19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
9th August 2020
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
On the 27th March a week or so after our lockdown in Ireland – Pope Francis gave his blessing Urbi et Orbi – to the city and to the world. It was an unusual and extraordinary event in that the Pope stood alone on a podium addressing an empty St. Peter’s Square while it rained heavily in the growing darkness of the Roman spring evening. While seemingly praying alone he was joined online by countless people in their homes.
He chose to reflect on the experience of the Apostles when they found themselves in turbulent waters caused by a sudden storm. As they feared for their lives, they called out to the Lord for help in their peril – Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid. It is St. Matthew’s telling of that event we are given for our thought and prayer to-day.
He said: “For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away.”
“We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realised that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented.”
Remember Pope Francis was speaking in late March – in some respects the entire experience is ominous – there is a growing sense of uncertainly – forbearance is being tested, anger and irritation are coming to the surface.
Pope Francis said: “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 pre-packaged 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.”
We all are well aware of the delicate balance that those in leadership, in medicine and politics have to try and get right.
We need the economy to recover to provide employment and security.
We also need our schools to re-open for all kinds of reasons not least for the sake of the children and young people. For the structure and sense of purpose it gives, for the stability and recovery of an ordered family life, for parents who need and have to work.
We would like to have normal recreation and sports, matches to play or go to.
The absence of live music, theatre and film leaves a huge void in our lives.
Yet caution and wisdom is required to ensure a steady, firm and secure return to all the dimensions of our lives.
Our vulnerability is tangible – as individuals and as a society.
Our response needs to go deeper in terms of our care for the plight of others.
The reality is that until everyone is tested for the virus many among us are carriers but do not realise it or believe they can be. Young people find it particularly difficult to observe social distancing. Yet the responsibility they need to exercise is critical – a new conscious commitment to care for others is called for.
This is not just a medical challenge but a test of character – a test of spiritual and personal maturity too.
For the sake of all, may we, young and old continue to face that testing with vigour and generosity. In the words of Pope Francis on 27th March it is “a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”