After our joyful carefree greetings, jokes and the little ‘mask’ drama during our Social evening, harsh reality hit us during the President’s address to the nation. The Bishops’ letters followed. Doubtless, we are all doing our best to practise the recommended behaviours to safeguard ourselves and our neighbours. Is more required of us as consecrated people? We are, in many ways, the face, the presence, even the action of Christ among people. Solidarity with the afflicted, through prayer and behaviour, is highly necessary. Are we not also called for heroic acts of faith? In some of our Religious Congregations/Orders/Societies we have members who chose to serve people suffering from deadly diseases, embracing the Cross and self-sacrifice even unto death.
Of course, we need to take full precautions. But, must we not also do all we can to assist others, especially the poor and vulnerable who have far fewer resources to look after themselves? Many of them are terrified that Covid-19 is a fatal illness. They need explanations, facts, skills, encouragement and reassurance. They need a smile, a warm human word and the powerful Word of God.
We can help by sharing practical tips: e.g. sanitising surfaces with a tablespoon of household bleach in a litre of water; frequently washing hands with soap for 20 seconds. Hand washing especially after you have been out; requiring any visitor or someone who has been out to do this. Do not share the many doubtful remedies and fake news appearing on social media! Please make the Department of Health’s official Covid-19 support service number your Whatsapp contact for information on the disease: +27 60 012 3456.
We can be available to the people of God in different ways!
YouTube videos show: People in Italy have been strengthened by priests walking in their streets blessing them. A priest in Italy carrying a monstrance through the streets bringing Christ among the people. Pope Francis going on foot to pray in two churches.
· Individuals or small groups going to Church to pray, to receive Communion.
What else can we do?
· Where possible, give special leave to our employees to be home on full pay until further notice;
· Open up our convents or religious houses for the lay faithful to join us in celebrating the Eucharist;
· Have regular adoration/exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with lay faithful in our convents or religious houses;
· Reach out to the elderly and sick in your parish community by assisting with practical needs such as shopping as well as praying together;
· Encourage our members to make prayer visits to the small Christian communities as an act of support to overwhelmed parish pastors;
· Use social media to encourage prayer, family togetherness, neighbourliness…
· Take care of the faithful by the sacraments they need at this time especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Eucharist and the Sacrament of the Sick.
Yet, in doing all this, we still need to follow Government directives, be prudent and take precautionary measures for our safety and the safety of the people we serve. Can we perhaps find out about protective gear and buy this for our priests, deacons and other pastoral agents?
The International Union of Superiors General (UISG) invites all Religious to make next Sunday, 22 March, a day of worldwide prayer and solidarity. The president writes:
“It is a special time for prayer and for witnessing through practical solidarity and awareness of our responsibility to care for one another. This extraordinary time provides space for acts of generosity and expressions of gratitude especially to those who are in the front line caring for the sick and those engaged in research projects searching for remedies, and those at work in the public services”.
The Lord is with us in the midst of COVID-19
The solemnity of the Annunciation fell a day before the national lockdown announced by President Ramaphosa. The Solemnity of the Annunciation is a celebration of hope in God’s intervention and God’s fidelity to his people. It could nourish our reflection as we prepare for the lockdown. This comes as a great sign of hope as we grapple to face the reality that is COVID-19. The world is seized with fear and uncertainty. There is the fear of death, fear of losing our beloved ones and members of our Religious congregations. There is uncertainty about our ability to contain and control this pandemic. We are also not sure what life after the pandemic will be like, socially, economically and spiritually. The very basis of our faith is challenged and at times like these, our calling as Religious should shine as a beacon of light for one another and for the people of God.
The greeting of the Angel Gabriel astounds Mary and she cannot immediately fathom what the Angel means. “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with you!” It is part of a prayer that we have said many times and which we will probably say many times during the next weeks or months to come.
Indeed, like He was with Mary our Mother, the Lord is with us.
Some have suggested conspiracy theories around the causes of COVID-19. Whatever the cause, one thing is certain: The Lord is with us. “Do not be afraid”, the angel says to Mary. We long to hear and believe these words as we are wrapped in fear and confusion in the face of this global pandemic.
Some might ask where is God in the midst of all this? Will he even hear our prayers? These questions are not unique to our generation and context. The sons and daughters of Israel had these questions during the time when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. They were waiting for the Messiah, the anointed one of God who would deliver them from their bondage. Where was God as they were subjugated under Roman occupation? Did God even hear their prayers? The angel Gabriel brings the answer. The Son of God, Emmanuel, God with us, will be born. We are not alone.
Mary herself is overwhelmed with this news and considers the difficulty of the angel’s message. “How can this be?” This is how most of us feel at this point in time.
How can we talk of hope in these trying times? The numbers of those infected are escalating and many people are losing their lives. Will the lockdown even help us at all? Won’t there be a second wave of the virus?
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”, the angel reassures us. Our God is a God of possibilities. We should entrust our uncertainties, fears and doubts to Him. It is alright not to have all the answers, not to know how things will unfold, yet we surrender to his love and care.
Offering prayers, Holy Masses, adoration, and devotions in our communities during this lockdown will serve as a deep sign of solidarity with the whole world.
We are the servants of the Lord, may it be done unto the world according to his Word.
Mary is lucky because, young as she was, she sought communion with her cousin Elizabeth, to share the Good News and for support. COVID-19 has made it impossible for us to connect physically with one another and those outside our communities. We have come to realize the power of touch; to infect, to prevent infection and to heal. We thirst for that connection yet we must protect one another and ourselves.
During the lockdown, we shall consciously share the same spaces yet be totally aware of the need to create the safe distances that prevent the further transmission of the virus. How shall we care for one another and protect one another at the same time? Taking care of our communities’ hygiene, protecting the sick and vulnerable members of our communities, creating safe distances and other measures will be our way of caring and sharing the good news as we fight the evil that is COVID-19.
The reality of the lockdown has fast forwarded our Good Friday - that sombre moment when Christ dies on the Cross and the whole world is engulfed in darkness and silence. Good Friday ushers in Easter for there is no Easter without the Cross. Our approach to this lockdown should not just end with the darkness of the tomb, but with the hopeful anticipation of the new life it will bring. We are, after all, resilient followers of Christ, an Easter people.
This is a time of Grace, a time of renewal. A time to reflect, pray and share. Our witness as Religious men and women is a witness of hope, care for our neighbour and prayer.
In solidarity with those risking their lives to help those in need all over the world, those infected and feeling the pain of isolation and stigma, those mourning their loved ones and those being overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty, together we join in prayer and witness together as Religious. Do not be afraid, God has the final word. He is with us.
May the peace of the Risen Christ be with us all and reign upon our beloved country and the entire world during this period!
Pray for us Mother Mary and intercede for our world!
Talk of Fr. Martin: Am I a Stanger?