Contemplating our path
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Lao Tzu)
My dear Sisters
These are unprecedented times, indeed. In the midst of the world-wide pandemic of Covid-19, we are aware, in a most unexpected way, of our reality as a Global Community moving into New Life. The spread of this virus is certainly global, with frightening statistics. Its victims are of every nation, every race, and every faith. The virus itself is no respecter of social class, of gender, or of political persuasion. It is the young who seem most able to resist its impact. As in many situations it will be the poor who are hardest hit. Many people who have not contracted the disease have been infected by anxiety, and perhaps even a sense of panic.
The experience of ‘lock-down’, which has become the situation in almost all of our countries, is an interesting Lenten experience. While it might restrict our movements and limit our free choices, we are aware that it is a choice made for the good of everyone – a restriction of personal choice for the sake of the Common Good. The Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are closely linked with the ways in which we are encouraged to live during these days.
- We pray, we carry in our hearts the needs of our world and present them to our God
- We fast, we limit our choices, we discipline ourselves, not for our own benefit but for the sake of others
- We offer alms, generously drawing on our personal security and our own richness to share with those who do not have enough
During these days we have seen these practices which we associate with the Lenten season lived out around us as response to human need. We are conscious of the generous actions of doctors, nurses and other health-care workers who put themselves at risk in order to provide life-saving care for the ill. Each of us will have our own stories of kindness and creativity, of courage and generosity, stories which, as we share them, offer hope and encouragement.
Many of us had the opportunity on Friday 27th March, to watch the live broadcast of Pope Francis offering the special ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing from an empty St Peter’s Square. Perhaps you will agree that it was a profoundly moving moment as we watched this lone white-clad man, limping as he walked through an empty Piazza, and standing alone to pray on our behalf. His physical limits were again clear as he raised the Blessed Sacrament in blessing over the empty square. His words were both challenging and consoling: ‘We have realised that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time, important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.’ And later ’Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.’.
History shows us that pandemics do eventually come to an end, and this one will also end, though we need to be patient. I wonder, however, how our ways of living might be changed in the aftermath of these months, how this difficult moment will lead us to new ways of being and of interacting. I wonder how we will help to create, and accept a ‘new normal’. Will we become more aware of others, more compassionate, more sensitive to the needs of our neighbours? Or will we succumb to the pressure to be more self-protective? Will this experience of enforced isolation become habit, or will it challenge us to develop creative and life-giving ways to extend compassion and generous outreach, and to build community and solidarity. In the ‘new normal’ whatever shape it takes, will our hope be deeper, will our faith in a life-giving God be stronger?
These days have also reminded me of one of the strong calls we heard God offering us during the General Chapter – to embrace our vulnerability. We are all confronted with our lack of control, with the vulnerability of our medical services, our economic systems, our social structures. As Francis reminded us this experience ’exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities’. So let us together enter into this experience of vulnerability, and be open to a renewed awareness of the blessings, goodness and strength which we share and which we have perhaps taken for granted.
As Christians, we enter the annual Lenten experience, looking towards Easter. We cannot relive the events of Holy Week without remembering that Resurrection follows. Our faith tells us that life prevails, that, as difficult and painful as it always is, death will never have the final word. So, too, we bring this same hope to these days of anxiety and isolation. Yes, anxiety is very real, as we share the sense of being overwhelmed by a situation that is beyond our control. However, it is in this world that God is present, it is this suffering world in which God is incarnate, it is into this painful situation that the tomb opens on Easter Sunday morning. Perhaps hope is the particular witness we are called to give in our vulnerable world in this present moment.
No doubt, wherever we are in the world, our Holy Week and Easter celebrations will take a different shape this year. Liturgical celebrations with our wider church communities will, on the whole, not be possible. That will, however, not limit the reality of Resurrection. We are still Easter People and Alleluia will always be our song!
Let us hold each other in prayer and love, united in our faith that new life is always possible, and in our efforts to be witnesses to hope. Let us remember that Angela urged us to ‘Have faith and firm hope that God will assist you in everything’. (Intro to Counsels)
Sue Flood osu