With deconfinement gradually underway, Swiss borders have now opened, once again opening the doors to private tourism and commercial traffic. But the crisis is far from over. The announcement of new localised outbreaks of the disease shows that we must remain vigilent. Isn’t it true that the many articles on Covid have led us to feel that we know more and more about the virus? Yet at the same time, paradoxically, the steady stream of information shows us that we know less and less. Because this ‘little virus’ has, in spite of ourselves, revealed our deep vulnerability. In his sermon on 8 March 2020, Pope Francis encouraged us to renew our confidence in God and face the Covid-19 crisis “with the strength of faith, the certainty of hope and the fervour of charity”. On the other side of the equation, it is interesting to hear non-religious philosopher and sociologist Edgar Morin’s comments that “man has realised that he is not in control of his life” and in order to get through, he must “take refuge in islands of certainty” and “mobilise himself from within” (Radio FranceInfo 5 April 2020).
And since this humbling lesson was not enough, we who are so used to hectic rhythms in lives punctuated by working hours, school and university, travel and social commitments, all suddenly found ourselves confined. From mid-March in Switzerland, the population was strongly encouraged – and in other coun- tries, obliged by law – to stay at home. Social networks, so often criticised, now made it possible for those fortunate enough to be connected to continue an almost normal life with the help of working remotely, home schooling, communicating with friends and family... as well as making it possible to attend Mass.
No need to hurry out of the house: up to 28 May, we were able to follow Sunday or even daily Mass from the peace and quiet of our living rooms. What’s more, thanks to the possibilities of streaming, we could attend at a time that suited us if we couldn’t make it to the live event. And, up to 18 May (when religious celebrations were reintroduced in Italy), we could even follow Pope Francis’ weekday Mass at the Casa Santa Marta – an event usually reserved for a private audience. So much comfort and ease of access...
The internet is “not an entirely satisfying means of communion. We like to join together visibly to celebrate Mass. It’s not really in the true spirit of religion.”Marie-Pierre Barbieri Head of News and Communications at Opus Dei, Switzerland.
But the Pope wasted no time in warning us against such “agnostic familiarity” in a sermon at the Casa Santa Marta (17 April 2020). The benevolent effort of the Holy Father and all the priests has not gone unrecognised as they worked to share Sunday and even daily Mass with people of faith. However, as Bishop Morerod pointed out in an interview on 11 April on the Roman Catholic site cath.ch, we have all undoubtedly felt that, even if a Eucharistic celebration could be broadcast online, this solution “did not offer an entirely satisfying means of communion. We like to join together visibly to celebrate Mass. It’s not really in the true spirit of religion.” And, as Pope Francis has commented on several occasions, the Church is “community, people of God, and the sacraments”. In a sermon on 17 April 2020 at Santa Marta, he reminded us that “the celebration of Mass via visual media is just one solution among many”. This is the difference between the real and the virtual: our forced Eucharistic fast, motivated as we know by reasons of health, undoubtedly made us realise how much we missed receiving the Body of Christ, and that “we become aware of what is essential when we no longer have it,” as His Excellency Valerio Lazzeri, Bishop of Lugano, stressed during a virtual meeting with young people on 9 May 2020. And if this was not the case before, the Lord has now given us the grace to open our eyes to all those years when we went to Mass without perhaps having fully understood the meaning of the Holy Eucharist.
In addition, the Mass broadcast via the visual media should not lead us to forget all the papal initiatives brought about by confinement. We can feel only gratitude for the way in which the Holy Father, priests and so many laymen and women mobilised themselves, making use of all the possibilities that technology brings to offer educational activities (comments on the gospel, meditations, talks, virtual retreats, etc.), as well as sharing materials found on the internet and elsewhere. Indeed, how could we fail to feel gratitude for the efforts of the Holy Father to guide his sheep throughout this ordeal? The whole world will hold onto the memory of this prayer vigil on 27 March 2020, followed by the special Urbi et Orbi blessing given by the Pope on a completely deserted, rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square. Equally, many of us will keep in our memories the commitment of all the priests to celebrate Mass “online”, to say the daily rosary via social networks, to comment on the gospel of the day and join virtual retreats, and much more. And who among us hasn’t received a text, a photo or a video from a kind friend encouraging reflection and prayer?
