A new reality – a new way of living “What strange times we live in” have become the opening words to so many conversations in recent weeks. New terminology has become common place and are almost clichéd by now; “self-isolating”, “social distancing”, “safe-distancing”, “cocooning”, “sanitising”… all reflecting the unprecedented situation we now find ourselves in, not just in Clare, but all over the world. We have literally been confined to barracks, living and working from home, for those for whom that is possible.
My first sense that we were encountering something serious was in early March when the Sacrament of Confirmation in Inagh had to be cancelled at short notice, followed by another one in Kilmurry soon after. In travelling to Confirmation in Puckane on March 12th, listening to the Taoiseach it was clear that the Confirmation oil stock would become redundant and the diary would be freed up considerably for weeks if not months to come! Even on St. Patrick’s day when Clare Champion photographer John Kelly took pictures of Mass in the Cathedral recording an empty Church, little did I think that we would be entering yet another phase of almost total lockdown on Friday 27th of March with Churches closing completely the following day except for funerals. Such was far from my mind when I was ordained bishop of Killaloe almost four years ago that I would be closing the doors of all Churches at a given time! That was not on the agenda in “baby-bishop” course in Rome! Not even in penal times were such restrictions on the celebration of Masses and people coming to Church to pray.
A time of Personal Challenge Personally, it has been a worrying, difficult and challenging time! Will I get the virus myself? Will I get seriously ill? Will I have to “self-isolate”? Will the diocese end up like some of the dioceses in Italy losing a number of priests? How will the diocese manage financially with no income? Saying Mass to an empty Cathedral for broadcast on the webcam is a surreal and strange experience, one that I think I could never adjust comfortably to. I wonder and worry will the congregations come back when this crisis is over. Not being able to see my special
needs brother who in in the wonderful care of the services of The Brothers of Charity has not been easy. He normally comes home for his weekly visit on a Sunday and not having that to look forward to has been a hard blow. Toughest of all is not being able to visit my mother, who has dementia. She is resident in nursing home care and no visitors are allowed. That I found the hardest! I’m conscious, however, that my worries are only a fraction of what many others are enduring at present.
Positive Use of Internet, Technology and Media Even though the doors of the Churches might be closed, spiritual and pastoral outreach continues unabated across the diocese. While diocesan and parish personnel may be in physical isolation we have not gone away and are still open for business! One of the positive developments of the current crisis is the way that so many Church related activities, especially Mass has migrated to cyberspace using modern technology like webcams, Facebook-live and other means for prayer, uplifting messages, presentations and meetings. Local radio and National TV have also come up trumps in resourcing many spiritual inputs during this time.
Where the Crisis Bites! Of course the current situation has impinged deeply on many people in so many ways, illness, death in some cases, financial disaster, loss of livelihood for some. Home schooling has become a reality for parents and children have had to adapt to live at home without the social interaction of their friends. I can only imagine the domestic tensions that are arising in the midst of all this, despite some of the good times this brings also. Live sport and music that is such a positive outlet for people is unfortunately no longer part of our lives. It is an horrific time for the elderly, cocooned in their home, for the bereaved, for those who might be prone to substance abuse and it is inevitable that incidents of domestic abuse will rise. I salute the heroic effort of our political leaders and the armies of people in public service, right across the board, medical profession, retailers keeping the chains of supply open and all who have worked tirelessly to make it possible for people to live through this time with a reasonable quality of life.
Importance of Community
The importance of community has become so evident, and it is so encouraging and heartening to see the positive effect of the great efforts of so many across the diocese of Killaloe and our land. So much of our work and efforts as Church is in creating community. Pobal Dé, Teach an Phobail. The Body of Christ, building up a community that not only prays but puts the Christian message into action and radiates the caring presence of Christ in our parishes. Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. We live in each other’s shadow. Where would we be without the help of neighbours and people around us?
A new way of doing things? In a telephone conversation with Fr. Harry Bohan of Sixmilebridge recently, he reflected on a chat with a man who pined for things getting back to normal. However, Fr. Harry’s response to the man in question was that the least desirable thing would be for things to get back to normal! Fr. Harry was sceptical of what was normal in the old scheme of things in our Society, Church, community, business world, the way we encounter and relate to each other. I asked Fr. Harry to put his thoughts on paper and he promised he would. I look forward to hearing his prophetic angle on things and pointers for a new way forward.
Indeed this time of enforced hiatus has been for many a time to pause, to reflect, to think, to plan, to look at our values, our priorities and the direction we are going. No bad thing!
Maybe it is a good time to look objectively at how we do things and plan in accordance for a new start?
Light at the end of the tunnel? And yet all is not doom and gloom. More time is spent with family. Pollution in the environment is lessened due to a reduction of traffic. Someone made a simple but valid point recently – at least this crisis didn’t strike in November or December, going into the darkness and dreariness of the Winter! Thankfully, Summer time came in last weekend, giving signs of brightness, and longer days ahead. These days are traditionally The Days of the Brindled Cow where the harsh weather of the end of February was projected into the warmer, more banal days
of early April! Brindled Cow days always herald a dawn of late Spring and the promise of a Summer to come.
The words of Seamus Heaney also have been much quoted in recent weeks;
If we Winter this one out, we can Summer anywhere.
Many people have posed the question in recent times why is all this happening? Why does a loving, benevolent and caring God allow such an atrocity to happen? I won’t even dare to offer a solution or any quick fix answer to that profound question of theodicy that has exercised the greatest of minds of philosophers and theologians for generations and has been for many such a stumbling block, if not the greatest obstacle to faith. However, the celebration of Easter might help.
Easter People – People of Hope On Sunday we begin the celebration of the most important annual festival of our faith with Holy Week. It will be strange for many not be present to see the Palms blessed, to experience the community celebration of Chrism Mass, the Washing of the Feet of Holy Thursday, to publicly Venerate the Cross on Good Friday, to wait in vigil on Holy Saturday and celebrate the joy and delight of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday morning.
This year, more than ever, and in the light of the pain and suffering around us, Easter takes on a whole new significance and meaning as it mirrors where we might be at the present time and lifts us above and beyond that to hope of better times.
Despite whatever challenges we have, deep down we are Easter people, we are people of hope, we have an indomitable spirit within us, because we are baptised!
As Irish people we have an ingrained toughness, a natural resilience. We survived difficult times down through the centuries, we survived a famine that threatened to wipe us out completely. However we prevailed and in that our faith was a great help to us. Mass rocks, ancient
ecclesiastical ruins and famine villages dotted across our landscape pay testament to this. I know we will pull through this crisis as well, with the help of our faith and the care of each other.
During Holy Week we reflect on a God who is radically on our side, in solidarity with us, through good times and bad, in our deepest suffering and anguish, even to the point of death. The Good News is that there is life beyond that, because of the redemption won through the Cross of Jesus Christ. This utterly transforms the vista and horizon ahead! May the fruit of the tree of the Passion of the Lord be with you this Holy Week and always!
Concluding Message By way of a parting message, just three parting words of advice: Stay at home, Stay safe, follow the HSE guidelines! Look out for each other, especially our elderly and vulnerable neighbours! Keep hopeful, keep the faith and pray to God for an end to the Crisis, soon after Easter!