The Bishop of Fulham offers a devotion at this difficult time
Normally at this time of year we would be gathering for the National Assembly of Forward in Faith. We would be celebrating the Mass together and then having our usual time of discussion and fellowship with one another. For reasons we know all too well, that sadly is not possible this year.
It has been the most extraordinary year, has it not, and we have all been learning a lot, I think, about ourselves and what it really important to us as followers of Christ and members of the Church.
One thing we have learnt is what it means to be dependent creatures. We have learnt a lot, again, about what it means to live fragile lives and we have learnt much about the power of nature.
Large populations across the world do, of course, live with that contingency and fragility every day of their lives. It is something which, perhaps, only strikes most of us at times of real emergency or serious illness or at the point of death. So, we have learnt to have a new respect for God’s creation and therefore for the power and beauty of the Creator who stands behind it.
In the life of the Church we have recovered a great sense of the gift of personal prayer. I know that, for me, saying the daily office of morning and evening prayer, and particularly saying the psalms, has really come alive and meant so much more than perhaps it has done for quite some time. It has involved resting in that rhythm of prayer, scripture and the readings from the fathers. It has been a great refreshment and anchor in our spiritual lives.
We have been so lucky that clergy from our movement, from our tradition, and Catholic societies have poured forth a great stream of helpful devotional material, including booklets that we might have been receiving with our monthly copy of New Directions or accessing on-line. There has been a wealth of material from the tradition, freshly presented to help us to pray and to renew us in our discipleship through these difficult times.
There has been a great explosion of activity on-line; not just live streaming of services but also teaching and devotional material. If you had said back at the beginning of the year that so many Catholic priests and parishes would be able to put out this high quality material in so short a period, then no one would have believed you. It has been a gift and a blessing and a wonderful way for those who have been shielding, those who have been confined to their homes, to remain connected with our worshipping communities and with the parishes which we serve.
But – there is of course a but – we have been deprived for too much of this year of the gift of being able to come together to celebrate the sacraments and especially to gather physically together to share in the offering of the Mass.
What are we going to do with that time of deprivation, that time of lament and longing? Well, I hope two things.
I hope, firstly, that it is going to renew in us our sense of thanksgiving for the sacramental life of the Church. There has been an astonishing hunger on the part of our people up and down the country to be able to return to the altar, to be able to receive the sacrament and to kneel and pray physically one with another.
That is something for which we should be very grateful – that refreshing and renewing in us of something which should always be received with thanksgiving but which perhaps we grow used to as we live out our Christian lives in the normal course of events, month-by-month and year-by-year.
So, let thanksgiving for the sacramental life of the Church and a real passion and longing to participate in it, let those be some of the fruits of this time of deprivation.
It was really wonderful to go around churches in the period when we were able to be back in church and to see the gratitude and the sheer joy that people were expressing as they were able to come to Mass and as Baptisms, Confirmations and the other sacraments of the Church could be celebrated again.
Thanksgiving and gratitude, yes, but also a renewed confidence in the essentials of the Faith. One of the things that a lot of people have noticed through this difficult year is that many issues that we thought were settled in the life of our Church have been opened up again as people with very different views about the sacramental life, very different views about the importance of coming together in our church building to worship physically together, have allowed those views to be promoted and circulated.
So we have to be confident about expressing why it is that our sacred spaces are important; why it is that the sacraments, properly celebrated, lie at the heart of our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ; why it is that, whatever the creativity and whatever the new opportunities of moving the worshipping life of the Church on-line, that cannot and will not be a substitute for the real thing.
So let us use this time to become more confident as Catholic Christians, able to give a joyful account of ourselves and of the life of our Church to our nation and within the life of the Christian Church as a whole.
We do all that of course not for ourselves, not because these are treasures that we love and want to keep for ourselves, but because we believe they are life-giving for the sake of the world. The sacraments bring Jesus Christ; they bring His truth and His life to those who participate in them. We believe, as brothers and sisters who belong to Forward in Faith, that the sacraments are there to be stewarded and are there to be honoured as God’s life-giving resources for all humanity.
So, brothers and sisters, we look forward to times when we can be together again for our next National Assembly but thank you to all of you who, through your personal membership, your subscriptions and above all your prayers, resource and enable the work of Forward in Faith. Forward in Faith is there to resource, to enable and to lead the work of the Catholic movement for the sake of the Church and for the sake of the world.
So, give thanks for all the gifts that your life in Christ brings to you and use this strange year to be more thankful and more confident in your faith. God bless you all.
This devotional address was given by the Bishop of Fulham
at the online National Assembly