In reverse – prayer in a time of isolation: Days 8-14

DAY EIGHT – a new normal Prayer in praise of this day: Jesus, Saviour and Brother You came to call us to life and to open our eyes that we…

DAY EIGHT – a new normal

Prayer in praise of this day:

Jesus, Saviour and Brother

You came to call us to life and to open our eyes

that we might see anew the gifts that surround us

and bind us together as parts of one body.

Another day of isolation and separation dawns.

May we accept it as yet a further gift to

strengthen our resolve to put aside differences,

to remove the barriers of greed and prejudice,

to value our togetherness

and to live life as

one people.

The prayer form today is woven round the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent.  Regardless of which day you make this prayer, the theme is apt for this critical time.  The national LOCKDOWN makes us look at life from the point of view of isolation, being alone, without social contact.  Some recognise this extreme way of living as an enlarged image of how we have been living for several decades: as though other people weren’t important enough to hold my attention; that life was about me and my success!  So many of us have been living in an invisible bubble; isolated without knowing or acknowledging the fact.  Hardly normal, as we’re now finding out.  The LOCKDOWN is an opportunity to create a new normal.

Anne Powell of the Cenacle Sisters provides this meditation and challenge:

Being the Body of Christ in this time of Corona Virus

While the Eucharist is one of the most significant places to encounter Christ, it is not the only one. We also receive nourishment from the Word of God. In this time of lockdown when we aren’t able to gather together for Eucharist, we  have the opportunity to encounter Christ in the Word. We can  transform the world through the collective energy of our love.

SUNDAY READINGS  –   Fifth Sunday of Lent [A]

1 Ezekiel 37:12-14

Romans 8:8-11

John 11:1-45 

Lazarus was dead. Yet through an encounter with Jesus comes an experience of hope when all seems impossible.

Now that Aotearoa NZ is in Level 4 Lockdown, we might gradually begin to see things we want to lock up- conflicts, pollution, greedy consumerism, the hectic pace of life….

During this time, we can dream of new ways of being and doing.

  • Listen as Martha speaks her heartfelt sorrow at the death of her brother, Lazarus; but it’s tinged with regret or blame:  “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” 
  • What losses related to the COVID-19 Lockdown are you aware of now?

Even when Jesus tells Martha, “I am the one who raises the dead to life!” she finds it hard to believe he means now, with her dead brother.

Perhaps you doubt that out of this time of restrictions and loss new realities can emerge.

Jesus stands before the tomb weeping, vulnerable.  He places no barriers to his feelings about this loss.   What’s it like for you to be with him there? 

  • Imagine that you are standing in front of the “tomb” of your life as it is now with all its restrictions, isolation, fears, dreams and hopes.
  • Tell Jesus your feelings, your vulnerability, your desires.
  • Gradually, you hear Jesus call your name. This is Jesus who stirs up hope within you, hope during this impossible time. You hear him speak the words to you: “Be freed!”
  • Allow Jesus to gift you in some way- a gaze, a touch, a symbol, a word, a blessing.
  • As you receive this gift, let hope and love fill you. Open yourself to this new time in your life.
In reverse - prayer in a time of isolation: Days 8-14 Archdiocese of Wellington
Jesus Mafa art- Raising of Lazarus

Breathe in the gifts you’ve received.

Notice your breathing. Become aware of where you are and give thanks for the gift of this time of prayer.

Anne Powell,
Cenacle Sisters

What image of a New Normal will you take from this prayer?

What part might you play in helping the image become real?

DAY NINE – the unexpected

SETTING: Create a party atmosphere with a few decorations.  Wrap up some “gifts” or “presents”.  Recall the surprise of opening gifts, of meeting the unexpected.

Prayer to begin:

So much in life is unexpected and

I suspect, dear God, that you planned it so.

You are, after all, a God of surprises,

revealing yourself in countless ways,

in colours and shapes, in light and shade,

in people and places and in life’s situations.

Even in this troubled time that no one could foresee,

I know you will guide us along a new path,

to a new and fuller way of living.

