The Gospel for this Sunday follows on from the resurrection appearance of Jesus to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These two disciples had now headed back to Jerusalem to inform the other disciples what had happened. Just as they are doing so Jesus appears amongst them! So we have another resurrection appearance of Christ to his disciples. At first the disciples think they are seeing a ghost. So Jesus remonstrates with them, asking ‘Why are you so frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’ The disciples continue to doubt so Jesus asks for a piece of grilled fish, which he eats in their presence. This eating of the fish proves to the disciples that Jesus is not a ghost and that he has risen as he said he would.
What is common in all of the ten resurrection appearances of Jesus before his ascension is that he is somehow changed. Why for example did the two disciples who walked on the road to Emmaus with Jesus not recognise him? Why did Mary Magdalene mistake Jesus for the gardener when he appeared to her near the tomb? Jesus seems to be able to walk through doors or walls when he appears in a room that was locked from the inside in that upper room. The disciples don’t always recognise Jesus immediately by sight, but they often recognise him through the breaking of bread, by the things that he says, or by means of touch.
The Catechism (CCC 643-646) tells us that Jesus’ resurrected body now possesses the new properties of a glorious body: one that is not limited by time and space and Jesus is able to appear how and when he wants. Christ’s humanity is no longer confined to this earthly world but belongs now to his Father’s heavenly realm.
We as Christians continue to experience the risen Christ through the breaking of bread, through the things that Jesus says to us through prayer, through others, through the Church’s teachings, through Eucharistic Adoration, or by the touching of our heart through the faith of another person or a felt presence that Jesus is somehow walking with us or watching over us. The Lord’s supper is where we as the Lord’s Faithful gather as a community to encounter the risen Lord who invites each of us to His heavenly banquet – the Eucharist.
This is why virtual Masses or Zoom Masses are no substitute for the real thing and the actual receiving of the Blessed Sacrament in person. I for one am looking forward to all the covid restrictions hopefully being lifted in June so that everyone who wants to can come back to church, to be a part of this Christian community and celebrate the Lord’s supper together.
One thing I am certain about is that the post-covid world will be a make or break time for the local Catholic parish church in this country along with local Anglican parish churches too. I am ever hopeful that people will return to church in large numbers, but recent research by the Pew Foundation suggests otherwise. We may well be 20% smaller in terms of numbers than before we went into lockdown. This is going to have a huge impact on how we do church in the future and how we fund our churches. Even before the pandemic the church in terms of membership in the UK has been in steady decline since the 1960’s for a whole variety of reasons, what the pandemic has done is to accelerate us to a tipping point which we all knew was coming.
As a result of this and our dire financial situation, particularly at St Patrick’s, we will soon need to start making some decisions about what we want as we look to the future for both our parish communities.
St Patrick’s Church is a large worn out building which looks rather shabby as you approach it from the Itchen Bridge. Anyone who visits for the first time always comments that it needs a good lick of paint and looks pretty run down once inside. For me as a relatively young priest, I feel quite sad having to say Mass in a church where there is paint and plaster peeling off, marks on the walls, water stains from leaks, damp patches, worn out carpets and floors and poor lighting in the sanctuary. Not a very dignified sacred space for the celebration of Holy Mass. The maintenance costs for St Patrick’s Church are enormous as is the debt, so what are we going to do about it? We can’t carry on as we have been.
The Annunciation Church looks much nicer now it has had a face lift by Chris and Heather Bick, but it will need a new roof soon and we don’t have a suitable space for our Children’s Liturgy or for Catechetical events or for Socialising after Mass or for our lunch club and knitters etc., so what are we going to do about it? We can’t carry on as we have been.
Then there is our evangelisation and outreach work, what are we doing for our young people, our young families, the marginalised and those searching for God and the Truth?
The time has now come for us to be imaginative and to make some decisions as to the future direction of travel for both our parish churches and their facilities. I now wish us to begin a parish consultation process for both our parishes, which the Diocesan team will pick up and organise in the coming months ahead once the Covid restrictions are lifted. So get your thinking caps on and be imaginative and ponder these two questions for the parish you are involved with as a starter for ten:
What three words would you use to describe the parish as it is now?
What work do we do now as a parish that’s good work?
Jot down your answers in a note book or on your computer, more questions will follow over the coming weeks. I will later ask for your answers and thoughts which will advise the formal parish consultation process once the Covid restrictions are lifted.
This is an exciting time for us as and one which is full of possibilities as we look to how best we can serve future generations of Catholics and indeed the local community in and around Woolston and Netley as the Catholic Church in this part of Southampton.
BE POSITIVE, BE IMAGINATIVE AND GET INVOLVED!