The Rector writes …
Among the most famous of modern paintings is “The Scream” by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Painted in 1895, it seems to be a prophecy of the coming century which was about to witness inhumanity on an industrial scale and the subject’s obvious despair is heightened by the seeming indifference of the other figures who appear on the canvas. Munch’s work embodies the reaction of so many of our contemporaries who are overwhelmed by the experience of a world where everything is experienced as relative and subjective. The picture has been widely reproduced in our own times as the beginning of the twenty-first century has brought its own catalogue of horrors not least in the pandemic which is threatening us all at present. There has been much talk of the need for a new evangelisation, particularly of our own continent which thinks that it knows the Christian message and has, in large part, become indifferent to it. In many ways it is easier to proclaim the Gospel to those who have never heard it than to those who have convinced themselves of its irrelevance to their own situation.
In the 13th century, Saint Bonaventure, one of Saint Francis’s early disciples, could sum up the Christian goal as: “the re-ordering of the human person that comes about through an encounter with Christ in faith, hope and love”. For the Catholic, Christ is to be met directly and immediately in the liturgical acts of the Church, and these reach their culmination each year during Holy Week. Over these coming seven days we have the opportunity to draw closer to Christ, or perhaps more accurately to allow Christ to draw closer to us, as the initiative always remains in his hands. Obviously, this Holy Week is so very different from the one we had envisaged or hoped for. For me, it will be a strange experience to celebrate the Triduum in an empty church, while for you it will be even more difficult as you follow the Church’s rites, as and where you can, through the medium of television or social devices.
C S Lewis could speak of: “shafts of God’s glory impinging on our sensibility” and that is exactly what we believe will be happening as we follow Jesus along the path of suffering to Calvary and into the glory which emerges from the Empty Tomb. If circumstances deny us a physical participation in the ceremonies of Holy Week, this does not mean that we cannot still have an intimate share in them. By establishing a routine, and keeping the texts in front of us, and where possible following whatever is streamed, the same graces which would have been ours if we were present will still flow to us. Please use every opportunity to make this a genuinely Holy Week.
Speaking of his death, Jesus understood that: “when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all to myself” (John 12:32). While Holy Week offers a time for the deepening of personal faith, we need to recognise that our own identification with Christ through his Paschal Mystery can be a source of grace for a wider world. An elderly Benedictine monk (now in his nineties) saw the birth of his vocation when watching the first newsreels as the concentration camps were opened at the end of the Second World War: “I said to myself only prayer can penetrate a place like that. The tanks always arrive too late. And there was still war in the Pacific to be fought. I was haunted by the need for prayer”. The pandemic before us now is a different kind of crisis from that which faced Europe tin the middle of the last century, but the reaction of the Benedictine is as relevant today as it ever was: “I was haunted by the need for prayer”. All around us are people who are fearful – and the probability is that many will become sick and some will die. We have a part to play. The idea of reparation is not much understood today, but it is central to the Christian belief that we can and must help towards the salvation of one another, and that we are privileged to be called to be co-redeemers with Christ.
There is so much disturbance and uncertainty around. People sense the fragility of existence and the disruption to the normal routines of life seem to be with us for many weeks and months ahead. “The Scream” really does express the reaction of many. In Baptism each of us was marked with the sign of the cross and we have a shared vocation to carry the cross alongside Jesus and to carry it for the sake of our brothers and sisters. In the Agony in Gethsemane, God takes into his own experience the despair of a fallen humanity alienated from its true nature. Saint Paul recognises that those who live in Christ can identify with him in making a personal contribution to the re-ordering of the creation: “it makes me happy to suffer, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up what has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body the Church” (Colossians 1:24). For 2,000 years the message of cross has provided the antidote to despair. Let us pray that this Holy Week will renew a sense of hope – and that we will be able to communicate that Christian hope to those who look to us for support and encouragement.