Ready me during this unexpected time to

love better, serve better, live better.

William Shakespeare, in Cymbeline, wrote,

Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.

Covid-19 arrived on our shores unannounced and uninvited and is certainly not regarded as a guest.  Given that the virus had already infected several countries we might have expected it to make its way to us, but we did not expect to have the nation so quickly shut down with virtually everyone told to stay at home!  We did not expect the situation to become so serious.

The unexpected always catches us by surprise.  Not a nice feeling because we like to know what’s going on, what’s in the pipeline.  We like to be in control.

Almost everything about Jesus ran contrary to what was expected:

  • Mary and Joseph were not expecting to hear prophetic words about Jesus when they presented him in the temple – Luke 1:28-33
  • Mary and Joseph expected him to be in the group of travellers returning from Jerusalem – Luke 2:41-51
  • The disciples woke Jesus and wanted his help as they struggled with the storm at sea; they did not expect Jesus to calm the storm – Luke 8:22-25
  • The disciples expected Jesus would send the crowd away; they did not expect to be told, You give them something to eat! – Luke 9:12-17
  • Martha and Mary were disappointed Jesus did not come when he got – their message that their brother, Lazarus, the one you love, is ill.  They did not expect Jesus would bring him back to life – John, chapter 11.
  • Peter did not expect Jesus to take the road to Jerusalem – Matt. 16:21-3

Look for more examples in the Gospel, of “Jesus, the unexpected”.  Select one for a time of meditation; then ask: What are my expectations of Jesus?

  • What do I expect of Jesus?  Are there examples in your own life when Jesus “turned the table” on the way you expected something to go and showed you a new way?
  • What does Jesus expect of me?  At this moment?  In this time of uncertainty for our whole society?
  • What might Jesus expect of our parish, of the whole Church and, indeed, of our world, in the aftermath of this pandemic?
  • How much am I prepared to change?  What am I prepared to give?

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 9:1-19; GALATIANS 1:11-24

Ananias did not expect to be told to help the feared persecutor, Paul of Tarsus and Paul’s conversion was the most unexpected gift for the first Christian communities.  How could they expect someone who had a warrant to arrest and kill the followers of Jesus, and who had earlier watched and approved the stoning of the deacon, Stephen [Acts 7:55-8:1], to be accepted as a friend?

These first Christians had to overcome quite justifiable fear, suspicion, even perhaps hatred, in order to  embrace Paul.  How different our story would have been had they not done so!  Consider these scripture passages and return to them during the day.

  • Are there groups or individuals in your own life that you avoid or find difficult in any way?
  • Do you ever find yourself saying or thinking, How could I be expected to forgive such a person/insult/rejection/abuse….  ?
  • How prepared are you to expect the unexpected?

MUSIC FOR REFLECTION

Are you familiar with Chris Skinner’s music?  If you have any of his albums there will be song(s) relating to a change of heart, forgiveness, generosity, trust…  His website is chrisskinner.org.nz and you will find great material for prayer, meditation and relaxation.  Google may also help you out to locate this and other music.  Now is the time to listen to some music before proceeding.

TRUST

Trust

Trust in me, trust the image, trust your tears

Trust

Trust in me, the gift of silence calm your fears

Be still and know, I speak to your heart

Be still and know, I am here.                  

Chris Skinner

UNEXPECTED CHANGE

The tourist, hospitality and travel industries – illustrated graphically in the virtual collapse of international airlines – are among the most at-risk groups struggling to avoid loss of livelihoods in the face of this worldwide health crisis.  Many fear they may never be able to reopen for business.

This more than suggests that vast numbers of people have been living in the future, planning ahead, making advanced bookings, expecting nothing to get in the way of what they intend doing, where they intend going.  There are, of course, practical reasons for such preparation, but maybe we have been taking too much for granted, convinced we are the ones in control!

