1st April 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
Over these past weeks I and other bishops have been in receipt of quite a number of letters and emails about the closure of churches for Mass with exception of funerals and weddings. Some are very angry and feel hurt by what they perceive as the failure to stand up to the government. Cowardice and fear are the most common accusations.
I can understand the anger and hurt. I can understand the frustration that comes from seeing other areas operating because it is deemed “essential” while public worship is not. Many feel their constitutional right to freedom to worship publicly is being unjustly curtailed. There is a case before the courts which will pronounce on these issues one way or the other.
But whatever judgement is given it will not change the key issue this has raised not just for individuals but for society as a whole which is the essential human spiritual mystical dimension of the human person that finds expression in our shared public prayer – and for us the celebration of Holy Mass/Eucharist. People are angry and frustrated because they miss it – it is food for the soul in the way the body needs oxygen to breath.
This evening we celebrate the very gift of the Holy Eucharist as the source and summit of our shared life in Christ Jesus – it is for us both a pathway and a destiny. Our hearts are restless until they rest in you. For a believer to utter these sentiments in sincerity of heart means they have made an inner journey of discovery whereby they find peace and reassurance in the promise of the Lord to be with us always.
The restrictions of the pandemic have impacted on so much of the externals of our life by way of work, school and family. But we acknowledge freely that is has impacted hugely on our emotional and spiritual inner life. The shared expression is its impact on people’s mental health.
In all of this time people’s physical need of food, clothes and shelter are taken care of. Yet something really important is going on inside. Something not of our choosing. Some feel tested and anxious, some feel an emptiness and negativity about themselves. Some are questioning the path they are on. Some use the anaesthetic of excessive alcohol use or drugs to cope.
On the other hand, some have found a new lease of life. They feel they have stepped off a treadmill and are living at a more normal pace. Some have a new appreciation of people, places and pastimes that has really refreshed their sense of living. This has moved many to a profound sense of gratitude, which has enriched them and those around them.
Another element of this experience we need to keep in mind is the virtual lockdown of the Arts which is so important in our lives also. Music, theatre and performance enrich our inner lives hugely. For many it is akin to a religious dimension in their lives. It is no accident that some of the great classicalcompositions were focused on the sacred liturgy. To put words on things is a great gift but when combined with music and song we can touch dimensions of our inner life that are otherwise elusive.
In that sense we are like people in exile. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land sang the Psalmist – by the rivers of Babylon.
It is important that we understand the nature of our spiritual hunger and thirst so that we manage our anger and frustration. We also need to keep our deprivation in proportion and in context. This time is more like a fast that protects life than a starvation and famine that leads to death. God willing, with patient resilience and the help of vaccination, we will return to public prayer. In the meantime, we fast in a spirit of faith and sacrifice for the sake of the common good.
Returning specifically to the theme of this Holy Thursday celebration it is good to remind ourselves of its dual message.
The first and most obvious is the Lord’s perpetual gift of himself to humanity with the words of consecration – Take this – This is my Body and Blood – poured out for you. Do this in memory of me.
The other element is his washing of the feet which is both an example and a living memorial of the embodiment of his sacrifice. During this pandemic the feet of many have been washed – with a deep sense of love and respect. This pandemic has coaxed so many of us out of our self-preoccupation to think of the other in need. This is grace and blessing. This experience of self-giving love reminds me of the words of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, a former Superior General of the Jesuits who died in 1991 – he was a truly holy man – not yet canonized but I expect he will be.
Nothing is more practical than finding
God, that is, than falling in love in
an absolute and final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed
in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know, what
breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with love and
Fall in love, stay in love … and it will