30th Sunday (A)
25th October 2020
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“Love is a decision”
It is almost 70 years now since Norman Vincent Peale published his book “The Power of Positive Thinking”. Over the years it has been enormously influential in offering solutions to managing the challenges of everyday living. In some ways it is the original of the species of self-help books which has grown to be an enormous industry in its own right.
When you think on it, the key insight that Norman Vincent Peale offered was the importance of our basic attitude and the approach to meeting life’s challenges. You would say is that not obvious? Sure it is but it is not so easy in practice. For that reason, you often hear coaches speak of a team with a good mentality – their mindset is positive and confident.
These observations come to mind as we enter another challenging period of restrictions to help suppress the spread of the coronavirus in our midst. This time there is a different atmosphere – the pressure on many levels is getting to us – it stretches from dismay, to despair, to angry defiance. Its generated by the very varied impact it is having on our lives. While some can carry on with limited restriction others have their whole life turned upside down.
Financially, the government is managing to bridge the gap for now. But we know that can go on for only so long. Some businesses are unlikely to survive. The question of increased unemployment is ahead of us.
Thankfully, schools are functioning, albeit under significant pressure and anxiety. Sadly, more people are going to get sick and some will die. The strain and sadness that brings has to be coped with.
The power of positive thinking is most often applied to our individual lives – in other words an exercise in self-interest which has its place. It is an added dimension to extend it to care for and interest in one another. We should give ourselves credit because this profound care and outreach is happening and it is uplifting and positive in its impact.
So while we do not doubt the power of positive thinking we know that it has to be tempered with realism. We must not fool ourselves or be deluded by unreal expectations. As many families who have had to arrange funerals can testify – they celebrate and mark the moment but not as they would wish. Equally couples who have planned, cancelled and deferred their wedding arrangements can testify to the disappointment on one hand but also to valuing the joy of the day albeit in a restricted format.
On a wider church level, I naturally have concerns how we are going to manage at parish level into the immediate future. The inability to gather in person for Mass is a great void for all of us. Some are very angry with bishops that we allow ourselves and the parish communities be subject to the government health guidelines. Some argue the point that it is a restriction on religious freedom which is unconstitutional. It is a restriction on health and safety grounds rather than on religious freedom in itself – it is temporary and not permanent.
My greater concern though is the potential growing complacency if not apathy to shared prayer and practice. If faith, individual, family and community is not nurtured it will begin to wither and die.
These recent months great efforts were made to celebrate Confirmation and 1st Communion ceremonies in a safe and sacred manner. I commend all involved, teachers, parent and priests who made all the necessary adjustments to make these sacramental moments happen. The disturbing reality is that so few of these young people and their families have gathered for Mass with their parish congregations. This is a level of disconnect and disengagement that needs to be addressed. Many of us seem to be drifting away by default.
Making this apparently negative observation it is by way of asking. Is that same level of spiritual complacency and apathy taking greater hold of our lives in the midst of the lockdown required by the pandemic?
To help us nurture faith in the time of Covid 19 I hope to issue some reflections and ideas in the near future to encourage you to be proactive in a spirit of faith. We must not be harsh with the widow, the orphan or the stranger (Ex. 22:21). The greatest of the commandments is love of God and neighbour. This love is not a mushy sentiment rather a conscious decision to love, to care to the point of self-sacrifice.
The power of positive thinking in its full sense takes us beyond our self-interest to positive action and behaviour for the vulnerable and fragile. That is a decision to sacrifice. If we say yes to it – we will emerge from the pandemic a stronger and more wholesome people.