Hope and faith in the time of Corona
As the Jesuit Institute continues to study, think and reflect upon the global and local challenge of the spreading COVID-19, we are convinced that we need to face this time together and find ways of nurturing and growing our faith.
The world is changing rapidly and we have extraordinary challenges facing us. This rapid change also affects, we have come to see, the way we worship and live out our faith. God, we believe, is calling us to discern and rethink the way we do things. We are being invited to take stock and change our lifestyles so that we can continue to be faithful witnesses and disciples of Jesus Christ.
It has become clear – from other parts of the world – that the most effective way of slowing the virus down is through social distancing and isolation. There is an excellent piece explaining this graphically in The Washington Post. You mitigate risk when you do not gather in spaces with others. Even a small group of people poses a higher risk than being isolated. There seems to be a belief that if we are 100 or less then we are safe. This is not true. Even a small group of people poses a higher risk than being isolated. Good theology and good science are not enemies, they are companions that ought to be in dialogue with each other.
The Eucharist is at the heart of our Catholic Christian faith. As we enter into a moment in history where gathering together is not possible, we should not become angry, anxious or even lose hope. We must follow the best science that we have and allow our theology to show us new ways of being the body of Christ.
Distancing and isolation is not easy, it is a struggle. We are by our very nature social beings who want to be connected to others. We, God’s people, also have an inherent desire to be united with the Lord himself in the Eucharist. And so, at this time, we have to be resourceful and find new ways to maintain our unity. We have to use this time of distancing and isolation to go deeper, like the tree in the desert whose roots push down into the earth to find the water that will sustain it when the sun has dried up any water near the surface.
Unlike those who have gone before us, we have ways and means at our disposal to help us maintain our spiritual lives during this time. The means of mass communication are a gift from God and can keep us connected, informed, lessen the challenge of being isolated and help us grow in prayer and faith.
We must take courage that many of the men and women who inspire us today – the saints – found themselves isolated at times. For some, this isolation gave them the gift of contemplation. So, instead of worrying or fearing social distancing, we can ask ourselves what we can do to ensure that we use this time for spiritual profit.
God will sustain us, God has never abandoned us! God is eternal and unlimited. God has never been limited to sacraments alone. God will give us, in this unpredictable time, the nourishment we need to continue our journey. For a while, we are being invited to learn how to pray in a new way with the universal Church.
As we search for and learn a new way of being church, the Jesuit Institute will make material available on our website. We already send out a daily reflection for Lent at 06:00 every morning. If Holy Mass has been suspended in your area, or you have wisely chosen not to go to public gatherings, why not use that reflection based on the daily scriptures to pray and reflect?
You could do this alone or as a family. This time of social distancing might be one in which we are able to restore real family time by talking, reflecting and praying together. Family meals remind us too of the Eucharistic table and can be a moment when we remind ourselves that the Eucharist unites us with all God’s people.
We will continue to publish our weekly bulletin column on Fridays.
In addition to this, we will also publish some other helpful reflections. For example, many are speaking about “spiritual communion”. What is this, where does it come from and how might we be in “spiritual communion”? Other folks are worried that a lack of faith in God has influenced Church leaders to suspend Holy Mass and other gatherings. Do these actions really show a lack of faith? Some are asking if our devotion to the sacraments and obligation to attend mass should take precedence over the health and safety of our community and the entire nation?
Our material, in the next few days, will try to help our reflections on these common questions and concerns. They will also help us to understand our faith more deeply.
The bishops of South Africa have removed the Sunday Mass obligation. Many have suspended Sunday Mass altogether. This is indeed distressing but, again, a moment for us to pause and reflect upon. There are many around the world in remote areas who are deprived of Holy Mass. Yet the Eucharist still remains at the heart of their faith. It remains at the heart of our faith too. We pray now in solidarity with them.
We also have the opportunity of using other means to give time to the Lord on Sundays. The Jesuit Institute will help you to do this by broadcasting Holy Mass on Sundays at 09.00 for the duration of this difficult time. This broadcast will be on our webpage jesuitinstitute.org.za. All you have to do is go to our website at 9am!
Another way we can stay in union is by remembering, each day, to pray for those infected and affected by COVID-19. We pray for those who minister to them – doctors, nurses, other medical personnel and chaplains. Let’s pray for their families. Let us pray too for all those who have lost their lives in this pandemic.
Our unity in prayer draws us into the heart of the Eucharist – “That all of them may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you” (John 17:21).
We must remain united in prayer and, together, we can grow in faith, charity and love.
We pray that you and your loved ones remain steadfast in faith and healthy at this time.
May God bless you
Fr Russell Pollitt SJ
Director: Jesuit Institute South Africa