This blog post was first given as a homily on the Third Sunday of Lent, to the parishioners of St Elizabeth of Portugal in Richmond. It has been adapted for the purpose of this blog.
I’d like to say something about the Coronavirus pandemic.
The very first thing is simply that I want to acknowledge the anxiety many people feel. I recognise that sometimes when we are fearful we can say things that reflect our sense of helplessness. Before public Masses were suspended, I had people abuse me on the phone and accuse me of being complicit in killing because we were continuing to celebrate Mass at my parish. That’s fine – sometimes people without faith have no other outlet for their frustration.
But we are not a people without faith. And so, as a Christian community, our witness and example is important and will be a source of consolation and encouragement to many people. It is really important that we should never forget that we are sons and daughters of a loving God who cares for us and does not abandon us. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that our whole purpose in life, and in the end what really matters, is that one day we be united with him in our heavenly homeland where there is no sickness or infirmity and where every tear will be wiped away.
My brothers and sisters, it is more important than ever, when people all around us are worried and upset and scared, that we be strong in our faith, and that we not give in to a worldly, fearful way of looking at things.
Especially during Lent, we are called to re-examine what is important and to recognise that through the Cross we are led to the joy of the resurrection: that God sent his only Son into the world to redeem the world and to open to us the possibility of eternal life. That for his faithful people when our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.
Our example is important and in the middle of widespread chaos and pessimism and panic we have a very particular service to perform: people need to see our confidence in God, our courage, and our joy. They also need our generous spirit of service and charity as we do whatever we can to care for our neighbour. In a time of despair, people need heroes to imitate and we are the ones called to demonstrate that heroism.
We all know that one day we will die. This isn’t something new and nor is it something that should fill us with fear. Epidemics like this can remind us of the fragility of life and of the need to be prepared when we stand before the judgement seat of God. They remind us of the importance of prayer and also of returning to confession.
But at the same time, life is a gift from God and we have to use the means within our reach to preserve it. We are not to put ourselves or others recklessly in danger.
Public masses may have been suspended, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sanctify your Sunday: in fact, you can begin by offering the profound pain of not being able to participate in the Mass or to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. We can continue to sanctify Sundays in our homes with prayer, reading the scriptures, or using a Missal to read the prayers of the Mass.
As a practical response to the crisis and as an expression of our charity, in our parish I am establishing a network of ‘Guardian Angels’ who will telephone our older people a couple of times a week, to check to make sure they are ok and have the help they need. Before someone could be a Guardian Angel they would need to come to a training session and we would also need to do some background checks. I have asked for volunteers from the parish with a positive and friendly disposition who can really encourage and lift the spirits of people who may be feeling isolated and scared.
Finally, let’s entrust our parishes, our families and ourselves to our Lady – the salus infirmorum – the health of the sick.
May God bless you all.