Corona Comfort

The heart of light was my comfort in the midst of the corona virus pandemic. God is bringing good from this pandemic and here is my story for proof. In the very bleak darkness of the Corona virus pandemic I looked at my tv screen and saw a heart of light made of candles on a cathedral sanctuary in Ireland. I am in San Francisco, California but the love and light of those candles instantly transformed my darkness into light and hope, and the thrill of God with us, Emmanuel! I could sense Jesus with me! I could not wait to share this so I instantly took a screenshot and launched it out onto social media to gather others into the light of the heart. I knew that the heart was really a glorious image to remind us of the Sacred Heart, the heart in Jesus that still beats for us. My excitement was hard to contain. Love knows no boundaries.

While sheltering in place and self-isolating during the first week of the global corona virus pandemic, I sought comfort from live streaming Masses online. We heard from a friend in Mullingar, Ireland that the Cathedral of Christ the King there was not only sharing the Mass live each day on their regular schedule, but was offering a nightly Holy Hour before the Most Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration. They usually have one Holy Hour a week but wisely chose to intensify the prayer life of the parish with a nightly vigil with the Lord.

I had previously watched a daily Mass from my own parish in my locale but the priest did not address us or give even a few words of comfort. He gave no sermon, nothing. Our sense of fear and isolation only grew. We were bereft and just looked at each other in sheer disbelief. But when I tuned into Fr. Darby’s Mass in Mullingar, Ireland, he was like a patient father comforting his children. His words were so warm and reassuring. I hope more parishes around the globe will follow this example of true shepherding, of a loving pastor caring for the emotional and not just spiritual needs of his flock.

When my elderly Irish mother and I were watching and participating in the Mass, we were amazed at the love and care that the priest, Fr. Derek Darby, put into his sermon. I wrote to him to thank him for the words of comfort in his sermon and to encourage him and the other priests to continue to minister to us. Fr. Darby had addressed all of his parishioners watching online, as well as the rest of us in faraway places. He said the emails and notes of encouragement to the priests to continue with the daily Mass, Rosary and Holy Hour was exactly what they needed to carry on.

Well, Fr. Darby kindly wrote back! How exciting to hear from someone about 6,000 miles away who I may never meet until heaven welcomes us. Not only had I enjoyed the presence of God from such a distance but now a human connection. These are moments of Light I share with you to show you that God IS with us in this darkness. He IS providing means to feel loved and comforted. We just need to be open to them so as not to miss them.

Please, call or email your priests and encourage them! They so need our love and support at this dark time. We expect them to minister to us, to comfort us, but who is comforting them? We are God’s hands then, so let us write emails of love, thanks and encouragement. We are God’s voice, so let us call and leave loving voicemails or have friendly, encouraging chats with them on the phone. They are not only our spiritual fathers, they are our brothers! They are us. They need our love and support and prayers of protection. Please do not ignore your beloved priests at this time of self-absorption from fear. Please look outside yourself and remember those that are laying down their lives for us. Let’s self-isolate, not self-absorb. Call and bless your clergy with a friendly hello today.

I asked Fr. Darby if I might share his sermon with all of you and he agreed. The reason I am sharing the homily is that I found it so comforting and practical. His words are immediately applicable to us in both the spiritual realm and the physical realm. And isn’t that what the Catholic Faith is all about – being incarnate and marrying the physical and the spiritual as Christ did in His Incarnation. I write this blog post on the solemnity of the Annunciation in March of 2020 and feel the need to emphasize the wedding of heaven and earth, of the spiritual and physical, of God with us. For God is truly with us!

Here is Fr. Darby’s sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent:

Homily for Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)

The various restrictions on purchasing certain items in recent days reminded me of the story told about a sign written over a basket of apples in a school canteen which read: “Do not take more than one.  God is watching.”  As you moved along the counter with your tray towards the till there was a box of chocolates with a sign written over it which read: “Take as many as you want.  God is busy watching the apples!”

In our gospel, Jesus heals a blind man, but He is “watched” by many.  A simple case of healing leads to so many questions and complications because of laws, rules and traditions, so much so that they miss the great miracle that the man can see.  We too can miss what is essential and important because we get so engrossed with the externals, our own lives, our own agenda.

Some of you may have seen the interview given by Dr. Eddie Murphy, a clinical psychologist with the ‘Lust for Life’ mental health charity in Portarlington during the week.  I thought it was a great interview.  He spoke about the levels of fear and anxiety people are experiencing at this time and what triggers or exacerbates these levels: uncertainty, threat (to health and wellbeing, work, family) – in other words, the thought of what might happen, or the lack of a time scale – no end in sight.  They not only increase our levels of fear and anxiety, but impact on the way we think about things, our emotions and our behaviour.  We’ve seen some of those manifesting themselves already.

But he gave some advice on how to manage our anxiety and stress which I think are important in the context of our gospel today.  If we don’t manage our stress and fears, we can develop a blindness that prevents us from recognising the needs of others and we become self-absorbed and self-centred.  We get a sense of panic from the Pharisees when they are not in control of things – this man who cured on the Sabbath is breaking God’s law!  They toss questions back and forward between them as their levels of stress and anxiety increase.  So, how do we avoid that among us?

Be careful of the news we are taking in – in times of threat we try to take in as many news sources as possible and this doesn’t allay fear, but heightens it.  Look at today’s gospel.  Instead of trusting in the man’s account of his healing – the ‘one news source’, they went to Pharisees and we are told ‘there was disagreement among them.’  So Dr. Murphy advocates we go to one news source once a day and check with the HSE for authoritative information.

