There is a Psalm in the Bible that springs to mind at the moment. The Psalms have some wonderful prayers in time of affliction, yet also contain a message of hope.
How long, Lord, will you forget me?
How long must I nurse rebellion in my soul,
sorrow in my heart day and night?
Look down, answer me, Lord, my God!
Give light to my eyes or I shall fall into the sleep of death.
As for me, I trust in your faithful love, Lord.
Let my heart delight in your saving help,
let me sing to the Lord for his generosity to me,
let me sing to the name of Lord the Most High!
Grant my heart joy in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has dealt bountifully with me!
The news that has come out in recent days about the extension of the Level 5 restrictions in most sectors has been greeted with a collective groan. The positive development of the arrival of the vaccines into Ireland and the emergence of Spring has been offset by the slowing down of the reduction in the cases of the virus being detected. Added to this is the new threat of the Brazil variant which has been identified now.
The variations in approach, the quest of the government and health agencies to lift the mood of the people has been dealt a blow. Every day in our news media, we are receiving multiple responses and not all seem to be offered in a coordinated approach. The only certainty is that the figures published each day with regard to the number of people identified as having the virus and the number of people who have died arising from contracting the Covid-19 tell the story of where we are with the pandemic.
Even this set of facts don’t tell the whole story and the numbers are not necessarily the actual numbers relating each day. There can be a lag between detection, identification and publishing of the data. But the overall result is tinged with concern.
Each sector in society is clamouring for a quick response and a roll out of the vaccine to their particular group. This is all understandable. There is growing impatience to receive the vaccine as the latest analysis demonstrates that those who have received the vaccine are immunised against the detrimental effects of the virus. This is evident among the health care sectors. This is positive.
In an ideal world we would all be offered the vaccine in the next week or so. But that is not possible. In the meantime, we are drawing on our reserves of positivity that have been sorely depleted since Christmas. The hope of Spring still offers us a light through our darkness. Our Faith is being tested as well. There is no simple answer to the question as to how or why God allows this to happen. I don’t have the answer. This is something that has taxed the minds and hearts of many a prophet and spiritual leader since time began.
The Old Testament is full of instances where people were challenged by misfortune, natural disasters, plagues, forced migration, famine, war, oppression, greed, sickness and disease. The message that I have drawn from reading the scriptures is that despite the fact that for some people life is miserable, or they go through a crisis – often not of their own making – there is still hope. (Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job being some examples). The example of Jesus shows us that he underwent suffering which led to his death so that we could identify with him. Not all are convinced that this is a good response.
But the compassion that Jesus showed to those whom he encountered as revealed in the Gospels, is also available to us. The most striking thing that people often refer to when going through a time of testing is the comfort they have received from people (family or friends) who walked with them during this time. Others speak of the comfort of knowing that Jesus too, went through his own suffering. It is not necessary to propose solutions all the time. Sometimes all that is required is to know that there is someone there.
In the same way, we can turn to Jesus, who also went through an agony and cried out: ‘God, my God, why have you deserted me!’ (Matt 27:46, Mk 15:34). “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Lk 23:46). But in surrendering to his fate, he transformed the suffering into an opportunity for life. His Resurrection, gives new hope to those who can offer up their suffering. This is not fatalism, but a realisation that sometimes when we resist reality we can prolong the pain, or it may lead us to a darker place.
The journey that Lent offers is a time of renewal. A time to reset our priorities. A time to look at where we are at and where we hope to go. The past year has been like no other, and the future is still uncertain. But we will come through it. What Pope Francis says in his latest book ‘Let us Dream’ may help in refocussing our goals.
“A “stoppage” can always be a good time for sifting, for reviewing the past, for remembering with gratitude who we are, what we have been given, and where we have gone astray….. In every personal “Covid,” so to speak, in every “stoppage,” what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected. What is the greatest fruit of a personal Covid? I’d say patience, sprinkled with a healthy sense of humour, which allows us to endure and make space for change to happen.” (Let us Dream pp 35-36)
In relation to the family he says:
“Of all the institutions, the family has taken the hardest knock of all. It has lost or a least blurred its social identity as the “first society,” where the person formed as a member of something larger, with rights and duties and security. To erode the family is to weaken the bonds of belonging on which we all depend. You can see this in the tragedy of young and old isolated from each other. It’s an intuition, but I’ve long believed that if we pay attention to both of these groups, bring them in from the outside and bring them together, great things will happen.” (Let us Dream p. 46)
I pray for you all and hold you very close to my heart. I know that many of you are concerned for my well-being as well, and I thank you for your thoughts and prayers. We need each other more than ever, and I pray that the Lord will protect you all. May God bless you.
The two big days of Fast and Abstinence are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Wednesdays and Fridays were days of Abstinence and fish was the staple on Fridays. Those who are between 15-59 are subject to the Fast, but many more participate in solidarity and especially when they are well enough to do so.
We are all encouraged to observe the Friday Abstinence still.
The three elements to Lent are set out as 1) Fasting; 2) Prayer; 3) Almsgiving or Charitable works. Going to Mass in Lent was encouraged and I remember getting up earlier in the morning to go to 7.30pm Mass in our local Church before breakfast and heading into school.
When Trócaire was founded the season of Lent was chosen as a special time to promote their work and it gave us a way of contributing to the poor and needy by way of their ‘Trócaire Box’. It was a clever strategy and has given support to many communities struggling because of injustice and poverty.
This year the theme of the Trócaire campaign is directed towards the suffering families of South Sudan. The situation in South Sudan is bad and Christian aid agencies are struggling to support the families that are displaced because of the conflict there. There are other areas in the world where the political situation is dire, Yemen is a particular example. No matter which area of the world we look at, there are people suffering the consequences of one group trying to get the better of another group and greed, power, and corruption are causing untold misery on people.
This year because of the restrictions in place, you are asked to make your donation directly to Trócaire either online (www.trocaire.ie) using the donate button or by post to Trócaire, Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Another option is by bank transfer and their details are on their website.
Our fasting can be seen in two ways – either as a negative or as a positive. If it brings us closer to the Lord, and helps change our attitudes for the better, then it is a worthwhile exercise. Prayer is another challenge, yet the Lord said, ‘When you pray, go to your private room, and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’ (Matthew 6:6)
I wish you well during this season of Lent. We pray for a successful roll out of the vaccinees and look forward to brighter days ahead.
Afternoon Join the Redemptoristine Sisters in Drumcondra for Adoration, Prayer and Mass find out more https://www.rednuns.com/
Evening/Night Greystone Parish in Wicklow lead an online night prayer, find out more here – Night Prayer
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