“Human beings long for the real over the virtual”

Fr Martin Boland, Dean of the Cathedral Parish, has written a moving letter to parishioners and all people of goodwill in a time of isolation: 

You can listen to this at: https://cathedralbrentwood.org/letter-20200322/

Or read it below:

Dear Brothers and Sisters

I want you to know that I missed your presence this Sunday morning. Let me tell you, the celebration of Mass in an empty Cathedral was a very lonely experience without you. A parish priest without his parish around him feels like a form of amputation.

And I am certain that many of you will have grieved the loss of coming together as a community to participate in the sacred mysteries. During the week, I had to explain to a young mum that there would now be no public Masses for the foreseeable future. Her eyes began to well and she said, “My heart breaks”.

Although we all understand the perilous health crisis that we face and our moral responsibility to make selfless sacrifices for the well being of others, our hearts do splinter and break. We grieve the absence of the parish community we love. Above all, we grieve not being able to receive those great gifts of God’s living word proclaimed in our midst and of being spiritually fed by Holy Communion.

I saw an image doing the rounds on social media of a priest who had stuck photos of his parishioners on the benches where they would normally sit. He was celebrating Mass before a congregation of selfies. Now, I’m not sure what their singing was like, but this was literally a snapshot of the way this parish priest was dealing with his hurting heart. But, for me, those rows of selfies simply highlighted the absence of real people and how great the loss actually is.

Human beings long for the real presence rather than the virtual presence. No number of conference calls or live streaming can ever be a substitute for the true presence of a human person or the gathering, the assembly of real people.

If this is true of our need for the presence of each other, it is even more so for the longing that we have for the ultimate, immortal presence of God himself.

In a time of uncertainty and pestilence, where all our securities and earthly routines are threatened, we can find true meaning, stability and rest in the presence of God, the one who is our rock, our fortress, our deliverer, in whom we take refuge.

In this time of trial, let us be surprised by grace – a time of grace where we allow ourselves to be drawn by God into the depths of our being where we can experience His presence. To live our lives a little more from a place of wonder, not of knowing and ceaseless activity.

The social distances that we must now keep between each other can be filled with a new awareness of the closeness of God to each one of us. The French thinker, Simone Weill, wrote “If we go down into ourselves, we find that we possess exactly what we desire.” And what we most profoundly desire is the real presence of God.

God pulling the darkness back so that we can see new, fresh tracks to take us safely home; God hushing the turbulence of our fears and anxieties with the gentle lullaby of his mercy; God vaccinating us against despair so that we can be witnesses to hope and love; Breaking the rules of quarantine, God touching our eyes in order that we may see more clearly those who most require our need and help and support.

If we are to sit out these weeks and months, let us do so in a way that we surrender ourselves more deeply to the Blessed Trinity. I love that phrase of Julian of Norwich, “Utterly at home, He lives in us for ever.” Yes, now is an opportunity to be sensitive to His presence living within us.

And to do that we each need to have a chamber of peace to find sanctuary in. Some time in every day where we can retreat from the coronavirus clamour and seek the balm of silence. Some physical space – maybe here at the Cathedral or somewhere at home blessed by a sacred image or candle or cross that focuses our ,attention on all that is good and true and holy; some prayer that is true and honest and comes from hearts broken open to His presence.

My prayer is that God’s protecting hand will be over you, your families, friends and, indeed, our society and world. My prayer is for that day that when we will celebrate together again before Christ’s real presence. Until then let us shelter from all harm in the folds of Mary’s mantle.


Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, hail our life, our sweetness and our hope!
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears!
Turn, then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after
this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.