Many people responding to the devastating pandemic caused by Coronavirus have described the times we live in as ‘unprecedented’. There can be little doubt that these are difficult times, and for some very tragic times. For many they may well be the ‘worst of times’.
In the 14th. Century a quite devastating pandemic raged through Asia and Europe known as the Black Death or plague killing over 20 million in Europe, a quarter of the population. At the same time mercenary armies roamed the countryside wreaking death and destruction in their path. The Pope, Gregory X1, was cowering in Avignon, France, leaving the Church in the hands of a corrupt clergy in Rome. In many ways it was “the worst of times.”
Catherine of Siena, was an Italian saint, a sister of the Dominican Order, who lived during these dark times. Remarkably she did not give way to despair or look to escape from the harsh realities. She did not say, “If only the Black Death would go away… If only the world were at peace… If only there was less greed, less exploitation and more generosity and justice….If only we had exceptional leaders, then I could really live my Christian faith.” No, Catherine became a saint by accepting her times as the context in which she was called to live her faith. She did not run away from the critical issues of her day; she engaged with them. She became a reformer and political activist and was influential in the religious and political affairs of the church. Even more remarkably, with no thought for herself, she cared for and nursed the victims of the plague. Surely a forerunner of those who today care for those suffering Coronavirus!
Sometimes we are quick to complain and regret the times in which we live. We assume that the world used to be a kinder and gentler place, and our ancestors had it easier than we do. But a quick perusal of history shows that every age, for one reason or another, could be called “the worst of times.” But, as Christians, we believe our age is precisely the context in which we are being called to live out our faith. Like Catherine, we are being called to respond to the critical issues of our times with attentiveness, courage, love, persistence, and faith.
The tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA has highlighted the shocking injustice of racism which is deeply embedded in the life of nations and communities. The fact that we permit Black, Asian, minority ethnic (BAME) people to work in the frontline caring for those suffering from Corvid 19, often without extra protection to ensure their safety, knowing as we do that they are more vulnerable is indicative of our carelessness for a large section of our community.
During these times of isolation and separation we have been expected to ‘lock down’ and avoid contact with others. Thankfully the ‘lock down’ and the isolation that many have felt is being eased. It is not just during the current ‘lock down ’that people feel isolated or cut-off. In our world there are so many who are isolated and lonely – outcasts, refugees, marginalised, neglected – and now with the economic knock-on, there are an increasing number facing the devastation of unemployment and uncertainty. If this pandemic teaches us anything it’s surely that humanity needs to reach out to those who are cut-off and make them feel part of the human family.
We would do well to recall the compassion of Jesus who touched the leper. The point is, not that he risked becoming infected; the term leprosy covered a wide range of skin diseases. It was as much about inclusion; his action symbolised God’s intention that all humanity is part of, and included within, God’s kingdom. The question for us is how to welcome those who are isolated and excluded and make them feel at home?
Revd Michael Diffey
image: Catherine of Siena by Sr. Plautilla Nelli (1560)
All embracing God,
we encounter you everywhere – in the highs and lows
as Creator, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit,
in the special and extraordinary acts of worship,
and in the ordinary events of everyday life,
in daily joys and laughter, and in sadness and pain.
May we be aware of your presence at this time.
Although many of us feel the loss of being cut off from those we love,
from our friends and neighbours,
we thank you that we can never be separated from you.
In your presence the ordinary becomes special, the secular is sacred.
We pray especially for all who find this time difficult and painful –
for the vulnerable, the bereaved, the elderly, the young
those facing the prospect of redundancy,
and those suffering from the coronavirus.
May they feel the comfort of your presence.
Pray for all those who are committed to care and bring relief and consultation.
We pray too for those who are alienated,
and those who suffer from discrimination.
Ever present God, may the reality of your all embracing presence
bring healing, hope, unity and peace to all.
Keep us constantly aware of the ongoing fellowship we have with you
and with each other,
not least with those who who have died.
May our lives be a joyful celebration of our faith and confidence
in your indestructible love.
May we know your peace especially in our loneliness, pain and loss
enabling us to reach out and share together in the all-embracing unity of your kingdom.