Dear brothers and sisters, the white woollen pallium which I’m wearing over my shoulders today, was presented to me by Pope Francis in Rome on this day five years ago. Pope Francis told all the new archbishops that day that we ought to be – like Saint Peter and Saint Paul – people of prayer, people of faith and people of witness.
I’m reminded of those words today as we gather to celebrate the Eucharist publicly for the first time in fifteen weeks. We are all called to be people of prayer, of faith and of witness.
The early Christian community was certainly a community of prayer – we see it in today’s First Reading. “All the time Peter was under guard, the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly”. Similarly we are called to pray at all times. Thank God, during the lockdown the Church was able to sustain our life of prayer, especially with the help of the webcam and other social media! During this difficult period, some people felt drawn to God in a new way and actually found themselves praying more and being called to make changes in their lives for the better.
As well as being people of prayer, we are called to be people of faith – believing, as Saint Paul says to Timothy, that the Lord stands by us and gives us the strength we need to proclaim his word fully. The past three and a half months of lockdown marked a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. We had to make sacrifices for the Common Good and to protect life and health. Faith kept many of us going. In March we turned in faith to our patron Saint Patrick, and on the Feast of the Annunciation, we consecrated Ireland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Today I thank God that, through their intercession, the worst possibilities of the virus were kept from our shores.
That leads me to the call to witness. Saints Peter and Paul both brought their prayer and faith to life, and witnessed even to the point of shedding their blood for Christ. The Risen Lord says to all of us: “You too will be my witnesses”.
I thank God today for all those who brought Christianity to life over the past fifteen weeks by their generous witness and example. Our healthcare workers and their backup teams surpassed themselves, tirelessly serving the sick and witnessing powerfully to the tenderness and compassion of God. Many of you, our parishioners volunteered their services, carrying groceries and other essentials to those living alone, or reaching out with love and encouragement to the sick and housebound.
Sadly the Covid19 virus has already devastated the economy, destroyed livelihoods and brought untold grief to those families whose loved ones have died. That is why we must continue in the coming weeks and months to be, like Peter and Paul – people of prayer, faith and witness.
We must all remain responsible in keeping the virus suppressed by practising safe physical distancing, good hygiene and by continuing to respect health guidelines on movement and gatherings.
It is such a joy to gather physically for Mass today as well as to join virtually with many others who are participating over webcam. In the coming weeks we will continue to reduce substantially the number of people who can gather inside our church buildings. Some of our liturgical customs have also been adjusted to take account of health recommendations. I appeal to you therefore to be patient and understanding, and to cooperate in helping us fulfil our Church guidelines.
I know that some of our priests and many people remain vulnerable will be unable, at first, to be with us in person. Please do not feel under pressure to rush out to attending Mass – the Sunday obligation remains suspended and you may prefer to wait, or to come out at a quieter time during weekdays. I also call again for volunteers to step forward in helping us manage the transition back to full parish life and celebration of the sacraments.
Although the two great saints, Peter and Paul, offer us differing perspectives on how to answer God’s call, from the earliest times they are shown in Christian art embracing in a fraternal demonstration of unity. They remind us that prayer, faith and witness are inspired first and foremost by the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. I pray today that like Saints Peter and Paul, we will be open to what the Holy Spirit is asking of us at this time. The Holy Spirit has been at work over this past fifteen weeks, and invites us now to consider what the Covid19 crisis has been teaching us, about relationships and family, about our priorities and values, about health and the things we might so easily take for granted.
Today we are thankful, but the public health advisors remind us that the Covid19 virus remains a threat in the present and in the future. There may be more sacrifices to come. So let us continue to play our part in keeping ourselves and others as safe as possible as we go forward in prayer, in faith and in witness to life and to hope. Amen.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. This Mass took place today at 12noon.
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