St Mary's, Inverness

Our Perplexing Times : Our Responsibilities

Our Perplexing Times : Our Responsibilities
Dear friends in the Lord,
It has been good to have had encouraging conversations with some of the St Mary’s folk, especially those of a certain age who are hunkered down in their particular seclusion.  It is good that people are being compliant with all the advice, even instructions, that come our way. Keeping isolated, whether in or out, is important not simply for ourselves but for everyone else – what we call the Common Good. The laughter, and the joy that some of you are sharing with your family and friends by telephone, computers, and even hand signals through the window, these are all signs of living well through this death-dealing scourge. Maintaining morale, in ourselves and with others, will be a key factor in the on-going campaign.

We are all too aware of the devastating surge of new cases of the Corona virus. This ghastly pendemic has caused many deaths and before it is over throughout the world there will be much personal suffering. As well as the human costs there are likely to be enormous societal, economic and possibly political consequences. The Church is intimately involved in all of this, not simply the pastoral, but also the task of discerning our way of being the Church in times which may have changed the way people regard themselves as Catholics, or Christians, or people of faith.
In the Vatican II document, ‘Gaudium et spes [4]’, we may find a way forward that involves all of us, for ‘we are the Church’.
“ The Church carries the responsibility of scrutinising the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel’.
We are surrounded by analysts, epidemiologists, economists, public health doctors and we thank God for their work in helping to stop or limit the spread of the virus, and bringing healing to those affected, the dying, and the living.
There are other voices that we need to hear and heed- those who interpret the signs of our times in the light of the Gospel. We need sensitive hearts and minds, listening ears and intelligent insight to learn what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.
In our different ways, each of us with different gifts, and whatever our station in life, we form a vast KOINONIA [ communion, participating in Christ, a fellowship divine, in short we share a Common Life in the Body of Christ]. This deep communion is begun in Baptism through our participation in the death and the Risen Life of Jesus Christ.

Acknowledging this now, or as we take time apart to enter into which ever form,real or virtual, we are to share in the KOINONIA, which is Our Communion in Christ, we can begin to shape a pattern for this Sunday’s observance.

It is useful to recall how at Mass we express our need of God’s forgiving and healing love, by singing in Greek, the Kyries :

  Kyrie, eleison/Christe, eleison/Kyrie, eleison

In this ancient chant, ‘ Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy’ we petition the Lord God, Our Lord Jesus,to ‘have mercy’.  We should not only, or simply, see this as a legal phrase: it is not us appearing in the dock, before God the Judge and asking for clemency. We seek something very beautiful.
Eleison – mercy-is rooted in its Greek origins to ‘olive oil- soothing oil, healing unction, a balm for our wounds of spirit, personality and behaviour. Perhaps a useful series of paraphrases might give us a compound understanding :
“Lord, soothe me, comfort [strengthen ]me,take away my pain, show me your steadfast love”
Here we see that we are in God’s territory, the Hebrew, hesed,> ‘the infinite loving-kindness of God, his compassion for his suffering children.’.

According to the General Instruction for the Roman Missal [GIRM}
We are to understand that the Kyries are ‘ to ensure that the faithful who come together as one establish communion and dispose themselves to listen properly to God’s word and to celebrate the Eucharist together.’

This we need to note – we establish communion before we listen to the Scriptures and move into the Eucharistic rite.  We are what we are, The Body of Christ, however soiled we have become, however fractured and separated we are. We begin at the outset to seek that unity in ourselves through the ever present movement of God’s loving kindness, which resonates us in our hearts, ‘as heart speaks to heart’.
There are some words in the Apocalypse of St John the Divine [Rev 3.19-20] that are helpful here :
“Look I am standing at the door knocking. If any of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him”
We can take real strength and encouragement with this thought. Every meal is an opportunity as the Lord can come in and share with us. Side by side – the Lord will be closer than we are allowed to be. He has promised that where there is repentance, turning away from all that is selfish and evil, he will be attentive to our pleadings.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison : yes we who seek God’s healing love are assured that he comes to us in the chambers of our hearts and minds, and we can recognise him in the sharing of meals. Even deprived of the Holy Mass, we can still be aware that we can see in every meal the communion, the participation in God’s life , into which we are so beautifully incorporated.
If we need reassurance of this, St Athanasius [Easter Letters, Breviary], speaking of the Banquet which is the Easter Celebration :
“ This feast guides us through the misfortunes which befall us in this world. And now God gives us the happiness of salvation, which flows from this feast and makes us friends. At the same time he gathers us all together wherever we may be, letting us pray in common and offer common thanksgiving as on a feast day.
The miracle of his kindness lies in this: he brings together to this feast those who are far off, and those who are perhaps separated in the body, he makes spiritually close by the unity of faith”
Herein is the cause of our encouragement, as we realise that despite our separation, despite being far-off from each other, our Faith draws us together.  So together, one body we share the Life of God in Christ reconciling the world.
I hope that we are able to find that the Ministry of the Word for this Sunday (Fifth in Lent) can be a means of grace that brings us ‘Our Daily Bread”, and deepens in us a yearning for the actuality of being present at the Eucharist, our homecoming.stmarys
The people of God, separated from their true homeland in Israel & Judaea, were in exile in Babylon. Even there they could sing the Lord’s song, and yet they yearned for a homecoming. The prophet Ezekiel was the harbinger of hope for them, as he is for us, as these words of the Old Covenant carry through to our life in the New Covenant, and like all scripture they acquire a new resonance in the living faith of our continuing Tradition.  His famous description of the Valley of Dry Bones {Ezekiel 37. 12-14} whether the remembrance of an ancient battlefield, becomes an extended metaphor for the human condition. Whether folk separated from their actual homeland, or those alienated from others because of human wretchedness, the hope and promise of Ezekiel is that there will be a movement of restoration, a transforming love that can carry us all to where we truly belong.
Not surprisingly we can we see that this restoration of life and liberty becomes a motif for the future hope that the Gospel brings, nothing short of the Rising to Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the New Life that we experience as living members of his body.
In the Gospel we find the Jesus of St John [11.25-26] saying :
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
This earth breaking, dust transforming New Life, is that which we live. We are ‘in Christ’, in that transformation of the elements of existence which means that death is no more because of our continuing participation in the Life of the ever-living Jesus.
We have a Gospel to proclaim, and we find corresponding reassurance in the words of St John’s Jesus [5.24] :
“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death life.”
How then with the confidence of those who sit at table with Lord, even in the little churches which are our homes, [ecclesiola in ecclesia] will we share our joy, bringing others to sit at table with Lord, when we have shaken off the ‘grave-clothes’ of our present captivity? We perhaps need to be more attentive to the world around us, so that we can shape ourselves for Mission.
As we began with a reflection on the Kyries, may we revert to that theme, in some words from a book by Jodi Page Clarke, Songs of the Spirit,:
“Look around you, can you see?
Times are troubled, people grieve.
See the violence, feel the hardness,
All my people, weep with me.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison
Forgive us, Father, hear our prayer.
We would walk with you anywhere,
Through your suffering, with forgiveness,
Take your life into the world.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison”
May almighty God’s loving kindness bind us together with cords of affection as we look towards our new future in our Common Life in the Body of Christ.
Every Blessing and all good wishes to you and yours,
 Fr James