- Fifth Sunday of Easter
Strange things are happening to us all with Covid-19, not only the viral illness and its consequences, including rapid transfer between persons and the ultimate tragedy of a death, but from the point of view of the anxieties every single one of us is going through, be it loss of work, restlessness about lockdown, education and lack of the simple necessities of shopping and health, dentists, GP surgery, hairdressers, seeing others. But the reality is that 'new normal' will not be like it was in January 2020, for when this is over I have a very strong hunch that a lesson will have been learnt by some and not by others, that we must change our ways. It's tempting to see all the conspiracy theories and punditry about what happened, why and what will happen as just theories, but they are often dangerous theories, none so more as when religion gets mixed into the story and it is our task to keep focused, to understand we have been given a new chance to get things right!
Let me write this clearly, I come from a medical family of several generations, from childhood I have learnt that though medicine might not know all the facts when a disease strikes, the researchers and practitioners work at it, whilst caring for the patients, and in their wisdom they do not listen to our odd and ill-informed gossip and ideas, but look to empirical facts, and I thank God for that wisdom!
There have been some very stupid religious leaders and congregations in this Pandemic, and when they ignore the medical advice hanging on to piety rather than epidemiology, what follows is mass infection. I see no teaching of Jesus that suggests we carry on speculating and ignoring science! He healed others but insisted that this was corroborated in the proper ways, he also reminds us that an external illness might also be matched with an interior moral and spiritual one. I will not listen to our religious conspiracy theorists, nor do I think Covid 19 is a punishment form God or that anybody is taking away our religious freedoms, and yes, I don't believe clergy are essential workers in one sense, but they are guardians and dispensers of what is essential, God's truth, mercy, word and presence! Despite all, we are managing quite well from our homes and places of prayer and this at the moment is where God has called us to be.
The three readings of this Sunday gave me great hope, and we need it!
John's Gospel today opens with words that hit home directly: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith* in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.'(Jn 14:1,2) Jesus pulls our self regarding rug from under us, reminds us straight away of two things, that we do have faith and we should drink from its deep well, and that our faith is also an acknowledgement we can be united but also different. In verse 14 which we do not read today, he says this: 'If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it'.(Jn 14:14) Isn't this a clarion call for us to return to the source of what we have so often taken for granted, Christianity is a religion that is lived with the presence of Jesus, and that we bearing his name must ask in prayer for the needs of others, and use our Scriptures more as a rich connection with the living Word!
In I Peter 2, we are given real encouragement, we may be in lockdown but we are not alone, and though some of us may feel we are not part of the essential heroes, we are, by doing our part to prevent the virus spreading and saving others lives, very much linked to the self sacrifice of Christ, who shows us mercy in our isolation if we would but look. The letter of Peter reminds us of the ultimate victory and of our vocation:*But you are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises" of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light".(I Pt 2:9)
We are the hidden angels of God in our world, don't forget that when you clap for the NHS!
Lastly in the story from Acts 6, of the election of the first deacons for 'essential work', looking after the neglected and sick, those that prayed over them and called them to this spirit filled ministry of service (Diakonia) also recognised different ministries, because they saw their task of preaching and praying as equally necessary; "whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."(Acts 6:4) Isn't that what we are doing in Lockdown, this should be a mantra for clergy and faithful alike, we are not wasting time, nor not doing what we have been asked, for whilst others serve because of their skill, we also shall serve, by prayer and witness. May Christ our true God fill you with his grace and make you strong members of the Domestic Church!
"God defines himself as "I am who I am", which also means: My being is such that I shall always be present in every moment of becoming." Hans Urs von Balthasar
St Romuald's Brief Rule
1. Sit in the cell as in paradise;
2. cast all memory of the world behind you;
3. cautiously watching your thoughts, as a good fisher watches the fish.
4. In the Psalms there is one way. Do not abandon it. If you who have come with the fervour of a novice cannot understand everything, strive to recite with understanding of spirit and mind, now here, now there, and when you begin to wander while reading, do not stop, but hasten to correct yourself by concentrating.
5. Above all, place yourself in the presence of God with fear and trembling, like someone who stands in the sight of the emperor;
6. destroy yourself completely,
7. and sit like a chick, content with the grace of God, for unless its mother gives it something, it tastes nothing and has nothing to eat.
Prayer of the Cistercian Wiliam of Saint Thiery ( 1085-1148)
Lord, I will seek your face and continually search for your face as much as I can and as much as you render me capable of doing. Lord, my God, my one hope, hear me lest exhausted I lose the will to seek you. May I ardently seek you always. Give the strength to seek, you who have given the desire. And when the strength is sufficient, add to the desire that which you have given. May I always remember you, understand you, and love you until, faithfully remembering you and prudently understanding you and truthfully loving you, O Triune God, according to the fullness which you know, you reform me to your image in which you have created me.
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter: @RobinGibbons2
We Need Your Support
ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.
Please support our journalism by donating today.Donate