It’s amazing how certain words and phrases in the Sunday readings seem to speak directly to us as if it was planned that those lines from the Bible were chosen especially for today. But then, the scriptures are the inspired Word of God – God speaks to us in and through them; they never lose their freshness or relevance to our lives.
Today, the words that leap out at me from the lectionary are “trust”, “hope”, “life”, “love”, “truth”.
As we continue to struggle through the months of lockdown, it can be difficult to keep our spirits up. The words of today’s psalm are certainly worth praying, over and over: “May your love be upon us, O Lord as we place all our hope in you”.
There are also comforting words in today’s Gospel reading, especially for those who are sick and suffering; those who have been admitted to hospital and feel isolated from family and friends. Jesus speaks memorable words of comfort: “Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust in God still and trust in me”. I think these words would also be very helpful for our A-level and Leaving Cert students who might be feeling anxious about what happens next. “Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust in God still and trust in me”.
I notice in today’s First Reading from Acts of the Apostles, that the early Christians wanted to ensure that the preaching of the Word of God would be accompanied by practical outreach and charity towards the poor and disadvantaged. No one was to be neglected in the daily distribution of food for the needy. That is why the apostles appointed deacons like Stephen, Philip, and others to ensure that the vulnerable would be nourished not only with the Word of God but would also receive food and essential daily supplies.
In recent weeks I have been impressed by the generous outreach of so many of our parishioners who have volunteered for community distribution of groceries, medicines, and friendly calls to those who live alone. Earlier in the week, I had an opportunity to meet with our local Knights of Malta, to hear about their work, to bless their ambulances, and to pray with them for the protection of our carers and health workers.
Our parishes and dioceses have now begun to draw up their plans and “roadmaps” for a return to collective prayer as soon as it is safe to do so. It has been very difficult for us not being able to gather together in our beautiful church buildings. We’ve had to rely on spiritual communion. For this, I draw strength and inspiration from the words in today’s second reading which speak about our being like “living stones” making up a “spiritual building” and Christ being the cornerstone of that building.
It is also helpful to hear in the Gospel what Jesus told His friends when they were struggling to cope with the news of His pending departure from them. They asked: ‘How will we know the way?’ Jesus said:
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”.
On RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland earlier this week I heard an elderly couple being interviewed about their experience of being cocooned – cut off from their family and loved ones. It was moving to hear them speak about the daily webcam broadcasts from their local parishes, describing them as being their “lifeline”!
It strikes me that, as the Covid-19 crisis rolls on, we are all beginning to reflect a little deeper, searching for our roadmaps forward, our “lifelines”. Government announcements say that we’re headed for a ‘new normal’.
I wonder what will be my ‘new normal’? Will I have learned anything from this crisis? How will it have changed me?
I am sure that many people are growing closer to God through this crisis, realizing perhaps that the way they have been living their lives has been unsatisfying at a deep level. Our forced seclusion and restricted personal freedoms have certainly reminded us all that we are not invincible and we are far from being in control of everything; we are actually quite dependent – on others and on God. Life is precious and fragile; love and family is fundamental to our safety and well-being. Not only is our physical health important, but also our mental, emotional and spiritual health. They all need to be nourished if we are to truly ‘keep body and soul together’.
As we continue our journey through lockdown and sketch out a way forward, the readings of today’s Mass certainly contain much food for thought and nourishment: words of inspiration like: ‘trust’, ‘hope’, ‘life‘, ‘love’ and ‘truth’.
And they all come together in Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Amen.
Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore and Primate of All Ireland