In the concluding part of this prayer time, pray for those

  • whose livelihoods are threatened by the pandemic
  • who have never had to worry about filling time
  • who have planned holidays or business trips in the next few months
  • who have taken life and tomorrow for granted
  • who find change difficult
  • who like to be sure and to be in control

THIS UNEXPECTED TIME

This unexpected time

when silence comes to stay

not only in the night but all through the day

footsteps can’t be heard

for there are no feet about

no engine noise to irritate

or annoying human shout

the lockdown shuts away all else

but the silence from the sounds we make

from dawn to dusk without a break

then on into the night

yet in this silence now we hear

sounds of nature crystal clear

bird song gifting endless celebration

wind and trees in loving conversation

let ears refresh with rediscovered sound

and welcome it within our own surround

and be less concerned with yours and mine

when we exit this most unexpected time

DAY TEN – Spirit fruits

SETTING: write each of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness, trustfulness, self-control) on separate cards. Scatter them among several lit candles in your prayer space.

Prayer of praise:

Wonder-Counsellor,

Mighty-God,

You fill each day with your

gift of light, freeing those living

in a land of deep shadow.

You make their gladness greater

You make their joy increase.

I praise and thank you for your great goodness.

[see Isaiah 9:1-7]

This prayer reflection centres on the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Like all fruit, they are food for health and well-being, to be savoured and enjoyed.  Take time to identify and enjoy the taste of each.  Some will quickly suit your palate; others will take more time to appreciate.  You are invited to take them in any order.  You could perhaps spread this prayer throughout the day, sampling and exploring one fruit at a time.  Over-eating is not a problem with these fruits; you can never have enough as most of them take a lifetime to mature.

Cardinal John Dew referred to these “Fruits” in his recent newsletter.  He measures his progress in prayerfulness and Christian charity, he tells us, by the way he notices the presence of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit in his life.  In this time of “closeness” with ourselves, we can each try the same kind of measuring.

Scripture: Galatians 5:13-25

Read the fruits of the Spirit in the context of Paul’s instruction to the Church in Galatia – newly converted to the way of Jesus.  He makes clear the consequences of ignoring or adhering to the “single command” to Love your neighbour as yourself.

For this new community of believers, following Jesus meant radical changes to a way of life that was the product of many generations.  It was not an easy process.  We are experiencing changes in our way of living as we battle Covid-19.  Perhaps we are already sensing further and more permanent change to the way we relate to one another when the crisis passes.  Meditate on this passage with the present pandemic in mind.  Journal your findings.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Consider these nine special “Fruits”.  Like all fruit they start as seeds and contain seeds to ensure their lineage continues.  Growth is not overnight, nor assured.  In what ways are these fruits already seen in your life?  How might they develop and be put at the service of those living through and coping with the effects of the present pandemic?

Love

You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams. [Dr Seuss]

Joy

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive. [Eleonora Duse]

Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. [Matthew 5:9]

Patience

Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in your mind. [David G. Allen]

Kindness

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. [Mark Twain]

Goodness

Every act of goodness is born of our desire to be happy. [Udai Yadla]

Gentleness

There is nothing so strong as gentleness; and nothing so gentle as real strength. [St Francis de Sales]

Trustfulness

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God still, and trust in me.

[John:14-1]

Self-control

You have power over your mind – not outside events.  Realise this and you will find strength. [Marcus Aurelius, Meditations]

A New Day

With eyes acquainted with the dark

may the first light of morning awaken within you a beautiful quest

one that unlocks doors

bolted by yesterday’s grief

and the harsh and unforgiving words

you have spoken to yourself.

May the sun spill light

into the cracks where the residue of darkness hides

inviting you to walk without fear of what lies within.

On these virgin sands of time coming to you as pure gift

May you be embraced by a concept of grace

That sets you free to begin again.

Untie the string around your finger

as you remember forgotten dreams,

like a song that has been waiting to be sung

listen for the long note played by the most gentle touch of the bow.

May it resonate with the one true note within that is you

and dance your dream into this day.

[Andrew Norton – through Sylvia Purdie (Christchurch)]

Aotearoa Litany

Green of fern                                  refresh us

Feathers of kereru                         warm us

Rocks of Moeraki                           encircle us

Waters of Taupo                            bathe us

Dive of gannet                                 focus us

Arc of rainbow                                protect us

Stars of Southern Cross                guide us

[Anne Powell]

Gather the fruits of this day as evening falls and celebrate the goodness of life.

