Message from the Bishop of Northampton
We keep hearing that these are unprecedented times. They are indeed! And when we come before the Lord in prayer, we may well find ourselves asking him, ‘what are you saying to us Lord in all of this?’ We all have our own circumstances in which to ask this question and seek a reply. I know my own situation. No sooner did I arrive in Northampton and be ordained bishop then the lockdown began. To be honest with you, it is all very frustrating! I really do want to visit communities and begin to know the parishes and the clergy, the religious and the schools. All that said, I appreciate the many blessings I have and I worry about those who are less fortunate, those who are feeling very enclosed at the moment, unsafe and vulnerable, those who are missing the sacraments.
One thing is for sure, the Lord is speaking to us from the midst of this terrible pestilence. Personally, I am being forced to reflect on some important truths. I am all too comfortable at times with activity rather than being still and listening to God. Too often, I want to tell God my plans and ask him to bless them, rather than seeking his agenda in my life. And yes, it has to be said, I have discovered zoom conferencing!
Every day, for most of my forty years of priesthood, I have prayed the Prayer of Abandonment, inspired by a meditation of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. (I will share this with you at the end of this reflection.) Well I may have said the words, but did I really mean them? A microscopic virus is certainly challenging my sense of really abandoning myself to the Father’s will. Our civil and ecclesial societies has been forced to consider unprecedented measures (that word unprecedented again!) to deal with all this.
So how do I feel about it all? I have always been a fan of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal household. Here are some of the words he preached in St Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday,
‘But there is one effect that the current situation can help us to grasp in particular. The cross of Christ has changed the meaning of pain and human suffering—of every kind of suffering, physical and moral. It is no longer punishment, a curse. It was redeemed at its root when the Son of God took it upon himself. What is the surest proof that the drink someone offers you is not poisoned? It is if that person drinks from the same cup before you do. This is what God has done: on the cross he drank, in front of the whole world, the cup of pain down to its dregs. This is how he showed us it is not poisoned, but that there is a pearl at the bottom of this chalice.’
I can’t stop reading these words! And now for the Prayer of Abandonment. I invite you to join me in praying this regularly,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.’
Bishop of Northampton