The Lord is Our Hope – A Message from Bishop Kevin
Last January, we had never heard of COVID-19 and, as usual, we wished one another a Happy New Year. Back then we were “innocent” and we had no idea what was coming down the tracks. It has been, without doubt a very difficult and stressful year. Many people have lost loved ones and a great many more have been sick. I want you to know that you are always in my prayers and that, all over the Diocese, people are praying for you every day.
Some people have been under enormous pressure at work, while others have struggled with having no work. Young couples, students, athletes, and families have seen their plans turned upside down, as things we had prepared for and worked hard for were cancelled or postponed. The new normal has turned out to be totally abnormal and now we are all struggling with the experience of being back in lockdown. It would be very easy to lose heart.
Back in January, we launched a Year of Vocation in our Diocese. The plan was not just to encourage vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but to invite everybody in the Diocese to reflect on how we could be disciples in a new way. At the very beginning of my pastoral letter, I wrote: “The world we live in today is changing very rapidly”. Little did we know how rapid that change would be. All our practical plans for the Year of Vocation went out the window, of course.
Around Easter time, I was chatting with an epidemiologist about our preparation for the return to public Mass and Sacramental life in the Church. She had a lot of useful and interesting things to say about infection control, but the thing that struck me most forcibly was when she said: “Don’t be thinking too much about the possibility of a vaccine. That might be a very long time in coming. You need to figure out what you have to do, and then do it as safely as you can”.
For Christians, postponing our mission is simply not an option; faith cannot be quarantined. Mission cannot be put on hold indefinitely. Looking back on these last nine months, perhaps this really has been a Year of Vocation. Christians are being called to find new ways of praying, new ways of serving, new ways of being community, new ways of being Church. Like the sower in the Gospel parable who went out to sow his seed, we are called to be people of Hope in a world where hope is in short supply. Christian Hope is not just wishful thinking, it is built on trust in God, who gives the growth and whose Spirit of wisdom guides our decisions and our actions.
Pope Francis recently commented that ”our lives are interwoven with and sustained by ordinary people valiantly shaping the decisive events of our shared history: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caretakers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests and religious…” Many people are motivated by the Spirit of God, often without even realising it. Throughout history, people of faith have experienced times of crisis as times of renewal and conversion. During their Exile in Babylon, the people of Israel rediscovered their vocation as the people of God. In times of plague, persecution and natural disaster, faith often seems to grow stronger. In a time of crisis, as we discover our own vulnerability and realise that we don’t have all the answers, we are called to turn back to God who is the source of all meaning and all wisdom.
I have no idea what the next few months will be like, but I do know that we are not alone. The past and the future are part of who we are, but we have to live in the NOW. The Spirit of God is, even NOW, at work among us, leading us on to be the people God is calling us to be. God may have in mind a “new normal”, which is more consistent with our own happiness and the good of humanity, than the way it was before. What have the past few months taught us that we could take with us into the future? Here are just a few suggestions:
- A New Perspective on Family Life: Many people are saying that, with all the restrictions, they have found more time for family. Husbands and wives have talked more deeply. Parents have found time to play with and listen to their children. What can we do to protect that time and space when life begins to return to “normal”, as it will?
- A Renewed Spirit of Prayerfulness: The Church is much more than an online community and we do need to gather for Mass and the Sacraments. In 2020, however, many of us have come to realise that Church is not just where we go; it is who we are. We have not stopped being the Church. God is to be found in every situation. A friend of mine told me that, in recent months, he and his wife have prayed at home in a way that they never did before. Many of us have rediscovered the Rosary or begun to explore the Gospels. We have learnt how to create sacred space at home for the online Mass. We have discovered that there is more that we could do to keep the sick and the elderly in the communion of the Church. This new and diverse spirit of prayerfulness is worth holding on to, even when we do get back to the public Mass and the Sacraments.
- A Deeper Communion; Most of us think of “communion” as something that we receive. We see it as another word for “Eucharist”. But “communion” is really a relationship of love and self-giving. Through the Eucharist we are drawn into communion with Christ and with one another. When we go online for Mass, we really have to make an effort to imagine the presence of others and to engage with them. The beginning of mass, even when we are not physically present, is a real moment of gathering. Perhaps, if we consciously do that now, it can also become a habit for the future, when we return to Mass. In that way, as St. Augustine says, we become what we have received, the Body in Christ.
- A Renewed Commitment to Service: The pandemic has, undoubtedly, brought out the best in many people. There has been a renewed commitment to serving one another in the community and a greater degree of flexibility and understanding. Arising out of our communion, this same spirit of service has been found in our parishes, where many people have come forward to share their gifts and have found their place in parish. This new sense of shared ownership and responsibility for the parish is something we really need for the future.
- A Greater Respect for the Gift of Life: During this time of pandemic, we have grieved the loss of thousands of people who were our friends and family members. Much has been said about the need to protect one another and, especially, to protect the vulnerable and the elderly. It seems incredible that we could come through this time and then return to the organised and state-sponsored taking of human life. If there is anything to be learnt from the pandemic it is surely that every life is vulnerable and every life needs to be protected and cherished.
May God bless you all and fill you with Hope, Faith and Love.
Bishop of Elphin
Dominus Spes Mea – The Lord is My Hope – is the Motto of the Diocese of Elphin