Each day I prepare a comment for this page as a reflection. Today I thought I’d use a more personal style and write a good old-fashioned letter to you as friends who join me in making this daily FFF pilgrimage.
Yesterday afternoon’s announcement that our country will move towards level three lockdown marks a hopeful step into a new stage of living this painful global reality.
I remember during a seminary retreat years ago feeling restless one afternoon during prayer and thumbing through my Bible, stopping by chance (it seemed) on an Old Testament passage. It all came back to me earlier this month on Good Friday when Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa (the ‘pope’s preacher” began his homily for Pope Francis with my text:
“ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer 29:11-13)
These words from the prophet Jeremiah are filled with a promise that comes not from the restoration of a familiar world order, but rich with hope for a new world where human achievements, personal successes and health are at best signs that point us to the greater hope of abundant life in Christ encountered by those who assent, both now in this life and eternally.
The Sacraments of the Church are our regular reminder of this Christ-centred reality. But in these days we are unable to participate in the Mass and other sacraments in the way that we need.
The limitations of technology remind us that the sacramental life of the church is a living and present experience, and not effective long-term as a virtual reality. We sense this truth when we acknowledge that it is not possible to participate in the Mass fully, consciously and actively in front of a computer screen surrounded by domestic distractions, and when we are unable to receive Eucharist; the reality of Jesus Christ who is the source and summit of our healthy human longing.
Of course initially we appreciated the advantage of Mass at home in front of the screen, able to pop out for a coffee when we felt like a break and maintain a text conversation with Facebook posts on the side!
Many people have taken positive initiatives rediscovering noble traditions of prayer and developing new and creative ways of actively seeking Jesus. Some household bubbles have introduced extended grace at meals adding the sharing of daily blessings with times of prayer for those in need. For others the reading of scripture and sharing of reflections within the bubble or on phone or online connection with friends has borne unexpected rewards in deeper faith and personal experience of Jesus.
Many who are alone as Christians in households have begun new routines of setting specific times of personal prayer. While some will continue to find parish initiatives and online Mass helpful, I am inspired by the many other initiatives that are happening in so many bubbles where personal and communal prayer has been renewed and rediscovered.
The Sacramental life of the Church has always motivated us to live and breathe our faith in every moment of family, work, study and social life. But our personal living of faith sustained by a conscious need for experience of Jesus has also motivated us to gather for the sacraments. This is the natural sacramental movement, both towards the Mass (aware of our need for the presence of Jesus in the gathering, the Word and the Eucharist) and sent from the Mass (inspired to live what we have received in our homes and in society).
In the absence of availability of the Sacraments we have an unexpected opportunity to turn to Jesus with even greater desperation in our own prayer with the challenges of these difficult days.
As we live the suffering of these days we know that we are not alone experiencing a global suffering that has crossed all boundaries, infecting people of every nation, background, and economic status. In the church all people are affected, and Pope Francis shares our helplessness listening to the homily of Good Friday in a near-empty St. Peter’s basilica. The preacher reflected:
“The pandemic of Coronavirus has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence… It took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal, that military power and technology are not sufficient to save us…
“…God is our ally, not the ally of the virus! He himself says in the Bible, “I have . . . plans for your welfare and not for woe” (Jer 29:11). If these scourges were punishments of God, it would not be explained why they strike equally good and bad, and why the poor usually bring the worst consequences of them. Are they more sinners than others?
“No! The one who cried one day for Lazarus’ death cries today for the scourge that has fallen on humanity. Yes, God “suffers”, like every father and like every mother… God participates in our pain to overcome it. “Being supremely good” – wrote St. Augustine – “God would not allow any evil in his works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, he is able to bring forth good out of evil.”
I have returned to this Good Friday reflection many times in the past ten days. I’m moved and inspired by it. While it was preached on Good Friday is bursting with Easter hope since without the suffering of Good Friday Easter morning is nothing more than a nice sunrise.
Fr. Raniero concludes his reflection with the prayer: “We too, after these days that we hope will be short, shall rise and come out of the tombs our homes have become. Not however to return to the former life like Lazarus, but to a new life, like Jesus. A more human, more Christian life!”
Thanks be to God for our Faith
LECTIO DIVINA FOR TUESDAY OF EASTER WEEK II (20 April 2020)
I offer two options for Lectio today, the first is with one reading of the gospel for today, and the second with the passage read twice. As a result they are of different lengths, the second also with some longer pauses for reflection.
Tuesday Easter Week II (15 minutes)
Tuesday Easter Week II (25 minutes)