Social media can act as a great tool, but we need to scale down the level of fake news, comment and interaction.  Again look at the gospel: the Pharisees thought the man was spreading fake news and chaos reigns.

Try and maintain a proper structure and routine to the day.  Go to bed and get up at times we would normally.  Mirror our pre-COVID 19 routine – good sleep, nutrition etc.

He makes a very good point when he said, “social isolation does not mean social confinement”.  Get out in the fresh air, but maintain responsible, social distancing.  And he encouraged the younger members of our communities to be conscious of social distancing; gathering in groups actually impacts on others.

People are afraid of what they cannot control, we see that in the gospel, but there are things that we can control: handwashing social distancing, self- isolation, keeping contact with people: video apps, skype, and facetime.  At the end of the day, we are social, we need to connect, we need to care.  This is obvious when we look at the efforts of shops in trying to staying open, neighbours and volunteers reaching out, voluntary groups supporting those who are sick or on their own, the many volunteers who came out of retirement or who have offered their services to the HSE in the weeks ahead.  We see how responsive, responsible and caring health professionals have been and continue to be.  In the parish we try to keep that structure to the day with Mass, Rosary and the Holy Hour every evening, albeit on the web and thank you to the many who have taken time to offer us encouragement, make sure we are ok, and even the odd reminder that ‘we are out there’!  We are offering prayers of hope and words of encouragement as we spend time before the Lord throughout the day.  And this week we launch our daily parish text: #messagingmatters.  If people would like to receive a text of hope each morning text ‘Y’ to the number in the newsletter or on the parish website.  It is a small way of connecting people when they are most disconnected.

Let us look for a moment at the beautiful words of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; be like children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and right living and truth.’  Every small thing we do; every act of goodness, every responsible way we act on advice given is in these times, ‘right living’.  By staying safe and keeping others safe, it’s not wasted time.  Listen to Paul again!  He says, ‘Try to discover what the Lord wants of you!’  Maybe during these days it is an opportunity for us all to draw closer to the Lord, reflect, pray and ask what the Lord wants of you, of me!  There was a lovely letter in the Times earlier this morning and the letter described a man who lived in Howth who stepped out of his house for a walk.  When he returned later to his father, he described the day as “tremendously fresh”.  It was almost as if these days gave him a different perspective, a deeper appreciation of what he has, of God’s creative hand still at work in our lives and all of a sudden he found himself using vocabulary he would never use, because all of a sudden he noticed things.

I think of the words of St. John Henry Newman when he remarked, ‘the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done.’  But may we also focus on the other words of that prayer: ‘May the Lord support us all the day long……and ‘in his mercy may he give us a safe lodging’.  When things slow down we actually have time to turn to the Lord, not in an act of desperation, although that may be the prayer for some, but in an act of total trust.  That trust is a beacon of hope at a time like this.

I leave you with a quotation from Pope Francis some time ago and maybe it will help us to unite more closely to each other and to the Lord in these difficult days:

“To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope.  Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing.  Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow.”  Beautiful words for us to take with us this weekend.

If you do nothing else this week, maybe use a line from the psalm as your prayer for the week: ‘near restful waters he leads me to revive my drooping spirit.’  Lord, in your great love and care for us, lead us all to restful waters.

Be a light finder this Lent, during this pandemic. Be the detective that searches for any and all slivers of silver linings in this dark cloud. The light is there if we only choose to see it. When you gather light you gather warmth and you will be able to glow and share this light of God’s love with others, just as the priests of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, Ireland are doing along with priests all over our cherished world.

What a thrill to be able to share my heartfelt thanks with a priest so far away. Fr. Darby wrote back and closed with these words, which I find so imminently helpful and could not have expressed better:

Thank you for your uplifting email and words of encouragement and thank you and your Mom for your prayers.  Your heartfelt plea to Our Lady Undoer of Knots will not go unheard or unanswered, I’m sure.  I think of St. Thomas Aquinas’ words when he said, “I trust; I surrender; I believe”.  We have to trust wholeheartedly in the Lord in order to surrender ourselves entirely to him, and when we do so, we witness his providential care which enables us to believe.  In our daily #messagingmatters text this morning, we sent out:  ‘Good morning everyone!  When you rise this morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.  Sustained in love, let us bless the Lord.’   Surrendering ourselves to the Lord enables us all to appreciate God’s many gifts to us, however small.  We will get through – keep your Mom safe!

God bless, protect and reward our priests, especially at this time of great trial.

If you want to attend mass from your own home you can watch the Mass on EWTN, which is a global Catholic television network, or on EWTN.com. You can also search for “live online streaming mass” and an assortment of Catholic Masses will come up. A wonderful clearinghouse of online Masses is here at Mass Online  Just click on the link and you will see a schedule in your own time zone where you can choose to go to Mass right from your living room or smart phone.

A note on Holy Mass from home: Archbishop Cordileone from San Francisco advises that we show up to not watch Mass, but, participate and pray it fully. He let us know we should be fully dressed and not holding a mug of hot coffee in hand, but act as if we were in church with our parish family and answer all the prayers and sing along with the hyms as we are able. So no food and drink around while Mass is going on.

If you want to do Eucharistic Adoration from your own home you can also search “live streaming Eucharistic Adoration” or something similar. Many sites will come up. Again, there is a wonderful site Online Perpetual Adoration that has all the various adoration chapels and you can choose the one you like.

© 2020 Frances Peterson

 

Attributions:

4th Sunday of Lent sermon: Fr. Derek Darby, Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, Ireland

Photo credit: Screenshot of Cathedral of Christ the King taken by this author and used with full permissions.