As I suspected, returning to Mass after three and a half months was an emotional experience. I went down to the cathedral here in Letterkenny, the 8am Mass, mask on, hands sanitised, social distancing in effect. So it wasn’t like any Mass I’ve ever been involved with before but it was good to be there. I believe that in the Eucharist Jesus puts himself into my hands, entrusts himself to me in a very visible, tangible way. The Eucharist has long been an anchor for me in my faith, reminding me of what is most important, that God’s love for us is so strong, so unwavering, that Jesus became one of us. Jesus stands in solidarity with us, God at the heart of our humanity and our humanity at the heart of God.
It was good to be there and yet I find myself filled with questions. When I looked at the Gospel for this Sunday it crystallised the anxiety which niggles at me. Matthew chapter 13 – the sower goes out to sow. Some seed falls on patches of rock, springs up, but has no roots and withers with the first sunshine. Other seed falls on rich soil and produces a rich crop. Which are we?
We have travelled a journey we could never have conceived of at the beginning of this year. I think back to the powerful image of Pope Francis in St Peter’s on March 27 with that extraordinary ‘Urbi et Orbi’ prayer for the pandemic. Pope Francis urged us to see this time as “a time to choose what matters and what passes away”. In his Easter Sunday homily he called us to solidarity with the whole world. More recently, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul he invited us to allow ourselves to be challenged by God, to allow our lives to bear witness to the love of God. He says: “Just as the Lord turned Simon into Peter so He is calling each one of us, in order to make us living stones with which to build a renewed Church and a renewed unity.”
Have we the courage to be renewed or will we just retrench into our old ways? For me, it was wonderful to receive the Eucharist again but if this is the limit of our aims then we have missed the point entirely. These past months have shaken us up, seeds have been sown. Have we the courage to reflect on the experience, to explore the questions that have been thrown up?
My own sense is that if we fail to do this, if we are the rocky path where seed springs up rapidly but withers even more rapidly, then people will walk away from the Church. Pope Francis connected with people around the world in what he said and did over these months. He has shown us what it means to be a Christian. The destruction of the natural environment, of God’s creation should matter to us as Christians. The death of George Floyd and far too many others together with the existence of racism in our own country and potentially within our own hearts should matter to us. The impact of layering coronavirus upon poverty, malnutrition and discrimination should matter to us. And if it doesn’t then are we truly Christian at all?
Because being Christian has got to be about sharing in the Divine Life of God, seeing the world as God sees it, desiring the transformation that God desires and working to make that happen. As Catholics the Eucharist is essential to us, nurturing that divine life, but not simply for ourselves. If these months have taught us anything, surely it is about the importance of relationship. Perhaps our experience of being Catholic has too often drawn us inwards into private faith rather than outwards towards the solidarity Pope Francis calls us to.
In the Eucharist Jesus puts himself in our hands so that we might be his living, active presence in the world. May our expectations be no less than His.