Since the end of March, a large part of my time has been taken up with praying for the sick and the dead and doing funerals. I have witnessed families and friends wrestling with the tragic and unexpected deaths of loved ones. This has been the experience of many of the clergy. I hope the following words will offer some comfort and hope to those grieving and trying to find answers.

Yona was a pastor in Rwanda when inter-tribal fighting broke out in 1963. He knew he was a marked man but refused to leave his post for a more remote village. One evening he was taken from his home by soldiers and shot at a bridge where the invaders had fought with the national army. Two others taken with him by the soldiers were set free, his bearing in face of death having apparently shamed their captors. ‘They were all amazed; they had never seen anyone go singing to his death, or walking, as he did, like a man just taking a stroll.’ On being taken out of the army jeep at the bridge, he had asked permission to write in his diary. He wrote: ‘We are going to heaven’: and then added, as completely as he could at the time, an account of the church’s funds left in his house (T.A Beetham – Christians and the New Africa).

I came across this article recently and on reading it was intrigued by the peace, calmness and what seemed like casualness of the young pastor who seemed to almost treat it as an ordinary event in his daily life. Afterall, he was facing not just death but a brutal and unjust death. I know, in reality, it couldn’t have been like that. He must have felt some fear. Having said that, there was definitely a calm acceptance on his part. The reason? He knew God was close by with his hand upon him.

I have been following Sister Emmanuel Maillard’s reflections from Medjugorje. Recently in a talk on the subject of death and how we approach it, she began by reminding us of some fundamental points: the goal of our life is heaven, and death, far from being a wall is a door to heaven. If we really know God, we should not fear death. So, her advice is that each of us should consecrate our death to God and live in peace, not fear. Sr Emmanuel develops this further: Consecrate the moment of your death. God chooses this moment and we need to pray that we will be at peace with this. She then advises that we do the same with the way we die. Finally, we can follow this process with the person who is closest to us.

As I write I realise of course the best way to understand what Sr Emmanuel is trying to say is by listening to her, so why not google Sister Emmanuel Maillard. She is well worth a listen.

In truth many of us can worry about our death or the death of a loved one and this can cause great anxiety throughout our lives. Sr Emmanuel tells the story of a woman who did just this. She was in fear all her married life about when and how her husband would die, so much so that it affected her health. She died before him.

Tertullian tells us, ‘It is a poor thing for anyone to fear that which is inevitable’.

The opening of our church for Mass

As you may well know by now, we have been given permission to open our churches for Mass from 4th July. This is very good news indeed and can I once again thank you for your endurance and patience. I would like to point out some things you ought to know.

  • There will be Mass on Sundays and Monday-Saturday.
  • At present, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains suspended.
  • The Mass will be without congregational singing, Prayers of the Faithful, the Offertory procession and the Sign of Peace.
  • There will be collection baskets at the entrance and exits.
  • More information will be given to you throughout the week and in next week’s newsletter. This includes the times of Mass.
  • We will need stewards and cleaners. The church and the hall* will need to be cleaned after every Mass. If we don’t get the required number of people to help in these areas, I’m afraid the church will not open for Mass. (*The hall will also be a venue for Mass). If you would like to volunteer please contact beckenham@rcaos.org.uk.

Finally, I leave the last word to St Peter as we celebrate his joint feast day with St Paul.

‘My one hope and trust, is that I shall never have to admit defeat, but that now as always I shall have the courage for Christ to be glorified in my body, whether by my life or by my death. Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would bring me something more; but then again, if living in this body means doing work which is having good results – I do not know what I should choose. I am caught in this dilemma: I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better, but for me to stay alive in this body is a more urgent need for your sake’. [Philippians 1:20-24].

God bless you all, Fr Steve