DAY ELEVEN – space Bubble

SETTING: create a small enclosure, placing the cross in the centre.  Let this represent your “bubble”, the space you inhabit during this lockdown period.

Prayer of Praise:

My heart is ready, God

to sing and play and thank you.

Your steadfast love is higher than the heavens

and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Let your glory be over the earth

to bring rescue to those you love.

Help us in this hour of crisis

for we can do nothing without you.

[verses from Psalm 108]

Astronauts live socially isolated.  Orbiting the earth, they are locked in space, far away from loved ones and their usual activities.  At this time, New Zealand and many other countries are in a lockdown situation, with people told to stay in their homes.  Treating home as a bubble, illustrates the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Keeping yourself isolated lessens the chance of contracting or passing on the disease.  The message is clear: stay bubbled-up in this locked-down world of ours!

Around the world people are uniting in prayer.  Spiritual energy is being harnessed and the desire to engage in praying for those suffering from the virus, for medical professionals and caregivers, and for scientists seeking a cure, is bonding people like never before.  While physical contact is avoided, linking spiritually is a strong and valid means of staying united, in touch and caring for one another.

This prayer theme offers a meditation on space, and the positives that can be learned from being apart.

A gravestone that got me thinking held a brief inscription a woman had chosen.  It read, THANKS FOR THE SPACE.  What was it saying?  Thanks for the space, here, this grave?  Thanks for the space that has been my life?  Thanks for the space I filled in life – and for the space around me in which others lived?

THANKS FOR THE SPACE also acknowledges space as a gift.  We do not create our own space.  And thanks for all the space around me – the outer space that protects and shelters and holds our world in place.

Consider your own SPACE, and the space referred to in these days as your BUBBLE.  In this context, space restricts you.  There are boundaries you didn’t have before.  Yet, this isolation is now your protection.  Can you give thanks for this space?

THANKS FOR THE SPACE

Thank you, loving God, for your gift of space.

Thank you for the space that gives me room to move and to be; to get to know myself as distinct from others; to get to be comfortable with myself.

Thank you for the space that surrounds me; that tells me of other spaces; that honours my uniqueness while showing me I’m not alone in space.

Thank you for the space that both separates and unites; is both personal and public; delights in my presence yet wants me to know mine is not the only space.

Thank you for the space that enters my space; that draws me to others, to celebrate their space; to appreciate our togetherness; to understand that my space cannot be lived in isolation.

Thank you for the space between each person that gives meaning to our own space, as links in a necklace highlight the beauty of each pearl.

Thank you for the different kind of space being experienced today.  The space being called our BUBBLE, keeping us safe from harmful infection and from passing infection to others.  Though strange and unnatural, these separate spaces are for the good of all. – and for this we give you thanks.

Thank you for the space that is my bubble.  It will help me appreciate other spaces when we are once again able to mix and mingle.  May I value every space as a precious gift to be respected and highly valued, honoured and protected, and may I be always grateful.

Thank you for the space that opens out to reveal the wonder of your eternal space and the glory of creation.

Thank you, loving God, for your gift of space.

Scripture: Matthew 15:21-28

Follow this story closely and consider its relation to “space”:

  • Jesus’ personal space being “invaded”
  • The disciples uncomfortable at the intrusion into their “space”
  • The “space” of ministry being challenged
  • Growing awareness of the need to move into new and uncomfortable “space”
  • The way Jesus gifts “space” to the woman

How does this story speak to you about your awareness of “space” during this pandemic crisis?

Reflection on INNER SPACE

Your inner space is your most private room, the space that accompanies you through all your outer space.  Jesus speak about your inner room when he reminds us that the most important prayer is the one we pray there – not on the street corner or in church (Matt.6:6).  When we open our hearts to anyone we invite them into our most personal space.  In this space there can be no pretence, no avoiding or side-tracking issues.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt within the heart.  [Helen Keller]

PRAYER OF ST PATRICK

May the strength of God pilot us.

