In an interview with La Civilita Catolica, published on 23 October 2020, the newly appointed secretary of the synod of Bishops in Rome, Cardinal Mario Grech, made a very thought-provoking comment regarding lockdown, restrictions, and church life.
He said: “I find it curious that many people have complained about not being able to receive communion and celebrate funerals in church, but not as many have worried about how to reconcile with God and neighbor, how to listen to and celebrate the Word of God and how to live out a life of service.”
Not in any way making light of the genuine anxiety that restrictive numbers for funerals are bringing, or the deep sacrifice that the ban on public worship (somewhat unique to Ireland) imposes, I do nevertheless believe that the Cardinal’s comments deserve our attention – for quite simply they tell us – that throughout this pandemic we have not ceased to be Church, that Christian living can and does continue, and that the call to be in right relationship with God and neighbor has not been taken away from any of us. If anything we have a little more time to make it a greater priority.
A stark invitation exists in the Cardinal’s observations. Questions arise for us all – how am I doing at this point in life? How is my relationship with God and my neighbor? Am I who I should be or do I find myself at odds with what’s core and what’s life-giving? What changes should I make and is it time to blow the whistle on prevarication and postponement? His observations beget hard and necessary questions. But they should be discerned gently, mindful of the gentle and encouraging mercy of God.
This Holy Week and Easter, I invite you to focus primarily upon that opportunity – “to reconcile with God and neighbor” – for this is the ultimate and primary fruit of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Again this year, we cannot celebrate Holy Week and Easter as we would normally do.
Many parishes are looking at ways of “taking Holy Week and Easter to your homes” – palm crosses, prayer books and leaflets, colouring resources for children, Easter water bottles and prayer cards – and I would ask that you join in that effort.
If out for the walk on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, call and collect any resources that your parish might have available. Get the schedule for online broadcasts from the parish, have a look at the national and indeed international broadcasts too.
Irrespective of the restrictions, we can participate through personal reflection, openness to a better relationship with God and neighbor, we can visit the local church and engage with the opportunities and resources that the parish is providing.
In conclusion, I would like to say a word of gratitude to the priests, the staff and the volunteers in our parishes.
I’m also acutely aware of the isolation of priests themselves and of the toll that being restricted in their ministry is taking.
I would ask that the churches be removed from level 3.
I thank the hundreds of people who have made themselves available to ensure that our churches were the safest of spaces for worship when last permitted.
Finally, I invite you to continue purposefully on the journey through the pandemic by engaging in best hygiene and safety and adopting afresh the mantra to “be heart, keep heart and give heart.”
Let’s look forward to meeting again once in person in our churches and parishes when possible.
Bishop of Ferns