It was 2.00am and jumbled ideas were swirling around my head like agitated bees.
The past few days have been deeply moving for me. I've been to hospital for minor surgery, and must now take it easy for a time. Here in the Caribbean, I've been able to follow the Pope's visit to England and Scotland and have entered into glorious liturgies, seen on my TV screen.
It has meant so much to me that my Dad and three of my brothers and I received our Grammar School education at the Oratory School founded by Cardinal Newman, in Birmingham. Grandma, who as a very old lady lived in the Oratory parish, even met an ancient Oratorian, who, as a young priest, had been a member of Newman's community. And last week Pope Benedict XVI declared Newman to be one of the blessed in heaven -Blessed John Henry Newman.
It has been a deeply moving experience to have been able to see on screen the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter, actually celebrating the Eucharist, hear him actually pronounce the Words of Consecration, and witness him actually distributing Holy Communion to young and old. But it was more than that. Instinctively I participated in the reverence that was clearly present at the different venues of the actual celebrations. In so doing I made a 'Spiritual Communion.' In spirit I was part of the action, even though several thousand miles of ocean separated me in the Caribbean from what was happening in the United Kingdom.
Through TV I've also been 'glued to the screen' when watching the World Football Cup, Test Match cricket and much else, including T/20s. I've been grabbed and held by these events. But not one of them has stopped me from picking up the phone and getting in touch with a friend, just for the sake of chatting together. I've no problem in working at my laptop or reading some light literature, while following such items.
It might surprise you to know that all these thoughts were buzzing in my brain from 2.00am onwards. They would give me no peace until I'd nailed them down in print on my laptop. Having got this far I now realized the need to check on what I personally do with the various media outlets -and what they are doing to me. I must work out for myself some kind of personal spirituality about this.
For me personally, I must insist that no media coverage of the splendid Papal Masses could ever compare with the simple Mass I was just able to celebrate on Sunday afternoon. There I sat before the altar, because as yet I was not strong enough to stand for the duration of the Mass. My congregation was the two nurses who had dressed my wound. In this basic, unadorned liturgy the Eucharistic Sacrifice was actually, sacramentally, celebrated. Jesus was actually present, and consumed in this, our chapel. Here there was genuine adoration for the reality in our midst.
That cannot be said for what has been presented to me on the screen. Visual images inspire me to genuine reverence, as would any Crucifix, as being bridges between me and the divine. Helpful, indeed! But in no way an equivalent or optional substitute for the real thing.
And here I want to pay tribute to one of the great blessings of this age. The regular Radio and TV transmission of Sunday and weekday Masses has been an enormous blessing to those confined to their homes or elsewhere, because of infirmity or sickness, to those taking care of them, as well as to the many who would love to be able to attend Mass but are prevented from doing so by reason of their work.
On occasions such as the Papal visit Radio and TV give viewers a sense of the Church being Catholic -Universal. Seeing the crowds of young and the not so young displaying such spontaneous enthusiasm was a real boost to my faith and enriched my confidence in my own priestly ministry.
So this is where I stand. It would be a far richer experience for people to attend and participate in my simple Mass than for them to watch and share in the magnificent Papal Mass that is accessible on TV. Putting it another way -there's something far more nourishing in eating real bread and cheese on the table before me than in looking at the TV image of a magnificent meal. So, too, we're far more involved when we join the crowd watching a football match than when we see the same game on TV.
As we have seen -so many ways for you and me to meet God mywaygodsway. From the time of the Apostles the Church has celebrated actual participation in the liturgy, and always will do so. We can count it as a blessed bonus that we can now follow on our TV screens images of real live liturgies in localities far and wide.
P.S. In 1958 Pope Pius XII designated St.Clare as the patron saint of television, on the basis that when she was too ill to attend Mass, she had reportedly been able to see and hear it on the wall of her room.
Next week Fr. Isidore will Meet God in 'Odd One In.'