“Confinement is ‘a time of revival for the Church’ because it has made it possible to ‘rediscover prayer at home’.” Bishop Charles Morerod
Because one thing is certain: through prayer, this ordeal – a source of stress, concern as well as both human and economic tragedies – has united our hearts with all those affected by the consequences of the pandemic: the loss of a loved one, direct experience of the disease, uncertainties around work, not to mention everything the future has in store. For the month of May, Pope Francis encouraged us to pray the rosary at home with our families. And Bishop Morerod sees confinement as “a time of revival for the Church” because it has made it possible to “rediscover prayer at home” (Cath.ch, April 2020).
“This is where our personal holiness lies: in ordinary tasks, in little things and in our work.” Saint Josemaría
Through praying, we realised that everything happening to us was, in fact, a call from God to serve Him, to grow from within: to have more patience with the people living with us 24 hours a day during confinement, with the children who needed to be looked after and have their imaginations sparked, with sharing the computer between family members... And to find the time to call someone living on their own, or do the shopping for someone unable to leave home. Perhaps this confinement has enabled us to see that we must strive to find the Lord in the everyday life, that this is where our personal holiness lies: in ordinary tasks, in little things and in our work, as Saint Josemaria, founder of Opus Dei, so often reminded us. Certainly, confinement has opened our eyes to the needs of others, and has allowed us to realise that we cannot continue to live selfishly, without worrying about the world around us, because “if one part suffers, eve- ry part suffers with it” (1 Cor 12, 26).
“When the elderly are not cared for, there is no future for the young.” Pope Francis
Let us also hope that our sense of charity has grown, and that we will never look at our elders in the same way again. On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June 2020, Pope Francis wrote in all languages on Twit- ter that “the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that our societies are not organised well enough to make room for the elderly, with proper respect for their dignity and frailty.” He added: “When the elderly are not cared for, there is no future for the young.” As for visible displays of support for professionals like doctors, nurses and paramedics who are on the front line of the “war” against the virus, these suggest that we might look upon these health professionals more charitably when they express their needs. But will we really remember the service of all the other people who enabled us to live through this pandemic with dignity? All the supermarket and street maintenance workers, waste collectors, police officers, firefighters, public transport and food delivery drivers and many more who, through their work, made our lives easier not only during confinement, but every day.
«The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Albert Einstein
Because this is the major challenge in the ordeal that we have just experienced: believing in the hope of better days. Better, because today things are different from the time before Covid-19. Albert Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Do we really wish to go back to our hectic lives? Do we really wish to become indifferent again towards the weakest in society, and blind to the needs of the people around us ? Do we really wish to go back to church in the way to which we had become accustomed: perhaps not every Sunday, not always on time, and leaving immediately after the final blessing?
Far from being a punishment sent by God, because “the Lord is neither a police officer, nor a judge, nor a king, easily offended and vindictive” (sermon by the Pope at the Casa Santa Marta on 11 March 2020), the pandemic has given us the chance to understand “how individualistic our society is” and shown that we must rediscover that we are a community: a word so often used by the Holy Father in his sermons during the pandemic. On this subject, His Excellency Felix Gmür, President of the Episcopal Conference of Switzerland, has commented that the pandemic has “given Christians the opportunity to be there for others” and that “this is precisely the most beautiful and greatest duty of the Church” (Aargauer Zeitung, 21 March 2020). What’s more, the continued absence of the sacrament of the Eucharist, which was beginning to weigh on our relationships with others, and perhaps felt somewhat discouraging, has very clearly shown us that “just as it is impossible to nourish one’s body through the internet, so the Christian needs to physically receive the Body of Christ to live” and that, as with human love, “we need this physical contact to express our love for the Lord” (His Excellency Mario Delpini, Archbishop of Milan).
“That you may tell your children and grandchildren. Life becomes history.” Pope Francis
One French politician said that “this crisis calls for a duty of humility”. This, perhaps, is the greatest lesson of this ordeal: it is important to realise that, while it is not always in our power to change our environment, we can often change the way we react to make it something much greater than we are. And, with the Covid-19 pandemic, we will be able to take up the almost prophetic message of Pope Francis published on 24 January 2020 for the 54th World Communications Day: to tell “stories that build up, not tear down; stories that help us rediscover our roots and the strength needed to move forward together. Amid the cacophony of voices and messages that surround us, we need a human story that can speak of ourselves and of the beauty all around us. A narrative that can regard our world and its happenings with a tender gaze. A narrative that can tell us that we are part of a living and interconnected tapestry. A narrative that can reveal the interweaving of the threads which connect us to one another.” This time of crisis has spoken to us and continues to do so: “That you may tell your children and grandchild- ren” (Ex.10:2). Life becomes history. (Pope Francis, 24 January 2020)
Fall 2020 | AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM