criticism in the media in recent days.
Exercises to assess the readiness of organisations such as government bodies, the military in particular, and major utility and oil exploration companies are regular occurrences. During my years in the Royal Air Force, it was a regular annual event, they called them tactical evaluations, (Tac-eval) and usually involved the Station being in lockdown for 24 or 48 hours while a team from Head Quarters evaluated the readiness of the station to defend the nation. However, as we have seen and heard over the years, when disaster strikes, no matter how much rehearsing or practice has taken place beforehand, it can never prepare fully for the real thing. The unknown factor, which can never be prepared for, has to be overcome quickly and decisively. That is the time when real leadership is demanded, to get through the disaster securely and safely, with minimum loss of life, if that is a consequence of the disaster.
The prophet Malachi foretells the ministry of John the Baptist, “Look I shall send my messenger to clear a way before me.” [Malachi 3: 1] and Isaiah prepares Israel for the coming of the Lord, “A voice cries, in the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” [Isaiah 40: 3]. Yet the Jewish people were anything but ready for the arrival of Jesus. They were unprepared at that moment in time for the coming of the Messiah. They did not want to believe, that Jesus was the Son of God. Even those that followed Jesus, including his chosen Apostles, were not prepared at all for what actually happened, and only after the coming of the Holy Spirit, did they show the calibre of leadership that the very early Church needed.
We need the Holy Spirit to prepare us and sustain us for whatever disasters may happen in our lives, even the minor ones like the washing machine breaking down with a full load inside or a flat tyre on the car in the middle of winter when we are miles from home. But we need the Holy Spirit even more so when we face life changing situations brought on by major disasters, either natural or man-made. Our readiness will undoubtedly not be one hundred percent, yet as members of the human race we have the intelligence, the ingenuity and the resolve to overcome any disaster, small or great.

18 April 2020

Another week of this changed world goes by, and Easter has passed, sadly almost unnoticed. Yet Easter brings hope not only for an end to the ‘lockdown’ but more importantly the hope of salvation. Easter brings new life through baptism and the Holy Spirit, and springtime in the northern hemisphere also brings new life. In the natural world plants are pushing through and trees are blossoming. Gérard de Nerval a 19th cent French Poet wrote, “every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.” Newly born farm animals jump around in the fields enjoying the wonder of this strange new world they find themselves in.
If you are lucky enough to have a garden, you may have been out there in this time of enforced leisure, refreshing it after the winter, planting flowers and vegetables, cutting the grass, weeding the borders and so on. There are many examples of gardens which come to mind from scripture. Starting with the Garden of Eden, to the Garden of Gethsemane, and finally the garden where Jesus was buried after been taken down from the cross, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had been laid,” [John 19:41].
Gardens provide food and beauty, places to enjoy, places to relax in, to meditate in, to pray in or just be in. Gardening can be therapeutic, taking us away from the stress of life as we knew it, before Corona Virus, and bringing us closer to the natural world created by God. It can provide the gardener with a good workout, digging, pruning, or building a new garden feature, activities that provide the full range of muscle and aerobic exercises our bodies need to stay healthy; being out in the fresh air in all weathers, sun, showers or windy conditions is also good for our mental health.
When I visited the Holy Land ten years ago, we walked in the Garden of Gethsemane amongst the old knarled olive trees there, on the West side of the Mount of Olives, which looks East to the walls of Jerusalem. Gethsemane means an oil press and in the time of Jesus a large number of olives trees would have grown there on the side of the mount. The ones that grow there now, although very very old are not the ones Jesus would have seen on the night of his arrest. Those were destroyed by General Titus in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem and the temple was destroyed by the Romans. However, replanting obviously took place, perhaps not on such a large scale as before. This old Greek proverb reminds us of that moment in time and also gives a glimpse into the future for the planet we inhabit, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit under.” Jesus’ journey from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross on Calvary and on to the garden where he was buried is a journey of hope for each one of us as we journey through this life to the garden of Paradise, which is a figurative way of saying heaven.

9 April 2020

Week three of ‘Lock Down’ is bringing the country to the realisation that we are nowhere near emerging from it. The media is getting nervous, asking Government Ministers and anyone else from the other political parties and political commentators, who wish to give their view; for an exit strategy, whatever that means. It unsettles us; the general public, it fuels the communication channels on social media, and causes dissension. Patience, on the other hand, is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit which we receive in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Patience will lead us through the raging storm of the Pandemic, it will give us the wisdom to follow the instructions from our elected Government and keep us safe. So that, in the future we will once again be able to enjoy life to the full, with our family, our friends and the members of our parish community.
Living in a state of imposed restriction of movement, may to some, seem to be similar to a period of imprisonment, or in another dimension, living a monastic existence. In both those situations there are obvious rules regarding restrictions on movement, which includes a certain amount of time for work, study or reading, and exercise each day. Social interaction outside the enclosed environment, in both cases, is either non-existent or severely limited. This is the situation that we all find ourselves in at the present time. The vast majority of us do not want to lead a monastic life or be imprisoned. However, in this current global crisis we are experiencing, to a small extent, the way of life of those that do. How do we keep our physical and mental health in good shape? Just as in normal times, we have a structure to our daily existence, work, school, socialising and times of physical activity and so on. So, at this extraordinary time in our lives we really need to have some daily structure to keep sane and healthy. A time for work, a time for reading, a time for exercising, a time for relaxing and a time for praying. The words of Ecclesiastes come to mind here, “a time for every occupation under heaven” [3: 1].
St Isidore of Seville [6th/7th cent] was a Bishop and Doctor of the Church. He was a loving shepherd of his flock, yet he experienced an inner conflict in his personal life, between a desire for solitude and prayer and the demands of bringing the message of salvation to his flock. He concluded that he was capable of both, using the example of Christ, who, after feeding the five thousand, withdrew up the mountain to pray [Mt 14: 13-22]. Homo Sapiens are a naturally social species, we interact, we cooperate, and we build. The present restrictions are alien to these natural characteristics, yet to survive this virus, which at the moment, we have no current cure or vaccine for, we have to be patient and trust in the Lord as we approach the commemoration of the loving sacrifice of his own life for the salvation every one of us.

