There was a remarkable moment yesterday morning NZ time when Pope Francis, a solitary figure in the vast piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, led the world in prayer. For an hour he prayed while people in every time-zone linked joined with him in faith-filled solidarity.
The time of prayer began with a reading of the account of Jesus calming the storm:
“a furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. The disciples called out to him: “do you not care if we drown?” Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
In his homily Pope Francis reflected:
“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits, and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anaesthetise us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.”
Let’s add the scriptures for this Fifth Sunday of Lent to our reflection.
The now-empty tomb of Lazarus (pictured below) is in the town of Bethany near Jerusalem. The tomb opening is directly off the street and steep narrow steps carved into the stone lead down to the deep dark chamber that was the grave of Lazarus. In this gospel reading Jesus brings Lazarus back to life, an example of the first-reading prophecy of Ezekiel:
“I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.”
Yesterday morning, without quoting either of these two passages, Pope Francis challenged us to make a choice between life headed for the grave and life leading to resurrection.
Pope Francis reminds us of the most central and fundamental choice each of us has to make in life. Will we opt for the “those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits, and priorities” or (as Paul writes in today’s second reading, his letter to the Romans) will we live as “people whose interests, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in us?”
This choice is one we need to make daily and even hourly.
The removal of our usual routines and contacts, schedules and habits can make us vulnerable to slipping into the unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaviour that prioritise what is false and superfluous. Let us re-commit to making healthy decisions for ourselves, and take every opportunity to help each other to keep healthy in these lockdown days with our prayer and practical encouragement.
- Become aware of the ways in which the lockdown and absence of usual routines could lead you to become lax about the things that are most important for you.
- Make contact with someone who might appreciate your encouragement and friendship, maybe someone you have not spoken to for a while.
- Complete text of Pope Francis’s COVID reflection (27 March 2020) at this link
- Pope Francis 27 March prayer (video) at this link.