For many of us time at the moment seems to be moving slowly. The special act of worship and blessing led by the Holy Father on 27 March, only a fortnight ago, seems ages ago to me now. It was a very powerful moment, watching him walking with some difficulty (because of the sciatica he has had for many years) to bless the city and the world in a deserted and wet St Peter’s Square. There are perhaps not many positive things we can say about the crisis the world is in at the moment, but one is that we have now the right pope at the right time. Pope Francis, through the wisdom and courage of his teachings, is showing real and prophetic leadership, for which the world is pretty desperate; we should be thankful and hold him, not least as an elderly man with only one working lung, in our prayers.

Reflecting on the account in Mark’s gospel (chapter 4) of Jesus and the disciples in the boat on the sea of Galilee in a storm, the pope showed us how the current crisis, like the storm, is a challenge: ‘The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities’.

This is so important. So many public figures and world leaders, even with thousands of people dying every day all over the world, still haven’t got it. They’re desperate to get back to ‘business as usual’, having in many cases been blind to the severity of what’s been happening until it’s too late to stop the flow of deaths. A call to conversion, to change the way we live in the world, is the last thing they want to hear. It is important this Easter that the Church, rejoicing in our risen Lord, keeps up this message; we also need to identify and criticise, on the basis of our moral teachings, mistakes that have been made in our response nationally and globally to this virus. The Holy Father’s message (CLICK HERE to read) is as important on Easter Day as it was in the fourth week of Lent.

Towards the end of his address he calls on all of us to find hope:

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope’.

For all of us this Holy Week and Easter have been strange, probably the strangest of our lives. Our hope at the moment stems from our faith in the risen Christ and his victory at Easter over death – may you all find your faith in him this weekend strengthened. Please pray for one another and for all suffering from this virus and those who are caring for them, especially healthcare and other key workers from this parish. Most of you know that the reason you don’t see me at the livestreamed Masses is that I am in lockdown (this is because Iris, although in good health, is still considered very vulnerable at this time), but I am offering the third Mass intention listed each day in Mass celebrated privately at home every day; I am also writing daily reflections for the parish Facebook page, where I am also uploading other resources.

A Happy and blessed Easter to all of you, and take care.

Fr Ashley