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“Everything has changed; nothing has changed.”

A Pentecost Message

‘How are you, Father?’

‘I’m fine, thank you. How are you?’

‘No, how are you really?’

‘I’m really fine, thank you!’

A repeated refrain over recent weeks and months in various encounters with parishioners when I’ve been out for exercise or during ‘phone or email conversations; an exchange familiar to you as well, I’m sure. Admittedly, there is now more to it than mere customary social enquiry, a greater sincerity perhaps, yet the question and answer pattern remains essentially the same.

Nothing has changed …

The world still suffers: its peoples still burdened and afflicted, human freedoms still disregarded, the truth still twisted in the service of such appalling, self-serving and venal human beings as Presidents Trump, Putin, Xi Jinping and Erdoğan, Supreme Leader Khamenei, and Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Johnson: the litany goes on.

The two extremes of human nature – base and selfish, inspiring and selfless – still on display, although maybe now more exaggerated than under, what used to be called, ‘normal’ conditions.

There is still drought, famine, starvation and early death. There is still warfare, violence and civil unrest. Are we still remembering to pray for Yemen, Syria, Palestine, the Central African Republic?

Faith and hope? In human beings, seldom. In God, always.

My worst personal failing recently was borne not of frustration with lock-down – this kind of semi-eremitical living suits me quite happily and, awful as it may sound to you, I really don’t miss physical and social interaction – but of particular irritation at unknown others.

I was tempted to use the words of Mercutio from Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Act 3, Scene 1): ‘a plague o’ both your houses’, wishing an Old Testament prophet’s imprecation on the selfish, crass and vacuous attitude and behaviour that leads ‘people’ to dump their unwanted items in the church garden and on church property – old bicycles, old office chairs and the like. Yes, a malediction on all who behave in this fashion! This is action that takes deliberate planning and transport, and an intention to dump and abandon. The local authority tips and recycling plants still not open to receive every kind of rubbish? No problem, let’s off-load it at the church! Yes, we’ll clean up your mess. No respect for Church, others, or private property.

Everything has changed …

Everything did change with:

  • the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation: the world and history, God’s creation, could never be the same again

  • the Life, Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ: sin and death defeated, God’s love victorious

  • the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; a change that is still happening, on-going, still in process, and we are part of it

a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis

Everything has changed: there is a present increase in compassion and concern, in neighbourliness and community awareness. Will it last? Hmmm. Human beings, as I’ve said before, have such short memories.

A cocoon is often used as a symbol of Jesus’ three days in the tomb and the butterfly (as the transformed caterpillar) as a symbol of the Resurrection. We are in a kind of cocoon at the moment. The question is what sort of butterfly will emerge, in our own lives, communities, parishes, or the wider church and society? What will the transformation look like?

So, to each of you, the blessings of a happy Pentecost! May you be consumed by the transformative power and action of the Holy Spirit in your lives.

Fr Alistair

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