The following are reflections by Bishop John Sherrington for a Lent Day of Recollection for clergy, intended for 24th March 2020.
During the forty days of Lent we go into the desert with Jesus to discover anew the love of God, confront our temptations and allow the angels to minister to us (Mk 1:13). We turn again to Christ who calls us, ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’
This Lent we find ourselves in the desert in an extraordinary way. Normal patterns of communication and meeting have been stripped from us. We prepare to live through the deepening pandemic of COVID19. The news we heard from China six weeks ago is now a reality with us. On this day of recollection together we join in prayer together for the sick, the dying, those who have died, the grieving, those searching for a vaccine and the medical personnel who are working to their limits to care for others. We pray for a deepening of our faith and hope as we walk towards Easter.
The words of St Charles Borromeo can lead us into the day of retreat and help us to deepen our faith and interiority:
Are you exercising the care of souls? … Do not thereby neglect yourself. Do not give yourself to others to such an extent that nothing is left of yourself for yourself. You should certainly keep in mind the souls whose pastor you are, but without forgetting yourself. My brothers, do not forget that there is nothing so necessary to all churchmen than the meditation which precedes, accompanies and follows all our actions; I will sing, says the prophet, and I will meditate (cf. Ps 100:1). If you administer the sacraments, my brother, meditate upon what you are doing. If you celebrate Mass, meditate on what you are offering. If you recite the psalms in choir, meditate to whom and of what you are speaking. If you are guiding souls, meditate in whose blood they have been cleansed. And let all be done among you in charity (1 Cor 16:14). Thus, we will be able to overcome the difficulties we meet, countless as they are, each day. In any event, this is what is demanded of us by the task entrusted to us. If we act thus, we will find the strength to give birth to Christ in ourselves and in others. (St Charles Borromeo, Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis)
11am - 12 noon Readings from the Feast of the Annunciation
On 25th March we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation. This day is full of joy and hope. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah (7:10-14; 8:10) gives the sign of hope and the coming salvation: ‘the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel, a name which means, “God-is-with-us”.’
Four oracles, chapters 7-11, speak of the child who is hope of Israel, the New King ushering in a new kingdom, restores a New Creation, and leads to a New Exodus.
King Ahaz of Judah (735-715 BC) is given a sign of victory in his military struggle against the northern kingdom and Syria. The final verse of the reading (8:10) is taken from the second oracle which predicts that the King of Assyria will overthrow the northern kingdom and Isaiah and his children are signs of God’s immanent judgement. The third oracle presents a ‘royal child’ who will be a sign of salvation for the whole nation (Is 9:1-8). This child will come in ‘the latter time’ and will be an heir to the kingdom of David (Is 9:6-7). The fourth oracle predicts the coming of the royal son from the family of David, ‘from the stump of Jesse’ (11:1-2). Together these prophecies foretell and point us to the hope of the coming of Christ-Child, who is the Messiah. [See John Bergsma, Brant Pitre, A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament 2018.]
St Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38) reveals the mystery of the Annunciation.
Fra’ Angelico’s painting leads us into the mystery of the encounter between the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. We pray that Christ will bring hope and consolation to people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and that we may again to him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
As priests we thank God for the gift of our priesthood and offer ourselves again to the Lord. Sr Mary David (1957-2017) in The Joy of God, Collected Writings,, St Cecilia’s Abbey, Isle of Wight) in The Joy of God quotes Mother Janet Stuart RSCJ (1957-1914) in Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart (London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1922), p. 84. :
Each soul is brought from far or near, by its own way. Each vocation has a story, it is the story of a spiritual life; of a choice, an election, a consent; then adventures, vicissitudes, perils, risks sometimes; or a long waiting, acute crises and sudden turning points; then an accomplishment, and realisation of promises … It is an arduous journey, a great undertaking, not a little or an easy thing … Sing in every way you can … God gave song to give heart and courage and joy in life; if not with the voice, sing with the spirit and the understanding, sing by words of courage and hope, praise and thankfulness. Call out to one another by high thoughts and spiritual ambitions, these are the songs of our country.
The prayer concludes with Midday Prayer.
2.00 – 3.00 pm With Mary at the foot of the Cross.
‘but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the
disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold,
your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hourthe disciple took her to his own home.’ (ESV John 19:24-27)
At the foot of the cross, we offer our intercessions asking the assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In preparing for the rededication of the country to the Dowry of Mary this is an opportunity to ask her help at this time of crisis.
Please pray also for the Cardinal, the bishops and all our brother priests and deacons at this time, especially those who are fearful, anxious and vulnerable in health.
The prayer concludes with Evening Prayer.
Thank you for joining in this Day of Recollection.
Bishop John Sherrington
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