| 15.5°C Belfast


Every crisis is an opportunity ... Could coronavirus be a call to us to create a new community of prayer?

John Scally


During this grievous test of our faith, we must remember that none of us suffers alone, writes John Scally

Close

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, (centre) arrives at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a place where Christians believe Jesus Christ was buried, during Holy Thursday in Jerusalem's old city. The traditional Holy Thursday procession is taking place inside the church without public
attendance

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, (centre) arrives at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a place where Christians believe Jesus Christ was buried, during Holy Thursday in Jerusalem's old city. The traditional Holy Thursday procession is taking place inside the church without public attendance

AP

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, (centre) arrives at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a place where Christians believe Jesus Christ was buried, during Holy Thursday in Jerusalem's old city. The traditional Holy Thursday procession is taking place inside the church without public attendance

Last night, my best friend suggested that we should cancel Good Friday this year. His logic was that the idea of calling anything "good" during the current crisis was a contradiction in terms.

The coronavirus struck the world with the ferocity of a tsunami. Apart from the global trail of illness, economic devastation and death, it sparked a tidal wave of fear.

It struck at something deep inside us and shattered many of our cherished certainties.

We thought we were in control, but nature reminded us of our fragility, vulnerability and mortality, not with a gentle whisper, but with a primeval scream.

It had echoes of a medieval plague, but our 21st-century world struggled to find an adequate response to it.

Yet, the current crisis serves as a very powerful metaphor for Easter, because amid all the darkness, there have been prisms of light.

Very quickly, we saw many people whose lives continued to demonstrate the remarkable resilience of the human spirit: the courage of the medical profession at the frontline putting themselves at risk; the dedication of those in the service industry who continued to work to ensure that we all had the essential supplies we needed; the dedicated teachers who, on a daily basis, gave of their best, using innovative technology so that they could inspire countless young people in trying circumstances and in the selfless volunteers who worked with the many who were struggling to cope with all the turbulence of the economic fallout of the pandemic.

In short, sources of hope are all around us in the members of our communities, the people who went about their work with commitment and good humour, always with an eye to caring for those who might be finding things difficult.

For all the challenges of the virus, the faith, love and generosity of those around us was very much in evidence.

It would also manifest in the many quiet heroes who were not slow to smile and say thanks and always tried to give of their best, trusting that there was a power greater than us at work to bring about the good.

The coronavirus crisis was only a few days old when I noticed a change. For some time now, I have had the habit of visiting my local church. I enjoy the solitude and the serenity. I considered myself a special guest in the house of God.

An unusual thing happened, though, when the coronavirus started. I found that, no matter what time I went into the church, suddenly I was no longer the only one. Each day, there was a steady stream of people coming in to say a quiet prayer.

There are some religions that speak of "the call to prayer", but it seems to me that the coronavirus has been, for many people, a unique call to prayer.

A concern for elderly relatives which has been so prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic has led a number of people to "tiptoe" back to prayer. As the crisis unfolded, many "new" people have started to pray for those at risk.

Every crisis is an opportunity. Could the coronavirus be a call to us to create a new community of prayer?

Every day we watch the news, we see the tragic face of human suffering across the globe in the face of the coronavirus crisis. The plight of these people presents problems for belief in God, particularly a God who apparently sits back and allows people to be destroyed.

How can we survive as credible witnesses to the God of love, to the God of history, to the God of creation and power?

It raises problems for our view of a loving and powerful God taking care of the divine children. What kind of God can leave people to wallow in suffering?

When I was a little boy, my grandfather told me the story of man in our village in Roscommon during the time of the Great Famine, who was falsely accused of stealing a bag of potatoes from his landlord and, as a result, was hanged on a tree on Good Friday.

It was at the moment that I first understood the cross in an emotionally significant and humanising way and its intimate connection with the suffering of innocent people in desperate need.

At that stage, I thought of God suffering for us. Now, though, I think of it somewhat differently.

When I was a young boy, I sought God by looking up; trying to see if I could find God through some break in the sky.

Today, when I look for God, I look down not up because I find God in small things.

A significant milestone for me was reading Elie Wiesel's book Night. He was trying to answer the difficult question: why did God allow the ghastly nightmare of the Holocaust?

Walking through the concentration camp, he sees a young boy being hanged and reflects: "Behind me, I heard the same man asking, 'Where is God now?' And I heard a voice within me answer him, 'Where is he? Here he is. He is hanging there on this gallows.' That night the soup tasted of corpses."

The search for God requires us to look down.

In doing so, we follow the example of God.

This God chose to come among us not in a powerful place, or in a busy street, but to become small and be born in a manger in the form of a helpless baby.

This is a time to remind ourselves of the many contradictions at the heart of our faith.

This most powerful presence chose to be manifest in powerlessness.

The presence of God is not lost even when it seems to be removed, or even absent.

This is not just a God who suffered on the cross for us, but a God who suffers with us.

It is somewhere in the heart of the darkness that we find both the God of the Jews and the God of Jesus.

It is somewhere there, taking on humankind's evil and nature's threats, suffering with the victims of humankind's inhumanity to people, that our God is to be found.

This is the God who is revealed to us out of the darkness. This is the God who is waiting for us through this crisis.

Dr John Scally lectures in theology at Trinity College Dublin

Belfast Telegraph