May the power of God preserve us.

May the wisdom of God instruct us.

May the hand of God protect us.

May the way of God direct us.

May the shield of God defend us.

May the host of God guard us.

May Christ be with us, above us, in us and before us.

May your salvation, O Lord, be always ours, today and for evermore.  Amen.

DAY TWELVE – Holy Week (1)

SETTING: highlight the cross, together with some stones and greenery.

Prayer in awe of this sacred time:

In this treasured week, O God,n we witness the extent of your love for us

I close my eyes in humble thanksgiving.

The cries of Jesus, isolated and fearing he has

been abandoned, pierces my ears and my heart.

I offer my own isolation in this pandemic moment

for all in pain and without support,

for those alone and lonely,

for those lost and afraid.

I praise your love, mysterious and awesome.

There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends – see John 15:13

This description of love came just after Jesus had given his “new commandment” to love one another as I have loved you. [Jn 15:12]  Within a few hours of speaking, Jesus would live that commandment to the full.  To truly follow Jesus, I have to be prepared to give of myself, just as he did, for the good of others.  During this uncertain time, living with the threat of Covid-19, this is exactly what everyone is being asked to do: to put the good of others ahead of my own.

Holy Week is ideal for reflecting on the meaning and practice of the “new commandment” in our personal lives.  While this present health crisis provides specific opportunities, it is important to map out some strategy for the time when things return to normal.  The following scripture passages should help the planning.  Be still in their company and let them speak of possible actions and attitudes.

Isaiah 42:1-7

He does not break the crushed reed – a person of strong faith and deep compassion, concerned for justice and with a sense of being missioned to help those weakened by sickness or adversity, the troubled in mind or body.

Apocalypse 1:5-8

I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord – mention the apocalypse and people usually think you’re referring to the end of the world, as indeed have some interpreted Covid-19.  But God is the beginning (Alpha) and the end (Omega) – the A & the Z – of all things and within those brackets there is nothing to fear; we have only to place ourselves in the service of the One who is, who was and is still to come.

John 4:16-21

This text is being fulfilled today – Jesus identified his mission as one of healing, of setting things right, and making people feel good about themselves so that they could do good for others.  Is there a similar “healing ministry” for you in this time of social isolation.  Calling people, especially those who are on their own or in small/cramped living conditions, and family members?  Joining a prayer chain?  Teaming up with someone or several others for an on-line game?

The needs people have are many and varied; healing takes many forms.

PSALM 70

In you, O Lord, I take refuge

let me never be put to shame.

In your justice rescue me, free me;

pay heed to me and save me.

Be a rock where I can take refuge,

a mighty stronghold to save me;

for you are my rock, my stronghold.

It is you, Lord, who are my hope,

my trust, O Lord, since my youth.

On you have I leaned from my birth,

from my mother’s womb you have been my help.

My lips will tell of your justice

and day by day of your help

(though I can never tell it all).

O God, you have taught me from my youth

and I proclaim your wonders still.

——–

Time now to pray for others:

For those caught in the grip of loss

For those frozen with fear

For those anchored in self

For those struggling to cope

For those just holding on

For those who feel they have nothing to live for

For those with nothing to die for

Be merciful to me, O God…. In the shadow of your wings I find protection

until the raging storms are over. [Psalm 57:1]

DAY THIRTEEN – Holy Week (2)

SETTING: darker colours – purple, scarlet… Pieces of greenery.  A lit candle near the cross.

Opening Prayer:

I know the plans I have in mind for you –

plans for peace, not disaster, reserving

a future full of hope for you. [Jer.29:11]

Loving God, unfold your plans for us as we

struggle through this time of unknowing.

Strengthen our hope through our doubts and our fears.

As we follow the path of Jesus with his cross of isolation

may we never lose sight of the empty tomb beyond Calvary

and the peace and joy that shines from it.

Let this be our consolation, bringing trust and calm.