2 April 2020

As we come to the end of the second week of ‘Lock Down’ the reality of how the world has changed over the past weeks is gradually sinking in. Without a doubt the world will not be the same again. The reduction in the level of emissions into the atmosphere is staggering, on the other hand the livelihood of millions is in serious jeopardy as a result of government-imposed lock downs around the world. The global economy is in ‘freefall’. However, the truth is not one of us really knows what the future holds. Many will be asking where is God, why does he allow such catastrophes to happen? The fact is, God is here with us, whenever we need to turn to him, he is there at our side.
In his Extraordinary Moment of Prayer last Friday, 27 March, Pope Francis used the passage from the Gospel of Mark, (Mk 4:35) where Jesus and his disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and a storm blows up; as an analogy for the present ‘storm’ affecting the world. The disciples are in a state of panic almost, yet Jesus remains calm, even to the point of remaining asleep until he is woken by the disciples. He asks them “Why were you afraid? Have you no faith?” I’m sure everyone of us has recently experienced anxiety, fear, even panic at times, as we follow the spread of the pandemic across the world. Like a roller coaster, our emotions and fears rise and fall as the news and statistics fill the media. Our vulnerability is exposed, and it uncovers those false, and previously thought, certainties in our lives, our daily schedule, our habits and what we think are our priorities. It also lays bare all those ideas we have of what we think nourishes our soul, it deprives us of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
The sudden change that the pandemic has brought to our lives and to our global community is a harsh wake up call for us and for the world. In every aspect of our stewardship of planet Earth, from the atmosphere and beyond, to the smallest living creature buried in the ground, this is a time to think about taking stock. How will we manage things differently when the pandemic abates? Will we manage things in a far better way for the whole spectrum of God’s creation? It is a wakeup call for the future of the soul of every individual. In another passage from the Gospel of Mark, (Mk 13: 3-37), Jesus tells his disciples to “Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come… lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” However unpalatable the thought of our own demise may be, from whatever the cause, our priority should be, must be, the welfare of our own soul because the brightness of it is what will propel us into eternity with God.

26 March 2020

The world that we have known for so long has suddenly changed, it’s almost as though we are all extras in a science fiction horror movie. The world is grinding to a halt, shops, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and places of worship are ordered to close, only the outlets where the essentials can be obtained are exempt from closure. We are not allowed to congregate in Public places, we cannot visit our neighbour and the most vulnerable are advised to stay at home in self isolation. Even the National Health Service is delaying routine procedures to combat the daily surge in the cases of the Corona Virus. From our Christian perspective closing all our churches is unprecedented. What do we do? A lifetime of attending the liturgical services of the Church, attending Mass on Sunday, is stopped, by order! How do we cope?
Change is never easy for some, even impossible for others, but in these unparalleled circumstances we should keep calm and have faith. In the letter to the Hebrews it tells us, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God.” Faith is a response of trust and belief in what is reliable, truthful, certain and real. For example, we believe in the power of electricity even though we are unable to see it, yet we see the result of its power in boiling the water in a kettle or heating the oven so that we can have hot food. Faith in God works in the same way. He gives us the assurance and conviction that his power and presence and his glory is just as real. God never changes, he is ever true to his word and always faithful to his promises, Jesus is the visible proof that God is reliable and true.
What about Sunday’s though? In the Gospel of Luke, the Pharisees criticise Jesus’ disciples for picking grain from the field and eating it on the Sabbath. Jesus then relates to them the example of David who was given the bread of the Presence from the house of God by the priest Ahimelech, because he had no other bread to give, and used it to feed his men and himself, and finishes by saying, “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath.” Basically, the Pharisees were confronting Jesus about the primary intention behind the commandment to “keep the Sabbath Holy.” The Sabbath rest was meant to be a time to remember and celebrate Gods goodness through his works of creation and redemption. It was intended as a day set apart to bring everyday work to a halt and provide rest and refreshment. The disciples were criticised for picking the corn on the Sabbath, not for eating it. In defending his disciples Jesus argues that human need has precedence over ritual custom, which applies precisely for this most unusual time in history.
So, imposed change has taken away our ritual of worshiping God at Mass, but not through other ways, through prayer, meditation, Lectio Divina, reading the Sunday gospel, saying the rosary and so on. In the words of the Gospel of Matthew, “When you pray go to your private room... And your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.”