In just twelve words, the Gospel reading at Mass a few Sundays ago paints a beautiful picture of Jesus reaching out to a sick woman.
‘He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her.’
We are not told the woman’s name. Perhaps, she represents all those who are sick in every time and place. For us today, she represents all the people across the world who are suffering due to COVID-19 or other illnesses.
I recently listened to an interview on radio with a former politician and writer who had come through COVID-19. The experience petrified her. She told us that she was frequently in tears. However, the familiar prayers from her childhood helped her greatly. For her the rosary and many other traditional prayers are lyrical and poetic. Reciting these comforting words creates another level for her, allowing her to find space and gives her a voice. The words of the Memorare are especially precious and calm her spirit. That is what Jesus did when he held the hand of the woman in the Gospel. He calmed her spirit. The woman on radio also draws strength from the communion of saints, those who had gone before her.
In this moment, we can’t physically take each other by the hand as Jesus did. We can’t gather for prayer, but we can pray. We express and nourish our love for ourselves and for each other through prayer. We are so much more than flesh and blood, we are also soul and spirit. When we pray, we are never truly alone. We are in communion with the Lord and every praying person across the world and the generations. We unite with women and men of goodwill everywhere. We join all who have gone before us in faith, our ancestors, Our Lady and the whole communion of saints. These months of staying apart are teaching us how to bond in deeper, more spiritual ways.
There are as many ways to pray as there are people. We pray through thoughts, words, actions, symbols or silence. Many like to gently sit or kneel before the blessed sacrament, spending quiet time in the presence of the Lord to feel the soothing embrace of his peace reviving our spirit. We light candles. The warmth heals us, the flame becomes our prayer rising up to the Lord. The glow embodies our hopes and dreams and our love for ourselves and each other. The light drives back the darkness of fear and doubt. Every embrace with beauty is prayer. Music revitalises our bond with the God of love and mystery. Poetry, art, drama and the miraculous world of nature takes us to new and better places. The sight of new-born lambs in the field, daffodils, light refracted through stained-glass, the rising or setting sun, the waxing or waning moon are all calming and lifegiving. Sharing or receiving a kind word, a generous act, the laughter of children, the contentment of old age, people doing the best they can or starting over are all sacred moments.
Like the woman on radio many of us draw life from familiar prayers. There are times when we simply speak to God as we do to a friend. At other moments, the words of scripture, perhaps taken from our parish newsletter, bring us closer to the Lord as we place ourselves in the story of his love for his people.
We pray so that we can become truly ourselves. Almost two thousand years ago St Irenaeus wrote ‘The glory of God is man fully alive’. We are so much more than our actions. We pray to give thanks, to unload the burdens of the past, to ask help, to seek comfort, to find a way forward, to nourish our friendship with God. Beginning each day with a moment of calm helps us to live that day in peace. Spending a little time before sleep searching for the moments when God held us by the hand and helped us, calms our spirit. The tenderness, goodness, kindness, forgiveness present in each day is to be treasured and celebrated.
If this terrible pandemic is teaching us anything, it is surely that we are not in control of the world. We need each other. We need God’s Spirit living within us.
O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help,
or sought thy intercession was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence,
I fly to thee,
O Virgin of virgins, my Mother;
to thee do I come;
before thee I stand,
sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer me.
Fr. Albert McDonnell lives in Kildysart
Radharc na nOileán Pastoral Area.
Clare Champion Article 19th of February 2021