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Pastoral letter for Holy Week 2020 by Bishop Phonsie Cullinan

Holy Week takes on a new significance this year, the whole world is suffering. All our lives have been utterly changed in the past few weeks: loved ones have died, schools closed, public Masses postponed, hospitals are under pressure, unemployment has risen, people are in lockdown. There is much worry and confusion.

Let us add Lent to all of the above, that 40 days of preparation for the great Feast of Easter. Lent ends with Palm Sunday. Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphant. The crowds shout out Hosanna, all is well. Jesus comes to his people, accepting their acclaim even while he knows that the crowd is fickle and that in a matter of days they will have forgotten his good works and turn against him to such a degree that some will shout ‘ Crucify him’ on that day will call Good Friday.

In his meditation before the Urbi et Orbi Blessing from St. Peter’s recently, Pope Francis urges us to take a long hard look at our world, at our selfishness, our tolerance of injustice, our deafness to the cry of the poor and of our ailing planet. The current pandemic, he says, is like a judgment on ourselves, an opportunity for the crowd to see where we have gone wrong and how we need to be converted and to change.

This crisis has literally forced us to stop and be still. The normal activities of everyone in the country have been curtailed. The effects of this pandemic are very painful – there is much suffering. But there are good effects of this pandemic too – there is heroism, there is genuine neighbourliness. While there are great stresses on families, many families too, I think, are spending more time with each other and discovering new ways of being family. Plants are being sown, walls painted, books read, shopping done for an elderly friend, medicines collected for the housebound. We see frontline staff working around the clock, emergency services doing their duty, shop assistants keeping us provided with food. While we are social distancing, we have also been discovering a basic truth about our human nature – that we need each other. As Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square “Our lives are woven together”. As Catholic Christians we are discovering new ways of being Church. People are praying more at home which has become, as at the beginning of Christianity, the ‘domestic Church’. It is good to see priests keeping close to their people through live streaming, webcam, Facebook, YouTube, e-mails, texts and the old-fashioned telephone. I wish to thank our priests who are looking after the sick, the lonely, those who are mourning. I thank all those who contacted their priests to enquire after their wellbeing. We are all in this together, but we are not alone. Jesus enters Jerusalem, his face set towards what he knows awaits him, but his love is relentless. He will embrace the Cross on Good Friday for you and me. Though we may have forgotten him, he will not forget us. In this crisis he is with us. He is waiting for us to stop and listen to him, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all those who believe in Him may not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Let us believe in Him more and lift up our eyes to the one on the Cross, who looks upon us with total love. This Holy Week he shows us his humanity: he spends time with his friends, he eats with them, talks with them. They desert him – he suffers and dies. But He never gives up loving us. Can we learn from his love and allow ourselves to be open to it? He will wipe away our hardness of heart and our chasing after silly things and help us to see what is truly important. This pandemic provides us with the chance to see more clearly. While our world has turned upside down – please don’t give up hope. God is with you. Pray. Pray to God for yourself, your family, for our hospitals and nursing homes. Implore God’s mercy on us all and on humanity so that He will prepare our hearts for his love. Make acts of spiritual communion since you cannot receive physically. Ask for a greater faith in Jesus even though we cannot see him with our eyes, since He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”. (Jn.20:29) Faith in Jesus is then lived out in charity; in reaching out to others: family members, neighbours, the sick, the housebound, the homeless – reaching out in any way we can, mindful of the prudent restrictions we must take.

On Good Friday, Jesus will take up the Cross. We know a bit more about the Cross these days. Let us carry it with Him and believe that Easter will come, the Son will rise, and all will be well.

+Phonsie Cullinan
Bishop of Waterford & Lismore

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