****

O God, who willed your Son to

submit for our sake

to the yoke of the Cross,

so that you might drive from us

the power of the enemy,

grant us, your servants, to attain

the grace of the resurrection.

Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

[Prayer of Holy Week Mass]

Scripture – Paul to the Philippians 2:6-11

His state was divine, yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as people are, and being as all people are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.

But God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names, so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus, and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Recall the words of Micah about what Gods wants of us – to live justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8]

Scripture – John 13:1-15

Read this passage twice, slowly, thoughtfully, in the style of Lectio Divina pattern.  Spend time holding the words or phrases that leap out to you.  What personal message do they have for you?  What action or attitude does this passage suggest that might help you in this time of isolation and beyond it?

John’s gospel narrative does not relate the “institution of the Eucharist” at the Last Supper.   In its place, but with the same authority and impact, we find the “Washing of feet”.  The Do this in memory of me command of Jesus to the disciples, after sharing the bread and wine, is echoed in his admonition after washing their feet: If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet.  It is this imitation of Jesus that today’s theme calls you to dwell on as the lockdown period deepens and new challenges arise.

Washing

Dealing with the threat of Covid-19 requires a lot of washing, especially hand washing.  The washing of feet symbolised service (at the time of Jesus it was the task of a slave or house servant).  It also symbolised welcome.  The roads were dusty and footwear either non-existent or very primitive.  And walking, the most common way of getting around, was very tiring.  To have your feet washed on arrival would be very refreshing and a great welcome gesture.

Because hands touch every part of the body, particularly the face, and also touch other bodies, places and objects, they can be carriers of disease.  Because we are at present medically defenceless against Covid-19, the frequent washing of hands is a weapon we can’t afford to ignore.

Pilate also washed his hands [Matthew 27:24], not to escape a virus, but to signify he was not taking responsibility for the death of Jesus.  We use the term today when we want to escape responsibility or disapprove of something – I’m washing my hands of this! we say.  

Meditate quietly on Pilate’s action and your own “hand washing”.

  • Are you always as eager to avoid being a carrier of disease as you are at this time of national crisis?
  • What about the diseases of ill-temper, gossip, pride, misjudgement, prejudice…  what sort of “hand washing” might help avoid these?
  • When might have you “hand-washed” your way out of some responsibility that really was yours to own?  Any resolve for the future?

The Rosary – The Mysteries of Light

Pope John Paul II named and inserted the Mysteries of Light into the Rosary in order to complete the life-cycle of Jesus.  They provide contemplation on the public life of Jesus, from his baptism by Jo hn to the Last Supper. 

The 5th Mystery of Light: The Institution of the Eucharist

It is appropriate to conclude this time of prayer with this particular decade which draws us to contemplate the tremendous love of Jesus for us, displayed just hours before his agony in the garden and arrest.

The Eucharist is gifted in the midst of uncertainty.  The disciples were suspicious of one another as Jesus told them of a betrayer among them.  They were overwhelmed and confused as they tried to absorb the lesson of the Jesus washing their feet.  What he was sharing with them and telling them, including the instruction to Do this in memory of me would not have made sense till much later.

The Eucharist is the “light” of Christians, the meeting point of the faithful in communion with God and with one another.  In contemplating this Mystery over a decade of prayer, the focus could be on thanksgiving – for the gift of Jesus, the gift of faith, of life, of each other – thanksgiving for everything and everyone that is part of creation and to which every individual is connected.

In this time of social isolation, itself a time a uncertainty, with churches closed and public Masses not being celebrated, many feel the lack of nourishment which the Eucharist brings, and thanksgiving may not come easily.  But it can, if you see this time as one of appreciating the Eucharist anew, and preparing yourself for its return with hearts more grateful than ever.

Pray the decade of the Rosary in thanksgiving for this time apart, gifting you with time to know what you’re missing and to love all more dearly.  This will also help you see other ways in which Jesus is showing his presence and his love.  Ponder his promise, I will be with you always.

DAY FOURTEEN – Holy Week (3)

SETTING: the Cross, with two lit candles.

