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Bishop Crean Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Out of the depths ……De Profundis

Homily, Bishop William Crean,
5th Sunday of Lent (A)
29th March 2020
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh

De Profundis clamavi ad te, Domine.
Domine, exaudi vocem meam
Out of the Depths I cry to you O Lord
Lord hear my voice
“O let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleading”

These are the opening words of Ps. 129 which is our responsorial Psalm this morning.

De Profoundis, out of the depths is a plaintive cry from the heart, to the Lord, in our time of crisis and need.

These are apt and providential for us at this time because rarely if ever before was there a time when the nations of the earth together have been focussed on a single shared concern as it is right now with COVID-19.

Along with the uncertainty and fear that it has visited upon us it has generated so many questions for young and old about the future. For the old questions about their own mortality. For the young questions about how the future might be very different from what they thought it would and should be.

For all of us it has jolted us out of our complacency / our comfort zone to realise that the world and life itself is more fragile than we thought.

In responding to this health crisis – so much that is really superficial in life has already been stripped away to get us to pay attention to those elements of life that are essential. We are discovering a new sense of the importance of community, of the link between the generations.

We are discovering a renewed sense of family and how precious they are to us – along it should be said, with the challenge it can be to respect the space of one another at home – of the need for patience especially.

We are also discovering the challenge of time, of using it well, of doing stuff that interests us. Some are discovering the sharp edges of isolation and loneliness; some are experiencing deep anxiety that comes from a sense of powerlessness – of having no control over our lives.

These questions, and the experiences, that have given rise to them have prompted us to reach more deeply into our inner spiritual selves. There are many, I suspect, who have not turned to the Lord in prayer for some time have been prompted to do so by the threat of COVID-19. There is no shame in that, humility is fashioned and forged in a time of need.

We call COVID-19 a deadly virus because that is what it is a virus that can mean death for some. All of us are being called to play our part in halting the spread of the virus. The medical people are doing their bit guiding us with their expertise. In a sense the rest is up to us. If we wonder when this nightmare will be over, we need only point to our own behaviour. A virus spreads because we make a pathway for it. Only by careful observance of the restrictions placed upon us can we get the better of this plague. It is strange to suggest that the best way we can serve one another in the next while is to stay away / apart from each other.

The most recent guidelines proposed to us are suggesting yet more restrictions on our usual life patterns. From the perspective of parishes this will mean that we close our churches for these coming weeks. The reason for doing so is that we cannot guarantee the supervision that is called for of spaces open to public access. This will be a painful sacrifice for many. Some are of the view that the Church is being dictated to by the State. Those who hold this view need to appreciate that it is not an issue of religious freedom here rather the Church seeking to be an effective partner in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the community.

Access to the churches for funerals is also a very sensitive matter for families who are bereaved. Up to know, funeral Masses have been celebrated in very restricted forms – being confined to family members. Due to the danger of contagion many families have chosen in consultation with the priest and funeral director to go directly to the place of burial. Some further guidance on the celebration of funerals are likely this coming week.

As it happens the Gospel for this 5th Sunday of Lent is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. In the midst of this health crisis it might seem macabre to focus on death. Yet when we listen attentively to the full story of the raising of Lazarus it begins with the anxiety of Martha and Mary, his sisters, for Lazarus their brother, all friends of Jesus. They were annoyed by His seeming lack of hurry when they called for him and then the dialogue ‘round his restoration of Lazarus to life.

This is less a story about death than life. It is a moment of teaching about the true nature of life that endures beyond our mortal bodies. All of us cherish our lives as we should but we know that worth and value of living is not the length of years or the accumulation of possessions rather that

“In life we act justly
that we love tenderly
and walk humbly with our God” Micah 6:8

The corona virus is deadly – we rightly fear its potential devastation.

But it has caused us to stop in our tracks and reassess how we are journeying through life as individuals, as families, as nations.

Maybe we are being called to recover a sense of what justice requires on a global level. Maybe we are being called to recover a discerning tenderness and compassion for all of humanity –
Maybe we are being called to walk life’s journey with a more humble heart and spirit.

In these days of lock-down for many we may find an opportunity to reassess some priorities. We have time to re-order our days to include some things we thought important but never got round to.

It would be wise and wonderful to have a structure for these days.
Take some time for prayer, meditation, reflective prayer, mindfulness in a Christian tradition. It would be especially fruitful if as a family you conclude your day with some prayers of thanksgiving for one another.

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you
May he look upon you with kindness
and give you his peace. Amen

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