I will admit that it was hard to write a reflection for this week. With lockdown called, it was difficult to think of anything which I could say that wouldn’t sound contrived or preachy, perhaps even out-of-touch or optimistic. People are scared, annoyed, frustrated, angry, complacent, defiant, etc. So many emotions and questions, and perhaps rightfully so. Saint Ignatius would tell us to trust our emotions, but not let them rule us. He would say to us to hold the world lightly – to not let ourselves overrun the reality. He would implore you to look at what God is hinting at. What are you being told about yourself, about your relationships with others, about your connection to God, and how you are in the world? So much from a simple, uncontrollable physiological reaction called an emotion.
Think back to the start of this pandemic. In March 2020, when we went into lockdown, who would have thought that would be our reality? Yet, there was something novel about it. For many, some realisations came out of it. Perhaps you came to appreciate how many things you took for granted. Did you grasp how out of balance your work/home life was? Did you spend quality time with your children? Did you learn something about them? Did you appreciate more the work of teachers? Did you realise how special a hug from a loved one was or a conversation in a café with a friend? Did you learn a new skill or revel in the opportunity to try something you usually would never get the time to do? I know I am focused on the positives here. I know it was hard for many. My point is, from this terrifying situation came the opportunity for growth and positivity. Studies have shown that even the environment began to bounce back with improved air and water quality. If you came out of the lockdown promising that things would be different, with a real sense of hope that we had learnt something and life would be better from here on in, then you were not alone.
I guess this is what Saint Paul meant in his second letter to the Corinthians when he wrote:
I shall boast more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell with me. That is why I am content with my weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.
At first glance, this seems ridiculous. Weak and strong are opposites – you cannot possibly have both of them at the same time. Yet, let’s think more deeply about this for a moment. Cast your mind back to last year and what brought out those feelings of hope for a changed life. What was it that brought you to this hope? What carried you out of the despair back into the light? How was your perspective on the world changed? It is often our weakest moments when we find our greatest strengths.
Jesus didn’t associate with the rich, famous, powerful or influential. He ministered to the poor, the diseased, the sinners, the abandoned. Remember the Beatitudes – who are the blessed? The poor, those mourning, the meek, the merciful, the pure hearted, the peacemakers, those that fight for justice and those who are persecuted because they are righteous and good. How can these possibly be blessed when life has dealt so many of them a bad hand? How can they be blessed in our world – where self-recognition has turned into self-serving individualism? Where my rights supersede all other things? Where a need for belonging has twisted into segregation, exclusion and hatred? Where no opinion except my own exist? Where people are used and things are loved? How can these people, who are so ill-equipped for survival, possibly be blessed?
The answer – they are given the opportunity to depend on God. The merciful hand of God is felt so clearly amongst the marginalised and suffering in the world. St Paul boasts of his weaknesses because he sees this as an opportunity to connect to God’s love and mercy. It gave him the chance to be grateful for all he had and promised to him. It made him humble to realise that there was more than himself in the world. Harmony was more present to his mind – harmony towards self, towards others, towards earth, towards God. In this is the peace and calm from which hope springs eternal.
So, let’s go back to that hope for a changed life that came out of that first lockdown. Did you follow through, or, like many of us, when things gradually got back to normal, did you revert back? I personally think we had it right the first time. We need to change our world – to focus on our connections and not only on ourselves. We need to think about what we put into and take out of this world. We need to look at our excesses and what is no longer serving us, others and the world. We need to consider our connection to God. If we have learnt nothing else about the last year and a half, we are not in control (no matter how much we think we are). It’s time to reconnect to the things that matter. When the lawyer approached Jesus to ask him about how to achieve eternal life, Jesus simplified it into two elements – the great commandments:
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.
In this passage, the final words of Jesus are the most important – “Do this, and life is yours!” You see, like the forgotten promise of a more connected life, we often fall short of action. We know what is right and what we should do, but it is too easy to return to our disfunction because it is comfortable or enjoyable, even if it isn’t good for us, our families, or the world. I pray that we take this short opportunity to reconnect with those promises and commit ourselves again to be changed.
I would like to leave you with a prayer by Laura Kelly Fanucci entitled ‘When This is Over’. Please keep safe and well over the holidays. Be kind to yourselves and your families and find time for a conversation with God – tell Him what is on your mind, what is worrying you, what you need help with, but also what you are happy with and grateful for. He is waiting for you with the beverage of your choice.
When This is Over
When this is over,
may we never again take for granted
a handshake with a stranger
conversations with neighbors
a crowded theater
Friday night out
the taste of Communion
a routine checkup
the school rush each morning
coffee with a friend
the stadium roaring
each deep breath
a boring Tuesday
When this ends,
may we find that we have become
more like the people we wanted to be,
we were called to be,
we hoped to be.
And may we stay that way – better for each other because of the worst.
Dr Nathan Leber