This week the wait is finally over for some of us. This week, across England places of Worship can reopen for services. For us as Catholics in North Hampshire we have been unable to attend public worship since Friday 20th March. I have missed being at Mass, being a Deacon at the Altar, I have missed meeting up with the people in the congregation, I have missed the Baptism preparation classes where we have had the chance to meet the newest members of the Parish and to get to know some of their families too. When public Mass finally starts again in Basingstoke on Monday the 6th July, we can slowly start to do these things again.

I am very aware that this wait goes on for those with certain medical conditions or for those who are worried about going into public spaces again; all we can do is make the spaces as safe as we can based on the information we have at the time; as a Church we are attempting to do that. However, Mass will not be the same for a little while yet, as I write this reflection the final guidance has not been issued by the Diocese yet and we expect there to be restrictions in numbers.

This week the first reading from the prophet Zechariah is triumphant, it is in a passage sub-titled “The Royal Saviour” sandwiched between passages sub-titled The new promised land” and “The restoration of Israel”. As we gradually end this period of lockdown we may feel a sense of the old order being restored; we can at last return to public worship. We have been unable to attend Mass and take part in Lent and the whole Easter Season in the normal way. We are back to what the Church calls Sundays in Ordinary time, yet these are no ordinary times. If our first reading sounds familiar today it is because both Matthew (21:5) and John (12:14-15) refer to this passage when they describe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Throughout history we are aware of kings and Emperors processing into Cities in triumph with all the military trappings they can muster. They do this as a sign of power, hoping to dispel any uprisings and to carry the crowd, getting them on their side, offering a form of stability.

In his letter to the Romans, St Paul is urging us to remember that the same Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead has been given to us. He encourages us to live spiritual lives and to choose right from wrong. He reminds us that Jesus conquered sin when he died and rose again so that we can put an end to sin in our lives. This is easier to say (or to write) than it is to do! If left alone this would be too much of a burden for all of us. But St Paul tells us that if we live by the Spirit then we can put an end to the misdeeds of the body.

As we gradually come out of lockdown and look to return to the Sacraments, we are obliged to recall the times when we haven’t lived up to the goals we set ourselves; the Church knows this and every Mass has a Penitential Rite which allows us to reflect on the times we haven’t lived this Spiritual life. As we say that prayer “I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters ….. we remember that we are journeying together, that none of us is perfect and that we all need to be reconciled to God and each other. The Church also has the Rite of Penance to reconcile us with God and our brothers and sisters in the Church.

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus thanking his Father for hiding the mysteries from the learned but revealing them to mere children. When we look at who Jesus called to be His disciples, we do not see any priests or lawyers, we see fishermen and tax collectors; not people who had studied the ancient texts in detail. The lawyers and priests of his day were too busy making laws which excluded great swathes of the population, either because of their occupation, where they lived or because they had become ill. Jesus welcomed these people who were burdened with crippling illnesses, or who were labelled as sinners in their society or were too poor to make the offerings demanded by the law.

Jesus did not discriminate, He said to them “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.” The burden Jesus was describing included more than 600 commandments of the Law created by the lawyers. These laws elevated the lawyers and kept those considered to be the lowest in society just where the lawyers wanted to keep them.

Jesus also said his yoke is easy. In the picture shown there is space for two heads, these are normally used by oxen. But Jesus is offering us the chance to bear His burden by taking up his yoke and at the same time He is offering to share our burden and walk alongside us every step of our journey. When we live in Jesus our burden is easier. Jesus does not saddle us with more than 600 commandments, for Jesus there are only two. Love God and love our neighbour.

How can we take up Jesus’ offers this week?

Jesus invites us first of all to come to him. How can we come to Jesus this week? We can come to Jesus through our prayers, we can spend time reading the Word of God. We can reflect on all of the blessings we have been given; the nature we enjoy, the sun shining, the rain which waters our garden; reflecting on the simplest of things reminds us that God is very much present in our lives.

The next thing Jesus says is that He can give us rest; spending time with Jesus can help us to clear our minds or unburden ourselves of all the cares and worries that we use so much energy trying to solve by ourselves. Trying to do things under my own power is exhausting, maybe I should hand some of my worries over to Jesus, after all He is offering to ease my burden.

Jesus then asks us to shoulder his yoke and learn from him. What does he want us to learn? He wants us to learn to be gentle and humble of heart; because that is where we will find rest for our souls. When we can enter that state of mind, we will truly find a lighter burden as we will be ‘harnessed’ to Jesus.

As we start to set foot into God’s house again and approach His banquet table, we will want to satisfy ourselves that we are walking with the Lord or as St Paul says living a spiritual life. It is a good time to reflect on our behaviours by examining our conscience. When have we failed to love God or our neighbour? There are lots of ways of doing this; some Catholic Prayer Books have suggestions, there are online resources available if you search ‘Examination of Conscience’ or there are methods to follow or apps available to help you do this on a daily basis if you search under ‘Examen’.

Love of God and loving our neighbour. We can live out our love for God by reading scriptures, learning and keeping His commandments and we can live out our love for our neighbour with acts of mercy, kindness, compassion and caring for those we encounter. As we start to live the new normal, will we retain the thoughtfulness which society seems to have picked up these past few months? Will we have to remind ourselves to keep in touch with those still in lockdown or will it come naturally? Will we be prepared to act on behalf of or speak up for those who seem to be excluded by society?

Last week the Church released a new Directory for Catechesis to provide guidelines for the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel through catechesis and evangelisation. This reminded me that I had recently ordered a copy of ‘The Penny Catechism’; which will be remembered well by Catholics just a little bit older than me. This little book helped to form the faith of thousands of Catholics by asking 370 questions about our faith and providing the answers. I was surprised and delighted to be able to pick up a copy online and it is something which I can turn to, to help me to get to know my faith better and to see how the Church taught the faith just a few short years ago. The new Directory of Catechesis addresses the needs of people here and now in the 21st Century, it talks about inclusion, welcoming, harnessing the gifts of the whole community. Surely these are the same things which Jesus was doing all those years ago! He helped to lift up the forgotten, the excluded, the lonely. He was a refugee for a short time in his life. For Jesus everyone is a valued brother or sister that He is prepared to be harnessed with and to shoulder their burden alongside his own.

In a world which seems to be obsessed with self, where protestors voices are drowned out by counter protestors, our message will be heard not only by what we say; but when our actions speak louder than our words. When the love we show our neighbour has a ripple effect which encourages others to do the same. They will know we are followers of Jesus by our love (John 13:35).

Deacon Tony Darroch, 3rd July 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.