I have just celebrated my final Mass at Maltby on Sunday at 11.00am and to my surprise I found it quite emotional. I felt an overwhelming sense of warmth and love with so many people expressing their heartfelt gratitude for being their parish priest for the last three years. Though knowing our diocese I could be their parish priest again in a few years time!
I came home after Mass and read all the wonderful cards I was given and with many very generous gifts. I want to thank all the parishioners and Deacon Geoff, of course, for their kindness, generosity and love that I have much appreciated last week and over the last three years. My final words of my final homily at Maltby were:
Hearts, like doors, will open with ease
To very, very little keys.
And don’t forget that two of these
Are the words “thank you” and of course, “please”.
Most of the cards that I received mentioned that they not only appreciated the homilies, but also the jokes at the end of the Mass, which is helping them through these difficult times. I must admit that I too have felt a certain heaviness in the last few weeks, mainly due to the uncertainty of what is happening with the increase in Covid-19 cases and the new restrictions. I still have not gone to Elland and stayed over with my family since March, though I did make a brief visit to them in August. Even getting a break this week in Wales was under scrutiny due to the pending restrictions being placed on certain counties.
Richard Rohr has highlighted some people that have given me some source of hope and comfort and I would like to share them with you all. The first source of hope is from Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943), a young Jewish woman who suffered much more injustice in the concentration camp than we are suffering now. She said while in Westerbork transit camp:
“There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we Safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.”
Note her second-person usage, talking to “You, God” quite directly and personally. There is a Presence with her, even as she is surrounded by so much suffering.
The second source of hope is Psalm 61, which most likely would have been written in time of major oppression of the Jewish people;
In God alone is my soul at rest.
For my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock, my stronghold, my fortress: I stand firm.
Common folk are only a breath,
Great men and women an illusion.
Put them on a scale, they weigh less than a breath
they are gone in a puff of wind.
Then there is Julian of Norwich (1342-1423), with her most beautiful words:
There is, in this life, no higher state than being a true child of God –
Helpless, weak and ignorant. But in this we find true joy and in that joy
We will be shown what it means by the sweet words:
All will be well, and you yourself will see that every manner of things will be well.
I have expressed my fondness, a number of times, for the poignant presence of the Quakers in our midst. They first gathered in 17th Century England and in many ways ahead of their time and probably can teach us all a few things today. They insisted that every individual had access to the “Light Within” and must follow their own conscience. It took the Catholic Church the advent of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) to come to this understanding! The great mystic Quaker Thomas Kelly said in the 1930’s that we must recognise, trust and live authentically from the “Light Within.”
“Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary, a holy place, a Divine Centre, a Speaking Voice, to which we may continually return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with a burning passion and calling us home unto itself. To yield to these persuasions, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life. It is the dynamic centre, a creative that presses to birth within us. It is a Light Within that illumines the face of God of and casts new shadows and new glories upon the human face. It is the stirring to life, if we do not choke it, stirring to be awakened. This is what we mean when we say that Christ is born within us, when he awakens within us, to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action – for Christ is within us all.”
Our basic response of the soul to the Light is internal joy, thanksgiving, self-surrender, listening and adoration. The secret places in our hearts cease to be a noisy workshop and become a peaceful sanctuary in the presence of God. In this centre of Creation all things are ours, and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.
Perhaps in these uncertain and worrying times, I can offer a few thoughts to help people to enter their peaceful sanctuary. First of all do not subject yourself to more than an hour a day of television, social media, internet news, newspapers, political commentary and discussions. These will only tear you apart and pull you further into the dualistic world of opinion and counter-opinion and not the Divine Truth which is so rich and extensive. Offer yourself to some form of voluntary work or public service, read more about the saints and pray more often in silence and/or read the psalms. In this way:
You have much to gain now and nothing to lose. Nothing at all.
And the world—with you as a stable centre—has nothing to lose.
And everything to gain.