Prayer at the foot of the Cross:

There’s a barrier between us, dear Jesus.

Everyone’s being kept at a distance

I cannot draw near to touch,

to hold, or to comfort.

I hear you forgive those who nail and spear you

I sense your peace and I wonder at your

courage and the strength of your love.

A virus has brought suffering to our world

and we seek someone to blame.

But standing here, our suffering seems

such a small wound.

Help us walk the path of forgiveness that

we might return to one another

healed and at peace.

This is the final of three reflections centred on Holy Week.  Their themes are not confined to this particular week so can be used at any time.  However, they may have special relevance for you in this lockdown phase of our struggle with Covid-19.

Scripture Reading – Isaiah 52:13-53:12

This beautiful, powerful and haunting reading from the Good Friday liturgy is proposed for today’s meditation.  It is a long reading [Isaiah 52:13-53:12] containing many images relating not only to the Passion of Jesus but also to the present and any difficult situation:

  • when you have to watch someone suffering (a terminal illness) and are powerless to help
  • when you feel you are witnessing something never heard before (as in this pandemic)and cannot tell where it will lead
  • when you sense someone being misjudged or deliberately misunderstood
  • when you are aware of any kind of prejudice
  • when you see heroism or strong, courageous leadership
  • when you come across self-sacrificing service

Pray Psalm 30

– for yourself, your loved ones and for the world’s population caught up in the Covid-19 crisis:

In you, O Lord, I take refuge.

Let me never be put to shame.

In your justice set me free.

Into your hands I commend my spirit.

It is you who will redeem me, Lord.

In the face of all my foes I am a reproach,

an object of scorn to my neighbours

and of fear to my friends.

Those who see me in the street run far from me.

I am like someone dead, forgotten,

like a thing thrown away.

But as for me, I trust in you, Lord.

I say, “You are my God.”

My life is in your hands, deliver me…

Let your face shine on your servant.

Save me in your love.

Be strong, let your heart take courage,

all who hope in the Lord.

  • Pray this response as a mantra through the day:
  • Father, I put my life in your hands

THE CRUCIFIXION

…standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother,

and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,

and Mary Magdalene. [John 19:25]

to relive the death of Jesus, to stand with Mary at the foot of his cross, to feel the terror in the hearts of the Apostles, to see the bewilderment of many in the crowd and the open hatred and anger of others – is to enter into a dialogue with the two-fold mystery of love and suffering.  It is to ponder anew

the parting gift of Jesus: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, nor afraid. [John 14:27]

In a book-length poetic narrative, A Woman Wrapped in Silence, John W Lynch vividly captures the agony of Mary as she embraces the agony of her Son:

Her palms curled inward, seeking for the nails

That might not be in them, and asking pain

She might not hold, and on her feet, a plea

For thrusted iron ached and spread within

A wholeness that was yearning unrelieved.

Her arms cried out for bracketing along

The wood that strained Him.  She would take this pain,

This brace, this agony, she’d be His heart.

[John W Lynch, 1941, p.231]

The cry of Jesus, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?  My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? [Matthew 27:46] would have been the moment the point of the sword predicted by Simeon reached Mary’s heart; the final thrust that stabbed her trust and threatened her very soul.  Compassion personified, as she identified completely with Jesus and felt her words to Gabriel echo with new and troubled meaning: How can this be?

But then, Luke recalls the final words of Jesus – the prayer of a Jewish child before sleep: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. [Luke 24:46].  What comfort those words would bring to a grief-stricken mother.  Her trust, all but destroyed, renewed by the memory of a night-time prayer that always carried hope that a new day would dawn.

We accompany Mary whenever we stand by the cross of another; when we enter the agony of another person, support and gentle someone else’s pain.

Consider: how might the Covid-19 crisis be crucifying someone, testing trust, making life resemble a wavering flame or a broken reed?  Can you stand beneath their cross?

  • If you are familiar with the tradition of the Rosary, pray the 5th Sorrowful Mystery, the Crucifixion, focussing on the part you might be able to play (however small) in relieving the suffering or anxiety of another at this time.