I have been invited to pen a few words for this section of your Three Parish Newsletter, a section that hitherto has been reserved for Father Michael.
My first thoughts are about the gap that has been created by Fr. Michael’s death which has left all three parish communities without a proper pastor. I am sure a new one will be sent in good time and we should direct our personal and communal prayer for that intention. In the meanwhile, under the administrative gaze of Canon Paul Cummins, we ‘oldies’ will offer what ministry we can. For me it is a privilege to be available to you for such a ministry.
The year of mercy, inaugurated by Pope Francis on Dec 8th 2015 is now over half way through. The question that hovers in my mind is what has its impact been so far. To give an adequate answer would involve speaking to a lot of people. As that would be difficult, it is more manageable to talk about hopes and aspirations that it has aroused to be realised in the future. This jubilee is due to come to an end in November with the Feast of Christ the King, but if it has had any impact at all we should be able to see its results well into the years ahead.
So what do we hope the lasting fruits of this year of mercy to be? I will mention three but I am sure there will be many more.
The first issue that I would like to mention concerns the way we think about God. Have our dominant images / ideas of God been in any way changed or developed? Pope Francis and others have regularly encouraged us to use ‘mercy’ as the most important and all-embracing name of God. We are encouraged to say ‘God is mercy’. There is however a problem. If God is total mystery, it is difficult to claim that we can accurately capture the reality of God with any of our images and ideas. God is totally beyond us and any ideas or images we have are necessarily provisional and certainly inadequate.
Calling God mercy however is backed up by the revelation of God in the face of the One who is mercy in flesh, God made man, Jesus. In the document setting up the Jubilee year, Pope Francis starts with the phrase Miserericordiae Vultus, the face of mercy, which of course is Jesus. We know God as mercy particularly from Jesus. The issue for us is whether we have allowed the revelation of God as mercy in Jesus to form the way we think about God. This sort of fundamental truth is worth engaging with now and into the years ahead. The Pope’s most recent document about Family, Amoris Laetitia, following two Synods, is coloured by mercy-thinking. We need to allow this sort of thinking to exercise the way we think of God and let it deal with the wrong sort of fear which can so often bedevil our relationship with God our Father.
If mercy, what about sin! This is an unpopular issue because it runs against a dominant image of ourselves as ‘how great we are’. Without in any way diminishing the manifold achievements of much human endeavour, we do have to acknowledge a flaw in us, individually and collectively, that poises a question mark against ‘our greatness’. We call this reality sin and it needs remedy from outside ourselves. This remedy lies deep in the heart of God and is made available in the person of Jesus Christ and the Spirit that comes to us from the Father and the Son. A jubilee year does not focus on human sinfulness; its core is the loving God which says to us ‘mercy’. It is in the light of God’s merciful love that the true nature and extent of our sinfulness comes to light and we are enabled to deal with it. Hence conversion, new beginnings, prayer, penance (including the Sacrament of Reconciliation), pilgrimage etc. are necessarily an important part of the celebration of this jubilee year. It is only in the light of the mercy of God that we can own and deal with our sinfulness.
Thirdly and intimately connected with the two previous points is the place and nature of prayer in our lives. The jubilee year is an invitation to allow our praying to become more contemplative. This means that our prayer becomes quieter, more fully focused on God and to be given an assured space in the daily reality of our lives. All this is easier said than done! Our liturgical prayer is by nature communal and our personal prayer, which flows from and into our liturgy, needs to be ‘a remedy’ to the frenetic, hyperactive lives most of us are involved in. We are made for interior silence as well as good works and one without the other can be damaging to our humanity
A final word of thanks to Fr. Michael for his ministry among us. I was privileged to be his bishop when he started seminary formation, when he was ordained in 1993 and when he came to our three lovely communities of Axminster, Lyme Regis and Seaton. May he rest in peace.