In a hard-hitting sermon at Farm Street Church in Mayfair, central London this morning, parish priest Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, reflected on the current crisis in London seen in the light of the day's Gospel reading.
Have you ever felt you've been left bereft? Maybe the break-up of a relationship or perhaps a bereavement. The experience of being orphaned, of being left, of losing an anchor in life, of losing a job. Over the last few weeks our volunteers working to feed the homeless in Trafalgar Square have certainly met so many who are completely lost, made newly homeless as a result of the economic impact of the current crisis. They are doing fantastic and vital work which would, if they had not stepped in, have led to catastrophic consequences on a grand scale. It was and is so necessary. And we are encountering daily those left all alone, those whose lives have been blown apart. But there will be, there are, others in similar positions these days. Being exposed to domestic abuse, to unbelievable family pressures, or simply isolation and loneliness. The experience of being left behind.
These last weeks of Eastertide represent a sacred time of transition for the Church, a time for prayer, for renewal, for taking stock of where our faith lies and how we live by it. And I suggest that this is indeed a time also when as a society as a whole we are also taking stock. So many I've chatted with in recent weeks bear this out as the current uncertain fearful reality of daily life. We, as were the first disciples, are anxious at this particular time of our lives at a time of so many uncertainties about when we will go "back" or "forward" to "the new normal", the uncertain economic future, as so many have been hit by this time of crisis in terms of their livelihoods. So many people our volunteers in Trafalgar Square are meeting are new homeless - there are about 100 and more and more in our city and the number is increasing daily - they have simply lost their jobs, their homes, left bereft in a world simply trying to survive and not be infected. Amid all the political battles over what is and what isn't being done on this issue this is a human crisis and so it impinges on all of us including, especially the Christian community. And it must challenge us as a society as a whole to be accountable for those still on our streets, that is to ask why this is the case in the middle of a city as wealthy as ours, a city which rightly prides itself on welcome, hospitality, care for the most vulnerable through welfare. It would be a terrible blot on our society if we simply ignored it. What an appalling society it would be that leaves human being made in God's image to go hungry on our streets in a time of pandemic. How as Christians and Catholics do we take our place in this society right now at this time of transition and great need? With such a lack of clarity perhaps about the place of institutional religion in daily life and our life as society, broken and in need of renewal, in need of an injection of humanity, integrity, civility.
Bereft, left behind by society, all alone. This was the experience of the disciples also in this Sunday's Gospel. Jesus is about to leave his disciples behind. Yet he is telling them not to be afraid. He invites them to trust in the power of love, to a greater trust indeed than they have ever needed. God has shown his love for us in his victory over death. The event, the moment, the reality of the cross is in a sense behind us. It is history. The tomb, Easter morning, the resurrection appearances. Suspended in time. And now God will show us the depth of his love in how he will be with us not just at a point in time suspended for ever but now for all time. The Father will send the Holy Spirit into the Church. And the Holy Spirit will help us to know that love, will remind us who are left behind of everything the Lord taught us. Will in fact teach us how to live out his mission of love in the world. The call to a radical loving, a radical generosity, even, especially at a time of such crisis, tragedy, panic, fear, when it seems we have been forsaken and left bereft.
But we are called now not to be afraid but to take heart as the disciples did preparing to part company with the Lord in his physical presence on this earth, encapsulated as it was into a particular time and particular place. Invited now to pray for the Spirit of renewal, for ourselves and for us all so we may truly carry on the mission Our Lord has given us. And a simple mission is given to us again today: to love as he has loved us. To love as he has loved us. Very simple and yet, in the highs and lows, twists and turns of our lives, a calling we are invited to return to again and again - to reflect on how we allow the Spirit of love to shine through us in our world.
In our relationships: family life, at work, and how we treat those who are in greatest need, when they ask us for help, but also how we commit ourselves to a lifestyle which takes account of those so much less well off. Through what we give financially, in kind, but also our attitude to the poor, to those who are consigned to the gutters of our city and forgotten, to ethnic minorities who suffer more than anyone else in this time of crisis, to how we build up the common good through exercising our democratic rights, promoting the common good concretely and practically. How we treat the very earth which we inhabit; how we cherish it and protect it for future generations. Issues we hear about all the time in the media. But what will we do about them as a society? As common humanity? What, if anything, will we learn from this dreadful time? Very simply not political issues, not the preserve of councils, MPs, social welfare agencies, but where the Church should be and must be and is. Because these are Gospel values rooted in the message of this Sunday's Gospel and from the mandate of Jesus Christ: our mission to love as he loved us.
For these are the places and the circumstances where the Spirit of love dwells and where the Spirit of love is to be welcomed in, nurtured, built up. It is the love which Christ Himself shows to His disciples and which he pledges to His Church. A Church which is of her essence missionary. As Pope Francis reminds us there is no point in the Church for herself: the Church is only the Church in as much as she responds to the call to mission. Mission to a love which calls us forward and outside of ourselves, to give ourselves more selflessly as He did in his life on this earth and above all on the cross. As new chapters begin in our country, and as we prepare to celebrate the ascension of the Lord to his father and the coming of the Spirit we remember that God's command to love is at the heart of it all. And the more we enter into that mystery of the greatest love ever shown - laying down His life so that we may live forever - the more we respond to be more clearly and authentically disciples of Christ for others. And if we desire to be close to Him the Holy Spirit will surely move our desires to be transformed more clearly into concrete practical steps, to be more authentic, to be more human, to be living witnesses of his love and peace.
And here once more, as each Sunday and each day, we encounter that sacrificial love in the broken body and the blood poured out for us. For God so loved the world he gave his only Son. As we celebrate the Eucharist this morning we pray that the Holy Spirit comes down on us and, as these gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we are transformed into closer servants of his mission of love for others and the world around us.
Farm Street Church website - www.farmstreet.org.uk/ (Includes Donation Appeal)
Homeless Refreshment Station opens in Trafalgar Square www.indcatholicnews.com/news/39538
London churches and hotels offer lifeline to rough sleepers in Covid-19 lockdown www.indcatholicnews.com/news/39427
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