The Rt Rev John McDowell, Bishop of Clogher, communicated the following pastoral message to the diocese on the occasion of St Macartan’s Day
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble;
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains tremble in the heart of the sea;
Though the waters rage and swell,
and though the mountains quake at the towering seas.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place of the dwelling of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; therefore shall she not be removed;
God shall help her at the break of day.
The nations are in uproar and the kingdoms are shaken,
but God utters his voice and the earth shall melt away.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Psalm 46;1–7, appointed Psalm for St Macartan’s Day
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
I think it’s no exaggeration to say that we all got quite a shock last night when the Prime Minister in the UK announced the very wide ranging restrictions which we will all have to live with for a time. As this goes out similar restrictions have been announced by the Taoiseach in the Republic of Ireland. However, as the first day of the temporary “new normal” dawns, I would like to offer some words of hope and assurance.
It is said of St Macartan that he was a strong man. Maybe he was. We know very little about him. But if he was anything like his mentor, St Patrick, his strength was rooted entirely in his dependence on God.
We are passing through an uncertain time. Many of the things which we took for granted are now not ours. We have lost simple freedoms: freedom to go where we liked when we liked; freedom to buy what we could afford; a feeling that, all being well, tomorrow would be much the same as today. For a while that will all be different.
Above all else we will need to look out for one another and to be calm and measured in all that we do. Apart from our healthcare workers which I mention specially later on in this message, I want to ask you to think about those who are self–isolating or particularly because of age or underlying medical condition. It would be very helpful if parishes tried to identify who the most vulnerable of those might be and to regularly check that they are being looked after.
As this message, whether it is being read online or listened to on Facebook demonstrates, we are now heavily dependent on technology to stay in touch and to “keep company”. Many of those who are self–isolating, will be using technology to stay connected. But there will be those in your parish who are not familiar with technology and cannot use it. Perhaps you can imagine some way that such people can be helped to get a tablet (or some other device) and to be given basic help in how to use it. Please think about that. Although it is inevitably a little uncertain what our new rhythms of life will be for some weeks or months, we will find that new rhythm. It may not be as materially rich as we’re used to, but perhaps we will find time to feed on the things of the Spirit.
I think our greatest enemy at present may be anxiety. That is perfectly understandable and I don’t want to offer you any glib antidotes. But, as your bishop, I do want to assure you of my prayers as you turn to God in a new situation. As you “cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you”. Look after yourself psychologically and spiritually. Find a pattern that works for you. We will all have different ways of doing this, but can I suggest that you, and your family (when you are together) try to say daily the two prayers which are at the end of this letter. The first is the General Thanksgiving, because, you know, we do have a great deal to be thankful for compared to those living in many other, very poor and poorly governed parts of the world.
The second is a prayer for all our healthcare workers, who are being called upon to make heroic efforts to care for people and to keep as many people alive as possible. And if we are praying for them, let us also especially look out for them and make an extra effort to ensure they are provided for, if they are our neighbours, parishioners and friends.
I want to end this message with a little meditation which was passed onto me by an Indian Bishop in a Whatsapp Group I belong to. It was written by a priest of the Mar Thoma Church in India, a man who had endured much suffering, far beyond what we are being asked to live through:
No rain has not ended
No wind has not calmed
No night has not turned to day
No pain has not subsided
All things pass
The General Thanksgiving
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, We thine unworthy servants Do give thee most humble and hearty thanks For all thy goodness and loving–kindness to us, and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life: But above all, for thine inestimable love In the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; For the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, That our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, And that we show forth thy praise, Not only with our lips but in our lives; By giving up ourselves to thy service, And by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, To whom with thee and the Holy Spirit Be all honour and glory, World without end. Amen.
A Prayer for healthcare workers
Lord Jesus Christ, who said “forasmuch as you do these things to my brothers and sisters, you do them to me” be near to all those who care for the sick at this time. Give them a sure sense of your presence, and a full measure of your spirit of care and love. Guide their hands and keep their hearts as they bring health and healing to all in their care, who you lived and died to save. And keep them, Lord in perfect peace as they do your will. Amen