“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill
I was a sixth-former at Newport High School, in South Wales, when I first heard those stirring words of the poet John Donne and I have never forgotten them. In fact “Death be not proud” is one of the few poems I know off by heart! It powerfully expresses our Easter faith as Christians namely that the way to eternal life has been opened and the doors of Heaven flung wide for us by the Saving Death and Glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each Easter Alleluia proclaims the message: “Death be not proud.” The victory of Christ is ours to share. Our Baptism has already given us a pledge of the Resurrection. Donne was right. Death cannot kill us anymore. Of course, we must eventually leave this world, but only so that we may be re-born into the world of eternity – something already in process through our experience at the font. So St Augustine of Hippo hit the nail on the head when he said: “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!” For that is exactly what we are…and not just at Easter but every single moment of our lives!
Holy Week and Easter will have been an unusual experience for me this year because through the good offices of the Apostleship of the Sea I am going to serve as a cruise chaplain on board the P&O liner Oceana. It sounds like a glorified holiday but I have already realised that this is the very last thing it will be! First and foremost I shall be chaplain to the crew of 800+ which is largely Philippino and Indian and therefore strongly Catholic. But I shall also be available each day to celebrate Mass with Catholic passengers and any others who choose to join us, to hear confessions and to deal with any pastoral issues that may occur above or below deck. I know it will be both interesting and challenging. This time last year I was planning the traditional Holy Week and Easter ceremonies in the parish of Our Lady & St Anne, Caversham, on the north side of Reading. This year I shall be wracking my brains as to how you are meant to celebrate the Easter Vigil on board a ship without an Easter fire, without the lighting of candles and without a font! It will call for some liturgical ingenuity – a grace for which I am now praying daily and fervently!
The message of Christ’s Easter triumph is of equal importance to those on land and those at sea. St Boniface of Mainz once famously declared: “In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.” I shall take those words to heart during my 10 days aboard the MV Oceana and pray in particular that the pounding by the waves will be limited to the Bay of Biscay! And I know that with the passengers and crew I shall be intimately united with the Universal Church in her annual celebration of the Paschal Mystery. For like John Donne, we believe that:
“One short sleep past we wake eternally
And death shall be no more. Death thou shalt die!”
In my first Easter message as Director of the St Barnabas Society I would like to say a special thank you to all of you who have so kindly and generously supported our work during the past year and, in doing so, enabled us to bring new life and hope to the beneficiaries who depend upon us for support and, in some cases, for their very survival. What you have done is very deeply appreciated and you are remembered each week at the altar at Wolvercote. And I would also like to thank those who work with me at our Society headquarters and our Chairman and Trustees who are always so hugely supportive. Our mission today is as important as it has ever been and it is a potent sign of the Church alive and at work. The risen Lord told his followers that they were to “Go and make disciples”. Through its unique work on behalf of those who choose to become Catholics this is precisely what the St Barnabas Society exists for.
“A very happy and holy Easter to you all!”