Pastoral Reflection: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
My dear People,
I ask you to allow me to present this Pastoral Letter in the form of a prayer to Our Lord. You may wish to receive it with eyes closed.
‘Lord Jesus, you stepped ashore and saw a large crowd; you took pity on them and healed them.’ Forgive me for being hesitant to do justice to those words ‘took pity’. The Greek word Saint Matthew uses indicates heart, lung, and liver: our guts. Lord, your concern was not from a safe unmoved distance; not carefully counting the cost, not a cautious frame of mind; you were stirred to the depths of your being. Lord, give me the courage to say: Jesus, you had a gut feeling.
Lord, Jesus, give us all a share in this depth of gut feeling, emotion, passion for one another, especially in the face of fears about the cost of food, fuel, the threat to employment, uncertainty about assistance for those in need, to which we have become accustomed. Move us, disturb us, melt us.
Give us also a share in that other quality, which was noticed by those who first heard you, saw you, and touched you with their hands: your anger. Anger when things are not as they can and ought to be. Make us advocates for those who suffer most at this time. Give us concern that drives us to speak the whole truth in love.
Then, Lord, open our imagination, our ways to see how it is true even today: ‘Oh, come to the water, all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and at no cost, wine and milk.’
Although I have learnt it over and over again, Lord, I need to learn it over and over again still: faced with so many hungers, thirsts, needs, deep longings, all you ask me to do is to bring what I have to you, even if it is only five loaves and two fishes. So long thy power has blest me sure it still will lead me on to accomplish, always and everywhere, what is honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise, and you the Lord God of peace have always been with me.
But, one lesson I know I need from you, Lord, today: you noticed sunsets, sunrises, sparrows, hens with chickens, sheep and lambs, foxes, mustard seeds, fig trees, vines, dole queues, pearls, soil, bad foundations, green and dried up wood. You could not bear it when anyone spoke lightly of the earth or sky; and so no one ever forgot how you gave thanks for food and drink; you ‘took the five loaves and two fish, raised your eyes to heaven and said the blessing.’ And one night, in an upper room, in Jerusalem, at the Passover feast, when the moon was full, you took bread, and gave your Father thanks and praise; you took a cup filled with wine and again gave thanks and praise. Bring me once more to be faithful to that simplest of ways to bear witness to the fact you have called me to be a disciple, that is, to be like you in all my ways: never to eat and drink without being seen to make the sign of the cross and give your Father thanks and praise, whether it is a feast or a fast.
Feast or famine: Lord, your compassion has been stirred in us deeply, to reach out to the starving peoples of East Africa; your Holy Spirit rewards any generous deed by enabling us to be even more generous.
Famine: it was famine that brought tens of thousands across the Irish Sea to this part of England. Compassion for them led priests to die serving them as cholera raged. Compassion stirred Father James Nugent to establish a Care which is still with us. And those, whom that famine drove across the sea, brought new awareness of you, Lord, as bread of life. For they brought with them, besides love of the land they left, their fidelity to you. Lord, Jesus, give to me and especially many like me who know the Church in Ireland as Mother, the compassion to refuse to stay at a cold, calculated distance as terrible events in the story of that Church come to light. Compassion, emotion, anger, disgust, deeply disturbed, but always through, and with and in you, the Saviour of the world.
Enable us to accompany our sisters and brothers in Ireland as they prepare, in the midst of their present dark days, to host, for the whole Catholic Family, the International Eucharistic Congress next June. Lord of compassion, we will pray that most earthy, gut-filled prayer: Soul of my Saviour:
‘Soul, driving force of Jesus, be my driving force too: animate me:
Body of Christ: emotions, feelings, touch of Jesus, be mine too:
Blood of Christ inebriate me, surge through my veins, and beat in my heart:
Water from your broken heart, broken by the sheer might of loving, wash away my coldness, aloofness, selfishness:
Passion of Christ: Lord, whose prayer to the Father was heard and so you died in mercy and patience, come alongside me in any darkness and sorrow and accompany me home:
O good, gracious, Jesus hear me:
Form in me the image of your wounds, so that like you I may only move and be moved by love:
Never let me be parted from you: be with me always:
Defend me from the malign, lying, killjoy enemy that I may rejoice always:
In the hour of my death bid me come to you,
Then, with your Saints, with my Ancestors who handed on to me what it is to follow you, I will be with you always and praise you for ever and ever. Amen.’
Archbishop of Liverpool