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Homily to address growing anxiety regarding the coronavirus
Let us be concerned not first with ourselves but with others. Let not a day of the rest of Lent go by without us thinking of those on low incomes, families who are dependent on food banks, those isolated at home.
Date: 16 March 2020
This homily was prepared before the Bishops of England and Wales suspended the public celebration of Holy Mass
I think I should leave the catechetical sermon this Sunday and say something about the growing anxiety regarding the coronavirus and the developing global pandemic. In doing so I am drawing on a beautiful Pastoral letter that Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury wrote to his diocese last Sunday. Public health measures being taken in church and across society are aimed at serving the common good and the care of the most vulnerable. Whether in the form of personal hygiene or changes to parish practice, these measures should be embraced as expressions of Christian charity for the sake of our neighbour and can form part of our Lenten observance.
We should also reflect on our response to this situation in the light of the faith, hope and love we share.
Speaking to those who are fearful of the final account we must all one day give of our lives St John the Apostle says “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18).
His words could also be applied to this current health crisis. In a way we are called to allow either love or fear to take control of our lives. A simple example of how destructive fear is can be seen in the scenes of panic buying and hoarding of goods which create the very shortages people feared. This shows how selfishness never enables humanity to flourish.
Let us be concerned not first with ourselves but with others. Let not a day of the rest of Lent go by without us thinking of those on low incomes, families who are dependent on food banks, those isolated at home. Please as a practical help could everyone bring a tin or a packet of something for the food bank each time you come to church. I have spoken to the SVP about developing initiatives that could maintain at least phone contact with those who may have to self-isolate.
Jesus identifies himself with the sick and the poor and prisoners. In so far as you did this to the least of these you did it to me. No one who suffers during this epidemic must be beyond our care or charity. However long public health concerns last, this time must call us to grow in charity, so that perfect love may overcome fear. And if we fall sick or must self-isolate ourselves out of concern for our neighbour, then let us embrace this time as not as wasted days rather as an opportunity to live and offer those days in love and prayer. The Church’s Catechism reminds us how illness invites us to unite ourselves to Christ’s own Passion (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic n. 1505). This again is very much a part of Lent.
We have seen the removal of some optional practices in the celebration of Mass. Recommendations on the care with which we must receive Holy Communion can also help us approach Holy Communion not merely in a mechanistic way to avoid infection; rather, with all the care and refinement of love, for it is Christ Himself we receive. We must always avoid contact between the hands of the priest and the hands or the mouth of the recipient. We have received advice and encouragement recommending us to receive Holy Communion on the hand at this time. This provides an opportunity to prepare our hands in the shape of the Cross and offer them perfectly flat to receive the Sacred Host. In this way we can renew our eucharistic faith and love of which our outward actions are the sign. If you receive Holy Communion on the tongue as is your right according to the universal norm, then please do so with special care, and it may help where possible to kneel.
I do hope measures to restrict public gatherings will never require us to suspend, even temporarily, the public celebration of Mass. For we surely need in these times to draw even closer to the Holy Eucharist and to frequent the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. In the Holy Eucharist we come to know the perfect love “which casts out fear” and leads us to give ourselves in generous service of others. May this time marked by public health concerns always be marked by the generosity of self-giving love. To Mary, the Mother of Beautiful Love I entrust us all in health and sickness and in all of our generous care of each other.